Oct 31, 2009

Halloween Reads

Halloween Murder Halloween Murder by Shelley Freydont

A really good mystery book for Halloween!

Here are some other Halloween mysteries to ponder:
A Catered Halloween (Mystery with Recipes) by Isis Crawford
Who Stole Halloween? by Martha Freeman
Witches Bane by Susan Wittig Albert
Death on All Hallowe'en by Leo Bruce
Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie
Cat with an Emerald Eye by Carole Nelson Douglas
Trick or Treat by Leslie Glaister
Trick or Treat by Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Tarts by G.A. McEvett
Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie Meier
Dance of the Scarecrows by Ray Sipherd
The Scarecrow Murders by Mary Welk
All Hallow's Eve by Charles Williams
All Hallow's Evil by Valerie Wolzien

Oct 28, 2009

Book Review: Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin

Nanny Returns: A Novel Nanny Returns: A Novel by Emma McLaughlin

If you read the Nanny Diaries and liked it, Nanny's back in Nanny Returns, to be released Dec. 15, 2009! My comment - excellent plot, very witty nanny.

I learned East Coast talk and New-Yorkese and marveled at the first names chosen by the author for the wealthy - Stilton, Grayer, Citrine! Do the names have hidden meanings?

Nan, who babysat for the rich and famous when she was a college student, is called back into service by a teenager whom she nannied 12 years earlier. Grayer wants help with his younger brother Stilton as his parents can't be relied on, for one reason or another.

On top of that Nan lands a job as a consultant at a high priced private school that has spoilt children who post outrageous things on the web for all to see.

Super Nan to the rescue, it seems, but Nan's husband Ryan wants to start a family, and right away, despite her job and commitments. Nan doesn't know if she wants children at all. Maybe she's had enough?

I enjoyed the plot, the wicked portrayal of the spoilt young and the wayward adults in wealthy Manhattan. I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars. Haven't read the Nanny Diaries, but I'm now curious!

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC of this book. Title to be released by Atria on Dec. 15, 2009.

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Oct 27, 2009

Book Review: A Sportscaster's Guide to Watching Football

A Sportscaster's Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America's Favorite Game
Don't watch the ball while the center is snapping it back to the quarterback; watch the linemen. Whether they stand up or hunch over is crucial to predict how the play will be made.

That's one of the things I learned from A Sportscaster's Guide to Watching Football. I also have a chart of the line up in the offense and defense positions and information on what each player does - the WR, LT, LG, C, RG, TE, QB, and RB. And don't worry - the book explains what all those initials mean.

Offense, defense, the referees and the rules, what the numbers on the football jerseys mean re their position on the team - the 146 page book covers it all. However, though Mark Oristano did a good job of "Decoding America's Favorite Game," he could not get away completely from using terms/words to explain the same terms/words, which only football fans know. For instance, in the glossary, description of a "punt" is "When it's fourth down and you're too far away to kick a field goal, you punt the ball back to the other guys." Okay, but what is a punt? Sounds silly, but hey, I'm no sports fan.

I did get the basics of the game from the book, though true football fans may enjoy it best. After all, I saw football as a game with guys moving down the football field, running and piling up on top of each other. Now, though, I know better.

A Sportscaster's Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America's Favorite Game by Mark Oristano

Thanks to Phenix & Phenix for a review copy of this book.

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Oct 25, 2009

Book Review: Persian Girls by Nahid Rachlin

Persian Girls: A Memoir

Persian Girls: A Memoir by Nahid Rachlin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This memoir tells the poignant story of two Iranian sisters, Maryam and Mohtaram, of their daughter, the author Nahid Rachlin, and of Nahid's sisters, Pari and Manijeh, all Persian girls living in Iran in the time of the Shah. It is also a moving story of the sisters' love and loyalty in the face of family betrayal and loss, and the precarious lives of women living under strict tradition in a male dominated society.

I read this excellent memoir in two sittings. The writing is fluid and compelling and easily takes you into the author's life in Iran and into the lives of her two families - her adoptive mother Maryam and her biological mother, Mohtaram, two sisters.

It is also about Nahid's personal struggle with her life with her biological parents after she was removed from her adoptive mother's care in Tehran at age nine and returned to her parents' home. Nahid had been raised by her childless aunt Maryam since she was six months old and the shock of suddenly been taken away from Maryam by her father seemed to her like a cruel abduction. How she fights to resolve this and to lead her own independent life is the major subject of this book.

This moving story reveals the plight of women without a voice of their own in family or in public life, as well as the difficulty of living in Iran during the time, for both men and women. I recommend the memoir for those interested in women, women's rights, Iranian history, and the growth and development of a writer.

Nahid Rachlin is author of the novels Jumping over Fire, Foreigner, Married to a Stranger, The Heart's Desire, and a collection of short stories. She is an associate fellow at Yale and also teaches at the New School and the Unterberg Poetry Center in New York.

Thanks to the the Penguin Group for a review copy of this book.

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Oct 23, 2009

Susan Arnout Smith: author Q and A

Susan Arnout Smith's latest thriller is: Out At Night

1.Susan, what made you decide to write mysteries?

Susan: I love puzzles. Mysteries and thrillers exist
in some ways in very moral universes. We want the good guys to win. We want the evil ones to be punished. In the real world, we live with moral ambiguities.
And while the best thrillers and mysteries are built in that gray netherworld
of moral complexity, the bottom truth is that we want there to be a hope
at the end of the journey for good to win. Whatever good means.

This is your third Grace Descanso novel.
Susan: Actually, Out at Night is the second Grace Descanso thriller. (The Timer Game was the first, Minotaur 2008).
2. Genetically modified foods in a controversial topic. How much of what is written in Out at Night is fact and how much is fiction re: what is being done in modified foods?

Susan: Great question, Harvee.

Short answer: It's real. Every time a writer creates a thriller, it's a new world that's being created. That means that if it feels real, it's real.

In this case, I wanted to get the facts right. Then I could tweak them
to make things scary. I love to work with experts,
and probably the most unsettling thing about the 'what if' I created is the expert's belief that the scenario I'd created (using facts as a jumping off point), could absolutely come true.

So. Here are some of the facts:

Hunger is a terrible thing and in the lab, scientists have created seeds that are drought resistant, weed resistant and even some, (like Golden Rice, genetically modified to carry Vitamin A), will significantly improve the lives of kids in Third World countries and prevent blindness.

And it's also true that scientists are combining genes from different organisms (translation: taking genes from humans and adding them to plants), to create crops that will produce vaccines for AIDS and Hep B, or create insulin or help clot blood or inhibit diarrhea.

But what if you don't want to eat a plant that produces a human gene to help clot blood? And what if this plant, once grown in a certain area, is still contaminating the soil and getting into the non-GM plants
in a new harvest?

In 2005, the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released a study that GM crops contaminate the countryside for up to fifteen years
after being harvested.

Another worry in America has been that about two-thirds of all processed foods sold in American grocery stores are made with genetically modified crops. Two-thirds. That's an amazing statistic.

We have packaging that identifies calories and fat grams, but no labeling
in stores of GM foods. (This labeling is mandatory in the UK). In August,
it was reported in the New York Times that there's a push for labeling to identify processed foods made with GM crops, so this might be changing.

Why is the issue of GM crops important?

Well, some scientists say it could be affecting our health. Big time.

In 2008, the Austrian government released the results of a five month study that confirmed that GM corn directly affected the reproductive health in mice. Now there's a push in Austria
to immediately ban all GM crops and goods to protect the fertility of women around the world.

The Russians completed a similar study at the Russian Academy, with similar results. Over half the offspring of lab rats fed GM crops died within the first three weeks of life. And all the GM offspring
in the preliminary results were sterile.

So this is what interested me about GM crops. Here we have the chance to do good things: create seeds that will grow with little rain. Prevent weeds from choking plants. And create crops that carry antidotes
and vaccines and blood clotting mechanisms.

And. . .those very modifications could be costing us our health.

I love the light;/dark, good/bad and yes, moral ambiguity of this subject.

3. Do you still work for TV and radio, or are you a fulltime writer?

Susan: I'm a fulltime writer. I have two screenplays
that are being shopped in Hollywood, I'm working on the third Grace Descanso thriller and have been commissioned to write a play for a theater in New York.

4. What's the best thing about writing mysteries/thrillers?
Susan: Researching new areas. Diving into a subject that has two diametrically opposed moral sides and exploring both sides equally. And the puzzle. Pushing myself to make the ending seem surprising and at the same time, inevitable. Playing fair with my readers by putting in clues and yet hiding them well enough to keep readers turning pages long past the time they promised to turn out the light.

5. What's the worst thing, if any?
Susan: I love every part of this work.

6. The setting for Out at Night is in San Diego and Palm Springs, CA. You are originally from Alaska. Have you used Alaska as a setting for either of your previous books?

Susan: My first novel is an historical novel called The Frozen Lady and takes place in Alaska. It starts around the turn of the century (late 1800's) and ends in the 1970's, and weaves together the lives of a Tarimuit Eskimo family (usually called Inuit), living near what is now Barrow, and a white family which settled in Alaska during the Gold Rush.
7. Do you have any other books in the works?
Susan: Yes, I'm well into the third Grace Descanso thriller.
This one's particularly fun. Her father washed overboard when she was eleven, and she suddenly believes she's seen him, so it's the hunt for her dad.

8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Susan: I have webisodes on my website: www.thetimergame.com (twenty-two mini-dramas
that end in a cliff-hangar that's paid off in The Timer Game), and a second set of webisodes on www.susanarnoutsmith.com (mini-dramas dovetail with Out at Night).

Thanks, Susan.

And thank you, Harvee. Wonderful questions!
(Click here to see my review of Out At Night.)

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Oct 22, 2009

Book Review: Social Lives by Wendy Walker

Social Lives Publisher's description:
Wilshire, Connecticut is the gilded enclave of Manhattan's prosperous elite, where the mansions are tastefully designed, the lawns are expertly manicured, and the streets are as hushed as the complexities in the residents' lives. While Welsher's husbands battle each other in the financial world, their wives manage their estates and raise the next elite generation. Some women are envied, some respected, and others simply tolerated. But regardless of where they stand, each woman is .... bound by the unyielding social structure that surrounds her.

My comments: Neither the plot nor the characters held my attention past the first 50 pages. I found the characters one-dimensional and the writing, as one critic put it, somewhat "pedestrian." It had a lot of potential to be a good novel.

Review book provided by St. Martin's Press.

Oct 21, 2009

A-Z Wednesday: Killer Cruise

Welcome to A-Z Wednesday!! To join, go to your stack of books and find one whose title starts with the letter of the week.

1~ a photo of the book
2~ title and synopsis
3~ link (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.)
4~ Visit host Reading at the Beach to see the details and post your link.


Killer Cruise by Laura Levine

About the book:
Our heroine Jaine Austen has some setbacks on a cruise she was expecting to be a lot of fun. She was hired by the cruise line to give writing lessons to passengers, but only five show up, and she has an unintended stowaway, her cat Prozac, who sneaked on board at the last minute.

Besides hiding the cat, Jaine finds time to solve a murder on board while also indulging in her passion for midnight snacks and chocolate.

In Killer Cruise, one murder is enough! But there are many possible culprits on board the cruise ship Festival, ranging from a jilted ex-fiancee, an ice sculptor, and the relatives and friends of a silver haired lady being swept off her feet by love at first dance.

Readers who like comedy, romance, and mystery will like this one.

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Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro. Intellect having "heart" Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of suc...