Mar 30, 2012

Book Review: Conscious Calm by Laura Maciuika

Title: Conscious Calm: Keys to Freedom from Stress and Worry by Laura Maciuika, Ed. D.
Tap Into Freedom Publishing (October 26, 2011)
Genre: inspirational, health

Conscious Calm advocates self awareness as a means to combat stress and worry. The book explores Emotions - what they mean, how to recognize them, practicing having a comfort level with your emotions. It calls for deep breaths to control stress from the inside out, and focusing on the present, both Eastern methods of relaxation. Conscious Calm has its own methods - hitting the Pause Button on Motor Mind; taking Being Breaks from daily activity and from Autopilot, using Personal Power 180.  The book offers tips and exercises in each chapter.

Finding calm and greater centeredness requires awareness, especially when starting out in a more stressed or worried state.(ch. 1)

What I took away from the book: Conscious Calm emphasized to me that chest breathing may not decrease stress, may increase stress, and that only a series of very deep breaths that seem to fill your stomach and expand it, will work for calming and reducing anxiety.

What I also found interesting was a "Stress-Busting Power Tool" called EFT, developed in the 1990s by Gary Craig. The process involves tapping on specific parts of the head and upper body with your fingers, an Energy Psychology technique that is nevertheless controversial among practitioners. Another component of EFT is the Brain Balancing Section, where you use tapping, eye exercises, counting and humming to activate several different sections of the brain all at once. The controversial part of EFT for me is the calling up of your self defeating or negative emotions in the exercise, emotions which may intensify during the exercise and which must be confronted and  lessened with more tapping.  Personally, I would use the finger tapping to distract myself from whatever thoughts might be stressful. at the moment. The fact that you are also using several parts of your brain at once in the exercises I think of as a plus.

I can recommend this book for those looking for alternative ways to handle stress and worry. The book is well worth looking at.

About the author: Laura Maciuika, Ed.D. is a clinical psychologist by training and integrative healer in practice. Laura writes about and teaches practical ways to develop inner freedom for greater happiness and success. She lives in northern California. See Author interview with Laura Maciuika.

For other tour stops, author interviews, and reviews, visit Conscious Calm Book Tour

Thanks to Pump Up Your Book promotions and the author for a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mar 27, 2012

Book Review/Tour: Shore Excursion by Marie Moore

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB and asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"Jumped overboard. Is that what you said, Jay? Jumped overboard? He wrote this handy dandy confession and then jumped overboard? He was overcome with remorse, I suppose. His poor little old heart was just broken all to pieces?"

"Right. So now we don't have anything to worry about, do we?"
(ch. 11)

Title: Shore Excursion by Marie Moore
Paperback by Camel Press (April 1, 2012)

Comments: Ruth, one of the seniors on a tour from New York to Europe for a cruise on the North Sea, complains to Sidney, the tour leader, that a man had tried to take her red suitcase from the carousel at the airport. On the ship from Scandinavia to Russia, one of the seniors on the tour is found strangled in her room. Sidney decides toget to the bottom of the crime, especially when other murders occur on the cruise and her own safety is at stake. Her business partner Jay adds some comic relief to the novel while he helps Sidney, who tries to solve the murders while keeping an interested eye on the handsome captain of the ship, Captain Vargo.

There is a twist to the plot that prevents the mystery surrounding Ruth's red suitcase from being predictable. Jay is amusing at times as Sidney's sidekick, though I thought some of the seniors actively helping in the crime solving would have been an added interest in the plot. Re the book cover - Death with a scythe and a dark cloak is a cliche, but the red suitcase on the cover does stand out! A good mystery to enjoy on a rainy day, on the beach, or maybe on a cruise!

Shore Excursion is the first book in a new mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Sidney Marsh.

About the author: Marie Moore, a native Mississippian, worked for a weekly newspaper as writer and Managing Editor, and won MS Press Association awards for her stories. She later ran a retail travel agency, using her experience to write Shore Excursion. She lives in TN and MS. Visit her at  

This tour runs March 1-30. For a list of stops and other reviews, visit Shore Excursion Blog Tour Site, sponsored by Tribute Books Blog Tours

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.

Mar 25, 2012

Sunday Salon: Spring and Books

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon.

It's slightly foggy and misty in the Midwest and warmer than the 57 degrees in Los Angeles, where I have relatives. The garden loves the sprinkling of rain here and my cherry tree is blossoming. So are the service berry trees that line three blocks on our street with white blossoms!


I am reading Lucifer's Tears by James Thompson
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Shore Excursion by Marie Moore, for a blog tour

Three books that I won from my fellow bloggers:
Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas,
The Yoga Club by Cooper Lawrence, and
77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

The latest books in my mailbox are
The Greatest Love Story of All Time, a romance by Lucy Robinson
The Patchwork Marriage by Jane Green
Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

What are you reading these days and have you read any of the books I listed? If you have, which do you recommend?

Happy Spring!

Mar 23, 2012

Daughters by Elizabeth Buchan

Opening sentences in a novel can set the tone and help readers decide about a book. Here are the opening sentences for Daughters by British author Elizabeth Buchan.

Curious how much pleasure she took from saying, 'My daughter...actually my getting married.' It ran against the grain of her own experience but her pleasure was not to be underestimated...that visceral need to see a child settled.

She had got used to answering questions such as 'What sort of wedding?' and 'Do you like him?' (To the latter she would reply, 'Yes, I do.')
Did she like Andrew? The little she knew of him, yes. She could list the plusses :affable, well-mannered, liked a joke, normal. He was also - she was assured on all sides - brilliant at his banking job, and unusual because he was a man who took the long view.(ch. 1)
Title: Daughters by Elizabeth Buchan
Publisher: Penguin, paperback

Book description: It is a truth universally acknowledged that all mothers want to see their daughters happily settled. But when Lara begins to fear that her daughter Eve is marrying a man who will only make her unhappy, and her other daughter Maudie reveals something that shocks the entire family, Lara faces the ultimate dilemma. Daughters explores the impact of secrets and betrayal within a dysfunctional but loving family.

So, what do you think, based on the opening sentences?

Mar 21, 2012

The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Andrew Marr

Author: Andrew Marr
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co., January 3, 2012

"Why should Americans be interested in Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of the United Kingdom and fifteen other countries, from Canada and Australia to tiny Tuvalu? It is a good question. She is a kind of anti-celebrity, a woman happiest in scarf, old coat and rubber boots, out with her dogs or horses. Thought enormously wealthy, she eats frugally, keeping her breakfast cereals in plastic boxes and switching off unnecessary lights as she passes through rooms....Her formal power is very small, and almost entirely irrelevant to the lives of those who are her subjects. (Preface to the U.S. Edition)

In time for the celebration of the Queen's 60th anniversary as Britain's monarch, here is Andrew Marr's biography of  Elizabeth II.

"She is a small woman with a globally familiar face, a hundred-carat smile - when she chooses to turn it on - and a thousand years of history at her back. (Prologue: What the Queen Does)

Publisher's description: A very personal biography of a woman who may be the world's last great queen, published to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of her reign. Elizabeth II, one of England's longest-reigning monarchs, is an enigma.

Andrew Marr tells us the fascinating story of the real Elizabeth. Born shortly before the Depression, Elizabeth grew up during World War II and became queen because of the shocking abdication of her uncle and the early death of her father. Only twenty-five when she ascended to the throne, she has been at the apex of the British state for nearly six decades. Brought up to regard family values as sacred, she has seen a steady stream of family secrets poured into the open. Yet she has never failed to carry out her duties, and she has never said a word about any of the troubles she has endured.

About the author: Andrew Marr is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author. His best-known book is A History of Modern Britain. He lives in London.

Thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review/feature copy of this book.

Mar 20, 2012

Book Review: Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole

Slowly, slowly, bit by bit, we dwindled down from a class of sixty to forty-five.We never saw anyone leave - people were there one minute, gone the next....The instructors had to be watching our every move and listening to our every word. Why else did classmates suddenly disappear for no reason during a five-minute bathroom break? (ch. 3)

Title: Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet by Heather Poole
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks, March 6, 2012
Genre: memoir

Comments: Lest anyone is still under the delusion that flying the skies as an airline stewardess is always a glamorous job, Heather Poole's tell-all book on the profession and how she got into it and why she has stayed will reveal a lot that may be surprising.

Grueling training when trainees may be dropped at the slightest hint that they might be unsuitable for the rigorous life of a stewardess, the problem of finding suitable accommodations for layovers in multiple cities, being on call and having to drop whatever you are doing to head for a flight at the last minute, dealing with demanding and sometimes totally crazy passengers, and working holidays if you are a junior stewardess -these are just a few of the realities on the job.

Heather Poole doesn't gloss over telling us about the hard work on the planes, feeding, catering to, and managing and controlling all the passengers all the time. True, there are perks later on in a stewardess's career, such as long layovers in great cities like San Francisco, New York, Boston, Los Angeles. Having seniority also means traveling international flights to Paris, Tokyo, the Caribbean, Delhi, Frankfurt. Without the seniority, however, you head for places like Jacksonville or short hops on domestic flights on smaller planes.
"If I made as much money as passengers thought I made, worked as little as my neighbors thought I did, or had as much fun on layovers as my friends think I do, I'd have one helluva of a job!" exclaimed one of my friends after he heard me trying to explain what it's like, really like, to work for an airline without enough seniority to hold the good trips."
After all, this is probably why most young people opt for a career with the airlines - the chance to visit cities around the world.

Things changed after 9/11 when the airline world was turned upside down and everyone became more serious, training included karate and other defensive measures. Flight attendants lost jobs, took pay cuts, had shorter layovers, and had to deal with the new reality of cutbacks.

"Even now, ten years later, whenever I hear about any accident involving an aircraft I'm taken back to that day in September. Most people don't have to think about it every time they go to work the way I do."

One of the positive outcomes of Heather Poole's job as a stewardess was meeting her future husband on a flight, shortly after a psychic told her she would. Just four months after seeing the psychic, "he walked on board my flight to Los Angeles." (ch. 15)

Heather is still flying and she says the stories keep getting better.

About the author:
Heather Poole has been published in The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010. Her regular online column, “Galley Gossip: Confessions from the Jumpseat with Heather Poole,” has received more than two million views and is featured on AOL’s award-winning travel website,

Visit the TLC Book tour stops for more reviews of Cruising Attitude.
Thanks to TLC and the publisher for a complimentary review copy of the book.

By the way, here's Heather's blog on being a stewardess:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB and asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

Mar 18, 2012

Sunday Salon: And Now for Something Completely Different

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon.

It's been a week of trying new things and having fun doing it.

I found out about burpees, exercises that have you jumping, and though I can only do a modified version, without the push ups, it still was great to be able to jump from bending over to a plank.
Click on the link to see the video: Burpee Exercise and then tell me if I'm crazy. By the way, I only do the very first one, the easy basic move.

A vegan dish was a hit with my spouse, who loves meat normally. I tried it after reviewing The Sexy Vegan Cookbook and featuring one of the dishes: Curry Tofu Salad, which has no eggs or cheese or milk, and no meat of course. It was pretty good, and I especially liked the grated fresh beets and carrots in the dish.

My yoga class is progressing nicely. I have trouble with balance and upper body strength so  standing with one foot only and arms streched out for balance, are exercises I'm practicing!  I am working up to the crocodile, a very low plank with your body straight and supine off the floor, with only hands and toes touching the ground. It will take a while to get there!

We went to see a touring company, one of three traveling groups, Shen Yun Performing Arts, classical dances of China, and I found myself watching all the leg, arm, and body movements, which reminded me of some yoga positions. The costumes and digital background scenery were magnificent, as was the dancing. I only wished they had kept the politics out of some of performances.

I'm reading Cruising Attitude for a TLC tour next week and plan to pass on the book to my niece, who was an air stewardess in her younger days. I bet she has her own stories to tell about flying the skies!

What have you been doing this past week?

Mar 15, 2012

Review: The Sexy Vegan Cookbook by Brian L. Patton

The Sexy Vegan Cookbook: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Dude by Brian L. Patton
Published March 15, 2012; New World Library
Paperback, 256 pages
Objective rating: 4/5

Patton shares over 100 vegan recipes in The Sexy Vegan Cookbook, which covers the basics of cooking, from slicing vegetables to finding the right type of tofu to recreating favorites without meat or dairy.  Brian gives recipes from cocktails to breakfast sandwiches to desserts. There are appetizers and nachos, pizza and tuna-like sandwiches as well as salads, pasta, and main dishes. (publisher)

Here is a stand alone recipe that you can make without prior preparation of vegan foods. Sounds pretty delicious to me!

Curried Fried Tofu Salad
One 14-ounce block of extra firm tofu, drained
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (or another flour, like garbanzo, rice, etc.)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1/2 head red leaf lettuce, roughly chopped or torn
1/2 medium cucumber, thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 medium beet, grated
1 medium carrot, grated

1 small Thai chili, minced (you can use less depending on how hot the peppers ae=re)
1/2 teaspoon tamarind paste
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
3 tablespoons extra-virgin oil
1/4 teaspoon agave nectar

Slice the tofu crosswise into six 1/2-inch-thick rectangles. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Spread the curry powder, flour, and salt and pepper on a shallow plate, stir to combine, and dredge both sides of the tofu slices in the seasoning. When the olive oil is just barely starting to smoke, carefully place the slices in the frying pan. Let them fry on one side for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. Then flip and brown on the other side, 3 to 4 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the lettuce, cucumber, scallion, beet, and carrot, and toss with the dressingl Pile the salad on a plate and place the fried tofu on top in an artful fashion.

Makes 2 entrees or 4 appetizers

Comments:Some vegan recipes in the book require special ingredients, so the book gives you recipes for making seasonings and sauces and foods to save for use in more complex recipes. For instance, the book gives recipes for My Balls (pretend meatballs) and Pretend Italian Sausage, Pretend Breakfast Sausage Patties, Pretend Canadian Bacon and Pretend Chipotle Sausages, Mexican Chorizo (all vegan and no meat) so you can use them in more complex dishes such as vegan Jambalaya, Spaghetti and Balls, and Lasagna Fauxlognese.

Though the start up of cooking vegan may be time consuming at the beginning, I would recommend the cookbook to anyone who is serious about going vegan or using some vegan dishes in  their diet.

Thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review copy of the cookbook.

Mar 14, 2012

Book Review: The Expats by Chris Pavone

Title: The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone
Publisher: Crown Publishing; March 6, 2012
Genre: suspense
Objective rating: 4/5

She knew why she was picking a fight: because she was furious, because the FBI and Interpol were for some reason in her business, because she'd once made a horrible decision that would haunt her forever, and because the one person in the world she'd trusted without reservation was lying to her.

Perhaps his lie was about something benign. And maybe his lying had nothing to do with her anger. (ch. 16)

About the book: Kate Moore quit her job but didn't tell her husband Dexter the real reason why. She had also kept her real job a secret from him for 15 years. When they move to Luxembourg for Dexter's new job with a private bank, Kate has to reinvent herself as a stay at home wife and mom, a job she finds more and more tedious as time goes on.

When another expatriate American couple, Julia and Bill, make their acquaintance and insist on becoming their friends, Kate becomes suspicious of their motives and begins her own investigation of them. She then begins to wonder about her husband Dexter, begins to spy on him, go through his papers, find out new things about him. She feels nothing may be what they seem on the surface. Maybe Dexter has secrets, just as she herself has had for many years.

This is really a story about the two American couples, expatriates, how their relationship develops, how their past seems to catch up with them, how their secrets are gradually revealed to show what and who they really are.

Comments: I can't say more in detail without giving away the plot and spoiling the book for readers. The novel reads like a spy novel but is also a novel about secrets people live with, hiding them even from their loved ones. The book held my interest throughout, although the ending was a little long, the plot unfolding slowly in dialogue, although in a very realistic way.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the European cities that Kate and Dexter and their children visit, the old world atmosphere, the dank weather in winter, and more. I recommend the book for lovers of Europe and lovers of suspense.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mar 13, 2012

Teaser: American Sniper, An Autobiography by Chris Kyle

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB and asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"Something else happened to me that spring that had an enormous impact not just on my military career, but on my life.

I fell in love.

I don't know if you believe in love at first sight; I don't think I did before the night in April of 2001 when I saw Tara..." (p. 40)

Title: American Sniper: the Autobiography of the Most Lethat Sniper in U.S. Military History
Author: Navy Seal Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
Publisher: William Morrow, January 3. 2012
Genre: autobiography

Publisher's description: From 1999 to 2009, U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle recorded the most career sniper kills in United States military history. The Pentagon has officially confirmed more than 150 of Kyles kills (the previous American record was 109), but it has declined to verify the astonishing total number for this book. Iraqi insurgents feared Kyle so much they named him al-Shaitan (“the devil”) and placed a bounty on his head. Kyle earned legendary status among his fellow SEALs, Marines, and U.S. Army soldiers, whom he protected with deadly accuracy from rooftops and stealth positions. Gripping and unforgettable, Kyle’s masterful account of his extraordinary battlefield experiences ranks as one of the great war memoirs of all time.

Comments: This reads like a novel of suspense but it's for real. I can hardly believe that it's published and can't wait to start reading in earnest.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mar 12, 2012

Book Review: Sonoma Rose by Jennifer Chiaverini

Sonoma Rose: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini
Published by Dutton Adult, February 21, 2012
Genre: historical fiction

The romance of Lars and Rosa as young lovers in southern California during the era of Prohibition unfolds gradually in the course of the book. We discover why Rose marries another man instead of Lars, and what about her husband John makes her escape from him years later with her children to Berkeley and the Sonoma Valley in northern California.

Rosa finds a new life with Lars, away from her abusive husband John. The part her family heirloom quilts play in her determination is a small but important part of what Sonoma Rose is about. Rosa's  story is intertwined with the history of Sonoma Valley and the vineyards that existed during Prohibition, when making and selling alcohol and wine were illegal. This is a well told story; I especially enjoyed the history of California wine growers and the problems they faced, including dealing with Prohibition inspectors before the ban on alcohol was repealed in 1933.

This novel is the 18th in the Elm Creek Quilts Series. Rose first appears in a previous book in the series, and Sonoma Rose continues her story.

JENNIFER CHIAVERINI is the author of the bestselling Elm Creek Quilt series. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit her website, Elm Creek Quilts Online.

For more reviews, visit the tour schedule. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Dutton for an ARC of this book.

Mar 11, 2012

Sunday Salon: I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon.

I have seen so many of Sophie Kinsella's books on the blogs that I snapped up her latest book, I've Got Your Number, from the New Releases shelves on a visit to the library. A lucky find. It had me laughing out loud and chuckling in turns in the first few chapters. What a great sense of humor this author has!

My comments: It's a clever situation in the plot - Poppy Wyatt, a physiotherapist, loses her heirloom emerald and diamond engagement ring while showing it off to her friends at a benefit tea. There are distractions and a fire alarm when guests scatter and Poppy loses sight of her ring.

Things get worse later on when a cyclist rides by and snatches her cell phone out of her hands. Poppy spots a discarded cell phone in a rubbish bin and latches on to it in her life saving attempt to find her ring before her fiance's parents arrive in town. The phone works, but Poppy soon finds out it belongs to some one's personal assistant, who obviously ditched it on her way out of one job to another.

Sam Roxton wants his assistant's phone back but Poppy persuades him to let her use it until she finds her ring. He agrees when she promises to forward him all his new messages, which his personal assistant used to handle on this phone. What happens later is amusing - Poppy reads the email, sends email, replies to email, and gets herself involved in Sam's personal life as well as his company's politics.

A hilarious and entertaining romance, I want to read more of Sophie Kinsella's books! Have you read this author?

Cozy mysteries on my TBR list this month are
Scones and Bones: a Tea Shop Mystery by Laura Childs
Due or Die: A Library Lover's Mystery by Jenn McKiknlay
A Cookie Before Dying: A Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery by Virginia Lowell


Being Lara by Lola Jaye - an ARC was sent to me by the publisher; its release date is March 13, 2012.

Book description: With her dark complexion and kinky hair, so unlike her fair-skinned parents, Lara knew she was different. At eight she finally learned the word "adopted." Twenty-two years later, a stranger arrives as she blows out the candles on her thirtieth birthday cake—a woman in a blue-and-black head tie who also claims the title "Lara’s mother."

Lara, always in control, now finds her life slipping free of the stranglehold she's had on it. Unexpected, dangerously unfamiliar emotions are turning Lara's life upside down, pulling her between Nigeria and London, forcing her to confront the truth about her past. But if she's brave enough to embrace the lives of her two mothers, she may discover once and for all what it truly means to be Lara. (amazon)

Read any of these books as yet?

Mar 9, 2012

Library Finds: Two New Releases

I found two books in the New Releases section of the library today! There was no plan to borrow books, just to browse, but I couldn't resist these.

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge: An Aimee Leduc Investigation set in Paris by Cara Black

Book Description:
Private investigator Aimée Leduc is happy her business partner René has found a girlfriend. Aimée’s instincts tell her Meizi, the supposed love of René’s life, isn’t trustworthy. Meizi disappears during a Chinatown dinner to take a phone call and never returns to the restaurant. Minutes later, the body of a young man, a science prodigy and volunteer at the Musée, is found shrink-wrapped in an alleyway—with Meizi’s photo in his wallet.

I've Got Your Number: A Novel by Sophie Kinsella

Book description:
Poppy Wyatt is about to marry her ideal man, Magnus Tavish, but in one afternoon her “happily ever after” begins to fall apart. She lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill and her phone is stolen. She spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Perfect! Well, perfect except that the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn’t agree. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life.

Find any good books at your library recently?

Mar 8, 2012

Book Review: The Probability of Murder by Ada Madison

The Probability of Murder: a Professor Sophie Knowles Mystery
Author: Ada Madison
Published March 6, 2012; Berkley paperback

"The shiny padlock on Charlotte's bag called to me. I kept thinking about it, as if it were a logic puzzle I hadn't been able to solve.

Not my business.

On the other hand, Charlotte was gone forever and her bag was in my possession." (ch. 4)

Comments: For anyone who likes math puzzles, logic problems and brain teasers, this is the cozy mystery to read. The novel is peppered with them, as the main character Sophie Knowles, professor of math at a small Massachusetts college, does puzzles in her spare time or to while away the hours. That is, when she is not solving crimes. In this novel, Sophie tries to find out why her good friend, librarian Charlotte Crocker, was killed by being made to fall from a high library ladder. Also, Charlotte had left a duffle bag in Sophie's office, which contains an important clue to the mystery.

I liked the character Sophie and her friend Ariana, found the plot interesting, but think the book slowed down in the second half. There was too much detail, for instance, on Sophie's boyfriend Bruce and his mountain climbing accident in New Hampshire, and a few too many conversations with Ariana and detective Virgil. The ending was a surprise, however, and one I could not have expected, the mark of a good mystery.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Book Review: To Catch a Leaf by Kate Collins

To Catch a Leaf: A Flower Shop Mystery by Kate Collins
Published November 1, 2011 by Signet
Objective rating: 5/5

I enjoyed every bit of this new book in the Flower Shop Mysteries - its humor and likable main character, Abby Knight, flower shop owner whose curiosity puts her squarely in the amateur sleuth spotlight.

Abby's shop assistant Grace is accused of murder after Grace finds the body of wealthy Constance Newport at the bottom of the basement stairs, seemingly pushed.

Abby feels there are a lot of suspects other than Grace, such as a houseful of Constance's live-in relatives, all upset they may be cut out of the will of the wealthy woman. Add to the mystery Constance's missing cat with its diamond studded collar and her valuable oil paintings which may have been replaced by forgeries.

In between sleuthing and running her shop, Abby rescues a tabby cat that she almost runs over in the street, has to deal with her future mother-in-law who insists on a wedding shower way ahead of schedule, and tries to discourage her own mother from making questionable "art" to sell in the flower shop. Abby's fiance, Marco Salvare, supports Abby in the domestic disputes as well as in crime solving.

There are so many interesting characters and situations that I was kept on my toes reading this cozy. There is a small element of surprise at the end, a hint of the paranormal that puts the cozy in line with current readers' interests as well. The writing is spot on for an easy and entertaining mystery.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mar 7, 2012

Guest Post: Mark Saunders, author of Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak

Title: Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak by Mark Saunders
Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Fuze Publishing, LLC; (November 7, 2011)

Book Summary: In 2005, Mark Saunders and his wife, with their dog and cat, packed up their Audi Quattro and left Portland, Oregon, for San Miguel de Allende, three thousand miles away in Mexico. Things fell apart almost from the beginning. This is their story.

Welcome Mark, and thanks for telling us how you came to write your travel memoir!

Mark: My wife and I were both in our late 50s and working in high-tech, for different companies, in Portland, Oregon, when the first thread unraveled: we discovered our jobs were going away.  Suddenly, we felt boxed in—or out.   

We could stay in Portland and try to find new employment. We could work as freelancers, start our own business, go on the dole. We could move and try someplace new. We weren’t sure what to do.  

Of course, there were the clichés to consider.  Life is short.  You only go around once.  Seize the day.  Products of a well-rounded liberal arts education during the rock-and-roll sixties, the needle of our lives seemed stuck between the refrains of “What’s it all about, Alfie?” and “Is that all there is?” 

About this time we visited a friend in Guanajuato, Mexico, over what amounted to nothing more than an extended weekend, and immediately fell in love—hook, line, and guacamole—with the colonial central highlands.  It took several months to accomplish, but we dropped out, sold almost everything, packed up what was left, and moved to Mexico.

We picked San Miguel because it’s historically and culturally significant. It’s high in the mountains, semi-arid, with year-around sunshine. It’s easier if you speak Spanish but it’s not required. The town is affordable, especially by U.S. standards. Best of all, it’s a town of, by, and for artists—of all types. In fact, you can’t swing an artist in this town without hitting a writer, and if the writer ducks you’re bound to hit a jazz musician.

Funny things happened to us almost immediately and I thought I should start writing about our experiences. My first effort was a letter to friends describing the different classes of dogs. That letter became an essay, which was published in an anthology, and that essay eventually became a chapter (“Yes, We Have No Chihuahuas”) in my book.

I continued writing essays. But after two years, we hit what we now refer to as the two-year homesick wall and moved back to the States.

Re-entry was difficult. Almost immediately we regretted our return and I stopped writing the essays. Nearly three years later, we decided our hearts were still in the highlands and we were on our way back to San Miguel. It was at that point when I realized I had a book to finish. I now had my Act 3. 

An independent publisher courageously offered to publish my humorous memoir. An amazing editor took my stand-alone essays and molded them into a compelling and funny narrative. A talented book designer understood my vision and exceeded my expectations.

Henry James said, “It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined.” In my case, I believe I’m doing him one better. I’m living the life I could not have imagined. "

Mark Saunders' Bio:
Playwright, screenwriter, and cartoonist, Mark Saunders had nearly 30 of his plays staged, from California to New York. His cartoons appeared nationally in publications. He wrote for the popular comic strip “Frank and Ernest,” as well as jokes for comedians, including Jay Leno. Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is his first book.
For more, visit Tribune Book Tours schedule of appearances by Mark Saunders.

Mar 6, 2012

Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

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

"And then there was the spring morning I was walking to work and came upon Richard Wainwright leaving the Cabot Hotel with a young woman who was definitely not his wife.
It could have been a power breakfast, but why at a tiny hotel on a side street?" (p. 62)
Title: Gossip: A Novel by Beth Gutcheon
Hardcover, 288 pages; William Morrow
Release date: March 20, 2012

Gossip explores the myriad ways we use and abuse "information" about others - be it true, false, or imagined - to sustain, and occasionally destroy, one another. (book description)

About the book: Lovie French is in a good position to mingle with successful and well off women in Upper East Side Manhattan, including her former boarding school classmates, Dinah and Avis. Lovie owns a high end dress shop, making dresses and outfits for all their needs. Told in the first person, by Lovie, Gossip tells us about the women and the people in their lives, with Lovie giving us information on everything that is going on that she knows about. She gossips to us, the readers, though not in a snarky or malicious way.

Comments: Because the novel is written in a gossipy style, I couldn't get involved with the characters or connect with them. There is not a consistent thread in the stories of Avis and Dinah and the others. I find out about them just from hearsay, from Lovie's point of view. The novel is a great idea of showing how gossip works and what it can do, but I think I would have liked a more conventional way of telling the story. Many readers may like its style, however. I rated the book 3.5/5 stars.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mar 5, 2012

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney.  

Books reviewed last week:
Other Waters by Eleni N. Gage
The Hope Vendetta by Scott Mariani

This week, on my reading list:

The Probability of Murder: A Professor Sophie Knowles Mystery by Ada Madison; Berkley Prime Crime

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson;
William Morrow

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers;
William Morrow

The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Andrew Marr; Henry Holt

I've got a lot of reading to do.... Are any of these on your reading list? What are you reading this week?

Mar 4, 2012

Book Review: Other Waters by Eleni N. Gage

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon.

Title: Other Waters: A Novel by Eleni N. Gage
Published February 14, 2012; St. Martin's Press

About the book: Other Waters, a novel by Eleni N. Gage held my attention all week in between chores. In her acknowledgments, the author says, "Other Waters attempts to describe the struggle of being caught between two cultures. But I hope it also expresses the joys of being exposed to a number of different worlds."

In the book, thirty-year-old Maya is caught between her traditional Indian family's expectations and her contemporary life as a psychiatry resident in a New York City hospital.  Maya keeps her American boyfriend Scott a secret from her family, only promising to one day introduce him to them. When a curse is put on her father in India by a distraught former live-in helper whom her grandmother had rescued from the streets as a child, Maya sees the sudden family health problems affecting her mother, father, and sister as a result of this curse.

With her best friend, Heidi, Maya takes the opportunity of her cousin's marriage in India to return to the country and confront the woman, asking her to remove the curse. Maya also does a traditional purging by bathing in the Ganges River, following the traditional belief that this will wash away her family ills. Things begin to look up for Maya when she meets another guest at the wedding - Raki, a suave and sophisticated Indian who works in finance in New York City. Raki seems to fit the bill as a new boyfriend - having the same culture and traditions as her family and someone she can easily bring home to her parents.

Reaction: Maya's decision to let go of Scott and turn to Raki is not as simple as it first seemed. What Maya does on her return to New York City and how she solves the problem of matching her needs to her family's expectations is an interesting turn of events. I am not sure that how the book ends is realistic for the character Maya and so I wasn't really pleased with the ending. However, the novel takes you on a journey to India that explains a lot of the culture, including the importance of the Ganges River and several of the gods in the Hindu religion. It also takes you into a traditional marriage ceremony at the same time as it shows the potential conflicts between marrying tradition and the modern. I rated the book 4/5.

Many thanks to the publisher for an Advanced Readers' Edition of this book.

Mar 1, 2012

My Book Win: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Australian edition

Look what came in the mail today, all the way from Australia ! My lovely book win from book blogger Mandy at The Narrative Causality!! Thank you, Mandy.

I will treasure this edition, which is about two inches thick and printed on lovely paper. There was slight crumpling to a corner of the book cover, from being in transit, but not a problem! The brand new book is in excellent condition!

I gave this a 5 in my original review. If you want to find out more about the book, here are my Thoughts on 1Q84.

Do you like the cover of the Australian/British edition? I like the images of the double moons that are so significant in the novel.

Again, thank you Mandy, from Ohio to Australia!

Title: 1Q84: Books 1, 2, and 3 by Haruki Murakami
Published 2011 by Harvill Secker, Random House, London

Heft, a Novel by Liz Moore

Opening sentences in a novel can set the tone and help readers decide about a book. Here are the opening sentences for Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore.
The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat. When I knew you I was what one might call plump but I am no longer plump. I eat what I want & furthermore I eat whenever I want. For years I have made very little effort to reduce the amount that I eat for I have seen no cause to. Despite this I am neither immobile nor bedridden but I do feel winded when I walk more than six or seven steps, & I do feel very shy and sort of encased in something as if I were a cello or an expensive gun.

I have no way of knowing exactly what I weigh but I estimate that it is between five and six hundred pounds. The last time I went to a doctor's office was years ago and back then I weighed four hundred eighty pounds & they had to put me on a special scale. The doctor looked at me & told me I was surely on a path toward early death.
Title: Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore
Published January 23, 2012 by W.W. Norton & Company

Publisher's description: Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn't left his Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on a baseball career. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel's mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur's. After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene's unexpected phone call to Arthur, a plea for help that jostles them into action.  Heft is the story of two improbable heroes whose sudden connection transforms both their lives. Elizabeth McCracken's novel is about love and family found in the most unexpected places.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Empresses of Seventh Avenue by Nancy MacDonell: Historical Novel

 Fashion in Paris and New York City during WWII   Empresses of Seventh Avenue World War II, New York City, and the Birth of American Fashion...