Mar 8, 2012

Book Review: To Catch a Leaf by Kate Collins

To Catch a Leaf: A Flower Shop Mystery by Kate Collins
Published November 1, 2011 by Signet
Objective rating: 5/5

I enjoyed every bit of this new book in the Flower Shop Mysteries - its humor and likable main character, Abby Knight, flower shop owner whose curiosity puts her squarely in the amateur sleuth spotlight.

Abby's shop assistant Grace is accused of murder after Grace finds the body of wealthy Constance Newport at the bottom of the basement stairs, seemingly pushed.

Abby feels there are a lot of suspects other than Grace, such as a houseful of Constance's live-in relatives, all upset they may be cut out of the will of the wealthy woman. Add to the mystery Constance's missing cat with its diamond studded collar and her valuable oil paintings which may have been replaced by forgeries.

In between sleuthing and running her shop, Abby rescues a tabby cat that she almost runs over in the street, has to deal with her future mother-in-law who insists on a wedding shower way ahead of schedule, and tries to discourage her own mother from making questionable "art" to sell in the flower shop. Abby's fiance, Marco Salvare, supports Abby in the domestic disputes as well as in crime solving.

There are so many interesting characters and situations that I was kept on my toes reading this cozy. There is a small element of surprise at the end, a hint of the paranormal that puts the cozy in line with current readers' interests as well. The writing is spot on for an easy and entertaining mystery.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mar 7, 2012

Guest Post: Mark Saunders, author of Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak

Title: Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak by Mark Saunders
Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Fuze Publishing, LLC; (November 7, 2011)

Book Summary: In 2005, Mark Saunders and his wife, with their dog and cat, packed up their Audi Quattro and left Portland, Oregon, for San Miguel de Allende, three thousand miles away in Mexico. Things fell apart almost from the beginning. This is their story.

Welcome Mark, and thanks for telling us how you came to write your travel memoir!

Mark: My wife and I were both in our late 50s and working in high-tech, for different companies, in Portland, Oregon, when the first thread unraveled: we discovered our jobs were going away.  Suddenly, we felt boxed in—or out.   

We could stay in Portland and try to find new employment. We could work as freelancers, start our own business, go on the dole. We could move and try someplace new. We weren’t sure what to do.  

Of course, there were the clichés to consider.  Life is short.  You only go around once.  Seize the day.  Products of a well-rounded liberal arts education during the rock-and-roll sixties, the needle of our lives seemed stuck between the refrains of “What’s it all about, Alfie?” and “Is that all there is?” 

About this time we visited a friend in Guanajuato, Mexico, over what amounted to nothing more than an extended weekend, and immediately fell in love—hook, line, and guacamole—with the colonial central highlands.  It took several months to accomplish, but we dropped out, sold almost everything, packed up what was left, and moved to Mexico.

We picked San Miguel because it’s historically and culturally significant. It’s high in the mountains, semi-arid, with year-around sunshine. It’s easier if you speak Spanish but it’s not required. The town is affordable, especially by U.S. standards. Best of all, it’s a town of, by, and for artists—of all types. In fact, you can’t swing an artist in this town without hitting a writer, and if the writer ducks you’re bound to hit a jazz musician.

Funny things happened to us almost immediately and I thought I should start writing about our experiences. My first effort was a letter to friends describing the different classes of dogs. That letter became an essay, which was published in an anthology, and that essay eventually became a chapter (“Yes, We Have No Chihuahuas”) in my book.

I continued writing essays. But after two years, we hit what we now refer to as the two-year homesick wall and moved back to the States.

Re-entry was difficult. Almost immediately we regretted our return and I stopped writing the essays. Nearly three years later, we decided our hearts were still in the highlands and we were on our way back to San Miguel. It was at that point when I realized I had a book to finish. I now had my Act 3. 

An independent publisher courageously offered to publish my humorous memoir. An amazing editor took my stand-alone essays and molded them into a compelling and funny narrative. A talented book designer understood my vision and exceeded my expectations.

Henry James said, “It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined.” In my case, I believe I’m doing him one better. I’m living the life I could not have imagined. "

Mark Saunders' Bio:
Playwright, screenwriter, and cartoonist, Mark Saunders had nearly 30 of his plays staged, from California to New York. His cartoons appeared nationally in publications. He wrote for the popular comic strip “Frank and Ernest,” as well as jokes for comedians, including Jay Leno. Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is his first book.
For more, visit Tribune Book Tours schedule of appearances by Mark Saunders.

Mar 6, 2012

Gossip by Beth Gutcheon

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"And then there was the spring morning I was walking to work and came upon Richard Wainwright leaving the Cabot Hotel with a young woman who was definitely not his wife.
It could have been a power breakfast, but why at a tiny hotel on a side street?" (p. 62)
Title: Gossip: A Novel by Beth Gutcheon
Hardcover, 288 pages; William Morrow
Release date: March 20, 2012

Gossip explores the myriad ways we use and abuse "information" about others - be it true, false, or imagined - to sustain, and occasionally destroy, one another. (book description)

About the book: Lovie French is in a good position to mingle with successful and well off women in Upper East Side Manhattan, including her former boarding school classmates, Dinah and Avis. Lovie owns a high end dress shop, making dresses and outfits for all their needs. Told in the first person, by Lovie, Gossip tells us about the women and the people in their lives, with Lovie giving us information on everything that is going on that she knows about. She gossips to us, the readers, though not in a snarky or malicious way.

Comments: Because the novel is written in a gossipy style, I couldn't get involved with the characters or connect with them. There is not a consistent thread in the stories of Avis and Dinah and the others. I find out about them just from hearsay, from Lovie's point of view. The novel is a great idea of showing how gossip works and what it can do, but I think I would have liked a more conventional way of telling the story. Many readers may like its style, however. I rated the book 3.5/5 stars.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Mar 5, 2012

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney.  

Books reviewed last week:
Other Waters by Eleni N. Gage
The Hope Vendetta by Scott Mariani

This week, on my reading list:

The Probability of Murder: A Professor Sophie Knowles Mystery by Ada Madison; Berkley Prime Crime

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson;
William Morrow

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers;
William Morrow

The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Andrew Marr; Henry Holt

I've got a lot of reading to do.... Are any of these on your reading list? What are you reading this week?

Mar 4, 2012

Book Review: Other Waters by Eleni N. Gage

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon.

Title: Other Waters: A Novel by Eleni N. Gage
Published February 14, 2012; St. Martin's Press

About the book: Other Waters, a novel by Eleni N. Gage held my attention all week in between chores. In her acknowledgments, the author says, "Other Waters attempts to describe the struggle of being caught between two cultures. But I hope it also expresses the joys of being exposed to a number of different worlds."

In the book, thirty-year-old Maya is caught between her traditional Indian family's expectations and her contemporary life as a psychiatry resident in a New York City hospital.  Maya keeps her American boyfriend Scott a secret from her family, only promising to one day introduce him to them. When a curse is put on her father in India by a distraught former live-in helper whom her grandmother had rescued from the streets as a child, Maya sees the sudden family health problems affecting her mother, father, and sister as a result of this curse.

With her best friend, Heidi, Maya takes the opportunity of her cousin's marriage in India to return to the country and confront the woman, asking her to remove the curse. Maya also does a traditional purging by bathing in the Ganges River, following the traditional belief that this will wash away her family ills. Things begin to look up for Maya when she meets another guest at the wedding - Raki, a suave and sophisticated Indian who works in finance in New York City. Raki seems to fit the bill as a new boyfriend - having the same culture and traditions as her family and someone she can easily bring home to her parents.

Reaction: Maya's decision to let go of Scott and turn to Raki is not as simple as it first seemed. What Maya does on her return to New York City and how she solves the problem of matching her needs to her family's expectations is an interesting turn of events. I am not sure that how the book ends is realistic for the character Maya and so I wasn't really pleased with the ending. However, the novel takes you on a journey to India that explains a lot of the culture, including the importance of the Ganges River and several of the gods in the Hindu religion. It also takes you into a traditional marriage ceremony at the same time as it shows the potential conflicts between marrying tradition and the modern. I rated the book 4/5.

Many thanks to the publisher for an Advanced Readers' Edition of this book.

Mar 1, 2012

My Book Win: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, Australian edition

Look what came in the mail today, all the way from Australia ! My lovely book win from book blogger Mandy at The Narrative Causality!! Thank you, Mandy.

I will treasure this edition, which is about two inches thick and printed on lovely paper. There was slight crumpling to a corner of the book cover, from being in transit, but not a problem! The brand new book is in excellent condition!

I gave this a 5 in my original review. If you want to find out more about the book, here are my Thoughts on 1Q84.

Do you like the cover of the Australian/British edition? I like the images of the double moons that are so significant in the novel.

Again, thank you Mandy, from Ohio to Australia!

Title: 1Q84: Books 1, 2, and 3 by Haruki Murakami
Published 2011 by Harvill Secker, Random House, London

Heft, a Novel by Liz Moore

Opening sentences in a novel can set the tone and help readers decide about a book. Here are the opening sentences for Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore.
The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat. When I knew you I was what one might call plump but I am no longer plump. I eat what I want & furthermore I eat whenever I want. For years I have made very little effort to reduce the amount that I eat for I have seen no cause to. Despite this I am neither immobile nor bedridden but I do feel winded when I walk more than six or seven steps, & I do feel very shy and sort of encased in something as if I were a cello or an expensive gun.

I have no way of knowing exactly what I weigh but I estimate that it is between five and six hundred pounds. The last time I went to a doctor's office was years ago and back then I weighed four hundred eighty pounds & they had to put me on a special scale. The doctor looked at me & told me I was surely on a path toward early death.
Title: Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore
Published January 23, 2012 by W.W. Norton & Company

Publisher's description: Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn't left his Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on a baseball career. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel's mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur's. After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene's unexpected phone call to Arthur, a plea for help that jostles them into action.  Heft is the story of two improbable heroes whose sudden connection transforms both their lives. Elizabeth McCracken's novel is about love and family found in the most unexpected places.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

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...