May 31, 2013

Book Review: Running With the Enemy by Lloyd Lofthouse

"Then Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha came into sight, and she saw Wat Arun, Temple of the Dawn, on the other side of the river. Even after the year in France and Vietnam, Tuyen still recognized the beauty of The City of Angels (Bangkok). (ch. 17)
Title: Running With the Enemy: A Novel by Lloyd Lofthouse
Publisher: Three Clover Press (February 1, 2013)
Genre: Vietnam War, historical fiction, suspense

Lloyd Lofthouse describes his book Running with the Enemy as a memoir that evolved into fiction. As a Vietnam veteran who had seen and experienced enough to leave him with post traumatic stress disorder, he wrote this book it seems to come to terms with all he experienced in Vietnam. The book became fiction, an action novel with a strong romance component.

Overall it rings true of war and what it was like to serve in Vietnam. Much of the book details the fighting, the casualties and the heartbreak and the trauma experienced by the soldiers. The book also takes you on a dizzying journey when the lovers Tuyen and Ethan flee to other countries in Southeast Asia - Laos, Cambodia, Bangkok, Thailand ,and Burma (Myanmar).

For those who would like to get a sense of what combat was really like, this is an excellent book, which began as a memoir of Vietnam.

Publisher's description:
In this suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War, Victor Ortega is a rogue CIA agent, and he needs someone to blame for his crimes. Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy.

When Ethan discovers he is going to be court marshaled for weapons he did not sell to the Viet Cong and his secret lover, a beautiful half-Vietnamese and half-French woman, Tuyen, will be arrested, he hijacks a U.S. Army helicopter and flees with Tuyen across Southeast Asia while struggling to prove his innocence. Victor Ortega and Giap—working together with the support of an unwitting American general—hunt them down.

 The star-crossed lovers travel across Laos to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat; to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Burma’s Golden Triangle where Ethan and Tuyen face a ruthless drug lord and his gang. In the rainforests of Burma, Ethan also discovers Ortega and Giap have set in motion a massive assault on his Marine unit’s remote base in South Vietnam with the goal of killing the man he admires most, Colonel Edward Price, who is the only one who believes Ethan is innocent. Ethan must risk everything to save Price and his fellow Marines. Will he succeed?

About the author: Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran, served in Vietnam as a field radio operator in 1966. Back home, Lloyd never talked about the war and suffered from PTSD. In the early 1980s, he confronted his demons by writing about his war experiences in an MFA program. Lloyd earned a BA in journalism, and then worked as a public school teacher and as a maître d’.

 Running with the Enemy started as a memoir and then evolved into fiction. His short story, A Night at the “Well of Purity”, named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards, was based on an event Lloyd experienced in Vietnam. His first novel My Splendid Concubine has earned ten honorable mentions in general fiction. He is married to the author Anchee Min.

Visit Lloyd's website: Twitter:
Visit the tour schedule for more reviews.

Thanks to Premier Virtual Author Book Tours and the author for a review copy of this book.
Submitted to the 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

The Japanese Literature Challenge 7

I am joining the Japanese Literature Challenge 7 hosted by Dolce Bellezza.
It runs from June 1 through January 30, 2014;  the challenges have been very popular. The link above will take you to a sign up post and suggested books for reading. This year, children's books and manga, short stories, and poetry will be included.

My first book for the challenge? To finish reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I started some time ago. I hope to include some children's books and poetry this year.

My planned readings so far:

1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, literary fiction
2. Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura, thriller
3. Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui, sci-fi

What I have actually read for the challenge so far: 

1. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, fiction
2. Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura, thriller

What Japanese novels or books have you read or hope to read?

May 28, 2013

Book Review: The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau

Title: The Wonder Bread Summer: A Novel by Jessica Anya Blau
Published May 28, 2013; Harper Perennial paperback
Genre: fiction, comic novel

Publisher description: It’s 1983 in Berkeley, California. Twenty-year-old Allie Dodgson is a straitlaced college student working part-time at a dress shop to make ends meet. But when the shop turns out to be a front for a dangerous drug-dealing business, Allie finds herself on the lam, speeding toward Los Angeles in her best friend’s Prelude with a Wonder Bread bag full of cocaine riding shotgun and a hit man named Vice Versa on her tail.

My comments: I had fun reading this book and getting caught up in Allie's missteps and adventures that come about because of her extreme naivete in spite of being a twenty-year-old student at the U of California Berkeley. Allie reacts like a high school student to the problems and people she faces, and only in the end does she get some insight into her life and into what drives her.

But her naivete is what makes the book so much fun. Allie travels from Berkeley to Los Angeles in her friend's car, avoiding her pursuers who want the plastic Wonder Bread bag full of pure cocaine that Allie has in the car with her. In fact, she carries it around like a bag of bread and at one point loses it to a few of the people she trusts. Allie does her best to get the bag back to its owner, her former boss at the dress shop, so that he can call off her pursuers and leave her alone, finally. But things happen to get in the way of her simple plan...

Recommendation: A very enjoyable summer read. I like the author's sense of humor and her zany characters.

Jessica Anya Blau is the author of the national bestselling novel The Summer of Naked Swim Parties and the critically acclaimed Drinking Closer to Home. Link up to the author's website, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a review galley of this book. For more reviews, see the book's tour schedule.

May 26, 2013

Sunday Salon: A Quiet Weekend

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon! I have found some really good books to read, one of them A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb, set in Dorset and London. So, I'm reading this sunny weekend, gardening, enjoying my backyard, and taking walks. I'm not in the mood for crowds or long trips due to a bum hip!

I am also thinking about a book I should write ....

This post lists new books and links up to It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey;  to Mailbox Monday hosted by Abi at 4 the LOVE of BOOKS; and to Stacking the Shelves by Tynga's Reviews.

For two upcoming book tours, I've finished reading two very different books: The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau, a crazy but wonderful coming of age novel (May 28) and Running with the Enemy by Lloyd Lofthouse, a novel of war and romance (May 31). I also finished reading a cute cozy, Mayhem at the Orient Express by Kylie Logan.

On my reading shelves are new uncorrected proofs :
Summer Death: A Thriller by Mons Kallentoft
Second Watch by J.A. Jance
The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

and two review books from the publishers:

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway.... a nice surprise
The Fountain of St. James Court by Sena Jeter Naslund

I've read Jance, Mott Davidson and Moriarty before, and know I'll like their new books. The others will be a nice surprise.

What are you doing or reading this Memorial Day weekend?

May 22, 2013

Book Review: The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott

Title: The Christie Curse: A Book Collector Mystery by Victoria Abbott
Published March 5, 2013; Berkely paperback
Genre: mystery, cozy mystery

When I look at cozies, there are certain themes that will make me gravitate to the books right away: books, flowers or gardens, pets, bird watching, and of course, food. I liked the pug on the cover of this book and the series title, a Book Collector's Mystery.

Jordan Bingham of Harrison Falls, New York, comes from a family with sticky fingers and questionable ethics. Her uncles have taught her tricks like lock picking, self defense, and how to be street smart. After college, she is looking for a job that is on the up and up and agrees to be the live-in employee for an eccentric but wealthy book collector, Vera Van Alst.

Vera wants Jordan to investigate a rumor of an unpublished Agatha Christie play. She is willing to pay a lot of money to buy this collector's item.
I spent the rest of the afternoon plowing through my stack of research material on Agatha Christie, her disappearance and her plays. I worked undisturbed for hours, if you don't count Signora Panetone arriving with ... prosciutto, melon and fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. (ch. 6)
There are risks to the job: Jordan's predecessor Alex was killed when he fell or was pushed in front of a train, and a woman is attacked and left for dead after a book show. But Jordan keeps her job as she loves her new digs in Vera's mansion: her rooms decorated with old cabbage rose wallpaper, its spectacular view of the grounds, and the gourmet meals and snacks that the cook insists she eat every day. The only drawback in Jordan's mind is the bipolar Siamese cat who is loving one day and on the next doesn't miss a chance to use its sharp claws on Jordan's ankles.

This is a new series; there is humor, interesting dialogue, and a main character who is easy to like. The writing style of the author and the plot makes the cozy a pleasant reading trip. I am looking forward to the next in the series.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.
Submitted to Saturday Review of Books hosted by Semicolon. 

May 20, 2013

Book Review: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein


Title: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Published March 11, 2013. W.W. Norton and Company
Genre: historical novel

My summary: This is a novel about the war between the Japanese and the Americans in WWII, the atrocities of war on both sides, and the innocent families and people affected both in the U.S. and in Japan. The fire bombing of the city of Tokyo in 1945 when innocent civilians were killed or maimed is the reason for the title, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.  

My comments: I was confused while reading the book. I didn't know whether I should hate the Japanese for their war atrocities and killing downed American pilots during the war or hate the Americans for killing and maiming 100,000 innocent civilians in the later firebombing of Tokyo.

The book presents multiple points of view. We grow to detest a Japanese war criminal at the same time as we like his young daughter Yoshi and feel sorrow for his wife. We are dismayed at the execution of a young American pilot by Japanese troops in Manchuria and we feel pity for his wife. We are also appalled at the suffering and the death of civilians during the firebombing of Tokyo by American planes. At the end of the book, however, the various threads of the story are woven together and Yoshi makes a gesture of contrition to the wife of the American pilot killed during the war.

It is not an easy book to read. It is depressing in parts because the circumstances of war and the horrific effects on the people involved. Kudos to Jennifer Cody Epstein for tackling this subject and bringing all the elements together in a question of whether war justifies all actions. The book makes us think about the justification for killing innocents during war with its quote from one of the characters: "It's not murder! It's war."

For other reviews, visit Gods of Heavenly Punishment: TLC Virtual Book Tours

Publisher's description: A lush, exquisitely-rendered meditation on war, The God of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.

Jennifer Cody Epstein is also author of the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. Jennifer lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel. To connect with Jennifer, “like” her on Facebook.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
Submitted to the 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and Cym Lowell's Book Review Link-Up Party and Saturday Review of Books hosted by Semicolon. 

May 19, 2013

Sunday Salon: Stacking the Shelves

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon! I found a new meme, Stacking the Shelves by Tynga's Reviews. List your new book arrivals and link up at the site each week. Other sites are It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey, and  Mailbox Monday hosted by Abi at 4 the LOVE of BOOKS.

Seems that bloggers are still a viable means of publicity for publishers and authors, who send out ARCs and galleys as well as printed books to blogger reviewers. I love reading and writing about books and have expanded my book interests, found a lot of very good books that I would not have picked up on my own. Even though every single book I read can't be reviewed, because of time, there are books I feature or profile for readers.

Here are my new books this week:

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen, dystopian crime thriller
The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, crime fiction
The Fallout by Garry Disher, crime fiction
Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura, literary thriller
A Spider in the Cup by Barbara Cleverly, crime fiction

The Sexy Vegan's Happy Hour at Home by Brian L. Patton, cookbook
The Viagra Diaries by Barbara Rose Brooker, coming of age novel
The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett, historical fiction

I also have a few paperback cozies from Berkely and Obsidian, books to take to a beach or park.
 I take a book almost everywhere instead of my trusty e-reader. E-books are not my favorite way of reading, but the Kindle goes with me on a plane trip this summer. Beats hauling a ton of books along.

The sun is out finally, and the days are getting warmer. We went from winter right into summer, with only a few days of spring, it seems. I think my flowers bushes are confused. The iris are just now coming out when they normally bloom in April. They are plentiful and spread but are being kept in check by the hungry new bunnies and rabbits who visit from next door. I can't complain even though the crocus leaves don't survive, and the tiny tea rose bushes must have been totally consumed and haven't shown up this year. My consolation - the garden is kept from being rampant.

Have a great day and hope your Sunday is sunny!

May 18, 2013

Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie

Title: Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie
Published April 5, 2011; Broadway paperback
Genre: travel
Photographs by Alison Harris

Paris is only one of the cities called the "City of Light." It was given this name because it was the first European city that lit up its streets with gaslights. Other cities with the title include Miami, Florida; Anchorage, Alaska and Los Angeles, Ca., given for different reasons. The oldest city known as the City of Light is Varanasi (known as Benares) in India, the place where light first entered earth, according to Hindu belief.

For those traveling to Paris, Paris, Paris is the most complete and detailed description and history of Paris that I have seen. With lots of interesting tidbits and historical facts, it also has the advantage that it can be read in sections.

Here is the book/publisher description:
"Swapping his native San Francisco for the City of Light, travel writer David Downie arrived in Paris in 1986 on a one-way ticket, his head full of romantic notions. Curiosity and the legs of a cross-country runner propelled him daily from an unheated, seventh-floor walk-up garret near the Champs-Elysées to the old Montmartre haunts of the doomed painter Modigliani, the tombs of Père-Lachaise cemetery, the luxuriant alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens and the aristocratic Île Saint-Louis midstream in the Seine. 

Downie wound up living in the chic Marais district, married to the Paris-born American photographer Alison Harris, an equally incurable walker and chronicler. Ten books and a quarter-century later, he still spends several hours every day rambling through Paris, and writing about the city he loves. 

 An irreverent, witty romp featuring thirty-one short prose sketches of people, places and daily life, Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light ranges from the glamorous to the least-known corners and characters of the world’s favorite city."

I hope to make it back someday to Paris, which I visited after college during a short ramble through Europe. I'd be sure to read this book first, though, to get the most out of the trip.

Thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book. 

May 17, 2013

Book Review: The Girl Who Married an Eagle by Tamar Myers

The 1960s in the Belgian Congo, Africa, a few years before the country's independence.

Story: A young girl in the Bashilele tribe runs away during her wedding, escapes into the bush and is attacked by a pack of hyenas but the girl, Buakane, is found by a white missionary, before the hyenas can do serious harm. The missionary takes her to a boarding school for girls like herself,  runaway child brides. The school is run by Belgian missionaries in the Congo.

Julia Newton, a young college graduate from Ohio, joins the missionaries as a teacher in the school. This is the story of Julia and the story of the runaway Buakane, both different in background and points of view, but both having to adapt to an environment strange to them, though for different reasons.

Comments: I liked that the story was told with a lot of humor, even though the setting in the African bush was alarming for Julia, as she had to be constantly on the alert for hyenas, poisonous snakes, and the threat of revenge by the Bashilele warriors who might come to the school at any time to retrieve their runaway brides. Julia is considered unsuitable for missionary work by the other missionaries as she challenges their stringent and narrow rules and outlook. She is befriended though by Hank, a widowed missionary, and his young daughter, Clementine, and by her house helper, the astute African woman called Cripple.

As this story is based on the author's experience growing up in a missionary family in the Belgian Congo, I took the situation, the dangers, the differences in culture to be fairly close to fact. I liked that the story was told from both points of view, the Africans' and the white missionaries'.  Both groups viewed each other's appearance, habits, beliefs, food, and culture with equal amounts of alarm, dismay, and even disgust. Tamar Myer's style of writing brings humor and clarity to the story, however, and is very charming in its own way.

I highly recommend this for mystery lovers and for those who want to know more about the lives of missionaries in Africa.

Title: The Girl Who Married an Eagle by Tamar Myers
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (April 30, 2013)
Genre: mystery set in the Belgian Congo era
Objective rating: 5/5

For more reviews of the book, visit the TLC Book Tour schedule.

About the author: Tamar Myers was born and raised in the Belgian Congo (now just the Congo). Her parents were missionaries to a tribe which, at that time, were known as headhunters and used human skulls for drinking cups. Hers was the first white family ever to peacefully coexist with the tribe.

Tamar grew up eating elephant, hippopotamus and even monkey. She attended a boarding school that was two days away by truck, and sometimes it was necessary to wade through crocodile infested waters to reach it. Other dangers she encountered as a child were cobras, deadly green mambas, and the voracious armies of driver ants that ate every animal (and human) that didn’t get out of their way.

 Today Tamar lives in the Carolinas with her American-born husband. She is the author of 36 novels (most of which are mysteries), a number of published short stories, and hundreds of articles on gardening. Find out more about Tamar and her books at her website.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the author/publisher for a review galley of this book. 

May 16, 2013

Book Feature: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Title: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Published May 14, 2013; Harper
Genre: historical novel
Source: ARC from the publisher

Publisher description:
"London, 1955.
Grace Monroe is a young newlywed, eager to make a success of her marriage. However, with her  talent for advanced mathematics, she finds the elegant luncheons and parties among post-war London’s social set more tiresome than exciting.

When Grace receives an unexpected inheritance from a woman she’s never met, she finds herself suddenly on a journey to discover the identity of her benefactor and the secrets of her own past. In a story that takes us from New York in the 1920s to mid-century Monte Carlo, Paris and London, Grace discovers the intoxicating power of perfume; a desperate love between muse and artist; and a trail of dark memories that may mean she isn’t the person she thinks she is at all."

What do you think of the book cover and the premise of the story?

May 15, 2013

Cozy Mystery Cats and Dogs: Do You Have a Favorite?

Have any cozy mystery novels with cats or dogs on the cover? Makes me think that cozy readers are also pet lovers, whether they read contemporary mysteries or historical mysteries.

Take a look at a sample of book covers with felines and dogs perched on the covers.

A Fete Worse Than Death by Claudia Bishop. Someone gets killed during the rivalry of crafters at a Spring Fete in upstate New York. No mention of the cat!

Bowled Over by Victoria Hamilton, with a Fourth of July contemporary setting. Vintage kitchenware and cookbook collector finds the body of a former friend. 

The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott, set in New York in 1926, involves a sleuth hunting down rare mystery novels for a book collector. 

A Marked Man by Barbara Hamilton, set in colonial America. The book description doesn't mention the role of the cat on the cover.

Do animals or pets on the cover persuade you to pick up a book? Let's see what the publisher's descriptions have to say about these books.I think there are animals in all these mysteries but they are not crucial to the plot as some other cats/dogs are in other books.

My favorite dog centered mystery series, for example include Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie mysteries, Chet being the dog in a detective duo.

I reviewed The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn two years ago and liked it so much, especially Chet the dog, that I went back and read the others in the series. The stories are told by Chet, and they are amusing as well as charming! Quinn surely knows how to get us into the mind of a dog!

Another fave dog mystery is Ten Little Bloodhounds by the late Virginia Lanier. The series is excellent! The bloodhounds of course help Jo Beth Sidden find the clues.

The first mystery series I read that featured animals was Susan Conant's Dog Lovers Mysteries with her two Alaskan malamutes. I reviewed Brute Strength a couple years ago, and of course I've read all the books in the series, at least 19 of them.  Here's another one that's good:

In Animal Appetite, the 10th in the series, Holly Winter and her two Alaskan Malamutes in Cambridge, Mass. find the murderer of one of their own - a dog lover.

What about cats as the main feature in mystery novels, by writers such as
Rita Mae Brown and Lilian Jackson Braun and their talking detective cats;
Sofie Kelly and her Magical Cats,
Miranda James and her librarian's cat,
Leann Sweeney and her Cats in Trouble.
And there are so many, many more with a cat theme.

Do you have a favorite animal mystery novelist or series?

May 14, 2013

Book Review: Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans by Joanne DeMaio

Title: Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans by Joanne DeMaio
Paperback published March 11, 2013
Genre: fiction, women's fiction

About the book: So much can happen in one summer. Friends reunite in the little town of Stony Point on Long Island Sound and renew old friendships, remember their youthful days growing up there, find out each other's secrets and their own deep family secrets, and work to resolve their future.
"...and in some way, they all hope those days aren't over, but if they are, can't they bring them back to life, for a night even, a song, a look? Can't they bring the past back, somehow, tonight?" (ch. 16)
The main characters: Maris is back home from Chicago to settle her father's estate and finds old family photographs that puzzle her. Jason has decided to move his architect's office to the Sound to renovate cottages, but is still haunted by the death of his younger brother Neil. Eva is a realtor on the island, married to Matt, but desperately longing to find her biological parents. Lauren and Kyle are a married couple on the point of breaking up because of Kyle's problem finding a steady job in Stony Point and because of Lauren's memories of the past.

The setting: A small town by the ocean, with beaches, boardwalks, seashells, driftwood, cottages, and a laid back tourist atmosphere. The author writes with the eye of a painter or photographer, contrasting light and shadow, day and night in her vivid descriptions of the Sound. There is symbolism too in the shadows that hang over some of the characters, and in the waves, the "swells of grief" that come over Lauren when she remembers the past.

Recommendation: I loved the descriptions of the people and the exploration of their personalities and feelings. I also liked the descriptions of Stony Point, and the use of the imagery of the setting to reflect the outward and inward drama of the characters.

Two minor things that I did notice, from an editing point of view: on a night out on the water, the "black sky" and the "blackness could swallow her whole" on page 44 becomes on page 46, a sky "heavy with thousands of stars and a nearly full moon painting a swath of amber light across the water."  A discrepancy, I felt in the description of the night.  Also bothering me was the sudden appearance of a character named Vinny who is not introduced to the reader; I was puzzled about who he was when he first appeared.

Objective rating: The plot was excellent, the setting and the characters memorable and real.  Overall, a satisfying ending to a summer reunion by the beach, a book for any season.

Visit the author's website or

Joanne DeMaio has also written the bestselling novel WHOLE LATTE LIFE, which won First Place in the 2012 Discovery Awards and was named a Kirkus Reviews Critics' Pick. BLUE JEANS AND COFFEE BEANS is her second novel. Both books explore the intricate relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters and friends.  Joanne lives with her family in Connecticut and is at work on her next book.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book. 
This review is linked to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link Up

Other reviews: See Thoughts in Progress, Suko's Notebookand a giveaway at Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book.

May 12, 2013

Sunday Salon: Happy Mother's Day and International Migratory Bird Day!

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also submitted to It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey, and  Mailbox Monday hosted by Abi at 4 the LOVE of BOOKS.

If you are looking for a Mother's Day theme in crime fiction, here is Janet Rudolph's list: Mother's Day Crime Fiction/Mother's Day Mysteries. Lovers of mystery novels won't find this alarming! There are mystery novels to fit almost every theme!

Today is also International Migratory Bird Day and there are bird watching events happening all over the country. Want to read a few bird mysteries or a birding novel? Here are a few:

The first one is a mystery and The Guide to the Birds of East Africa  is a novel set in contemporary Kenya with its 1,000 species of birds. Click on the book covers to get more information.

We went birding at Magee Marsh near Lake Erie last Saturday, a pretty cool but sunny day and we saw more migrating warblers than we had last year. Or maybe we are just getting better at finding the birds on the ground and among tree branches low and high. It was a fun day and we saw birds that were new to us, such as the beautiful yellow and black hooded warbler. I learned the names of many of the birds we saw; birders are eager to share what they know.

American Goldfinch in our backyard 
We were so excited that this goldfinch visited. Seems we have been getting more birds we haven't had in the backyard before. For the first time ever, I saw an Eastern Towhee, the American Goldfinch, and Dark-eyed Juncos. Maybe that long winter made them want to come out in force!

Back to books - ARCs that arrived last week:
Dark Diversions by John Ralston Saul; Pintail Books
A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb; William Morrow/HarperCollins
Siege and Storm: Book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo; Henry Holt

Books that arrived:
Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher; Penguin
Down London Road by Samantha Young; Penguin UK
Agorafabulous by Sara Benincasa; William Morrow/HarperCollins

Mother's Day brunch later on, then maybe back to the park! Happy Mother's Day and hope you have sunshine and laughter!

May 11, 2013

Book Feature: A Good Home: A Memoir by Cynthia Reyes

Title: A Good Home: A Memoir by Cynthia Reyes
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: BPS Books (May 6, 2013)

Publisher description: "A Good Home is a profoundly emotional book about the author’s early life in rural Jamaica, her move to urban North America, and her trips back home, all told through vivid descriptions of the unique homes she has lived in — from a tiny pink house in Jamaica and a mountainside cabin near Vancouver to the historic Victorian farmhouse she lives in today, surrounded by neighbors who share spicy Malaysian noodles and seafood, Greek pastries and roast lamb, and Italian tomato sauce and wine (really strong wine).

 Full of lovingly drawn characters and vividly described places, A Good Home takes the reader through deeply moving stories of marriage, children, the death of parents, and an accident that takes its high-flying author down a humbling notch. Its pages sparkle with stories and reflections on home as: A foundation on which to build connections with children, relatives, and friends A place to celebrate the joys of elegant design, overflowing gardens (except for the wisteria vine, which cannot be coaxed into blooming), and the sharing of good food.

A wise teacher, showing us who we really were — and who we really are. When this brave, clear-eyed, and honest book returns, full circle, to the way it began, readers will want to read it all over again." (from amazon)

About the author: Cynthia Reyes has published non-fiction stories in Arabella Magazine, one of the fastest-growing magazines in the United States and Canada, as well as in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Life. Reyes is a former journalist and executive producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. More than a hundred episodes of her programs have appeared on network television. She is the winner of national and international awards and acclaim for her work as a television producer, project leader, and public speaker, including the Children’s Broadcast Institute Award and the Crystal Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film and Television.

May 9, 2013

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandreth

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader  *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you. *Post it. *Add your (url) post in Linky at Freda's Voice.

Title: Ocar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandreth
Publication date: May 14, 2013; Touchstone
Genre: historical mystery
"I'm a friend of the man who invented Sherlock Holmes," I said with some dignity. "Have you heard of Sherlock Holmes?"(p. 57)
In this next excerpt, an imprisoned Oscar talks with the prison surgeon, Dr. Maurice, and we learn a little about Oscar Wilde's friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer.
"... And you, I've been led to believe, are Conan Doyle's model for Holmes's older brother - the brilliant but indolent Mycroft Holmes." (ch. 6)
Book description:  In this new installment in the engaging mystery series—currently in development as a BBC television series—the incomparable playwright, novelist, raconteur, and now ex-convict Oscar Wilde faces his most fiendishly puzzling case yet.

It is 1897, France. Oscar Wilde has fled the country after his release from Reading Gaol. Tonight he is sharing a drink and the story of his cruel imprisonment with a mysterious stranger. Oscar has endured a harsh regime: the treadmill, solitary confinement, censored letters, no writing materials. Yet even in the midst of such deprivation, his astonishing detective powers remain undiminished—and when first a brutal warder and then the prison chaplain are found murdered, who else should the Governor turn to for help other than Reading Gaol’s most celebrated inmate? (goodreads)

This is the fifth in the Oscar Wilde mysteries.
Thanks to Touchstone for a review copy of this book.

May 7, 2013

Memoir: THE COOKED SEED by Anchee Min

Title: The Cooked Seed: A Memoir by Anchee Min
Published: May 7, 2013; Bloombury USA hardcover
The date was August 3, 1984. It was China's midnight and America's morning. I was about to drop out of the sky and land in Chicago. What made me scared and nervous was that I didn't speak English and had no money. The five hundred dollars I had folded in my wallet was borrowed. But I could not let myself be frightened. I was twenty-seven years old and life had ended for me in China. I was Madame Mao's trash, ..., which meant that I wasn't worth spit. For eight years, I had worked menial jobs at the Shanghai Film Studio. I was considered a "cooked seed" - no chance to sprout. (opening paragraph from the Advance Reading Copy)
Publisher's description:
In 1994, Anchee Min made her literary debut with a memoir of growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution. Red Azalea became an international bestseller and propelled her career as a critically acclaimed author. Twenty years later, Min returns to the story of her own life to give us the next chapter, an immigrant story that takes her from the shocking deprivations of her homeland to the sudden bounty of the promised land of America, without language, money, or a clear path.

It is a hard and lonely road. She teaches herself English by watching Sesame Street, keeps herself afloat working five jobs at once, lives in unheated rooms, suffers rape, collapses from exhaustion, marries poorly and divorces.But she also gives birth to her daughter, Lauryann, who will inspire her and finally root her in her new country. Min's eventual successes- her writing career, a daughter at Stanford, a second husband she loves- are remarkable, but it is her struggle throughout toward genuine selfhood that elevates this dramatic, classic immigrant story to something powerfully universal.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB; choose sentences from your current read and identify author and title for readers. First Chapter, First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea. Opening sentences in a book can help readers decide if the book is one they would continue reading. 

Based on the opening paragraph of The Cooked Seed, would you keep reading?

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC of this book. 

May 5, 2013

Sunday Salon: Gardening and Books

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also submitted to It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey, and  Mailbox Monday hosted by Abi at 4 the LOVE of BOOKS.

I have decided not to plant many veggies this year and so far only a few banana pepper seedlings made it into the ground and into a pot. There are baby bunnies running in and out of the backyard from our neighbors' where they live under a tool shed. A white possum came into the yard for an orange I had left for the birds and was seen again the next morning in the neighbor's yard. A black cat wanders the grounds and gazes into ground cover that hides chipmunks and into the dense euonymus shrub that is the hiding place for a rabbit or two. I don't think veggies would last without wire mesh to protect them, even with a cat on patrol. In any case, we spent the nice, cool and sunny day yesterday pruning bushes and clipping and seeding grass. An uncluttered garden.

New books and ARCs that arrived:

Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog by Jamie Ivey; Skyhorse Publishing
Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijan; Atria Books
A Certain Summer by Patricia Beard; Simon and Schuster
Running with the Enemy by Lloyd Lofthouse; Three Clover Press
Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman; Simon and Schuster
Gaijin Cowgirl by Jame DiBiasio; Crime Wave Press

Can't wait for summer weather to get out the hammock. What are you reading these days?

May 3, 2013

Book Review: Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd

Title: Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I by Sandra Byrd
Published April 9, 2013; Howard Books paperback
Genre: historical novel

Publisher description: In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England to witness the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust–a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

My comments: I may have read too many books about the Tudors recently and so was not blown away by this one, though I was entertained by the story of a lady-in-waiting whose loyalty to the queen allows her intimate access to Elizabeth I and her court. Elin, renamed Helena, has unquestioning loyalty to a queen who is temperamental, sometimes brutal and seemingly heartless, but who could also be generous and forgiving to those close to her.

An interesting section of the novel regarding Elizabeth's never marrying - Elin/Helena elicits personal comments from Elizabeth about her love for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
"I have loved Lord Robert since I was a girl," she said. "I am given to him in all manner but one. I had, and have, passion. But I put it under glass, Helena, lest it set my kingdom on fire."
.... "Then what, my lady?"
"Within weeks of my marriage to Robin this kingdom would fracture into factions like a shattered platter, never to be whole again."
(ch. 11)
Elizabeth's later remarks to Elin, "Roses have thorns," is a warning to be careful in her actions and words. Elin has to remarry in secret, for instance, being afraid that Elizabeth would not give her permission to marry her second husband, Thomas. The queen retaliates by withdrawing favors, as expected, but then relents.

The stories of the imprisonment and execution of those who plotted against Elizabeth I, including her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, are well known historically and are retold in an interesting way in this novel of Elin's life at court.

I think the novel presents Elizabeth I in an overall flattering light, but I was annoyed with Elin, a Swede, for not questioning more the events going on in the English court and for her unrealistic and wholehearted support of the Tudor politics around her. This is of course from my 21st century point of view.

Overall, an entertaining novel and certainly informational for anyone not familiar with the history of the Tudors.

For more reviews of the book, visit the tour schedule at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
Thanks to HF Virtual Book Tours and the author/publisher for a review copy of this book.

Sandra Byrd has published more than three dozen fiction and nonfiction books, including her Tudor series, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. and The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, about the life of Henry’s last wife. She edits, mentors, and coaches and lives in the Seattle, Washington area.

Connect with Sandra Byrd: WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

May 2, 2013

Once Upon a Gypsy Moon by Michael Hurley

Wonder what it's like to take off on a sailboat for two years, alone, sailing from port to port, from the U.S. down to the Caribbean islands? Here is a memoir of a writer's journey, a spiritual quest as well as a physical challenge.

It was not the dreary weather, or being alone, or the sixty-mile stretch of ocean from Beaufort to Masonboro Inlet that concerned me. On the open sea at night, the Gypsy Moon is as cozy as a warm fire and rocks like a baby's cradle as she rises and falls over the waves. It was the unknown that troubled me, and the worry that I was about to do something rather foolish (again) and potentially very expensive (again) that I would regret (again). (ch. 12; quote from an uncorrected proof; final copy may differ)
Publisher's description: Michael Hurley's world unraveled in the wake of divorce and failure. In August 2009, short of money, out of a job and in need of perspective, he took to the open seas in a 32-foot sailboat, Gypsy Moon.

The story of his 2-year outward odyssey, complicated by rough weather and mechanical troubles, combines keen observation and deep introspection with excellent prose. Once Upon a Gypsy Moon presents a unique point of view on this spiritual-journey narrative. It offers a love story inside a rollicking sea tale, but it also has something important to say about relationships, faith and disbelief, life and death, love and marriage, and what really matters.

Title: Once Upon a Gypsy Moon: A Memoir: An Improbable Voyage and One Man's Yearning for Redemption by Michael Hurley
Published April 16, 2013; Center Street
Source: ARC review copy

Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month: Four Novels

For  Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month   (May),  I'm posting my book reviews by several Asian American novelists. The f...