Jun 30, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Drawing in the Dust by Zoe Klein

TEASER TUESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Choose two sentences at random from your current read, and add the author and title for readers.
Here are my two sentences:

"Have you seen them?" I called up to Walid.

"The ghosts?" he asks.
from p. 61 of Drawing in the Dust by Zoe Klein, an historical mystery published by Pocket Books, 2009.

Who and where am I?

I am an American archaeologist excavating an ancient site in Israel. A young Arab couple has asked me to explore underneath their house, which they say is haunted by the spirits of two lovers.

Here is my review of the book: Drawing in the Dust.

Book provided by the publisher for my objective review.

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Jun 29, 2009

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: a comment

I skimmed over the Los Angeles Times' review of The Angel's Game, that much touted second book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon of The Shadow of the Wind fame.

But I didn't read too closely as I want to make up my own mind about the book.

I found the setting of the first chapter familiar and contemporary - the inside of a newsroom, with a typical scenario of young wannabee writers trying to avoid jaded reporters. I decided to continue reading the book though I missed the Baroque setting and brooding atmosphere of old Barcelona in The Shadow of the Wind.

I guess that kind of atmosphere is to come, as the Devil comes by later to tempt young writer David Martin (and he doesn't even have a Spanish name!)

In any case, if you are not planning to read that thick, heavy tome, here's a substitute, a nice review by Nick Owchar, today's LA Times: The Angel's Game.

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Book Review: The Devlin Diary and Author Interview with Christi Phillips

Christi Phillips of San Francisco, author of "The Devlin Diary," has her blog tour today, June 29, organized by Pocket Books Blog Tour. Christi is also author of "The Rossetti Letter," an historical mystery set in 17th century Venice which has been translated into six other languages.

Welcome, Christi. We're glad to hear more about your second historical mystery, "The Devlin Diary," and its setting in the politics of 17th century England.


Q: How and why did you choose this particular incident in history - the 1670 secret treaty between the English and French kings - to write a book?

Christi: I knew that The Devlin Diary would be set in England, because Claire Donovan, the main character in the present-day story, has moved to Cambridge to teach at Trinity College. Even before I began the novel, I was pretty sure I wanted to set it during the Restoration. It was such an intriguing time, especially in comparison to the Puritanical decade that preceded it. The Restoration era—which begins in 1660 and ends in 1685, essentially the reign of Charles II—can be thought of as the 1960s of the seventeenth century. Both eras ushered in sweeping social changes, a heightened creativity in the arts and sciences, and greater freedom for women. There was also lots of sex, drinking, drugs, and really, really bad behavior, which makes for great stories.

Then I read about the secret treaty in Antonia Fraser’s remarkable biography of Charles II, Royal Charles, and felt that it had the same sort of dramatic possibilities that the Spanish Conspiracy against Venice had provided for The Rossetti Letter. It was a real event that involved people at the highest levels of government and yet was still somewhat shrouded in mystery, so that I felt comfortable constructing a story that included fictional characters along with the real ones.

Q: I was impressed by the amount of research it took to write the novel. Could you tell us a little about what it required and the time you spent?

Christi: Primarily, it involved reading a great many books. This wasn’t really by choice; there just aren’t many other ways to learn about the seventeenth century. I spent six to eight months reading and outlining the story, then went to London and Cambridge for two weeks to tour the sites I would be writing about.There’s very little of seventeenth-century London left, but I found two small museums that were enormously helpful: The Old Operating Theatre in Southwark, and the Dennis Severs House near Spitalfields Market. At the first, you can learn about early medicine and the apothecary’s art; the second is a recreation of an eighteenth-century house in one of the most historic areas of London. I highly recommend both.

I also went to Trinity College, Cambridge. I was graciously shown around the college, allowed to lunch with the fellows at High Table, and generously provided with insider information about the college, which I share in The Devlin Diary.

Q: This is your second novel. How would you categorize/describe your two novels? Could you tell us about your background and your decision to become a writer ?

Christi: They aren’t easy to categorize, are they? When pressed for time, I call them historical mysteries. While not completely accurate, I think both The Rossetti Letter and The Devlin Diary will appeal to people who like historical fiction and people who like mysteries, so it’s a good working description.

As a child, I loved books and read voraciously (still do). I never really made a decision to be a writer, but by the time I was ten or so, I felt that I was one. So I wrote. Throughout my teens I wrote terrible poetry; in my twenties I wrote bad short stories. I didn’t write anything even remotely decent until I was thirty. I’m almost entirely self-taught. I’ve taken only one writing class, and I’ve never had a mentor. Happily, I had good friends who read what I wrote and commented on it.

I was very fortunate in that my friends were always kind and encouraging (even when, in my opinion, there was little reason to be). Although I don’t think I would have been daunted much by criticism; my need to write was too strong. I simply kept working at it until I got better at it, and could serve as my own best (or worst, depending on the day) critic.

Thanks for the interview, Christi. (See my book review of The Devlin Diary in the post below.)

You can visit Christi Phillips at http://www.christi-phillips.com

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Jun 28, 2009

Book Review: The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips

Book Review
I gave five stars to this wonderfully interesting historical mystery written by Christi Phillips, whose blog tour will be June 29, sponsored by Sarah Reidy of Pocket Book Blog Tours.

Background of the novel
In 1672 London, Hannah Devlin continues her father's profession of treating and healing the sick, even though women physicians are frowned on in those days and not sanctioned by the Royal College of Physicians. Her life changes when she is summoned to court to secretly treat the king's mistress, Louise de Keroualle.

Plot summary
Hannah keeps a coded diary of the strange and devious events that she witnesses and discovers while she is there. Her diary reveals secrets that involve Charles Stuart, the king, and his beloved sister, Princess Henriette-Anne. It is rumored that Henriette-Anne died in extreme pain, poisoned by her husband, the Duc d'Orleans, brother of King Louis XIV of France, or by his lover. If this is true, why has King Charles remained totally silent on this issue?

Claire Donovan, a visiting lecturer in history at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2008 tries to find the 17th century diary and the answers. However, Claire is not the only one interested in the diary. And at least one other person in 2008 is desperate enough to want to kill to suppress the information in the Devlin diary.

My Comments
I enjoyed the skillful storytelling and plot - royal intrigue and realistic characters from 17th century London, and from Cambridge, England in 2008. I was impressed by the double story line, of Hannah in the 1670s and Claire in 2008 -and how their separate stories were interwoven into a seamless plot. History and mystery, plus women's rights in academia and in the world of science - these themes and topics grabbed and held my interest.

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.

Author Interview: See Interview with Christi Phillips

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Blog Tour: J. P. Daly, romance novelist

Welcome to Jennifer P. Daly, author of Black Hole: A Novel, a romance published in 2008.

"Jenna" is here on the sixth stop of her book tour to tell us about her novel, a book about a stay-at-home mom whose life changes when her husband mysteriously disappears on a trip overseas.

The author has a B.S. in written communications, works for a software company, and has two young sons. Black Hole: A Novel was written on a dare and begun in 2007. Jenna has also written children's stories.


Q: Can you tell us how you chose the title of your novel?
Jenna: The title originally was "Unexpected." But as I wrote I realized that black hole references kept coming up. One of her sons was fascinated by them, and her life drops into an emotional one. It clicked. There are so many things science does not know about them - that cannot be explained - yet.

Q: Did you use personal experience to write the novel - about a stay-at-home mom who has to return to the workplace?
Jenna: I was out of the workforce for 2.5 years with my younger son, so, although my experience was shorter than the character in the book, yes. I remember coming to work the first day in 2005 and wondering, "Can I do this," and thinking someone was going to find out I was some sort of big fat faker. It never happened.

After a month, juggling the kids and a career felt oddly familiar (I had done it from 1999-2002 with one child). I had intended to go back when my son was three. My brain needed more stimulation than I got as a full-time mom and I had always worked. I intensely disliked feeling dependent on anyone, even for that short time.

Q: Do you plan to write another book with Allison as the main character?
Jenna: No, Allison's story is "done." The sequel is about another character in Black Hole: A Novel. I realized halfway into it, I had a sequel and wrote the first chapter of the second book while working on the first one! The sequel has no title yet, and I am about 100 pages into it. The beginning and ending are finished. That's the same way I wrote the first one - and then I filled in the middle.

The only way to explain how I write is I get entire chapters in my head, sometimes out of order. I write them, and then figure out where they go.

Q: What is your favorite genre of books?
Jenna: Genre can be a bit limiting. I have never liked mysteries. Which is odd since I like movies like that. I remember reading a few mystery books that had so many characters I could not keep them straight, I had to back up and re-read sections. That can be frustrating.

If I had to, I'd say contemporary fiction (rather than historical, fantasy, etc) and self help. Genre does not really matter as long as they are stories in which a character discovers something about themselves, someone else, or the world, that changes them forever, yet they also entertain the reader. I finished reading "Broken for You" and "Lucky" and felt like something in me had shifted, in a good way.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Jenna: Yes. Black Hole: A Novel was an odd experience. I never thought to myself, I think I’ll take a stab at writing a novel and self publish it. Instead, I started it after a friend dared me. When I complained about my job being to restricting writing-wise, she insisted I could write about anything. I told her my creative skills had died when I took on corporate copy writing. "Okay," she said, "Write two pages about a woman in an elevator." I did in less than 15 minutes. She read them, handed them back, and asked with a grin, "Then what happened?" 400 pages later…

The oddest part? After the book was done, I realized things in it happened to me, AFTER I wrote about them. I think every time I pick the book up I find another one. That's something I cannot explain.
Please visit my Website at http://www.dalybookstore.com to learn more about me and my book.

Thanks for visiting, Jenna.

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Jun 25, 2009

"Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most “Summery” book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you?"

I'm now reading Songs of Blue and Gold by Deborah Lawrenson, set on the Greek island of Corfu, a sunny island full of bays, beaches, and rocky cliffs.

I also plan to read something more hot, Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson, a thriller set in Sun Valley, Idaho.

I plan to review both books in July!

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Jun 23, 2009

Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea, book review

Teaser Tuesday meme courtesy of MizB at Should Be Reading. Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share two “teaser” sentences from that page, plus the title and author of the book. Please avoid spoilers!
Andean Express
"He didn't know her very well, but from their few conversations on the train, he concluded that she was going through tough times. Marrying a guy she hated, who'd had a lot to do with her father's death, had clearly been a mistake that was affecting her deeply." (p. 71)
Who is the main character? 
I'm a young high school graduate spending 48 hours on a train from La Paz, Bolivia going through the high Andean plateau to Arica, Chile on the coastline, to join my parents. During the trip, I become unwittingly entangled in the lives of several passengers, including a girl in an arranged marriage.

Review: Reminds me of other train trips such as Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. This is also a murder mystery, described as in the style of "classic noir."

I give this mystery novel 3 1/2 stars, maybe four if I could have read it in the original Spanish! Some things are often lost in translation! The train ride from the bowl of the city of La Paz up to the rim, across the stark and dry plateau, and then down to the coastline of Chile was the highlight of the book for me. Descriptions of the scenery, the sunsets, the people, and the few lonely homesteads on the plateau, were very interesting. I once flew over the Andes on the way from Brazil back to the U.S. and often wondered what it was like down below. 

Also, relationships among mestizos, Indians, and Europeans in Bolivia are revealed on board the Andean Express. Granted this train ride was set some 40 years ago, I believe, and there is a hint in the novel about pending social change by a new political party.

The plot followed the general scheme of Murder on the Orient Express and other mystery train rides, but this "noir" novel is not a traditional mystery.  Alderete has married a young woman from the upper social classes in Bolivia. It's an arranged marriage. Alderete is hated by close to a dozen people on the train, including his reluctant bride. A young high school graduate traveling to Chile to meet his parents witnesses the interactions and is used as an unwitting pawn in the developments. 

Noir and mystery lovers, and armchair travelers, will enjoy Andean Express. 

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Jun 22, 2009

Library Loot, June 22

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Marg @ ReadingAdventures and Eva at A Striped Armchair.

Back to the library today and borrowed six books, not three! Yes, I looted the library, but I don't feel too badly. There are so many books there. Four of these I have to return in three weeks!

International Writers:
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Agawa,is described as a story about "family, memory, and math." A young housekeeper is hired to take care of a math professor, who is brilliant but has only eight minutes of short-term memory. Can't wait to read this one!
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish author who also wrote The Shadow of the Wind, a novel I gave five stars to! This novel also deals with "obsession, in literature and in love." Can't wait to read this one either.
The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley, a New York writer, is about a woman who discovers a family secret after returning to her mother's native land. The book exposes the reader to the "strange and magical history, language, and landscape of Iceland."
Loser's Town by Daniel Depp is set in Hollywood, where anything goes. Can't wait to find out more about L.A.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish, is described as a "murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue." Journalist Mikael Blomkvist tracks down the secret behind a wealthy young woman's disappearance forty years before.
Death of a Witch: A Hamish McBeth Mystery by M.C. Beaton, a popular cozy writer who lives in the Cotswolds, England. The book is set in a fictitious, picturesque highland village watched over by the quirky but clever Constable Macbeth.
This list of books is also submitted as part of the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge, hosted by J. Kay's Book Blog.

Jun 21, 2009

Virtual Book Tours, June 28 and 29

June 28: Watch for J.C. Daly, author of Black Hole, who will discuss her first novel, a romance and mystery, here.

June 29:
Book tour of The Devlin Dairy by Christi Phillips, with questions and answers by that author and a review, here.

Jun 13, 2009

Book Review: ILLEGAL and author interview with Paul Levine

Illegal by Paul Levine
Published March, 24, 2009; Bantam
Genre: thriller; rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interview with Paul Levine:

1. What are the major factors that inspired you to write the novel, Illegal?
News stories about the horrific incident where several Mexican citizens died in the back of a locked trailer truck on a run across the California/Arizona desert. And....the facts contained here: http://live.psu.edu/story/38537

2. How did your legal background and experience help in writing this book?
Not so much. Very little courtroom in ILLEGAL. It's unlike most of my legal thrillers.

3. Do you plan on writing other books with similar topics?
I think I've exhausted myself and the subject.

4. Are you at work on another book at this time?
I'm revisiting my roots. My first Jake Lassiter novel since 1997. My first one was "To Speak for the Dead," 1990; and the seventh and last was "Flesh & Bones," 1997.

5. Several reviewers on Amazon say that ILLEGAL is the beginning of a new series with your new main character (Jimmy Payne). What do you say to that?
Jimmy Payne on hold until I write the new Lassiter.

My review:
This suspense thriller about the hazardous journey that a woman and her young son make to the U.S. from Mexico is as riveting and suspenseful as it is shocking, to anyone not familiar with illegal immigration issues along the border.

The novel centers around trial lawyer Jimmy Payne, whose life, marriage, and career has spiralled downward after the death of his teenage son Adam in a car accident caused by a drunken worker from Mexico, Manuel Garcia. The accident weighs on Payne's mind as something he could have prevented. He hits bottom low after he keeps some of the bribe money in a sting operation to expose a crooked L.A. judge. The judge, exposed as corrupt, commits suicide, and fellow lawyers start shaking their heads at Payne's folly.

Payne decides to take a new turn in his life. He drives to Mexico to find Garcia, the man who killed his son. In reality, he heads to Mexico to help a precocious and gutsy 12-year-old Mexican boy find his mother, Marisol, who was separated from the boy during their long trip to the U.S.
"Sure, he would do his best to find Marisol Perez. His good deed. Then he would go to Mexico and find Manuel Garcia. His murderous deed."
The boy, Tino, had sought Jimmy out in L.A. as someone famous and sympathetic, someone who had successfully defended several illegal immigrants who had survived a notorious border crossing some time back. The trip to Mexico to trace the route taken by Marisol reveals the hazards she faced trying to reach the U.S., and the new dangers after she arrived. Marisol and others were at the mercy of ruthless people traffickers, drug smugglers, and people running safe houses for illegals in transit from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and other Central American countries.

Marisol's journey leads Payne and Tio back to the U.S. for the story's suspenseful climax. The book is a thriller with no holds barred. It reads like stark realism and has graphic violence, against men and women, but the book 's harsh reality depicts the journeys as full of danger, despair, and death, even for some who make it across the border.

Well worth reading! I recommend the book for anyone interested in the plight of Mexican nationals seeking to enter the U.S.

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.

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Jun 12, 2009

The Cluttered Corpse, book review

The Cluttered Corpse (Charlotte Adams Mystery, Book 2) The Cluttered Corpse by Mary Jane Maffini

Loved the humor and the organizing tips in this cozy mystery. How does one organize a bedroom that has over a thousand stuffed toys? This is the job Charlotte Adams has until someone is killed in the house, falling down the stairs, possibly slipping on one or two of the fleecy fluffy toys. Or was it a push, and murder?

Lots of action, humor, and a good plot that had me guessing till the end. I would have made the ending a bit simpler - too many crooks tend to spoil the plot. Otherwise, a good mystery that makes me want to read the first in the series, Organize Your Corpses.

A book for feng shui lovers and other organization freaks.

View all my reviews.


Jun 9, 2009

Purple Hibiscus, book review

Purple Hibiscus: A Novel Purple Hibiscus: A Novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"That's a hibiscus, isn't it, Aunty?" Jaja asked, staring at a plant close to the barbed wire fencing. "I didn't know there were purple hibiscuses." p. 128

from Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning Nigerian author.

Kambili, 15 years old, and her brother Jaia are brought up by a overly strict father in a wealthy Nigerian household. They are taught to reject the traditional ways for a harsh and distorted version of Christianity. The children find some balance between the old ways and the new in the home of their aunt, a university professor. The children's mother copes with her husband's excessive behavior in an unusual way.

An interesting look at the blending and the clash between the modern and the old beliefs in Africa and an indictment of religion as it is propagated and practiced by some.

View all my reviews.

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Jun 5, 2009

Book Review: Borderline by Nevada Barr


Title: Borderline (Annea Pigeon #15) by Nevada Barr
Published April 26, 2010; Berkley
Genre: thriller

I love reading books set in locations I've never visited. It makes me feel I'm getting something new while being entertained with a good story. This is the case with Nevada Barr's latest mystery - in her Anna Pigeon national park ranger series.

Borderline takes place in the Big Bend National Park in Texas, just across the Rio Grande River separating the U.S. from Mexico. Park ranger Anna is on administrative leave, recovering from the trauma of confronting a ruthless murderer on the Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. She and her police chief/pastor husband Paul are now on vacation at Big Bend in Texas, taking a leisurely two week rafting trip down the Rio Grande with a group of college students, led by a park rafting leader. What should have been a journey of personal recovery and tranquility turns out otherwise for Anna, however.

Things start to turn sour quickly. The group sees a starving cow stranded on top of the high cliffs in a canyon on the river and Anna is determined to rescue it; the inexperience and stubbornness of one of the college kids causes the group to lose their inflatable raft with all their equipment and supplies. Then comes a shocking discovery and bullets from an unknown assailant on the U.S. side of the river.

Anna is again in the position of leading an investigation and recovery, this time while desperately dodging death along the steep banks of the river canyon and trying to protect the people in her party. All this coincides with the highly publicized visit to the park of a mayor who supports keeping park borders closed to Mexicans across the river. and who is running for the governor's position in Texas

Description of location, plot, and character development all blend to make this a memorable and thrilling ride down the Rio Grande. Though I guessed the culprit about halfway through the book, and the motives, since the author gave us so many hints along the way, I can still recommend this as another very good mystery, with situations that reflect current social and political realities.

Jun 2, 2009

Book Review: Palos Verdes Blue by John Shannon

Palos Verdes Blue
Palos Verdes Blue by John Shannon, published April 7, 2009 by Pegasus
Genre: mystery

Private investigator Jack Liffey is hired to find Blue, a teenage girl missing in L.A. His investigation leads to some surprises, including a gang of rich teenage surfers, in Palos Verdes Blue, by John Shannon.
" Beatrice would have to pay in the end too, if her sister did. He stared at the classic feminist novels abandoned across her small desk - The Golden Notebook, Jane Eyre, and a couple of Anais Nins. There really are no survivors in a shattered family, he thought."
p. 23
Though the plot outline of the connections between a missing teen, illegal immigrants, and a gang of wealthy young surfers defending their beach territory is a good one, the techniques for writing the novel prevented me from really getting into the book.

There are many points of view, different stories running at the same time, and the switching back and forth from third person to first person narrations had me a bit confused. I wish I could have gotten more involved in the characters, especially private eye Jack and his daughter Maeve.

As far as plot, the book does a good job overall of presenting the problems of the California scene, particularly of young people. Health, gang warfare, undocumented workers, teen sexuality, even California mudslides are covered in Palos Verdes Blue.

Book provided by the author/publisher, for my objective review.

Jun 1, 2009

Book Review: Illegal, a novel by Paul Levine

This suspense thriller about the hazardous journey that a woman and her young son make to the U.S. from Mexico is as riveting and suspenseful as it is shocking, to anyone not familiar with illegal immigration issues along the border.

The harsh reality portrayed by Paul Levine in his new book makes the journeys he describes seem all too real - full of danger, despair, and death, even for some who make it across the border.

(See my fuller review with author comments dated June 13)
Illegal: A Review and Author Interview--------------------------------

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