Jun 30, 2013

Book Review: The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

Title: The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
Published June 11, 2013; Harper
Genre: literary fiction

My comments: The connections between seemingly disparate people with different lives and of different ages - Martin in modern New York; Mr. Hugo of England in 1981 and in France in 1944; young Sebastian in France in 1968; John in New York and in the war in France in the 1940s, Danny in Los Angeles in 2009, and Amelia in England in 2010 - come together slowly in the book and at the surprising end.

John, an American pilot in WWII France, encounters a German soldier on the battlefield. The German soldier later rescues a baby whose parents have been killed, and this leads to.....and this leads to.....surprising results.

A very worthwhile story of how our actions affect our lives and other lives as well, in the present and in the future. Written in a literary and charmingly poetic style, the book easily pulls you in as you read about separate people whose personal stories are not separate at all. Because of the war, some of the stories are sad, but eventually uplifting.

Book description:
This gripping, emotional story intertwines the stories of several compelling characters: a deformed German infantryman; a lonely British film director; a young, blind museum curator; Jewish-American newlyweds separated by war; a lost child on the brink of starvation; and a caretaker at a retirement home for actors in Santa Monica. The same world moves beneath each of them, and one by one, through seemingly random acts of selflessness, they discover the vital parts they have played in each other's lives, a realization that shatters the illusion of their separateness. Moving back and forth in time and across continents,

For more reviews, visit the Tour Schedule

Simon Van Booy is the author of two novels and two collections of short stories, including The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books and has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, NPR, and the BBC. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.Visit Simon at his website and on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Jun 28, 2013

The Ninefold Heaven: a Novel by Mingmei Yip

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and The Friday 56 by Freda's Voice. Share the beginning of a book you are reading and select a quote from page 56. Include the title and author of the book for readers.

Title: The Ninefold Heaven by Mingmei Yip
Published June 25, 2013; Kensington
Genre: historical fiction

Three months ago, I was singing to loud applause in a Shanghai nightclub; a few days later, I became unexpectedly wealthy. But immediately I fled Shanghai in a fusillade of bullets to hide out in a run-down apartment in Hong Kong. 
Page 56: 
I felt a wave of anxiety. Was it coincidence this man asked for my signature song, or had he seen through my disguise?

Publisher's description:
 Mingmei Yip draws readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in her book, Skeleton Women, and into the lives of three unforgettable women: Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.

When Shadow, a gifted, ambitious magician, competed with the beautiful Camilla for the affections of organized crime leader Master Lung, she almost lost everything. Hiding out in Hong Kong, performing in a run-down circus, Shadow has no idea that Camilla, too, is on the run with her lover, Jinying--Lung's son. Now their only hope of freedom lies in joining forces to eliminate the ruthless Big Brother Wang.

Despite the danger, Shadow, Camilla, and Jinying return to Shanghai. Camilla also has her own secret agenda--she has heard a rumor that her son is alive. And in a city teeming with spies and rivals--including the vengeful Rainbow Chang--each battles for a future in a country on the verge of monumental change.

From the opening sentences and the excerpt, what is your impression? See my review of the first book, Skeleton Women/ I'm looking forward to this follow-up.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book. 

Jun 27, 2013

Cozy Feature: STEAMED TO DEATH by Peg Cochran

Title: Steamed to Death by Peg Cochran
Published June 4, 2013; Berkley
Genre: cozy mystery
Alice let out a tiny shriek and jumped up from the chaise. "Oh, no, we're busted!"
The sounds of footsteps echoed on the wooden back stairs.
"Quick" - Gigi made a sweeping gesture with her arm - "let's hide in the bathroom. At least we won't be visible from the open bedroom door." (ch. 6)
Publisher description: "Gourmet health food caterer Gigi Fitzgerald is used to helping dieters drop a dress size. But when her clients start dropping dead, she’s ready to switch her chef’s hat for a detective’s cap and track down a killer. . .

Soap star Felicity Davenport wants to revamp her image, and she’s using Gigi’s Gourmet De-Lite to help shed unwanted pounds. When Felicity is found murdered in her sauna, things start getting too hot for Gigi. The list of suspects is a mile long, and Gigi’s best friend, Sienna, is at the top. Gigi is determined to hunt down the real killer. But she will have to be careful or she could be the next one burned."

Have you read the first book by Peg Cochran, Allergic to Death? She has such imaginative plots.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Jun 26, 2013

Book Review: Slingshot by Matthew Dunn

Title: Slingshot: A Spycatcher Novel by Matthew Dunn
Genre:  thriller
Published June 25, 2013; William Morrow

I read the first in the series, Spycatcher, and thought it was an excellent book. Here is a quote from my review:

The usual superlatives go to a thriller that is uncommonly good: action packed, gut wrenching, suspenseful, and at the same time quite realistic. I was sympathetic to the main character, (Will Cochrane) a British agent who works in secret and who is unknown, even to  British intelligence service MI6, of which he a part.  (review of Spycatcher)
I missed reading the second in the series, Sentinel, and caught up with the third, Slingshot. Slingshot is all spy novel, as the book description below shows, and I missed the personal side of Will that made the first book so good. I would have liked a more developed subplot or subplots and earlier in the novel. As it is, the book is all top notch spy action and it was hard to sympathize with any of the characters. This could have been because the plot seemed far fetched, though the reality may very well be close to what actually takes place behind the scenes. To get into the series, I would suggest you start with the first book, Spycatcher. There is a giveaway of a set with both books below.

Publisher description: Master spy Will Cochrane must catch a missing Russian defector as well as one of Europe’s deadliest assassins. Will monitors the streets of Gdansk, Poland—waiting for a Russian defector, a man bearing a top secret document. But suddenly everything goes sideways. The target shows up, but so does a team from Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) hell-bent on keeping the man from walking. Then, in a hail of crossfire, a van snatches the defector out from under them all. Everyone wants the man and the codes he carries—but now he’s gone.

Then Will learns that the Russians have tasked their own ‘spycatcher’—an agent just as ruthless and relentless as Will—to retrieve the document. Now Will  faces two clever and deadly adversaries, who will stop at nothing to achieve their aims.

For other reviews of this book, see the tour schedule.
Thanks to Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours and the publisher for a review copy of this book.

Author info: As an MI6 field officer, MATTHEW DUNN recruited and ran agents and acted in deep-cover roles throughout the world, conducting approximately seventy missions, all successful. He lives in England. His novels in the series are: Spycatcher, Sentinel, and Slingshot. He is at work on the fourth Spycatcher novel.


Partners in Crime and the publisher is offering one set Mass Market edition of Spycatcher and Slingshot to a reader. To enter, leave a comment with an email address indicating you wish to be entered in the contest. No P.O. box addresses, please. U.S. residents only. A winner will be randomly selected July 3 and informed by email. A response will be due by July 5. Good luck!

UPDATE: The giveaway winner is Naida, chosen by random.org Thank you all for entering the contest. 

Jun 25, 2013

Courting Greta by Ramsey Hootman

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.

Ch. 1

"Samuel watched his brother's big hands walk over the steering wheel, turning the pickup into the campus parking lot. He should have driven himself. No one who saw his prematurely graying hair would mistake him for a teenager, even as small as he was, but being dropped off still felt juvenile.The stupid things he did to make his brother feel useful. Samuel shifted, adjusting his seat belt, and double-checked to make sure the bus schedule was in his pocket."

Title: Courting Greta by Ramsey Hootman
Published June 18, 2013; Gallery Books
Genre: fiction, romance

Publisher's description: Samuel Cooke knows most women wouldn't give him a second glance. He's the cripple with the crutches, the nerdy computer genius. When he leaves his lucrative career to teach programming to high schoolers, Greta Cassamajor catches him off guard. She is the sarcastic gym coach with zero sense of humor, and no beauty - not even on the inside. But an inexplicably kind act toward Samuel makes him realize she is interesting.

Samuel is certain she won't accept his invitation to dinner - so when she does, he's out of his depth. All he knows is that he'll do whatever it takes to keep her as long as he can. Ramsey Hootman upends traditional romance tropes to weave a charming tale of perseverance, trust, and slightly conditional love."

Based on the opening sentences/teaser, would you continue reading? 

Jun 23, 2013

New Arrivals: Mailbox Monday, It's Monday; and Stacking the Shelves

This post lists new books and links up to It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey; to Mailbox Monday hosted by Dolce Bellezza; and to Stacking the Shelves by Tynga's Reviews

Two ARCs for review - mystery series that I have been eagerly following:

The Sound and the Furry: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn features the "K-9 flunk-out" Chet, and his human partner, private detective Bernie. The story is told by the dog Chet, whose point of view is both amusing as well as astute. But Chet has great atrributes for a PI - a strong sense of smell, sight, a powerful jump, and devotion to his human in this detective duo series.

Book description: Chet and Bernie head to Louisiana in the next installment in the New York Times bestselling mystery series featuring “a canine Sam Spade full of joie de vivre” (Stephen King) and his human private investigator companion.

The Case of the Love Commandos: A Vish Puri Novel by Tarquin Hall, is the fourth in the mystery series. In a contemporary Romeo and Juliet story set within India’s caste system, private investigator Vish Puri faces a high-stakes mystery. When Ram and Tulsi fall in love, the young woman’s parents are dead set against the union. Fortunately, India’s Love Commandos, a real-life group of volunteers dedicated to helping mixed-caste couples, successfully free Tulsi, but Ram has gone missing. Vish Puri's job is to find him. (book description)

Three review books:

Accidents Happen by Louise Millar, a new thriller: Kate Parker has weathered the unimaginable  - her parents died in a traffic accident on her wedding night, and her husband, Hugo, was murdered in a tragic break-in. All she has left is her young son, Jack, and determined to make a better future for him, she attempts to pull her life back together. But are she and her son safe? (book description)

The White Forest by Adam McOmber, a Gothic historical novel.
Book description: Jane Silverlake is able to see the souls of man-made objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. She finds solace in her only companions, Madeline and Nathan, but their idyll is shattered by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by a charismatic mystic popular with London’s elite. A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane must discover the origins of her talent, and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.

The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank, Southern fiction.
Leslie Anne Greene Carter is the last original wife among her husband's group of cronies. They've all traded in their first wives for riper peaches: younger . . . blonder . . . more enhanced models. Leslie is proud of her status and the longevity of her marriage.... until the day, out golfing with her husband and his friends, she slips into a manhole. And nobody realizes that she's gone.

That one misstep opens Leslie's eyes to the sham her perfect life has become. With the healing powers of South Carolina's lush white beaches, candy-colored sunsets, and fiesty and funny residents, Leslie is going to transform herself and reclaim the strong, vibrant, sexy woman she was meant to be. (book description)

The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice, women's fiction and romance set in Malibu and the Santa Monica mountains.
In the five years since Julia last visited her aunt and uncle’s home in Malibu, her life has been turned upside down by her daughter’s death. As she house-sits with only her dog, Bonnie, for company, she finds herself drawn to the handsome man who oversees the lemon orchard. Roberto expertly tends the trees, using the money to support his extended Mexican family. What connection could these two people share?

The answer comes as Roberto reveals the heartbreaking story of his own loss—a pain Julia knows all too well, but for one striking difference: Roberto’s daughter was lost but never found. And despite the odds he cannot bear to give up hope. (book description)

An excitingly mixed bag this week. What was in your mailbox?

Jun 22, 2013

Bought at the Book Store/Borrowed from the Library

I was only going to look to see what new books were at the bookstore yesterday. I came back with this.

I have been seeing The Firebird on lots of blogs and was getting very curious. I liked what I read on the cover and started reading, then had to buy it. I am loving it! The heroine with psychic abilities appealed to me, especially while she is trying to establish the provenance of an old Russian wood carving, the Firebird.

At the library, returning some overdue books, I also went browsing and came back with these:

The Hour of the Rat is a thriller set in Beijing, with an Iraqi war vet representing the work of a Chinese artist and dissident, who has recently disappeared. The disappearance is the result of a conspiracy that leads the main character further into the mystery and into a wild chase through scenic parts of the country.

Bad Blood A Kate Shugak Novel by Dana Stabenow was another book I found at the library. I have enjoyed the series and read most of the early ones. Bad blood between two native tribes in Alaska intensifies when a young man from one of the groups is found dead. Kate is called in to resolve the problem and find the murderer. I always enjoy the Alaska setting.

A Tale for the Time Being is one I almost bought but found at the library, conveniently. A diary by Nao, a sixteen year old girl in Japan documents the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, who has lived over a century. After the Japanese tsunami of 2011, the diary is found washed up on the shores of a remote island in the Pacific Northwest by a woman named Ruth. By reading the diary, Ruth is "pulled into Nao's drama and unknown fate and forward into her own future." I couldn't resist a description such as that.

Great books! I wish the last three had been in my mailbox and that I didn't have to return them eventually to the library :)

What have you bought or borrowed recently?

Jun 19, 2013

Travel Memoir Review: Blind Curves by Linda Crill

Title: Blind Curves: One Woman's Unusual Journey to Reinvent Herself and Answer: What Now?
Author: Linda Crill
Published March 1, 2013; Opus Intl.
Genre: travel, memoir

Before reading the book, I read the book description: "After 18 months of following one-size-fits-all advice for a 57-year-old widow, Linda Crill was still miserable. In a moment of rebellion, she traded her corporate suits for motorcycle leathers and committed herself to a 2,500-mile road trip down Americas Pacific Northwest coast riding a motorcycle. The problem, she didn't know how to ride and had only 30 days to learn."

I was amazed that a corporate executive in a high octane atmosphere such as Washington DC could suddenly, in her mid-fifties, throw caution to the wind and decide to learn how to ride a motorcycle and take off for a long road trip along the Pacific Northwest coast. I though it took a lot of gumption, not to mention, determination.

There are probably many roads to dealing with the death of a spouse or loved one and finding your place in a new future. Linda Crill took this biking route, which worked very well for her. She was pulled away from her grief by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and her surroundings.
Standing on the vast beach - at least 100 yards deep and stretching for miles to the north and south - we were amazed. To our right, majestically rising out of the ocean close to shore, was a rocky monolith. In front and to its left stood several smaller ones. They aroused my curiosity as I surveyed the area around me, trying to conjecture how they had been created. (ch. 10)
I liked that the book is illustrated with sketches of the author on her bike, with her biker friends, or in the middle of beautiful scenery.

The memoir reads as part adventure, part inspirational. A scenic and uplifting bike ride.

About the author: Linda Crill is a Washington DC area executive, consultant and international speaker who has worked with Citigroup, Cadbury-Mott’s, Goldman Sachs and Marriott International, Inc., as well as  other Fortune 100 companies, universities, non-profits, and government departments and agencies. A mother of three, she lectures and writes on how to manage change and reinvent yourself, your life and your business. “Discoveries,” she says,” are waiting to be found around each blind curve.”

I received a complimentary review copy of the book from Rebecca at The Cadence Group.
Submitted to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link-Up Party

Jun 18, 2013

Book Teaser: The Prodigal by Michael Hurley

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.

Title: The Prodigal: A Novel by Michael Hurley
Published May 28; 20132; CreateSpace
Genre: novel with supernatural elements
Ocracoke Island, 2010 
And so Aidan, the proud one, a man who refused above all else to learn from his own mistakes much less the errors of history, came at last to this island. Of course it would be a wild place. A sea place. A dwelling made of memory, sand, and wind. A world that already knew his name. Here he slept, unsuspecting, in the peace of the unborn. But every birth is a time of becoming, and Aidan's time had come. (ch. 1)
Watch the trailer at: http (colon) youtu.be/Bp49DoGEBH0.
Publisher description: This allegorical tale begins with the escape of a Gypsy princess and her young lover from her father's camp in 1851. The boy steals Prodigal, a sailing ship blessed with unnatural speed, and the lovers escape to sea, leaving the father to grieve for the loss and pine for the return of his child. More than 150 years later on Ocracoke Island, Aidan Sharpe, an aging lawyer, is caught up in a two-thousand-year-old mystery that unfolds with the sudden reappearance of Prodigal off the coast, adrift and unmanned. Its discovery will lead Aidan and those close to him into the deep, in a race between time and eternity.


Hurley (Once Upon a Gypsy Moon, 2013, etc.) writes an intriguing, well-plotted and multilayered novel whose heroes are interestingly flawed. In various ways they struggle with faith, whether in God or other human beings. The supernatural elements--a religious relic, a gypsy woman out of legend--are thoughtfully handled. Hurley writes beautifully, especially in depicting nautical and island life. . . Stirring, romantic and evocative of the sea's magic. -Kirkus Reviews

Would you keep reading based on the opening sentences of the first chapter?
 I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Jun 17, 2013

It's Monday: What's New?

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

Two arrivals in my mailbox from the publisher and the author:

The Crossing Places: A Ruth Galloway Mystery (2009)
"When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants - not quite earth, not quite sea.

When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.

The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her.

As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger." (publisher's description).

The Nine Fold Heaven by Mingmei Yip  (June 25, 2013)
"Mingmei Yip draws readers deeper into the exotic world of 1930s Shanghai first explored in Skeleton Women, and into the lives of the unforgettable Camilla, Shadow, and Rainbow Chang.

When Shadow, a gifted, ambitious magician, competed with the beautiful Camilla for the affections of organized crime leader Master Lung, she almost lost everything. Hiding out in Hong Kong, performing in a run-down circus, Shadow has no idea that Camilla, too, is on the run with her lover, Jinying--Lung's son.

Yet while Camilla and Shadow were once enemies, now their only hope of freedom lies in joining forces to eliminate the ruthless Big Brother Wang. Despite the danger, Shadow, Camilla, and Jinying return to Shanghai. Camilla also has her own secret agenda--she has heard a rumor that her son is alive. And in a city teeming with spies and rivals--including the vengeful Rainbow Chang--each battles for a future in a country on the verge of monumental change." (publisher's description).

An adventure novel/mystery that I bought:

The Wheel of Heaven by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child ( August 28, 2007).
FBI Special Agent Pendergast has taken Constance on a whirlwind Grand Tour, hoping to give her closure and a sense of the world that she's missed. They head to Tibet, where Pendergast intensively trained in martial arts and spiritual studies. At a remote monastery, they learn that a rare and dangerous artifact the monks have been guarding for generations has been mysteriously stolen. Pendergast agrees to take up the search.

The trail leads him and Constance to the maiden voyage of the Queen Victoria, the world's largest and most luxurious passenger liner-and to an Atlantic crossing fraught with terror. (publisher's description)

What are you reading this week?

Jun 16, 2013

Recommendations for Book Clubs

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon!
I have a few recommendations for book clubs - novels with topics, characters, and plots that would make good discussion.

Until My Soul Gets It Right (May 2013), the second in The Bibliophiles series, contemporary women's fiction by Karen Wojcik Berner. Catherine Elbert, dissatisfied with her small Wisconsin farming town, her family, and her circumscribed life there, leaves after high school for Portland, Maine, to spread her wings and find independence. Her mistakes and deceptions along the way, from Maine to San Diego and back to the Midwest, and her attitudes make her another main character that one finds hard to like. Is this a personality, interesting though she may be, that readers will not like? Or is she heading in a direction of self-realization?  The title of the book may give a hint.

Title: A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles, Book One) by Karen Wojcik Berner
Published June 14, 2011
Genre: contemporary women's fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

A realistic story of two very different women whose paths cross at a Classics Book Club meeting. They seem to be polar opposites. Sarah is a stay-at-home mom looking after two young sons and a too busy husband, keeping family and home together, frustrated that she has no spare time for herself. Anne is a successful public relations executive who delayed having children to further her career, only to find at around age 40 that she and her husband John are diagnosed with "unexplained infertility," and in vitro, artificial insemination, and other technologies are not working for them to have the children they now so desperately want.

The two women meet at the book club gathering, a break from household duties for Sarah. Anne finds it hard to understand Sarah's exasperation being a busy mother and homemaker, something Anne now dreams about.  How things turn out for them is the crux of the novel. When all is said and done, the Classics Book Club helps get them away from their problems, even for a while, and keeps them connected.

I could easily imagine I was reading non-fiction, so well drawn were the characters in the book. With fluid prose and realistic dialogue, the novel is as much a psychological study as a novel about contemporary marriage - the daily demands of raising a family, career versus children, infertility, infidelity, extended family, and hobbies outside of work and home.

I like the idea of having a series of books built around a Classics Book Club. This is the first of the author's planned six books exploring the lives of various book club members, the Bibliophiles. The second book in the series is Until My Soul Gets It Right, published May 22, 2012.

A Whisper to a Scream is as good and in some cases better than many of the contemporary women's fiction novels I've read recently, and I say this without bias.

The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown (July 2, 2013) has me thinking about main characters that I decide I don't like, even though I am fascinated by them as young girls, as teens, and as adult women. Sadie doesn't change much from the insightful 11-year-old to the adult mother. She still keeps secrets and really sees what is happening but doesn't let on, not to help others out or bring the truth to light to resolve conflicts. She is also not just a passive observer, but actively involved in situations that she could confess to but does not, not even as a grown woman and mother. There is a lot here to discuss about a person such as Sadie.

These are my three Book Club picks. The plot, characters, themes and setting will give much for readers to ponder and discuss.

I received complimentary review copies of these books. 

Jun 13, 2013

New Books for Review

A few books and ARCs/galleys arrived for review. Here is a preview.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane  by Neil Gaiman
Publication date: June 18, 2013; William Morrow
Genre: fantasy, magic
Publisher description:
A fable that reshapes modern fantasy.
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive. 

His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. 

I don't normally read magical novels or fantasy, but this one seems unusual.

The Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall
Publication date: July 2, 2013: Gallery Books
Genre: coming of age fiction
A wise and tender coming-of-age story about a nine-year-old girl who runs away from her Mississippi home in 1963, befriends a lonely woman suffering loss and abuse, and embarks on a life-changing roadtrip.

I've seen this story line before in several Southern novels but I'm eager to see where this one goes. 

More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff
Publication date: June 18, 2013; Simon and Schuster
Genre: thriller. Scandinavian crime novel
Five-year-old Tilde witnesses the death of her mother by an unknown man. The novel focuses on domestic abuse...the search for healing and the ability to love again are soon transformed into a hunt for Tilde’s mother’s killer.

I've liked Scandinavian thrillers, especially those  by Larsson and Adler-Olsen. These are new  authors to me. 

A Dangerous Fiction by Barbara Rogan
Publication date: July 25, 2013; Viking Adult
Genre: mystery
A publishing mystery that introduces Jo Donovan, literary agent-cum-detective, in a new series by the author. Jo has to face a stalker as well as an old flame, NYPD detective, Tommy Cullen.

This seems to be a mix of mystery and romance, a great combination.

The Prodigal: A Novel by Michael Hurley
Published June 1, 2013; Ragbagger Press
Genre: adventure, suspense, romance
A cross-genre novel of religious mystery, suspense and adventure about a disbarred lawyer, trying to rebuild his life on Ocracoke Island, who finds love and destiny when an old schooner with a mysterious past drifts ashore. "The supernatural elements—a religious relic, a gypsy woman out of legend—depict island and nautical life.” (Kirkus Review)

This one is for those who love being on the water. 

Josh Whoever by Michael Guillebeau
Published March 20, 2013; Five Star
Genre: adventure, thriller
Josh is forced into the role of hero in the Army, walks away from the fame and becomes a small-time con man with a drinking problem. His latest scam convinces the Russian mob he is a private detective who can find Mother Romanov's missing daughter, Kiev....He needs to save the girl, stay sober, and keep his idetity hidden - or die.

Reads like a modern day swashbuckler.

The new mystery novels that keep coming out are always amazing to me. I also enjoy books that involve children as the main characters who learn new things and overcome odds. 

Thanks to the authors and publishers for the galleys/books for review. What did you get in your review box recently?

Jun 11, 2013

Book Review: The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines by Shohreh Aghdashloo

Title: The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines by Shohreh Aghdashloo
Published June 4, 2013; Harper
Genre: memoir

About the book: Shohreh has decided to leave Iran, her parents, and her husband, the painter Aydin, because of her outspoken political beliefs and her involvement in western-style theater as an aspiring actress. Aydin agrees with her decision to leave and breaks the news to his parents.

"But why are you doing this?" she kept asking.
"Believe me, Mom, it's best for everybody," he said.
She turned to me and asked, "Do you not love Aydin?"
I was stunned. "Yes, I do love him. That is why I am doing this. I don't want him to get into trouble over me." .... 
At 4:30 a.m., February 28, 1979, I left Iran. Like thousands of other Iranians departing the country every day, I, too thought that I would return after the turmoil had ceased, possibly in only a few weeks. Surely I'd be home again. (ch. 19)
My comments: This is quite a moving account of the life of the young actress from Tehran who left her home for Europe and eventually came to the U.S. after the fall of the last Shah of Iran and the beginning of the Islamic Republic.

In America, she eventually remarries and continues her career as an actress in Iranian plays written by her second husband, the playwright Houshang. She then breaks into the Hollywood circle, leading up to her nomination for an Academy Award as supporting actress in The House of Sand and Fog. She later received an Emmy Award.in 2009 for her supporting role as Saddam's wife in the film, House of Saddam..

We see Shohreh as a passionate young woman who takes risks for what she loves and succeeds through sheer will power and determination. This is an inspiring book for immigrants and for those who  leave their countries during political upheavals. Granted Shohreh comes from a well-to-do family, but there are times in her self-exile when she struggled to support herself and her driving desire to continue acting.

She remembers her home country in the title of the book, which refers to the alley with yellow flowers near her home where she used to walk.

A well written and very detailed account of Shohreh's life before and after leaving Iran, her eventual success in the U.S., and her reunions with her mother and brothers.  

About the author:
Shohreh Aghdashloo won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress for HBO’s House of Saddam and was the first Iranian actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, for her role in House of Sand and Fog. She has starred in the Fox series 24 and has been featured in a number of television shows and films. Born and raised in Tehran, she now lives in Los Angeles.
For other reviews, visit the tour schedule by TLC Book Tours 
Linked to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link-Up Party 
Thanks to the publsher and TLC Book Tours for a review galley of the book.  

The Diabolist by Layton Green

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.  

Title: The Diabolist (Dominic Grey #3) by Layton Green
Published June 4, 2013; Thomas & Mercer
Genre: thriller, phenomenology
They called themselves the House of Lucifer. Thirty minutes before midnight High Priest Matthias Gregory swung wide the doors to Red Abbey and one by one the members filed inside.
Publisher description: "In this gripping thriller, the bizarre murder of a Satanic priest in San Francisco draws Dominic Grey and Viktor Radek, private investigators of cults, to the scene. Witnesses claim a robed figure, seemingly able to appear and disappear at will, set fire to the priest. When the leader of another Satanic cult in Paris dies under similar circumstances, the case only grows stranger… and more dangerous.

The Diabolist is a chilling novel that mines a trove of fascinating historical, philosophical, and paranormal research to probe some of our closest held beliefs. From the opening pages to the astonishing conclusion, this latest installment in one of today’s most original new thriller series."

This is the third in the series. I especially liked his first novel, The Summoner.  I have also reviewed his The Egyptian

Jun 9, 2013

Sunday Salon: Books for Review

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon!This post lists new books and links up to It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey;  to Mailbox Monday hosted by Dolce Bellezza; and to Stacking the Shelves by Tynga's Reviews.

Our cool summer continues, making it feel like an extension of spring. Not that I mind. Everything seems greener in front of my window and I keep that birdbath full for winged bathers!

I read four books last week, a lot for me, and reviewed three:
I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert, a memoir
Gaijin Cowgirl by Jame DiBiasio, an adventure thriller
The Original 1982 by Lori Carson, women's fiction.

I finished There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron, a mystery that started out really well but ended as if it was rushed and not well thought through. The ending was a bit puzzling, as only two of the people involved in the crimes were named, while a third simply was not mentioned at all, just fell off the radar, so to speak, when it was clear to me he was very much part of the crime. I reviewed an uncorrected proof, so hopefully the editors caught this unfinished business for the final copy.

A few review books came in the mail: 

The Artist's Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children by Julia Cameron and Emma Lively is to be published August 13, 2013 by Tarcher.  I requested a galley and was lucky to get it. The book is described as " an ongoing spiritual toolkit that parents can ener - and reenter- at any pace and at any point in their children's early lives." It gives tips and exercises for developing creative aspects, such as self-expression, focus, inventiveness, connection, and even safety. 
The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly was published June 3, 2013 by Liveright and came as an ARC.
Book description: The book introduces Riddle James Camperdown, the twelve-year-old daughter of the idealistic Camp and his manicured, razor-sharp wife, Greer. It's 1972, and Riddle's father is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Riddle has her hands full juggling her eccentric parents. When she accidentally witnesses a crime close to home, her confusion and fear keep her silent. As the summer unfolds, the consequences of her silence multiply. Another mysterious and powerful family, the Devlins, slowly emerges as the keepers of astonishing secrets that could shatter the Camperdowns. As an old love triangle, bitter war wounds, and the struggle for status spiral out of control, Riddle can only hope for courage to reveal the truth. 

Courting Greta by Ramsey Hootman is to be published June 18, 2013 by Gallery.  Book description: Samuel Cooke knows most women wouldn't give him a second glance even if he were the last man on earth. He's the cripple with the crutches, the nerdy computer genius every female past puberty feels compelled to mother. So when he leaves his lucrative career to teach programming to high schoolers, romance definitely isn't on his radar. 

Perhaps that's why Greta Cassamajor catches him off guard. The sarcastic gym coach with zero sense of humor is no beauty - not even on the inside. But an inexplicably kind act toward Samuel makes him realize she is interesting....

Operation Saladin by Roger Croft is the sequel to The Wayward Spy, and published May 2, 2013 by CreateSpace.
The book involves espionage and suspense with an MI6 operative in the Middle East. 
Restrike by Reba White Williams, a mystery published June 1, 2013 by Delos. I requested a review copy from the author and was surprised by a copy.Thanks!
Book descriptionMoney and murder go hand in glove in the rarified art world of Reba White Williams’ first novel. Cousins Coleman and Dinah Greene moved from North Carolina to New York after college to make their mark on the art world. When billionaire Heyward Bain arrives, announcing plans to fund a fine print museum, Coleman plans to publish an article about him. Dinah hopes to sell him enough prints to save her gallery. At the same time, swindlers, attracted by Bain’s lavish spending, invade the print world to grab some of his money.

When a print dealer dies in peculiar circumstances and after one of Coleman’s editors is killed and Coleman is attacked, Coleman becomes even more determined to discover the truth about Bain. 

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable, published June 4, 2013 by Gallery.
Book description: What writer Benjamin Constable needs is a real-life adventure wilder than his rampant imagination. And who better to shake up his comfortable Englishman-in-Paris routine than the enigmatic Tomomi “Butterfly” Ishikawa, who has just sent a cryptic suicide note? She’s planted a slew of clues—in the pages of her journal, on the hard drive of her computer, tucked away in public places, under flowerpots, and behind statues. Heartbroken, confused, and accompanied by an imaginary cat, Ben embarks upon a scavenger hunt leading to charming and unexpected spaces, from the hidden alleys of Paris to the cobblestone streets of New York City.

But Butterfly’s posthumous messages are surprisingly well informed for the words of a dead person, and they’re full of confessions of a past darkened by insanity, betrayal, and murder. The treasures Ben is unearthing are installments of a gruesome memoir. Now he must draw a clear line between the real and surreal if he is to save himself, Butterfly, and what remains of their crazy and amazing friendship

These all look pretty good to me, as they all have some element of mystery, which I love.

What did you get in your mailbox? 

Jun 8, 2013

Memoir: I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

Title:  I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events - the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't by Jennifer Gilbert
Published April 30, 2013; Harper Paperbacks

About the book: A young woman survives a brutal attack by a stranger in the apartment building of friends and uses her demanding work as an events planner to cope with the stress she carries with her for years, before coming to terms with her experience.

Comments: I was as appalled as the author was by the reactions of her friends and family to her attack, the abandonment she felt during and after the attack. This is a very personal memoir of those events, when only one friend was able to give her the understanding she needed to cope with the aftermath. Everyone else in her eyes just added to her burden, as she had to cope with their grief and inadequate reactions in addition to dealing with her own feelings, without getting the kind of understanding she needed.

I felt that this book was really aimed at the people Jennifer Gilbert knows, as this is such a personal reaction that readers in general may not get why they are reading this book. Nevertheless, this is an account of a brave but slow recovery after painful and traumatic experiences.  At the very end of the book, Jennifer pulls together all the pain and sorrow in her life to this conclusion:

 "You can't control what may happen to you in this life, but you can control who you want to be after it happens. 
It's a very simple, yet powerful statement. Instead of fearing what will happen for my children in the future, I can just love them for who they are right now. Instead of fighting my body,I can give thanks for it. And instead of worrying about life and what it has in store for me, I can throw my hands up in the air and enjoy the ride.

Publisher description: When Jennifer Gilbert was twenty-two years old, someone tried to cut her life short in the most violent way. Not wanting this traumatic encounter to define her life, she buried it within and bravely launched a fabulous career in New York as an event planner. Always the calm in the storm—from fixing a ripped dress to relocating a lavish party on two days' notice—she was convinced she'd never again feel joy herself. Yet these weddings, anniversaries, and holiday parties slowly brought her back to life. No one's entitled to an easy road, Gilbert learned, but instead of anticipating our present in a goodie bag, it's our presence that is the real gift. 

I received a complimentary review copy of this book. 

Jun 5, 2013

Book Review: Gaijin Cowgirl by Jame DiBiasio

Gaijin Cowgirl

Title: Gaijin Cowgirl by Jame DiBiasio
Published March 8, 2013; Crime Wave Press
Genre: adventure, mystery, international crime fiction

My comments: I enjoyed the daredevil actions of this "cowgirl" working in Tokyo as a bar hostess. Though the daughter of a U.S. Congressman, Val Benson is avoiding her father from whom she is estranged and has fled to Tokyo, where she meets a strange but powerful Japanese man who wants to paint her for an enormous amount of money, which she finds hard to refuse. A shootout at the man's home leads to Val finding and keeping an old map that leads to treasure stolen by the Japanese man in Southeast Asia during the war.

The story of Val's treasure hunt is exciting and interesting as it has the Japanese occupation of Burma and Thailand during WWII as its historical background. The book weaves cultural traditions into the plot, such as Thai kickboxing, the songkran festival (the Thai New Year), the Buddhist religion and its statues and relics, with atmospheric descriptions of the locations.

Expect this noir novel to be tough in violence and sex, in parts.  A book for those who love adventure and mystery.

Book description: Working Tokyo nightclubs is easy money for troubled American Val Benson – until a client with a rather unusual hobby – painting the private parts of his female liaisons – reluctantly gives up a map that leads Val on a treasure hunt for Japanese war loot hidden  along the Thai-Burmese border. The Congressman’s daughter is not the only one interested in the map: yakuza, bent cops, human traffickers, rogue CIA agents and her father are hot on her trail.

So begins the dark, epic journey of a new anti-hero of Asian Noir, a protagonist both ambiguous and courageous, and utterly unreliable. Together with her best friend, the equally unreliable nightclub hostess Suki, Val travels through Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok to the Thai-Burmese borderlands for a dramatic showdown with her pursuers. (publisher)

For other reviews of the book, visit the tour schedule by Premier Virtual Author Book Tours

Author info: Jame DiBiasio is an award-winning financial journalist and editor. He is author of the non-fiction The Story of Angkor. He lives in Hong Kong. Twitter: https://twitter.com/JameDiBiasio
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jamedibiasio.author

Thanks to Premier Virtual Author Book Tours and the author/publisher for a review copy of the book. 

Jun 4, 2013

There Was An Old Woman by Halli Ephron

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.  

There Was An Old Woman: Novel of Suspense
Title: There Was An Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron
Published April 2, 2013; William Morrow
Mina Yetner sat in her living room, inspecting the death notices in the Daily News. She got through two full columns before she found someone older than herself. Mina blew on her tea, took a sip, and settled into her comfortable wing chair. In the next column, nestled among dearly departed strangers, she found Angela Quintanilla, a neighbor who lived a few blocks away. 
Publisher description: "A novel of psychological suspense, in which a young woman becomes entangled in a terrifying web of deception and madness involving her elderly neighbor. "Don't let him in until I'm gone." That's what Mina Yetner's neighbor whispers to her just before the EMTs take her to the hospital. Mina writes down the message - at nearly ninety, she has to write down most things lest she forget-and calls Sandra's daughter Ginger, telling her that once again her mother needs help.

 Evie Ferrante is dismayed when she gets the call from her sister:  it's Evie's turn to see what their mother's done to herself. But when Evie arrives home-where she hasn't been in months-she's shocked by the state of her mother's house: it's in terrible disrepair. And as Evie cleans and organizes, she finds things that don't make sense: expensive liquor in the garage, pricier than their mother's usual brand, a new flat-screen television on the wall. Where was her mother getting all this money?

Evie, suspicious and concerned about her mother, rekindles a relationship with Mina. Mina's been having episodes she can't explain lately, herself, and her nephew Brian is trying to convince her to move to a community that will provide her with some help. Though Mina's resistant, Evie isn't certain that isn't a bad idea. But before any decision is made about Mina, Evie needs her help figuring out what's been going on with her mother-and the more Evie digs into what her mother's been up to over the past few months, the more a bigger-and more sinister-story begins to unfold."

Would you keep reading because of the opening paragraph? I'd keep reading, wondering about the lives of these elderly women living alone...

I received a complimentary galley of this novel.

Jun 3, 2013

Book Review: The Original 1982 by Lori Carson

Title: The Original 1982 by Lori Carson
Published May 28, 2013; William Morrow
Genre: contemporary fiction

A singer and songwriter, Lisa made a decision years ago, in 1982, to terminate a pregnancy, a pregnancy that was not supported by her musician lover and which would have put her musical career on hold or on a different path.

Today, she looks back at her decision and wonders what it would have been like if she had had her child. The novel writes two different stories - one with her child and the other, the original 1982, without the child.
In the original 1982, I lose my mind. I drink myself into oblivion.I call him repeatedly and wait outside his door. I beg him to tell me why.
He grows bored with my drunken pain.
"I've told you why," he says. (ch. 21)
Based on the future she envisioned with the child, and the future she actually had without the child, I won't tell you whether or not the character Lisa decided she had made the right decision the first time, in the original 1982, or not. I'll let you, the reader, decide.

An unusual plan for a novel, which came off pretty well, I thought. Written in a straightforward manner, its merit is in the two stories it tells, though I found some aspects of her alternate life story just a tiny bit far fetched.

Publisher's description: 
The Original 1982 is the wise and memorable debut novel of love, regret, music and motherhood, by singer and songwriter Lori Carson of the Golden Palominos. 

It's 1982, and Lisa is twenty-four years old, a waitress, an aspiring singer-songwriter, and girlfriend to a famous Latin musician. That year, she makes a decision, almost without thinking about it.But what if what if her decision had been a different one? 

 In the new 1982, Lisa chooses differently. Her career takes another direction. She becomes a mother. She loves differently, yet some things remain the same. Alternating between two very different possibilities, The Original 1982 is a novel about how the choices we make affect the people we become-and about how the people we are affect the choices we make.

About the author: Lori Carson is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter whose albums include: Shelter, Where it Goes and Everything I Touch Runs Wild.

A former member of the band Golden Palominos, she has contributed to the soundtracks of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, Keith Gordon’s Waking the Dead, and others. The Original 1982 is her first novel. Lori lives in New York City.

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

Travel Can Be Fun or Not: Sunday Salon

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