Jul 31, 2012

Book Teaser: Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Hide Me Among the Graves
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB; choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"What...are they? The g-ghost, two years ago, I used garlic and the river to hide from it.

"Didn't you have any garlic tonight?" (p. 35)
Title: Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
Published March 13, 2012; William Morrow
Genre: metaphysical intrigue, mystery

Book setting: Winter, 1862. A malevolent spirit roams the cold and gloomy streets of Victorian London, the vampiric ghost of John Polidori, the onetime physician of the mad, bad and dangerous Romantic poet Lord Byron. Polidori is also the supernatural muse to his niece and nephew, poet Christina Rossetti and her artist brother Dante Gabriel. (goodreads)

Jul 28, 2012

Book Review: Tahoe Trap by Todd Borg

Tahoe Trap: A Novel
Title: Tahoe Trap: An Owen McKenna Mystery Thriller by Todd Borg
Release date: August 1, 2012; Thriller Press
Objective rating: 4.5/5

About the book: A young illegal alien, Paco, calls for help when his foster mother is murdered. Tahoe Detective Owen McKenna not only protects the boy from the killers but plans with Paco to entrap them. 

Ten-year-old Paco witnessed the murder, but McKenna doesn't turn the case over to the authorities right away as the boy would be discovered as an illegal immigrant and deported, even though he grew up in the U.S., speaks only English, and has no ties to his home country, Mexico.

Comments: The mystery at first seems to revolve only around the foster mother, who was involved in collecting information about wealthy residents in the Tahoe area, but it quickly becomes young Paco's story of survival.

I enjoyed the view with McKenna in his Jeep (figuratively) as he drove around Tahoe, from misty mountain to dry desert to scenic beach, searching, following, investigating in order to find the killers. McKenna enlists Paco's help to concoct and prepare an elaborate trap for the killers, hence the title of the book. Super clever! I though it was unusual for McKenna, with his dog Spot, to do so much for Paco, to boost the boy's confidence.

More twists in the plot toward the end of the book turn the mystery into an even more suspenseful thriller. McKenna is a likeable guy who turns out to be a superhero himself.

About the author: Todd Borg won the Ben Franklin Award for Best Mystery of the Year and his Owen McKenna mysteries have been chosen for Top 5 Mystery lists by the Library Journal, and by Mystery News Reviewer G. Wedgwood. He has won other awards for the series. Borg and his wife live on Lake Tahoe's South Shore. 


Many thanks to the author for an ARC of this book.

Book Review: Gone by Cathi Hanauer

Gone: A Novel
Title: Gone: A Novel by Cathi Hanauer
Hardcover; published June 19, 2012; Atria Books
Genre: contemporary fiction
Source: publisher

A nutritionist, Eve Adams's time is caught up raising her two children, serving her clients and handling her client's pressing health and even their private family problems. She has a full life. Her husband Eric is a sculptor who has lost his drive to succeed and has no motivation in life. Eve seems to handle the children all on her own.

This is the status quo until the evening that Eric drives off taking the babysitter home and doesn't return. Eve fears the worst after she finds the babysitter is also missing. She begins to doubt her husband and examine her marriage.

The novel is a revealing look at relationships, family, careers. I focused mostly on Eve and Eric's story, which was well written and not at all predictable, and skipped over the people that Eve becomes involved in helping in her work as a nutritionist. I'm not sure how they fit in with the couple's personal story, except to show Eve's extraordinary dedication to her work and clients. I gave this interesting examination of a marriage a 3.5/5 rating.

Jul 27, 2012

Book Review: The Headmaster's Wager, a Novel

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam
Publication date: August 14, 2012; Hogarth
Hardcover: 432 pages
Genre: historical, literary fiction

The Headmaster's Wager
The Headmaster's Wager:
Percival Chen, headmaster of an English language academy in Cholon, Vietnam in the mid 1960s, decides to wager a large sum of money in a mah-jong game, putting his school in jeopardy if he should lose.

The stakes are high - the winning pot plus a young Vietnamese woman are part of the bet. Percival, a Chinese who believes in the traditional ways, always dreams of one day returning to China, his homeland, and tries to raise his teenage son Dai Jai in the old fashioned way - urging him to always show respect by staying within the Chinese culture and not marrying outside of that culture. Dai Jai has been seen in the company of a Vietnamese girl, however, one of his classmates.

When Dai Jai leads an illegal protest at the school to defy the government's new rule that his father's school teach the Vietnamese language as well as English, Percival sends Dai Jai off to Shanghai to prevent him from being jailed for the offense and being conscripted into the Vietnamese army.

What changes life for Percival happens after he sends his son away to China and after he wins the high stakes mah-jong game and the Vietnamese girl along with it. Percival falls in love with the Vietnamese girl he won in the bet and his formerly circumscribed life slowly begins to change. Events escalate and Percival's life is affected dramatically, by the girl as much as by the war in Vietnam, the American presence there, and by the tumultuous political changes in China that affect his son Dai Jai.

My comments: The book revolves around the personality of the headmaster and the changes that personal circumstances and war have on his outlook on life. Vincent Lam has created an unforgettable character in Percival Chen, the headmaster, who made me alternately frustrated and anxious throughout the book.

Percival's naivete and his strict adherence to the old traditions almost lead to his undoing and you can say that many of the tragedies in his life are as much his own fault as that of the war and the political upheavals around him. Percival navigates rough waters and at the end of the book, I wanted to read more about this interesting fictional character.

Source: Book won in giveaway contest.

Jul 26, 2012

Book Review: FLESH: A Novel by Khanh Ha

Flesh Title: Flesh: A Novelby Khanh Ha
Black Heron Press: June 15, 2012; hardcover
Genre: historical, literary fiction
Objective rating: 4/5

I blinked away wet stars in my eyes. "I want my daddy's skull back." 
"Daddy's skull? the older boy said, and then tapped the skull with his pipe. "This?"
About the book:
Set in Tonkin (now North Vietnam) in the early 20th century, the book follows young Tai, who as a child witnessed the beheading of his father who was accused of being an outlaw. Tai's father was known as a bandit but was something of a Robin Hood, who helped those around him. He was betrayed by someone in his band of outlaws, someone whose name Tai does not know. As a dutiful son, he recovers the skull of his father from the rival village where the execution took place, and is helped by a boatman and his daughter to escape.

Tai makes a pact with a geomancer to find a desirable and auspicious burial site for his father's and his brother's bodies, as Tai discovers that a good burial site can mean prosperity in the future for himself, his mother, and the future members of his family.

The novel follows the young man as he becomes a servant to the geomancer in the city and then finds a patron who buys the burial site for his family and bestows other favors on him.  Tai later discovers who betrayed his father and what fate has in store for him.

Comments: While it was slow going in the middle, the book picks up toward the end and I was quite engrossed in finding out what would happen to Tai and the girl he thinks he loves. The times are hard, people are poor, but the natural surroundings bring peace and comfort, as the writer shows in his lyrical and descriptive writing.

The novel is set during the time when Tonkin was under French colonial rule. The relationships between the French, the resident Chinese, and the Tonkinese (Vietnamese) are all featured in the book, which gives you a good feel for the culture, the times and its conditions.

I rated the book 4/5 and recommend it for those interested in Vietnam during this period of history.


Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. He is at work on a new novel.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a complimentary review copy of this book. Click for other reviews

Book Review:The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

The Headmaster's Wager
Title:THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER: A NOVEL by Vincent Lam
Published August 14, 2012; Hogarth
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 5/5
"Tricks, Mr. Cho? Isn't this a mah-jong table?" said Percival, as he began to wash the tiles. "The only tricks are those of luck. Two hundred per player, then?"
"If you want to play, let's play." Cho looked up from under his eyeshade. (ch. 9)
About the book: Percival Chen, headmaster of an English language academy in Cholon, Vietnam in the mid 1960s, decides to wager a large sum of money in a mah-jong game, putting his school in jeopardy if he should lose.

The stakes are high - the winning pot plus a young Vietnamese woman are part of the bet. Percival, a Chinese who believes in the traditional ways, always dreams of one day returning to China, his homeland, and tries to raise his teenage son Dai Jai in the old fashioned way - urging him to always show respect by staying within the Chinese culture and not marrying outside of that culture. Dai Jai has been seen in the company of a Vietnamese girl, however, one of his classmates.

When Dai Jai leads an illegal protest at the school to defy the government's new rule that his father's school teach the Vietnamese language as well as English, Percival sends Dai Jai off to Shanghai to prevent him from being jailed for the offense and being conscripted into the Vietnamese army.

What changes life for Percival happens after he sends his son away to China and after he wins the high stakes mah-jong game and the Vietnamese girl along with it. Percival falls in love with the Vietnamese girl he won in the bet and his formerly circumscribed life slowly begins to change. Events escalate and Percival's life is affected dramatically, by the girl as much as by the war in Vietnam, the American presence there, and by the tumultuous political changes in China that affect his son Dai Jai.

My comments: The book revolves around the personality of the headmaster and the changes that personal circumstances and war have on his outlook on life. Vincent Lam has created an unforgettable character in Percival Chen, the headmaster, who made me alternately frustrated and anxious throughout the book.

Percival's naivete and his strict adherence to the old traditions almost lead to his undoing and you can say that many of the tragedies in his life are as much his own fault as that of the war and the political upheavals around him. Percival navigates rough waters and at the end of the book, I wanted to read more about this interesting fictional character.

About the author: VINCENT LAM is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and was born in Canada. He is an emergency physician in Toronto and a Lecturer at the University of Toronto. His first book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada. He co-authored The Flu Pandemic and You, a guide to influenza pandemics.

I won a copy of this book.

Jul 24, 2012

Book Teaser: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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

Shadow and Bone
"The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke's house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches." (page 1; from an advanced reader's edition; final copy may differ).
Title:Shadow and Bone: Grisha Trilogy
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: fantasy
Source: ARC from Macmillan Children's Publishing

Book description:
Alina Starkov, orphaned by the Border Wars, relies on her best friend and fellow refugee, Mal. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they’re sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

Alina reveals a dormant power no one knew existed. She is whisked away to the royal court to become a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Jul 22, 2012

Sunday Salon: Two Good Reads

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon!

The heat all this month has helped my goal of shedding a few pounds. It has been easier to have salads for dinner and to eat light throughout the day. I hope to keep this up even when cold weather comes back!

My current reads include an ARC of a book sent by the publisher, which I am really enjoying!

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World
Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World is written by Sabina Berman, a writer who lives in Mexico. The novel is narrated by an autistic savant saved from savagery by a intelligent aunt. She calls herself Me and challenges the I think, therefore I amphilosophy of Decartes, saying she first existed before she became a thinking person, having been rescued and pulled into consciousness of herself by her aunt.

The book is due out in August and is translated from the Spanish.

A book sent to me by Gallic Books has been languishing on my desk for a few years but I have dusted it off and am also enjoying reading it.

The Nicolas le Floch Affair
The Nicolas le Floch Affair by Jean-Francois Parot is an historical mystery set in 18th century Paris, translated from the French.

Nicolas le Floch is a commissioner of police in Paris and is featured in the mystery series. In this book, his lover, a socialite, is found murdered, a victim of poisoning. A plot is in place to blame le Floch, who has to clear his name by finding the real murderer. He is also sent on a secret mission by King Louis XV to London. This is the fourth in the Nicholas le Floch Investigations series.
I have committed to six book tours in the next seven weeks! There will be a lot of reading plus sneaking in a few other things To Do before summer is out.

What are your plans for the rest of the month and August?

Jul 20, 2012

Book Review: Charlie: A Love Story by Barbara Lampert

This is a heartfelt memoir about the final years of Charlie the Golden Retriever, written as a journal by psychotherapist Barbara Lampert about her much loved pet.
Charlie: A Love Story
Title: Charlie: A Love Story by Barbara Lampert
Paperback; Langdon Street Press; January 16, 2012
Genre: memoir, journal

Charlie lived a charmed life with owner Barbara Lampert and her other dogs in Malibu, California. However, at age 11, when Charlie became ill, he became the subject of Barbara's journal, his progress intermixed with her daily jottings about her gardening, another passion in the author's life.


The book is a a very personal story of Barbara's coping with an ailing Charlie and the time she spends in her garden at Rose Cottage. The two stories seem to provide balance in her life - a thriving garden that she can keep on replanting and replenishing and a beloved pet that she knows will eventually succumb to illness and old age. Charlie in fact lived a good 14 years. The diary covers 2001 to 2003, his final years.
August 12 2001. Sunday. Our birthday. Charlie's and mine. I love that we 're born on the same day but the surgery is two days from now, so it's hard to celebrate. Today, nearly the whole family... spent some more hours in the garden. Charlie relaxed on a big rug, Barny played ball, David took pictures, I posed with Charlie, and Sabrina watched.
I could empathize with Barbara on the aging and illness of her dog, having also lost an old but well loved pet some years ago. Dog lovers as well as gardeners will be interested in Charlie and Rose Cottage, about the author's sentimental memories and the memories she has of life with her beloved pet.

Barbara Lampert's Bio:
Barbara Lampert is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in relationships. Barbara notes that for a lot of people, their dogs are their best friends. She loves helping people know that’s ok – that a soul-satisfying relationship may be found with any being and needs to be treasured. Barbara is an avid gardener in Malibu, California with her husband David  and their six-year-old Golden Retriever, Harry. She hopes that Charlie: A Love Story will be a tribute not only to a magnificent dog but to all dogs everywhere.

For more reviews of Charlie: A Love Story, visit http://charlie-a-love-story.blogspot.com/
Thanks for a review copy of this book to Tribute Books Blog Tours https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tribute-Books-Blog-Tours/242431245775186

Jul 16, 2012

Book Review: The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch


Title:The Song Remains the Same: A Novel
Author: Allison Winn Scotch
Putnam Adult; April 12, 2012
Source: Publisher
Objective rating: 4/5

I was grabbed by the story - Nell Slattery has lost her memory after a plane crash and is lied to by her relatives and her husband about details of her past. She doesn't recognize her husband, her mother, or her sister, and it seems she has become another person - a more outgoing and less stuffy and conservative person she hears she used to be.

Nell slowly discovers the truths about her marriage, her childhood, and the disappearance of her father, a well-known artist. She makes a decision to be a different person from the one she used to be. I thought the ending was a bit prolonged, however, and I was also a bit surprised by Nell's decision re her dad at the end of the book as this didn't seem totally in character. Overall, however, a very good read!


Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of the book.

Jul 15, 2012

Sunday Salon: Missing Yoga

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon!

Enlightenment for Idiots
I miss my yoga classes.

I thought I'd stop yoga for a while to concentrate on tai chi, but I'm not learning a lot from the class as our teacher goes way too fast for me. As far as I can see, tai chi is supposed to be sloooow. So, I started doing some yoga exercises on my own this morning and it's helping my aches and pains from all the heat and humidity the past few weeks!

 I started a mystery novel, was not in the mood for a mystery, and started reading The Song Remains the Same, a novel about a woman who wakes up in the hospital with severe amnesia after a horrific plane crash. She doesn't recognize her husband, her mother, or her sister, and it seems she has become another person - a more outgoing and less stuffy and conservative person she hears she used to be. Am eager to see how the plot unfolds.

Last week, I did a review of a book of poems for a tour for
Listening to Africa: Poems by Diane M. Raab and also reviewed an historical novel, 
The White Pearl by Kate Furnivall.
Next week is a book tour for

Charlie : A Love Story
by Barbara Lampert


In between I'm writing poetry! and plan to work on my family tree, improve my tai chi, and get through the heat wave that's coming up next week.  What are your plans?

Jul 14, 2012

Book Review: The White Pearl by Kate Furnivall

The White Pearl: A Novel
Title: The White Pearl: A Novel by Kate Furnivall
March 5. 2012; Berkley Trade Paperback
Genre: historical novel, 1941 Malaya
Source: library
Rating: 4.5/5

Comments: Excellent storytelling and characters, with twists and turns in the plot in every chapter. The book also remains true to the history of the period when the British are overthrown in Malaya in 1941 by invading Japanese armies arriving by air, sea, and through the jungles. The book is a wonderful combination of adventure, war, romance, suspense, and history.

Book description:
Malaya, 1941. Connie Thornton and her husband are among the fortunate British rubber plantation owners reaping the benefits of the colonial life. But Connie feels oppressed, crippled by boredom, sweltering heat, a loveless marriage. Then she is involved in a fatal car accident involving a Malay woman, who issues a chilling curse before dying.

Then, in December, the Japanese invade. Connie and her family flee with friends on their yacht "The White Pearl" toward Singapore, where they are sure the British will prevail. They learn that Singapore is under siege, and their boat is later taken over by a pirate craft and its Malayan crew making their perilous way from island to island. When a fighter plane crashes into the sea and they rescue its Japanese pilot, things become more real for Connie. In the suffocating confines of the boat with her life upended, Connie discovers her own strength, freedom from the past, and a new, unexpected but dangerous love.

I'm eager to read The Russian Concubine, Furnivall's previous novel set in Shanghai in the 1920s.

Jul 11, 2012

Book Review: Listening to Africa: Poems by Diana M. Raab

"The Nabinian sky
lingers clear and endless
over the lavender orange chain

of numbered sand dunes"

(from"Balloon Rides")

Title: Listening to Africa: Poems by Diana M. Raab
Published March 18, 2012; Antrim House

Poet Diana M. Raab travels to the heart of Africa with her family to experience the beauty and fascination of another world. During her safari, she observes the distress, the delight, and the dignity of the humans and animals who live there and parallels them with her own quest for health. (book description)

About the book: Diana M. Raab has written a book of 41 poems about her trip with her family to three countries in Africa - Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The poems are written in chronological order with her trip, from her packing and mental preparations for travel to the plane rides and her tours of each country.

My comments: Raab travels to Africa battling illness and cancer, and her awareness of her physical health makes her more sensitive to what she sees in the undeveloped areas of Africa. She cringes at the poverty, the disease, and the germs she imagines is in everything and everywhere, and at times is homesick for the relative safety of the doctors and medicines in America.
While traveling this continent
my safari pants' pockets
brim with Western remedies

to fend off threatened diseases
as germs and parasites conspire against me
within the waters and dense canopies.
(from "Disease Dance")
It is not until almost the end of her visit to the first country in her itinerary, Namibia, that she begins to lose herself in her surroundings and the beauty of the natural world around her and to forget her illness now and again. She is able to appreciate the other two countries much more - the wildlife and the countryside and begins to write about "Hippos," "Baobab Trees and Hyenas," "Mischievous Monkeys," the camp, a visit to the market, Victoria Falls, giraffes.

But she is always aware of the poverty around her. As she leaves Africa, she gives their bundles of safari clothing to her guide, who says, "You have made me a spiritual millionaire!" She leaves Africa with strong memories "guaranteed to make you weep,even/if you live your time there in unforgettable fear."

I liked those poems best in which she loses herself in her environment and into the other world of Africa.
I hear unrecognizable sounds
of animals singing
elusive evening melodies.
(from "Creatures")
I did also appreciate her viewpoints and astute observations of the difference between life in the West and places she visited. I hesitate to give a rating to this book as reading poetry, I find, is such a subjective experience. This however, is a very interesting record of a woman's journey outside of herself,  seeing herself in a different country and world, and recording it in poetry.


Diana Raab is a memoirist, essayist and poet as well as a registered nurse. She has a B.S. in Health Administration and Journalism, and an RN degree in addition to an MFA in Nonfiction Writing. Diana teaches creative journaling and memoir in workshops around the country.

Raab is the author of two memoirs, Regina's Closet: Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal, winner of the 2008 National Indie Excellence Award for Memoir and Healing With Words, the 2011 Mom's Choice Award Winner for Adult Nonfiction. She is author of four poetry collections.

Author Web Site: http://dianaraab.com/
Blog: http://dianaraab.com/blog/
Listening to Africa's Facebook:http://www.facebook.com/ListeningToAfrica
Visit Tribute Book Blog Tour schedule for a list of other reviews of Listening to Africa. I received a
complimentary review copy through the blog tour.

Jul 10, 2012

Author Interview: Paul Levine, the Solomon and Lord legal thrillers

Paul Levine is author of the “Solomon and Lord” legal thrillers--
Solomon vs. LordThe Deep Blue AlibiKill All the LawyersHabeas Porpoise (formerly titled Trial & Error).

The books were nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, and James Thurber awards, and have been released as Kindle Exclusives.

         
Q: “Solomon vs. Lord” opens with the lyrics from an old Frank Sinatra song called “But I Loved You.” That’s a little odd for a legal thriller, isn’t it?

A:Would you like me to sing a verse?

Q:Only if you must.


A:“Opposites attract, the wise men claim, Still I wish that we had been a little more the same,It might have been a shorter war.”


 Q: So, is it a thriller with humor or a mystery with romance?
A: A legal thriller with humor. A dramedy.



Q: If you had to compare the story to earlier works...?



A: Shakespeare, of course.



Q: Of course.



A. Seriously.  The ‘opposites attract’ set-up goes all the way back to “The Taming of the Shrew.”  Then there’s Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man.”  “The Bickersons” on radio.  “Moonlighting” on television. Two people love-hate each other.  Life sizzles when they’re together, fizzles when they’re apart.

Q: Let’s look at the book’s teaser: 

          “Victoria Lord follows all the rules...
Steve Solomon makes up his own...
bed.”

Does that leave anything out?

A: All the kinky sex.

Q:  We’re not sure if you’re being serious.

A:  Totally.  My working title was “Fifty Shades of Plaid.”

Q: One reviewer described the book as “Carl Hiaasen meets John Grisham in the court of last retort.”  Fair assessment?

A: I probably bring humor to my work because, as a trial lawyer, I saw so much nuttiness in the courtroom.

Q: In “The Deep Blue Alibi,” there’s a chapter at a Florida nudist resort.  Is it fair to ask how you researched the scene?

A: Like Jackie Chan, I do my own stunts.

Q: What about the title?  Are you paying homage to John D. MacDonald’s “The Deep Blue Good-Bye?”

A: “Homage?” That’s French for cheese, isn’t it?

Q: Now you’re being facetious.

A: That’s what they pay me for.

Q: Let’s be serious.  You’ve won the John D. MacDonald Fiction award.  You’re not denying his influence on you.

A: After I moved to Florida, I read all of MacDonald’s Travis McGee books.  When I wrote my first Jake Lassiter novel (“To Speak for the Dead”), one of my first fan letters was from John D. MacDonald’s son. I think JDM nailed Florida’s weirdness and corruption.

Q: Does that explain the title of your third Solomon & Lord novel, “Kill All the Lawyers?”   A combination of Shakespeare and MacDonald.

A: As lawyers constantly point out, that line was spoken by a villain in “Henry VI.” The guy wanted to overthrow the government, and killing all the lawyers seemed like a good place to start.

Q: While we’re on the topic of titles–

A: Which you seem to be obsessed with.

Q: What about “Habeas Porpoise?”

A.  I didn’t steal that one from Shakespeare.

Q: Or anyone else.  That would seem to be original.

A: Here’s the story.  When Bantam published the book, my editors rejected the title as too funny.  Now, the story opens with two highly trained dolphins being kidnapped by some hapless animal rights people, so I thought “funny” was okay.  But we settled on “Trial & Error” for the book. When I got the rights back for e-book publication, I restored the original name.

Q:  Tell us about your background.  Your education.

A: At Penn State, I majored in journalism.  At the University of Miami Law School, I majored in the swimming pool.

Q: You’ve been a successful television writer. What advice would you give to people who want to break into Hollywood?

A: Marry a blood relative of Jerry Bruckheimer or J.J. Abrams.

Q: Lacking that, when aspiring authors or screenwriters sit down at the computer, what should they be writing?

A: Ransom notes, maybe? Look, it’s really hard to break into the business. Some people suggest writing a spec script. But that’s a tough route.  Years ago, Elmore Leonard said, “Writing a script and sending it to Hollywood is like drawing a picture of a car and sending it to Detroit.” So I’d recommend entry level positions as assistants or script readers.  In the TV business, assistants sometimes manage to sell a script to the show they’re working on.

Q: Any last words about “Solomon vs. Lord?”

A: I wasn’t kidding about the kinky sex.

More information on Paul Levine’s website: http://www.paul-levine.com
Thanks to Wiley Sachek of Authors on the Web for this interview.

Jul 8, 2012

Sunday Salon: Mystery Novels and a Few Other Books

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday

I've been in the mood for good thrillers and mysteries lately.

I've posted a review of The Fear Artist: A Poke Rafferty Mystery #5 and really enjoyed the book and the setting - Bangkok, a city where I lived four years in the early 1980s.


Spencer Quinn's ARC of A Fistful of Collars: A Chet and Bernie Mystery is a clever series which features the man and dog detective duo.

Another new thriller I'm reading is Ridley Pearson's The Risk Agent, a novel about business and government corruption, set in modern Shanghai.

On a different note, here are a few other books I have on my list for variety:
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein, described as

One wedding. Five nightmare guests. Five ways to ruin the happiest day of someone else's life:
- Cry uncontrollably over your ex in front of the bride and mix calming herbal remedies with copious amounts of alcohol so that it's hard to stand up - especially if you're a bridesmaid
- Dress like you are attending a funeral and look for opportunities to re-enact scenes from steamy novels
- Turn up late wearing a T-shirt covered in mud and something that looks like blood
- If you are the bride's uncle, who no one likes anyway, try to cop off with her friend who's way too young for you
- Wear a suit that stinks of chicken wings and then spend the whole reception propping up the bar. Who said going to a wedding solo couldn't be fun?

Also,
Skios: A Novel by Michael Frayn. "The master of farce turns to an exclusive island retreat for a comedy of mislaid identities, unruly passions, and demented, delicious disorder."

Keeping cool during these hot days? I'll be indoors watching tennis today. How about you?

Jul 6, 2012

Book Review: THE FEAR ARTIST by Timothy Hallinan


Title: The Fear Artist (Poke Rafferty Mystery #5)
Author: Timothy Hallinan
Kindle; Hardcover to be released July 17, 2012; Soho Press
Genre: thriller

The main character: Poke Rafferty is a travel writer living in Thailand with his wife Rose and adopted daughter Miaow. He has gotten involved in solving murders and crimes before in the City of Angels which is Bangkok, and this is the fifth in the thriller series featuring Poke, in which crime and politics just seems to single him out for involvement.

The plot: Poke is minding his own business on the Bangkok streets, buying paint for their apartment while his wife and daughter are away visiting relatives in the northeast. Demonstrators against government policies in the volatile south of Thailand are suddenly dispersed by police and come rushing down the street when Poke is carrying two cans of paint out of a store. He is hit and sent sprawling on the sidewalk by one of the runners, a heavyset foreign man, who collapses in his arms, evidently having been shot at least three times by the police. The dying man, an American, whispers three words to Poke before he dies.

Poke goes into hiding for fear of his life and warns his wife and child to stay away from Bangkok indefinitely. The Thai police have already questioned him about the dead man, whom the CIA and other unknown people are curious about. Poke uses former spies from Russia and Eastern Europe and former Vietnam veterans, all living in Bangkok, to find out more about a red-haired man who is behind the attempt to link Poke with the dead man in a situation that Poke knows nothing about. The red-haired man is involved in resolving the Muslim insurgency and the "War on Terror" in the south of Thailand.

Help for Poke comes from his half-sister Ming Li, Poke's police friend Arthit, and his savvy neighbor Mrs. Pongsiri, to avoid the Thai police and the red-haired man while he figures out the significance of the three words the dying man whispered to him.

My comments: I read the book twice to get all the nuances of the plot, which was complicated to me as it involves Southeast Asia's past and its present. I read it first noting all the personal relationships that are important in the book - Poke with his wife and teenage daughter; his friend Arthit who carries around the memory of his deceased wife Noi; Arthit's growing relationship with Anna, the friend of his dead wife; Poke's daughter's friendship with a nerdy teen; the red-headed man's relationship with a drug addicted wife and a crazed teenage daughter, and so on.

I read the book again to get the political lowdown of Vietnam in the past and Southern Thailand in the present. The plot catches it all together neatly, while you travel every step of the way with Poke in hiding and Poke detecting, planning, surviving and deducing how to get out of his strange and unwanted situation.
".... But Jesus, Poke. You're supposed to be a travel writer, as far as I know. How does someone like you get this devious?" 
"I'm just writing," Poke says. "I got stuck in somebody else's story. All I'm trying to do is write my way out." ( ch. 26, from an uncorrected proof. The final copy may differ.)
A great thriller that will draw you in, into the relationships between what will seem like real people, and into a political situation with what will seem like true life villains. The characters are well drawn and realistic, the plot is superb, the thrill of the race is exciting, the setting in flooded Bangkok is exotic and a great place to be, from an armchair.

Thanks to the author for an ARC of The Fear Artist . My objective rating: 5/5.

Jul 4, 2012

New Cozy Mysteries in 2012

Thanks to the publisher, I have two cozy mysteries to give away beginning today! For many of you who are staying at home on July 4 because of the extreme heat, here's something to spice up your day - a book contest for cozies released yesterday, July 3.


Title: In a Witch's Wardrobe: A Witchcraft Mystery
Author: Juliet Blackwell
Lily Ivory owns a vintage clothing store - and practices magic on the side. But when she encounters a sinister sleeping spell, Lily comes face-to-face with a nightmarish evil... A young woman at an Art Deco ball falls under a mysterious sleeping sickness, a curse possibly placed on the woman's corsage. Lily is asked to help solve a string of poisonings in the Bay Area witchcraft community; evidence soon points to a new acquaintance dabbling in dark magic and deadly botany. (book description)


Title:How to Dine on Killer Wine by Penny Warner
Published by Signet, paperback

Presley Parker's event-planning business is the toast of San Francisco. But when she ventures into Napa Valley to oversee her first wine tasting, the lifeless body of the president of an environmental group is discovered under one of the tables at the party.Presley has to clear the winery owners of this crime before someone else gets corked. (book description)

GIVEAWAY CONTEST: Leave a comment with your email address and the name of the book you wish to win! There will be two winners, one for each book. U.S. residents only, please; no P.O. Box addresses. The contest will run through July 10; winners will be notified by email and will have 24 hours to respond. Good luck and Happy 4th!!

UPDATE: WINNERS OF THE GIVEAWAY: Congrats to Zibilee on winning In a Witch's Wardrobe and to Stacybuckeye on winning How to Dine on Killer Wine! Thanks everyone for entering the giveaway. Don't despair if you didn't win this time as there are more giveaways this summer!

Jul 3, 2012

Book Review: Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea


Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea
Paperback, published April 1, 2009
Genre: mystery set in Bolivia
Rating: 3.5/5

I read this library book in June 2009 and wrote the following comments on Goodreads. I thought I'd reprint it for selfish reasons. I hope to have every country on my Flag Counter visit my blog, at lease once. No one from Bolivia has visited my blog site, at least not recently. de Recacoechea is one of their best known novelists.

My comments on the book: I gave this mystery novel 3 1/2 and would probably have given it a four if I could have read it in the original Spanish! Some things are often lost in translation!

The train ride from the bowl of the city of La Paz, Bolivia up to its rim, across the stark and dry plateau, and then down to the coastline of Chile was the highlight of the book for me. Descriptions of the scenery, the sunsets, the people, and the few lonely homesteads on the plateau, were very interesting. I once flew over the Andes on the way from Brazil back to the U.S. and ofen wondered what it was like down below.

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

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

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

About the Author: Juan de Recacoechea was born in La Paz, Bolivia, and worked as a journalist in Europe for almost twenty years. After returning to his native country, he helped found Bolivia's first state-run television network and dedicated himself to fiction writing. His novel American Visa won Bolivia's National Book Prize; was adapted into an award-winning film. Adrian Althoff is a freelance journalist and translator based in La Paz, Bolivia and Washington, D.C.

In a Witch's Wardrobe by Juliet Blackwell: Book Teaser and Review

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


I flipped through the book of shadows until something caught my eye."It's as I thought: says here her soul's been displaced, which makes sense. Mirrors capture souls adrift." (ch. 3)

Title: In a Witch's Wardrobe: A Witchcraft Mystery by Juliet Blackwell
Paperback published by Signet; July 3, 2012
Genre: paranormal mystery
Source: publisher

Lily Ivory is living her dream of owning a vintage clothing store - and practicing magic on the side. But when she encounters a sinister sleeping spell, Lily comes face-to-face with a nightmarish evil... A young woman at an Art Deco ball falls under a mysterious sleeping sickness, a curse possibly placed on the woman's corsage.

Lily is also asked to investigate a string of poisonings in the Bay Area witchcraft community and soon suspects a new acquaintance of dabbling in dark magic and deadly botany. (book description)

My comments: Interesting idea for a cozy series but way too paranormal for my tastes. Too many witches, covens, goblins, gargoyles, pseudo-familiars with scales, snouts, and clawed feet. I couldn't suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the mystery plot. Probably a good mystery series for those who enjoy magic and witchcraft, however.

GIVEAWAY: Click here for a chance to win this book in a giveaway, now through July 10.