Sep 29, 2014

Book Review/GIVEAWAY: Dark Aemelia by Sally O'Reilly

Title: Dark Aemelia: A Novel of Shakespeare's Dark Lady by Sally O'Reilly
Published May 27, 2014; Picador/Macmillan
Genre: historical fiction

Book description:
A TALE OF SORCERY AND PASSION IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY LONDON—WHERE WITCHES HAUNT WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND HIS DARK LADY, THE PLAYWRIGHT’S MUSE AND ONE TRUE LOVE. The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. She develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

 A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.

 Sally O’Reilly breathes life into England’s first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history.

My comments:
The author has taken historical personages, notably Shakespeare himself, and woven a fictional tale of love and magic involving Aemilia Bassano, England's first female poet, and the Bard. This novel's story is not based on fact and Aemilia's relationship with Shakespeare in this book is pure fiction. We still don't know who the Dark Lady, Shakespeare's muse, refers to in real life. But this is a good story for those who don't mind. A lot of imaginative creativity in this novel, which I recommend for those who love historical fiction and romance.

See the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour schedule for more reviews of the book.

About the Author
Sally O’Reilly has received numerous citations for her fiction, which has been shortlisted for the Ian St James Short Story Prize and the Cosmopolitan Short Story Award. A former Cosmopolitan New Journalist of the Year, her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, and the New Scientist. She teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Portsmouth in England. Dark Aemilia is her U.S. debut.

Thanks to HF Virtual Book Tours and the publisher for a review copy.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Giveaway of five copies, open to US and Canada residents only. Please leave a comment with your email address OR email your entry to me at with the heading: "Dark Aemelia Giveaway."  Please respond by October 9, 2014. 

UPDATE: Congrats to Barbara, Brian, Tea, Shaula, and Anita, THE WINNERS.

Sep 28, 2014

Sunday Salon: All Mystery

Welcome to the Sunday Salon where bloggers share their reading each week.Visit The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer; Also visit It's Monday: What Are You Reading hosted by Book Journey and Stacking the Shelves at Tynga's Reviews.

Fall is here and am out of the house again after nursing a nasty cold for a couple of weeks. Found a new dim sum place yesterday and ate too much. The nice thing about dim sum is that you can have as much or as little as you like as each little dish has only about three bites or small portions - Asian style tapas, but going back hundreds of years.

I have found some good books at the library recently, finished
Stillwater, an historical novel of Minnesota in the 19th century and 
Death of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton. I am now reading Jussi-Adler Olsen's newest Scandinavian thriller, The Marco Effect.

After reading and loving Us: A Novel by David Nicholls, I borrowed the ebook of his previous novel, One Day. I was not as taken with this one, however, and finished it quickly, something you can do with an ebook.

New books on my TBR shelf are:

For the Dead
French Pastry Murder
Stirring the Plot

Literally Murder
Picked to Die
Click on the blue titles under each book cover for book descriptions. 

What's new in your reading?

Sep 25, 2014

Book Review: Ghost Month by Ed Lin

Visit Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader.

Title: Ghost Month by Ed Lin
Published July 29, 2014; Soho
Genre: mystery
Rating: 4.5/5
Book Beginning:
When I found out the girl I was going to marry had been murdered, I was sitting on a foldout stool at a sidewalk noodle shop in Taipei's Da'an District. My mouth went dry, my eyes blurred and I couldn't stop shaking. It was the hottest day in July, and the island's humidity was draped over me like a mourning veil, yet my body went cold and sweaty. Even my skin was crying. (from proof; final copy may differ)
My comments: A suspenseful mystery and a fast read in an atmospheric international setting. I learned a lot about Taipei, Taiwan - its night markets and other tourist areas, the variety of its people, aboriginal and immigrant, and something about its culture, politics, and its relationship with China and Japan.

Publisher's description:
August is Ghost Month in Taiwan-a time to commemorate the dead: burn incense, visit shrines, commemorate ancestors, and avoid unlucky situations, large purchases, and bodies of water.

Jing-nan, a young man who runs a food stand in a Taipei night market, is shocked to learn his ex-girlfriend from high school has been murdered, found shot on the side of a highway where she was selling betel nuts to passing truck drivers. Jing-nan is confused by the news: "betel nut beauties" are usually women in the most desperate of circumstances.

But Julia Huang had been the valedictorian of their high school, and was enrolled in NYU's honor program, far away in New York. Julia's parents beg Jing-nan to do some investigating. Reluctantly, he agrees, but nothing can prepare him for what he learns, or how it will change his life.

Thanks to Soho for a review ARC of this novel.

Sep 24, 2014

Book Review: Us by David Nicholls

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted weekly by Jill at Breaking the Spine. What new releases are you eagerly waiting for? Link your post to Breaking the Spine.

Us: A Novel by David Nicholls
Expected publication: October 28, 2014; Harper
Genre: fiction

Publisher's description:
'I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.'
'Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?' 
Douglas Petersen understands his wife's need to 'rediscover herself' now that their son is leaving home. He just thought they'd be doing their rediscovering together.
So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.
The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.
What could possibly go wrong?
This novel will be released soon. I have already read the preview edition and can't recommend it enough.

My comments: Douglas, a "nerdy" and rigid biochemist tries to save his strained marriage and reconnect with his teenage son during a month-long Grand Tour of Europe. His wife, Connie, a much freer spirit then he, wants to return to her art and the freedom she had as a single woman twenty five years previously. Their son Albie, soon to be a college student, seems estranged and uncommunicative with his father.

The adventure in Europe changes Douglas and exposes him to new experiences and people that open up his previously narrow view of life. It changes the family dynamic as well. The ending is a surprise one.

My rating: 5 stars. Great plot about family dynamics; wonderful characterizations. Grab this book as soon as it's published!

I received an advance edition of this book for review.

Sep 23, 2014

Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Publication Date: September 23, 2014; Thomas Dunne Books
Hardcover, 496 pages
Genre: Historical/Fantasy/Fairy-Tale Retellings

Publisher's description: Bitter Greens’is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale interwoven with the life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

A personal perspective:
When I started the book, I was delighted to discover the history of the fairy tale "Rapunzel" and the history of the woman who wrote the current version. Charlotte-Rose de la Force's version of Rapunzel has been handed down from the 17th century.

We could go into many discussions about the meaning of the fairy tale, how it represents the extreme plight of some young women with malicious people in their backgrounds, not to mention their having plain bad luck.

In this novel, I felt that a deeper message or meaning was missing somehow. Many fairy tales are to warn children of the dangers of not obeying parents, of wandering off on their own, trusting total strangers, etc., such as in Hansel and Gretel, Peter and the Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears.

In Bitter Greens, bad luck happens when the fictional girl's father is caught stealing a handful of parsley for his starving family and when he has to promise the "bad witch" the life of his daughter when she reached a certain age. Bad luck also happens to the writer of the story, Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who is locked up, so to speak, in a convent for being too outspoken at court. (She spends time writing her stories though freed later on to live a normal life).

The novel could have been shortened from its 496 pages to have more impact, I felt. As it is, I found it hard to get through the entire book to find the message at the very end and also felt that the stories of the fictional Margherita and of the real Charlotte-Rose were too similar in their "bad luck," which made for a depressing read.

I enjoyed the first half of the book and rate it 3 out of 5 overall.

 For more reviews of Bitter Greens, visit the tour schedule at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

About the Author
Kate Forsyth, award-winning author of thirty books for both adults and children, was voted one of Australia’s Favourite 20 Novelists, and is an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers. 

Her recent novel, ‘The Wild Girl’, is the true love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. It was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013. ‘Bitter Greens’ has been nominated for a Norma K. Hemming Award, the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Fiction, and a Ditmar Award.

Kate's books have been published in 14 countries. She lives in Sydney, Australia, with her family and many thousands of books. Visit her website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

I received an ARC of this book for review.

Sep 21, 2014

Sunday Salon: Mixed Genres

Welcome to the Sunday Salon where bloggers share their reading each week.Visit The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer; Also visit It's Monday: What Are You Reading hosted by Book Journey and Stacking the Shelves at Tynga's Reviews.

Cool temperatures are here, not that I mind. Good for reading and sleeping!

I have some new books on my desk this fall:

And a few cozies:

I have just reviewed on Goodreads two good cozies:
The Blood of an Englishman: An Agatha Raisin Mystery #25 by M.C. Beaton
The Wolfe Widow: A Book Collector Mystery #3 by Victoria Abbott

and am 98 percent finished with Us: A Novel by David Nicholls. I rate it 5/5.

Click on the book covers for book descriptions. Lives In Ruins and Chinese Rules are nonfiction

What are you reading these days?

Sep 19, 2014

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron: Book Beginnings

Visit Book Beginnings by Rose City Reader for this weekly Friday meme.
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron
To be published October 28, 2014; Soho Crime
Genre: mystery

Book beginning:
Saturday, 24th December, 1814
Steventon Parsonage, Hampshire
"Jane," said my mother over the lolling head of he parson slumbering beside her,"be so good as to shift your bandbox and secure my reticule. I cannot manage the hamper with one hand, to be sure."
"No, indeed," I pressed my bandbox - already crushed from the confines of the stage, which was crowded beyond bearing - into my friend Martha's lap, and seized my mother's purse. She had netted it from silk, an effort demanding considerable invention and time; none of us should hear the end of it if Mrs.Austen's work were ruined well before it could be universally admired. I braced my booted feet against the unsteady coach's floor and cradled the reticule as tenderly as a newborn babe.
Book description:
Christmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday at The Vyne, the ancestral home of the politically prominent Chute family. Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, DC; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted.

Jane, however, discovers holiday cheer is fleeting. One of the Yuletide revelers dies in a tragic accident, which Jane views with suspicion. With clues scattered, dark secrets coming to light, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, whom can Jane trust to help stop the killer from striking again?

This latest novel in the mystery series will be released next month. I am looking forward to reading this as a stand-alone novel, and my first in this series. 

Sep 16, 2014

Book Review: Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

Becoming Josephine
Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb
Published December 31, 2013; Plume
Genre: historical fiction

Becoming Josephine uses historical facts to weave a personal story about Rose Tascher of the island of Martinique who traveled to France, married, entered French society and later became the Empress Josephine, ruling France with Napoleon after he declared himself Emperor. I enjoyed the facts behind the imagined inner life of a girl who rises to undreamed of heights, at times a bit unwillingly.

The novel was easy to read presenting the facts of the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon from Josephine's point of view and imagining her feelings and personal reactions to the monumental changes around her.

The novel was informative and entertaining. I only wish it had finished the story about the future that Napoleon faced after Josephine, and not ended quite so abruptly, as I felt the novel at the end was almost as much about Napoleon as it was about the Empress.

I rated this excellent read 4 out of 5 stars.

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Plume/Penguin 2015).  A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. You may find her twittering @msheatherwebb or contributing to her favorite award-winning sites Writer Unboxed and Romance University. In addition, she is a member of The Historical Novel Society.

Connect with Heather

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a review copy of this book. Visit the tour schedule for more reviews.

First Chapter: Embrace the Whirlwind by Laurel-Rain Snow

First Chapter, First Paragraph is a weekly meme hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea.
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B; choose two teaser sentences from a random page of your current read.

Embrace the Whirlwind
Embrace the Whirlwind by Laurel-Rain Snow
Published March 19, 2007; BookSurge
Genre: fiction
First chapter, first paragraph: 
She hadn't trusted in the myth of "happily ever after" for a very long time, but, despite herself, she had trusted that he was going to be the love of her life. After all, the two of them had been hanging out pretty regularly now for a couple of months. He came to the roadhouse where she worked, usually right after she finished up with his construction crew, and they had fallen into the habit of leaving together after her shift ended. But tonight had been different, right from the start.
Book description: 

Coming from a deeply troubled family, Amber finds herself making more and more misguided choices. Pregnant and subsequently abandoned, she becomes obsessed with a man who can't seem to commit to her. Hopelessly addicted to his love, Amber whirls more and more out of control until she meets a retired social worker whose kindness and caring guide Amber toward understanding and self-fulfillment.

Based on the opening paragraph and the book description, would you keep on reading?

Sep 14, 2014

Sunday Salon: Books Set in Warm Places

Welcome to the Sunday Salon where bloggers share their reading each week.Visit The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer; Also visit It's Monday: What Are You Reading hosted by Book Journey and Stacking the Shelves at Tynga's Reviews.

Fall seems to be here as the temps have plummeted, though I am hoping for some Indian summer days in the future. Most hummingbirds have gone south, so it seems, though one of them has been kept away from the feeder by small wasps landing on the feeder mouth. Don't know how to fix that.

A few books came in while we were away on vacation. Had a great time whale watching off the Long Beach, CA coast and visiting the LA art museums and botanical garden. Even saw the retired Endeavour space shuttle and the Pompeii Exhibit at the California Science Center. I recommend seeing it if you are there.

Two ARCs from Poisoned Pen Press, due to be published October 7, 2014, came in for review:

Sons of Sparta
Sons of Sparta: A Chief Inspector Andreas Kalkis Mystery by Jeffrey Siger

Did the warriors of ancient Sparta simply vanish without a trace along with their city, or did they find sanctuary at the tip of the mountainous Peloponnese? That stark, unforgiving region's roots today run deep with a history of pirates, highwaymen, and neighbors ferociously repelling any foreigner foolishly bent on occupying this part of Greece. 
Special Crimes Division Detective Yiannis Kouros is summoned from Athens by his uncle. Kouros fears his loyalty to his boss, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis, is about be to be tested by family pressure on the detective to act in some new vendetta in the region involving his uncle. (publisher)

Desert Rage
Desert Rage: A Lena Jones Mystery by Betty Webb

Ferociously ambitious U.S. Senatorial candidate Juliana Thorsson has been keeping a secret. The horrific slaughter of a prominent doctor, his wife, and their ten-year-old son inside their Scottsdale home brings Thorsson to Private Investigator Lena Jones. The slain family s 14-year old, Alison, and her boyfriend, Kyle, have confessed to the murders. Thorsson wants to hire Lena to discover if Alison is telling the truth, but before accepting the job, Lena demands to know why a rising political star wants to involve herself with the fate of a girl she s never met. (publisher)

And a few cozies:
A Midwinter's Tale

Murder Off the Beaten Path
One Potion in the Grave

What's new on your desk? Don't you just love these covers?
Click on the covers or the blue titles under the covers for more details about the books.

Sep 13, 2014

Book Reviews: Dark Spies by Matthew Dunn; and Dog Beach by John Fusco

Brief reviews of two excellent thrillers:

Dark Spies (Spycatcher #4) by Matthew Dunn
To be published October 7, 2014; William Morrow

I've enjoyed all Dunn's Spycatcher thrillers. The action is superb though a bit violent in parts but the plot is excellent. 

Intelligence operative Will Cochrane is hunted by his former bosses, the CIA, for having disobeyed orders on a mission, even though he did so to save the life of another CIA operative under fire.  There is more going on, however, and Will is determined to find out what, as he risks his life to get back incognito to Washington D.C. and the mysterious Project Ferryman files. 

I rated this 4.5 stars on goodreads
I received a review ARC/galley from the publisher. 

Dog Beach by John Fusco
Published September 9th 2014 by Touchstone
Genre: action, thriller

Story of an aging Hong Kong stuntman being chased by the Chinese triads in California reminds me of Jackie Chan, who could play the part if this were a film. This thriller set in Malibu is written by a screenwriter who has written the sequel to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

I rated this 4 stars on goodreads. 
I received a review ARC/galley  from the publisher.

Sep 9, 2014

The Stone Wife by Peter Lovesey

 First Chapter, First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile By the Sea
The Stone Wife
The Stone Wife (Peter Diamond #14) by Peter Lovesey
To be published September 16, 2014; Soho Crime
Genre: crime fiction, police procedural
First chapter, first paragraph:"Will somebody start me at five hundred?"
A card with a number was raised near the front.
Thank you. Five-fifty. Six hundred. Six-fifty. Seven. Seven-fifty at the back. Eight."
The bidding was keen by West Country standards. Morton's auction house in Bath was used to lots being knocked down almost at once. This had a sense of energy even though the faces were giving nothing away.
(from an advance uncopyedited edition; final copy may differ)
Book description: At a Bath auction house, a large slab of carved stone is up for sale, but  three masked robbers shoot and kill the highest bidder, a professor who has recognized the female figure carved in the stone as Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. The masked would-be thieves flee, leaving the stone behind.  Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond and his team are assigned to investigate, and the stone is moved into Diamond’s office so he can research its origins. The carving causes such difficulties that he starts to think it has jinxed him. (publisher)

Based on the opening paragraph and the book description, would you keep reading? 

Sep 4, 2014

Book Review: Nightmares Can Be Murder

Title: Nightmares Can Be Murder: A Dream Club Mystery by Mary Kennedy
Published September 2, 2014; Berkley
Genre: mystery, cozy
"Fire is an important element in dream work," Ali said. "It's open to interpretation, but it can mean passion, love, or danger." (ch. 10)
 Publisher description: 
Business consultant Taylor Blake has returned to Savannah, Georgia, to help her sister Allison turn her dream of running an old-fashioned candy store into a reality. Allison is also interested in dream interpretation and invites Taylor to her Friday night Dream Club, where members meet once a week to share and analyze their dreams.

When a local dance instructor, Chico Hernandez, is found dead in his studio, and the murder scene has an eerie resemblance to one of the dreams shared at their meeting, Taylor can’t help but be intrigued. And when her sister, who was briefly involved with the dance teacher, becomes the prime suspect, Taylor and their fellow club members can’t be caught napping. It’s up to them to dream up a solution to the murder before Allison faces a real-life nightmare.

My comments: I was interested to read about some of the possible meanings of dreams, such as being lost or dreaming of significant persons. I thought it was clever to combine dream analysis and meaning with a cozy mystery, having a "dream team" of ladies discuss the details of a murder case and give their interpretation as well as reveal what their own dreams may tell about the case.

This is a new mystery series featuring the Dream Club of ladies in Savannah, Georgia. It comes with a brief dream symbol guide. You can't go wrong reading this cozy!

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

Sep 2, 2014

Dog Beach by John Fusco: First Chapter

 First Chapter, First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile By the Sea
Dog Beach
He is running, eight stories up on a rusted crossbeam, when he feels it, that thing entering his bloodstream, the rush he secretly calls the Creature. The timer on the explosives - 280 pounds of M112 demolition charges - is beeping down the count.....(continues)
Chapter 1: Palm Springs, Magic Hour 
 Louie Mo sat in the passenger seat, peering through tinted aviators at the big hotel. The car, a beat-up Chevy Impala, smelled of cigarettes, aftershave, and a Supreme Croissant. 
"Shit, this mother's hot," Dutch caid, clawing the Styrofoam cup. "If I spilled it on me, I could sue Jack in the Box for ten mill."  
Louie glanced at her, the girl he usually just called Driver, but his mind was still fixed on the Marriott. "Too many people sue," he said in his broken English. 
I used the opening of the Prologue and the First Chapter to give you a better sense of the novel and where it might be going. I like that it's set in Palm Springs, Ca., a place I'd love to be, when it's not too hot.
Publisher's book description: Leaving a successful career as a stunt double in Hong Kong to escape the Chinese mafia, Louie Mo makes his living in Los Angeles as a hired knee-breaker. When Troy, an aspiring director, agrees to direct a film for producer Avi Ghazaryan, Avi's sketchy investors hire Louie to scare Troy into finishing their movie. Troy recognizes Louie Mo as the stunt man he once was, though older and with more aches and pains, and begs Louie to take the lead role in a movie. 
For Louie Mo, this chance at redemption might be his last. As his past catches up with him, he teams up with Troy to avoid the bad guys and pull off an impossible film of epic proportions. A fast-paced thrill ride, equal parts dark satire and action novel.
 Based on the opening paragraphs and the book description, would you read on?

Voices of the Old and the New: Corky Lee and Julia Alvarez

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