Dec 30, 2012

Reading 100+ Books in a Year: Challenge Met in 2012

I joined the 100+ Books in a Year 2012 challenge by Book Chick City and found I read more than 100 books for the challenge, 128 to be exact. I have shortened my list to show the ones that stood out for me.


The Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses by Claire Dederer *
Living Fully by Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche *
We're With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics by Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian *
Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain *
Pilgrimage to the End of the World by Conrad Rudolph *
Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi by Brian Leaf *
Street Freak by Jared Dillian *

 Bond Girl: A Novel by Erin Duffy *
 Walter's Muse: A Novel by Jean Davies Okimoto *
 Other Waters by Eleni N. Gage *
 I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella *
 The White Pearl: A Novel by Kate Furnivall *
Skios by Michael Frayn *
What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang *
The King's Damsel by Kate Emerson *
The Round House by Louise Erdrich *
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett *

 The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly *
The Face Thief by Eli Gottlieb *
The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan *
Raylan: A Novel by Elmore Leonard *
No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie *
Broken Harbor by Tana French *
And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman *
A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn *
Tahoe Trap by Tod Borg *
The Expats by Chris Pavone *
The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura *
Livin' Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett*

What challenges have you met or exceeded this year?
Here is my list of Books Read in 2012 and Books Read in 2011.

Dec 28, 2012

The Essential Rumi - ( In Time For New Year's Eve)

The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks
Paperback published May 28, 2004 by HarperOne

I bought this book of poetry by the thirteenth century Sufi mystic and Persian poet, Rumi, allegedly the most widely read poet in the U.S. A brief story in each chapter is followed by poetry. The first chapter, The Tavern, talks about the drinking of wine.
Chapter 1: The Tavern: Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have to Take Me Home
In the tavern are many wines - the wine of delight in color and form and taste, the wine of the intellect's agility, the fine port of stories, and the cabernet of soul singing....
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?

I wonder if the word "ruminate" comes from the ruminations of Rumi? In any case, I am thoroughly enjoying this book, which I pick up and put down whenever I'm in the mood, with or without wine :)

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

Dec 21, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to you all. Thanks for visiting and reading Book Dilettante. Hope to see you again after the holidays!
(graphic courtesy of Webweavers Free Clip Art)

Dec 18, 2012

Book Feature: Thursday at Noon by William F. Brown

Featured book: Thursday at Noon by William F. Brown
E-book published June 6, 2012
Genre: mystery
Source: author

Book description: "As The New Yorker said, it is “a thriller in the purest cliffhanger vein. The technique is flawless. It could only have been learned in a thousand Saturday afternoon movie matinees."

Cairo, 1962. Richard Thomson is already having a very bad day when someone leaves a corpse lying on his back steps. Thomson is a burned out CIA Agent and the body belongs to a petty Cairo thief who tried to sell him photographs of a long-abandoned RAF base in the Egyptian desert. Alone and on the run, no one believes what Thomson knows -- not the CIA, the US Ambassador, the Egyptian State Security, and most assuredly not Captain Hassan Saleh, of the Homicide Bureau of the Cairo Police.

Like Night of the Generals, this is a murder mystery set within an international crisis. (from the publisher)

"Thursday at Noon was originally a Joan Kahn Book published by St. Martin’s Press in hardback and subsequently by Harlequin’s Gold Eagle in paperback, and in various foreign editions." (from the author's web page. Visit for information about his six thrillers). 

Book Teaser: The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB; choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify author and title for readers.  First Chapter, First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea.

Title: The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy
Published September 12, 2012; Free Press
Genre: memoir
Opening sentences: We had traveled just nineteen miles west - my childhood was left behind. Gone were the backyard Wiffle ball games with my brothers that had defined my summer afternoons, as was the small maple tree in the front yard that I nearly succeeded in chopping down with a rubber ax when I was eight; over were the nights lying in bed talking to my older brother Peter across the room in the dark before sleep came. We had lived atop a small hill, safely in the center of a suburban block, in a three-bedroom colonial with green shutters; now we would live in a long and low house in a swale on a large corner lot a half hour and a world away.
Book description: Award-winning travel writer and actor Andrew McCarthy delivers a revealing and insightful memoir about how travel helped him become the man he wanted to be, helping him overcome life-long fears and confront his resistance to commitment.

Do the teasers/opening sentences make you want to read the book?

Dec 15, 2012

Sunday Salon: Jigsaw Puzzles

Fruit Jigsaw Puzzle, picture by  Here's how I've been spending my time, besides watching basketball and baking bread.

I'm also reading Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson, a novel about female spies during WWII, set in the Middle East, and received two new ARCs, The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout and Merciless: a Mystery by Lori Armstrong, thanks to Random House's Shelf Awareness giveaway and Touchstone.

What are you doing this weekend?

Dec 14, 2012

Book Review: The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder

Title: The Raven's Heart: A Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scots
Author: Jesse Blackadder
Published September 11, 2012; Bywater Books
Genre: historical fiction
"Where are you hurrying to, laddie?"
"I am on the Queen's business." I struggle, trying for a position where I can kick his groin.
"I don't doubt it." The cold of his dagger tips my throat. I freeze.
"What brings the Queen here to Dunbar in such secrecy? And who are you?"
(ch. 17)
Description: "Scotland, 1561, and a ship carries home Mary, the young, charismatic Queen of Scots, returning after 13 years in the French court to wrest back control of her throne.
The Blackadder family has long awaited the Queen’s return to bring them justice. Alison Blackadder, disguised as a boy from childhood to protect her from the murderous clan that stole her family's lands, must learn to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, building a web of dependence and reward.
Just as the Queen can trust nobody, Alison discovers lies, danger and treachery at every turn. Then, unexpectedly, she finds love…
This sweeping epic of political intrigue, misplaced loyalty, secret passion and implacable revenge is based on real characters and events from the reign of Mary Queen of Scots." (publisher)

Comments: What impressed me about the book was the research that this Australian author did to find out more about her family name originating in Scotland. She recounts the story, in novel form, of the Blackadder family of Scotland and their loyalty to Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Raven's Heart covers the period of Mary in Scotland, before she was imprisoned by her Scottish lords, and before she fled to seek refuge in England, where she was imprisoned by Elizabeth I of England. Alison Blackadder, who is the narrator in the novel, is a fictional character woven into the historical events. This is a fascinating novel that those interested in the early history of Mary Queen of Scots will want to read.

The author: Born in Sydney, Jesse now lives near Byron Bay. She is an award-winning short-story writer and freelance journalist, fascinated by landscapes and belonging. Her first novel was After the Party (2005), which was voted onto the Australian Book Review’s list of all time favourite Australian novels in February 2010. She is writing her next novel about the first woman to reach Antarctica. Connect with Jesse Blackadder at her WEBSITE.

For more reviews, see the Book Tour schedule. Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and the author for a review copy of the book.

Dec 11, 2012

Book Feature: Political Suicide by Michael Palmer

Title: Political Suicide: A Novel by Michael Palmer
Release date: December 11, 2012; St. Martin's Press
Audio: Macmillan Audio
Genre: medical thriller

"Sarah, I see that Dr. McHugh is still in jail."
"The DA's certain he's the man. They don't want this to turn into a circus."
"He's been a good citizen. Any chance we could get him out?"
(ch. 10. From an ARC; final copy may differ)
DESCRIPTION: "Dr. Lou Welcome gets a desperate phone call re a murder involving his friend, Dr. Gary McHugh, known around the Capitol as the "society doc". McHugh has been found unconscious in his wrecked car after visiting his patient, Congressman Elias Colston, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is later found shot dead in his garage.

Something about McHugh's story has Lou believing he is telling the truth, that the Congressman was dead when he arrived and before he blacked out. Lou agrees to look into matters, but he is hard pressed to believe in his friend— until a high-level conspiracy begins to unravel, and Lou finds information that makes him the next target." (publisher)

Also see Teaser Tuesdays.

What do you think? Do you enjoy medical thrillers?

Dec 9, 2012

Book Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon!

I bought Ann Patchett's novel,  State of Wonder, yesterday and finished it today. It was that good that I didn't put it down till I had read it all. I liked the exotic setting and fell for the story of one scientist trying to discover the details and reason for the death of another in the jungles of the Amazon.

A pharmacologist Marina Singh is sent by her company in Minnesota to Brazil to find a reclusive scientist and researcher, Annick Swenson, her former medical school professor who is doing drug research deep in the Amazon jungles. Marina is supposed to report on the progress of Annick's research on fertility for the drug company, research that has already taken many years and a lot of funding. Marina is also on a more personal mission, to discover the facts behind the death of another employee of the drug company who had recently traveled to the Amazon to check on Annick.

It seems to me that the novel has some serious questions about the value of some research done by drug companies - questionable drugs that may not be needed or advisable, for a limited group of people, versus drugs for more serious and immediate health problems for a larger demographic. There is also a contrast between cold, hard research and the human considerations that must be taken into account when you deal with the lives of real people.

The plot and setting are very imaginative, the characters memorable, and the questions the novel addresses are good food for thought. I loved Bel Canto, Pachett's award-winning novel, and I liked this one as well.

The book is also reviewed by Tales from the Reading RoomHome Between the Pages, and My Porch.

For a lighter read, I've started Killer Librarian, a debut cozy mystery by Mary Lou Kirwin. Minnesota librarian Karen Nash becomes a sleuth on a literary tour of London when she realizes an assassin has targeted her former boyfriend and his lady friend, who have also traveled to London.

Apart from reading, I baked beer bread for the first time today, adding raisins and dried cranberries for a little tartness and sweetness. Not bad for a test run. I'm thinking of making more tasty breads for Christmas gifts!

What are you reading this week?

Dec 8, 2012

Willie Nelson Memoir: Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die

Title: Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road by Willie Nelson
Published November 13, 2012; William Morrow hardcover
Genre: Memoir

"When I drop something now, I bend over and look around to see if there's anything else I can do while I'm down there!" (p. 130)

I saw Willie Nelson for the first (and only) time at a live concert years ago at a summer outdoor Ravinia Festival outside of Chicago. We were lounging on the grass with snacks and wine (for the adults, all permitted) while watching others picnicking with tablecloth, candelabras, wine and cheese - on the grass, of course.

This was the first time my sons had been to a live country music concert and they got bitten by the bug listening to Willie Nelson and his guitar that night at Ravinia. They were still in grammar school at the time. In future years, we were finagled into taking them to heart shaking and ear splitting concerts in Ohio and Michigan, concerts by the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and others. We adults stayed outside in the lounge at the Smashing Pumpkins concert. The noise was too horrendous.

But Willie Nelson's music was sublime and heart warming on that warm evening at Ravinia. In spite of his philosophy on pot smoking, I was glad to win a signed copy of his recent memoir. I plan to borrow my reading copy from the library!

Dec 5, 2012

Guest Post: Karen Fisher-Alaniz, author of Breaking the Code

       Breaking the Code: A Daughter's Journey into Her Father's Secret War
       Published November 1, 2012; Sourcebooks
       Genre: memoir

"Scraps of Paper, and Eggs Benedict: The Unlikely Journey of a Memoir"
by Karen Fisher-Alaniz

Snippets of a life. Questions written on scraps of paper. A father with a photographic memory, who couldn’t remember. Breakfast at Mr. Ed’s diner every week. That’s how our journey began.

My father, a WWII veteran, started having nightmares and flashbacks at the age of 81. When he gave me more than 400-pages of letters he wrote during the war, I knew there was far more to the story than he’d ever told.

I took the letters home and started to read. I was immersed in a time and place that was unfamiliar to me. My father was stationed on Oahu, Hawaii during the war. His service to his country began in 1944. He’d told the stories so many times, but the stories he told gave me no reason to suspect he’d experienced any kind of trauma, or that he’d done something so critical to the war effort, that he’d been told he’d be shot if he ever revealed it.

But over the months, that rolled into years, that’s the story I heard. All I wanted was to help my father. I wanted to take the nightmares away. So, each night, I read a handful of letters. I wrote questions down on whatever was handy; the back of a bill, a receipt from the grocery store, a scrap of paper. When we met on Wednesday’s for breakfast, I took out the motley bunch of papers and asked the questions on them. Over eggs Benedict, my father began telling his story. Often haltingly, he shared tiny pieces of the puzzle. And what I learned about my father was unbelievable. My sweet, humble father, who’d taught me to ride a bike, was a top secret code breaker!

Trained to copy the code, based in the Japanese, Katakana, my father wasn’t sitting in an office as he’d told me so many times. He was in the middle of battle, in submarines and on ships off of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. My father was a hero. But it was this work that also laid the foundation for the greatest trauma of his life, and the reason he started having symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder more than 50-years after the war.

Once I’d heard the story, I set out to do research. I searched books, old magazines, and the internet. Every road lead to a dead end. There was very little information on this group of code breakers. In fact, I didn’t find any at all. And that lead me in a different direction; the military itself. I sent for my father’s military records. He was terribly disappointed when the records didn’t mention anything about his top secret service. But he wasn’t surprised. He’d was told that records would not be kept; the men involved would not carry records with them, for fear of being captured or discovered. Still, my father wanted nothing more than a simple confirmation of some kind; a note in his file, the name of a ship or submarine. But there was nothing like that. So, again I turned to the military.

I left messages on reunion group websites, and frequented WWII and military forums, where I asked questions and made connections. I knew that somewhere, somehow, there had to be information. When a retired, 26-year Naval Intelligence officer offered to help, I was ecstatic and so was my dad. He helped me to send for Dad’s records a second and third time, each time honing in on what exactly we were looking for. And that’s what did it.

I received a request from the military to sign something for information that was not kept with his regular military records. I was so excited. I just knew this was it. I waited a few more weeks. Finally, I received a thick package in the mail. I looked for words like Katakana, and code breaker, but there was nothing that specific. When I relayed this to the officer helping me, he said that sometimes it’s hard for a civilian to know how to read military records.

I sent a copy to the Naval Intelligence Officer, who took his time looking at them. When he got back to me, he said that instead of looking for the key words, as I had done, he looked at the timeline and the locations, and training. But he also took note of things that were not there, but should have been, like the names of the ships he was on. His conclusion was this; my father was where he was, when he said he was there. There were blanks in his records, or sparse information, when it wouldn’t make sense to leave it out. The only logical conclusion, he said, was that my father was working in Naval Intelligence, doing top secret work.

The information wasn’t as specific as I’d hoped, but it was an answer. My father was pleased. So was I. What started as scraps of paper changed to something else. First, I wanted to simply transcribe my father’s letters so that each of my children could have a copy. But curiosity got the best of me. When I started writing the story between the lines, my father’s story really started to take shape. And when a fellow writer encouraged me to write about what this journey meant to me too, a memoir was born.

Our journey began more than 10-years ago.  The book changed and grew, as we made our journey toward truth. And our father-daughter relationship changed and grew too. When someone tells you their story, it is a sacred trust they are putting in you. You can’t help but be changed by that honor.

Note: Since our journey began, more information (but still not a lot) is available about the role of code breakers who broke the Japanese, Katakana. My father is 91 now and likely the only surviving member of his five-person code-breaking team. As far as we know, this is the only book that tells the first-person story of their heroic service. I’m humbled and honored to have been a part of it.

For a chance to win a double-signed copy of the book, visit the author's website,

Thanks to the author and WOW- Women on Writing for providing this guest post. 

Dec 4, 2012

Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Title: The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Published October 2, 2012; Harper Collins
Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
Joe, he said carefully. I should have told you I am proud of you. I am proud of how you love your mother. Proud of how you figured this out. But you do understand that if something should happen to you, Joe, that your mother and I would...we couldn't bear it. You give us life... (ch. 5, from an advance reader's edition. The final copy may differ)
 I saw this as part coming of age story, part mystery, part political novel - a novel set in 1988 on a Native American reservation in North Dakota that addresses the "tangle of laws that hinder prosecution of rape cases on many reservations." Problems are still being straightened out even after the Tribal Law and Order Act was signed in 2010 by presidential act to help remedy the situation.

Thirteen-year-old Joe, son of a reservation judge, decides to take matters into his own hands when the man who seriously attacked and brutalized his mother is let go, not prosecuted since it could not be proven exactly where the attack took place - on reservation land, state land, or fee land (land belonging to a tribe outside of the reservation).

The story involves the histories of several persons living on and off the reservation. These histories converge and create a situation that resulted in the attack on Joe's mother, who worked on the reservation and had access to a file crucial to the story.

Though they may seem superfluous to the story, many of the Native American traditional tales included in the novel show what helped form and shape Joe and his young Indian friends. The tales throw additional light on the customs and traditions of the Native Americans on the reservation.

The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction for 2012, a well deserved recognition.

Louise Erdrich is the author of thirteen novels, plus volumes of poetry, short stories, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Award winners, Love Medicine, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, and The Plague of Doves are among them.

Erdrich, a Native American member of the Ojibwe and Chippewa nation is described as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of the "Native American Renaissance." She lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore.

For more reviews, visit the tour schedule. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the author/publisher for a review ARC of the novel.

Dec 2, 2012

Sunday Salon: After the Full Moon

Welcome to the Sunday Salon!

Harvest Moon

There was a full moon November 28, also called a Full Beaver Moon and a Frost Moon, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac.
"For both the colonists and the Algonquin tribes, this was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. This full Moon was also called the Frost Moon."
What better time to start reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich, a novel set on a North Dakota reservation and which is full of Native American customs and stories. Erdrich, a Native American member of the Ojibwe and Chippewa nation is described as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of the "Native American Renaissance."

The book has just been named the National Book Award for Fiction winner. It kept me company through a sleepless night last night. I'll be doing a review for a book tour on Tuesday.

On another note, I saw and enjoyed the panoramic and dramatic movie Life of Pi last weekend. Here's the trailer. It is not really a movie for young children - the tiger is too realistic (that is, fierce) and young children might get very scared in some scenes.  Then again, young children might love it and their adult companions might be the ones who get scared for them. In any case, a caveat. If you don't want young kids to see it, just see it yourself.

I have also confirmed that whatever yoga can't fix right away, like a buzzing or distracted mind, a good book can.

Happy week of reading! What's on your list?

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