Apr 28, 2011

Book Review: Mothers and Daughters, a Novel by Rae Meadows


Mothers and Daughters: A Novel by Rae Meadows

"When a box of Iris's belongings arrives on Sam's doorstep, she discovers things about her mother she never knew - or could even guess...
But she is puzzled by much of what she finds. She learns that Violet, the woman she knows as her grandmother, left New York City as an eleven-year-old girl and found a better life in the  Midwest. But what was the real reason behind Violet's journey? And how could she have come that far on her own at such a tender age?"
Book description: Mothers and Daughters is a luminous novel about three generations of women, the love they share, the dreams they refuse to surrender, and the secrets they hold.

Comments: I enjoy reading books that explore the relationships between mothers and daughters. This one is especially interesting because of the secrets discovered by Samantha about her mother Violet and her grandmother Iris. Uncovering history and the thread that connect three generations of women is the theme of the story.
The ARC I received from the publisher has an added bonus - an audio CD of the novel read by Maggi-Meg Reed.

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (March 29, 2011)
Source: ARC from publisher
Genre: women's fiction

Author: Rae Meadows is author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction and No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel. She lives in Minneapolis, Minn. Visit her website at http://www.raemeadows.com/

Apr 27, 2011

Book Review: Winged Obsession by Jessica Speart


Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler by Jessica Speart
Hardcover: 320 pages; William Morrow (April 5, 2011)
Genre: nonfiction, environmental issues
Source: publisher
Objective rating: 5/5

"This is for you. It has all of my picture files with thousands of butterflies. You can use it to post photos on eBay of the butterflies that we offer," Kojima instructed.

Newcomer would soon learn that among the bugs on the disc were not only many protected species but also endangered ones. " (p. 55)
Book description:
A tale of greed, obsession, and sexual temptation in the vein of The Orchid Thief - the story of the world's most wanted butterfly smuggler, the rookie U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent Ed Newcomer who pursues him, and Jessica Speart, the writer, who found herself at the center of the story.

I didn't realize at first that this was not one of Jessica Speart's well known environmental mystery novels, but a true story of the hunt to "reel in" a notorious smuggler of butterflies and insects, a trader in the market to supply insect collectors.

The work of nonfiction reads like a thriller, however, with the smuggler the target of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent. The book brings to light the environmental threat posed worldwide by illegal collectors.

About the Author: Jessica Speart is a freelance journalist specializing in wildlife enforcement issues.She is also the author of ten mysteries with an environmental theme. http://www.jessicaspeart.com/

© Harvee Lau 2011

Apr 26, 2011

Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.


Crunch Time: A Novel of Suspense (Goldy Schulz) by Diane Mott Davidson
"When I heard that Ernest McLeod had been killed, I should have packed up my knives and left. Well, not literally left, because I was in my own kitchen, poised to slice a third pile of juicy heirloom tomatoes for a buffet Yolanda Garcia and I were catering the next day." (opening lines, ch. 1)
Author: Diane Mott Davidson
Hardcover: 480 pages.
Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (April 5, 2011)
Genre: culinary mystery

Publisher's description: "Colorado caterer Goldy Schulz cooks up big trouble as she tries to help her longtime friend and fellow chef Yolanda Garcia. When the rental house shared by Yolanda and her irrepressible aunt Ferdinanda is destroyed by arson, the pair move in with cop-turned-PI Ernest McLeod. But then Ernest is shot dead and his house is set on fire, nearly killing Goldy, Yolanda, Ferdinanda, and nine beagle puppies that Ernest had recently rescued from a puppy mill.

Concerned for her friends, Goldy invites them to stay with her while the sheriff’s department investigates. Yet even Goldy’s house isn’t safe, and after a failed break-in by an unknown intruder a cop is sent to keep an eye on things. Then a second body is found. Swapping her chef’s hat for a sleuthing cap, the intrepid Goldy steps up the investigation. But she’s got to move fast. It’s crunch time to close in on a killer, before he can close in on her."

Diane Mott Davidson, a New York Times bestselling author, has written 15 mystery novels. More information:  http://www.dianemottdavidson.com/

Apr 25, 2011

Book Review: I'm Going Where I Belong by Hans Lindor


I Am Going Where I Belongby Hans Lindor
Paperback: 150 pages. Enaz Publications; 1st edition (February 25, 2011)
Source: Pump Up Your Book Promotions
Genre: fiction, immigrant fiction. Objective rating: 4 out of 5

"I don't like it when you hang out with these people. It's scary to me. I had a bad dream last night. You know what it means 'le-wreve ou pedi dan' ('When you dream about losing teeth')."
"It means death or someone close to you is about to die. Ma, you don't have to worry about anything. Death is scared of me," I joked, just to brush away my mother's fear. (ch. 8)
Comments: A heartbreaking story of a wealthy family forced to leave Haiti after a military coup and the death of the father. Their life in America becomes a struggle for survival and acceptance, and a longing on the part of the mother to return home to Haiti. The novel chronicles the life of the family, a desperate search to find stability and a final place to belong.

Product Description: "I am Going Where I Belong is a gripping journey through the plight of a once wealthy immigrant family. Chriscile Leger, mother of two, is forced to flee her native country with her children after her husband is brutally assassinated during a coup d'etat. "I am Going Where I Belong" is filled with heartrending turns of fate that, through their believability, make each character vibrantly engaging for the reader."
About the author, from Amazon: "Hans Lindor, novelist, screenwriter and playwright, has a unique perspective on life and has earned many accolades for his fiction and poetry. He has used his extraordinary life experiences to inspire, and has given motivational speeches and workshops to students, advocating against guns, drugs and violence and giving students hope for rising above hardship and social struggles."

This book tour is sponsored by Pump Up Your Book Promotions, which provided a review copy of the novel.

For an excellent interview with the author, see Freda's Voice.

Apr 24, 2011

Sunday Salon: Learning Japanese and Other Spring Goals

The Sunday Salon.com

Welcome to the Sunday Salon. Click on the logo to join in!

I have given myself about 5 months to learn serviceable Japanese. Right now I am listening to Berlitz Japanese in 30 Days (Berlitz in 30 Days) but I think it may not be enough as I am somewhat tone deaf! I'll be browsing  for other learning tools and may even attend a real live language class!

On Tuesday at 3 p.m., Eastern time, I'll be at a book E-VENT or book party for author Deanna Fei, who wrote A Thread of Sky. There will be a video and a live chat.

At 7 p.m. I'll be attending another e-event, a live 30-minute video AuthorChats with Jay Lillie whose new novel, Justice, "gets to the very core of Washington politics and leads to an explosive ending that illustrates the very serious implications of one little-known constitutional oversight."  I've agreed to review the book though I don't know a whole lot about the intricacies of government. Click here for information on the author chat.

I've received a bunch of books in the past few weeks and am eager to read
Island Girl by Lynda Simmons,
Secret Daughter: A Novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda,
Crunch Time: A Novel of Suspense (Goldy Schulz) by Diane Mott Davidson,

Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler by Jessica Speart, and
Dead by Midnight: A Death on Demand Mystery by Carolyn Hart.

Bangkok NoirI also bought for my Kindle, Bangkok Noir, a collection of short stories by established mystery writers. Book description: "In Bangkok Noir, the twelve short stories of various shades of black involve gangsters and hitmen, love and betrayal, the supernatural, the possessed and the dispossessed, and the far distant future. Titles in this collection include: John Burdett’s Gone East, Stephen Leather’s Inspector Zhang and the Dead Thai Gangster, Tew Bunnag’s The Mistress Wants Her Freedom, Colin Cotterill’s Halfhead, Pico Iyer’s Thousand and One Nights, Vasit Dejkunjorn's The Sword, Alex Kerr's Daylight, Timothy Hallinan's Hansum Man, Eric Stone's The Lunch That Got Away, Dean Barrett's Death of a Legend, Collin Piprell's Hot Enough to Kill, and Christopher G. Moore’s Dolphin Inc.

The authors and publisher will donate half of their earnings from this book to selected charity organizations which provide education to needy children in Thailand. More information: http://www.bangkoknoir.info/

I've already read three of the stories and they're pretty good!
Happy spring and Easter!

Apr 20, 2011

A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei

A Thread of Sky: A Novel by Deanna Fei
Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (March 29, 2011)

Publisher's book description: "As Irene Shen’s husband of thirty years was leaving her, she shut the door behind him and said, “Good riddance,” to the eye-rolling of her three daughters. But when he dies suddenly in an accident, her oldest daughter Nora withdraws to her high-powered Wall Street job and troubled relationship; her strong-willed middle child Kay heads to China to discover her family’s heritage; and the youngest, Sophie, a sensitive art student, is trapped at home until college starts.

With her family in pieces, Irene starts organizing a tour of mainland China for her three daughters, her poet sister, and her eighty-year-old mother. As the three generations of women tour China, from the Great Wall to downtown Shanghai, each woman begins to uncover secrets. And slowly find their way toward a new understanding of themselves and each other.

Partly inspired by Deanna Fei’s own travels through China, A THREAD OF SKY is a story about love and sacrifice, history and memory, sisterhood and motherhood, and the connections that endure."

About the Author: Deanna Fei was born in New York, and has lived in Beijing and Shanghai. A graduate of Amherst College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has received a Fulbright grant and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn.

Apr 19, 2011

Guest Post by M.L. Malcolm, author of Heart of Deception


Heart of Deception: A Novel by M. L. Malcolm

Book summary from Goodreads: "From M. L. Malcolm, the acclaimed author of Heart of Lies, comes a powerful sequel that spans the years from World War II to the turbulent 1960s—the riveting story of a family struggling with choices forced upon them by war . . . and the consequences that will take a generation to unfold.

A man of many contradictions, Leo Hoffman is a Hungarian national with a French passport, a wealthy businessman with no visible means of support, and a devoted father who hasn't seen his daughter in years. He is also a spy. Recruited by the Allies to help lay the groundwork for their invasion of North Africa, Leo intends to engage in as little espionage as possible—just enough to earn his American citizenship so he can get to New York and reunite with his daughter, Maddy. But while Leo dodges death in France and Morocco, Maddy is learning shocking truths about her father's mysterious past—haunting knowledge that will compel her down her own dangerous path of deception and discovery."

Thanks, Ms. Malcolm, for telling us about the research that went into your historical novel, Heart of Deception.

M.L. Malcolm's guest post: Snacking on Historical Tidbits…like Mule Turd Bombs.
“Which takes longer, the research or the writing?” As the author of historical fiction, I’m often asked this question, and the answer is, invariably, the research.

At this moment I have sitting in my office a desk and three portable card tables loaded with books, stacks of photocopies, multipage printouts, several movies, many handwritten notes and even a few few magazines—all of which, added together, represent just a fraction of the materials I perused as I pulled together the setting and the story for my current novel- in-progress.

I am a recovery attorney. I was a litigator. The one thing that job shares with writing historical fiction is that you have to research the daylights out of a topic to make sure that nothing will come back to bite you later, say, while you are cross-examining a witness. For example, I once handled a case involving a tractor-trailer truck that rolled into a Taco Bell (interesting image, isn’t it? Don’t worry—no one was hurt). My client initially thought that the truck driver had simply failed to put the hand brake into action when he went to get his burrito. A little research revealed that the big brakes on those huge trucks don’t work that way; something other than just mere negligence had caused the rig to roll.

And that’s often the way it works: information yields answers that then beget more questions. When Leo Hoffman, one of the main characters in my just-released novel, Heart of Deception, was recruited to work as a spy in 1939 the very beginning of World War II, I had to figure out where he would have been sent. My research soon pointed to North Africa. The early espionage efforts of the Allies were focused there because it was one of two potential jumping-off points for a land invasion.

So who would have been Leo’s playmates in the spy game? As one might imagine, a whole host of intriguing characters presented themselves, but none more interesting than Carleton, a Harvard anthropologist more best-remembered for his efforts to use Darwin's theory of natural selection to explain the differing physical characteristics of the human race. His theories were largely discredited, but Coon’s memoir of his time as a spy, A North Africa Story: The Anthropologist as OSS Agent, came out a few years earlier, in 1957, and unlike many of his contemporaries, Coon had no compunction about making the details of his days as a spy public, thus providing great information for someone wanting to retell the tale more than fifty years later.

But that then becomes the problem: a history geek like me gets thrilled about things like finding a detailed description of a doorknob. But such tidbits do not necessarily make for interesting reading in a novel. Too many such fascinating facts can slow…the…story…down. What to leave in? What to leave out?

An easy decision when it came to Coon-Browne Mule Turd Bombs.

It seems that when Coon and his fellow anthropologist and co-spy, Gordon Browne, were asked by the British Special Operations Executive to send back rock samples that could be used to create realistic plastic explosives for use on roadsides, they wired back that the roads in North Africa contained many more mule stools then rocks, and suggested that the “toymakers” use those instead of rocks. This suggestion met with approval, and samples of donkey dung were duly collected and sent by special messenger to England (evidently the difference in diet between English donkeys and their Mediterranean relatives accounted for certain important differences in the physical characteristics of such items, so the Brits needed local samples to ensure authenticity).

And so they created the Coon-Browne Mule Turd Bomb, hundreds of which was successfully used in the North African campaign, especially in Tunisia, to slow down the movement of enemy troops when their tires were blown up by….you know.

Yes, it does take a long time. But who says research isn’t fun?

Title: Heart of Deception: A Novel. Paperback: 352 pages. Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011).

Book Review: Mourning Gloria by Susan Wittig Albert

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.
Donna held up the flyer reading aloud. "Magical Mystical Plants. Come to Ruby Wilcox's Shamanic Garden to learn about some of the many mysterious plants that have taken people on magical journeys. Tobacco, morning glories, datura, wormwood, Salvia divinorum, and many others. Garden talk by China Byles. Guided garden visit by Ruby Wilcox."
She raised her eyebrows. "You two aren't offering drug trips, are you? " (ch. 2)
Mourning Gloria (China Bayles Mystery) by Susan Wittig Albert
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover; (April 5, 2011)
Genre: herbal mystery
Source: Publisher
Objective rating: 3.75 out of 5

Comments: You learn not only about different plants, flowers, and their medicinal or hallucinatory effects, but you enter the world of the main character, herbalist China Bayles, owner of  the herb and tea shop, Thyme and Seasons, who is also a vendor at the Pecan Springs Farmers' Market.

China is also an amateur sleuth. The plot and murder in this novel revolves around some of these hallucinogenic plants, as suggested in the clever title, Mourning Gloria. A lot of research went into the novel which is informative as well as an entertaining mystery. Garden enthusiasts will enjoy this newest in the China Bayles herbal mystery series.

Publisher's description: "While Pecan Springs bustles back to life in the warmth of spring, one woman's life is tragically brought to an end. China Bayles happens upon a burning house trailer and hears a woman screaming for help. The evidence leaves no doubt that it's arson homicide.
Jessica Nelson, an intern-reporter at the local paper, is assigned to cover the story. But she's gotten herself too deeply involved. When Jessica disappears, China is determined to find her, before she becomes headlines herself."

For more on the series, visit Susan Wittig Albert's website at http://www.susanalbert.com./ Her facebook address is www.facebook.com/susan.w.albert.

Apr 16, 2011

Book Review: Bullet Work by Steve O'Brien

Bullet Work


" Tim, how the hell they steal my mare off the grounds?" Hank Skelton yelled. ....

"I mean, come on, someone can bring in a trailer, load up one of my horses, and just drive right by your f--- security guard," Skelton screamed, pointing a finger at Belker. "What the hell is that?" (p. 55
Title: Bullet Work. Paperback: 349 pages.
 Publisher: A & N Publishing; 1st edition (March 22, 2011)
Source: The Cadence Group. Genre: mystery, horseracing

Comments: Intriguing look at horseracing, the stables, the men who ride, run, and keep the horses in the "backside" - behind the scenes. Intensely focused on the world of horses, those who are into horseracing will find this a fascinating novel and mystery. I would have liked some substories, subplots to add variety to the main plot.

Product Description:  "Behind the glamorous exterior of horse racing lies the gritty reality of the backside. Within this fiercely competitive world of owners, trainers, vets, and jockeys something has gone terribly wrong. As opening day approaches, one racehorse is poisoned, another has her leg crushed by a lead pipe and a third mysteriously disappears. Shock and horror grip the racing community. Then it all makes sense. Greed. Extortion.

Despite all security efforts, the brutal killings continue. For Dan Morgan it becomes personal when his precocious two-year-old filly is targeted. Dan befriends AJ Kaine, a lonely, “horse whispering” young man. AJ is a hotwalker, the lowest of jobs in the backside food chain. But AJ has a secret--perhaps a secret that can corner a killer. With AJ’s help, Dan must crack the extortion scheme or risk becoming the next victim."

Objective rating: 3.5/5

About the Author: Steve O Brien is an attorney, author, and former thoroughbred owner. Bullet Work is his second novel. It follows the critically acclaimed Elijah's Coin, recipient of nine literary awards. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to the Cadence Group for the review copy of this book.

Apr 14, 2011

Book Review: The Summoner by Layton Green

The Summoner: (The Dominic Grey Novels) (Volume 1)
Paperback: 332 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (March 7, 2011)
Source: review copy from the author
Genre: thriller
Objective rating: 4.75/5

Comments: This thriller was compelling. I learned about black magic in its many forms in vodoo, juju, candomble, and especially the Yoruba culture and magic of Nigeria. The novel is set in Zimbabwe, where a Yoruba witchdoctor from Nigeria has formed a cult of followers, using sorcery and sacrifice in its secret ceremonies in the empty bushland.

I also learnt about the power a figure can have over others using persuasion and by preying on the minds of followers to believe in what they see and hear. The novel is gripping and the setting unusual, perfect for this story.

Product Description: "A United States diplomat disappears in front of hundreds of onlookers while attending a religious ceremony in the bushveld of Zimbabwe.

Dominic Grey, Diplomatic Security special agent, product of a violent childhood and a worn passport, is assigned to investigate. Aiding the investigation is Professor Viktor Radek, religious phenomenologist and expert on cults, and Nya Mashumba, the local government liaison.

What Grey uncovers is a terrifying cult older than Western civilization, the harsh underbelly of a country in despair, a priest seemingly able to perform impossibilities, and the identity of the newest target.

Himself . . . "

Other reviews of the book: Reflections of a Bookaholic, Fiction Books

Apr 12, 2011

Book Review: The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals by Wayne Pacelle

The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle, president/CEO of The Humane Society of the United States
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (April 5, 2011)
Source: Publisher
Objective rating: 5/5

"Along with sorrow, animals also fall into depression just like us....That animals experience emotional trauma when they're isolated, mistreated, or bereaved should not surprise us...
The hurts and losses that animals experience are more than skin deep, as in the especially poignant case of elephant calves who have seen their parents killed by poachers. Well into their lives, if not forever, they show signs of posttraumatic stress disorder."
(p. 77)
Comments: Though I love going to zoos, I can feel for the animals who don't have wide spaces to roam around in, as many zoos have today. I love seeing elephants and other animals in a simulation of their natural environment. There is only one animal I won't go out of my way to see, and that is the mountain gorilla, who is most often caged because of its size and strength. The intelligence in its eyes and its awareness of its confined circumstances is not something I enjoy seeing. If I had my way, there would be none of these animals in zoos!

A wonderful book that everyone should read!

Product Description
"A fascinating exploration of humanity's eternal bond with animals, and an urgent call to answer the needs of millions of at-risk creatures

A landmark work, The Bond is the passionate, insightful, and comprehensive examination of our special connection to all creatures, written by one of America's most important champions of animal welfare. Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, unveils the deep links of the human-animal bond, as well as the conflicting impulses that have led us to betray this bond through widespread and systemic cruelty to animals.

Pacelle begins by exploring the biological and historical underpinnings of the human-animal bond and reveals our newfound understanding of animals, including their remarkable emotional and cognitive capacities. In the book's second section, Pacelle shows how the bond has been disastrously broken. He takes readers to a slaughter plant shuttered for inhumane practices, as well as the enormous egg factory farms of California. We visit Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas to speak with NFL star Michael Vick, then serving his sentence for dogfighting. Pacelle paints a portrait of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and highlights the heroic actions of residents and volunteers to reunite pets with their owners. Pacelle's narrative also leads the reader to remote locations in which conflicts over the killing of wildlife continue to play out—from the fields outside of Yellowstone National Park where bison are slaughtered with the encouragement of federal authorities, to the ice floes of Atlantic Canada where seal nurseries turn into killing fields.

In its final section, The Bond takes on the arguments of opponents and critics of animal protection and spotlights the groups and industries standing in the way of progress—from the National Rifle Association and agribusiness organizations like the American Farm Bureau, to surprising adversaries like the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Kennel Club. Ultimately, Pacelle points the way to a new, humane economy—one not built on extraction, suffering, and killing, but on the celebration, stewardship, and care of animals.

An eye-opening must-read, The Bond reminds us that animals are at the center of our lives, they are not just a backdrop. How we treat them is one of the great themes of the human story."

Apr 10, 2011

Sunday Salon: Welcome Spring!

The Sunday Salon.comClick on the logo to join in!


The birds and the squirrels are congregating
around the bird feeders, green shoots
are pushing up through the ground,
the grass is getting greener
with the spring rain.

 
Is spring finally here? At last....
it looks as if I'll have to get out

for some spring gardening.

A cardinal sings its weeder, weeder
song to announce the birdfeeder's full.


Reviewed four books last week:

If a Dog Could Blog, a children's book
Call Me Irresistible, a contemporary romance
Dragon Chica, YA novel
The Shepherd, a thriller

I'm now reading a couple of books for Amazon Vine, plus doing catch up on several ARCs and hardcover books sent for review. Also, I've gone back to using my Kindle and just finished reading an enjoyable four-star Cuban-American mystery, Bloody Twist, set in Miami and South Beach.

Would you believe I'm also planning to re-read Dead Souls (Everyman's Library) by Nikolai Gogol, which I downloaded free on my Kindle. A Russian classic, I remember it as one of the most humorous pieces of literature I'd read. By the way, I have more than 250 works now on Kindle, 95 per cent of them free books. Will I ever get to reading all of them??? I wonder...

Are you having spring weather, and if so, what are you up to?
 

Apr 8, 2011

The Shepherd by Ethan Cross: Book Tour

The Shepherd
Title: The Shepherd by Ethan Cross
Paperback: 400 pages; Publisher: The Fiction Studio (March 16, 2011)
Genre: Thriller
Source: ARC provided by Pump Up Your Book Promotions

Publisher's description: Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. both have a talent for hurting people. Marcus, a former New York City homicide detective, uses his abilities to protect others, while Ackerman uses his gifts to inflict pain and suffering. When both men become unwilling pawns in a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of our government, Marcus finds himself in a deadly game of cat and mouse trapped between a twisted psychopath and a vigilante with seemingly unlimited resources. Aided by a rogue FBI agent and the vigilante's beautiful daughter–a woman with whom he's quickly falling in love–Marcus must expose the deadly political conspiracy and confront his past while hunting down one of the most cunning and ruthless killers in the world.
 
Comments: Very intense thriller with a surprise ending, pitting the Shepherd against the villain. Not for the faint of heart, and one I would recommend for adults only for the intense action. For more about the book, visit the author at Ethan Cross.
 
Thanks to Tracee of Pump Up Your Book promotions for arranging the book tour, which runs through mid-May.

Challenge: Mystery and Suspense Challenge 2011