Apr 12, 2013

Final Sail by Elaine Viets

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"Yes. My husband was so thoughtful," Blossom said. "Arthur told me he bought a funeral plan when his first wife died. I can't remember her name. I'm so upset."
"Honeysuckle," said Helen.

To catch a jewel smuggler on a luxury yacht, Helen needs to pose as the ship’s new stewardess. While Helen’s cruising to the Bahamas, her significant other Phil’s got his own job—trying to catch a gold digger who may have killed her new husband. Helen needs to watch her step on board ship as she searches for the smuggler —or she may end up going from undercover to overboard. (book description)

Title: Final Sail: A Dead-End Job Mystery by Elaine Viets
Expected publication: May 7, 2013; Signet paperback
Published in 2012 as hardcover

Apr 9, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

My thoughts: You could say this is a novel about Hollywood and film making, about how it can make you a success as it did Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who are featured in this novel, or it can chew you up and spit you out, as it did the fictional character of Beautiful Ruins, the aspiring actress Dee Moray.

Dee Moray is made to believe she has stomach cancer and, to be rid of her, is sent away from the Cleopatra movie set in Rome to an unknown and tiny seaside Italian village, Porto Vergogna, where she is to wait for producer Michael Deane to take her for cancer treatment in Switzerland.

Dee is befriended by the young owner of the tiny hotel, Pasquale during her three-day stay in Porto Vergogna. Pasquale sees her as the beginning of his dream come true for his remote hotel, which he hopes will attract tourists and rich Americans as other Italian towns do.

On one of their walks, Pasquale shows Dee a ruined bunker forgotten in the hills, on the walls of which a WWII soldier had drawn pictures of the town and pictures of a girl, possibly his sweetheart. The sharing of this secret place seals their friendship, but Dee and Pasquale soon go their own way to lead separate lives, though reluctantly. That was in the 1960s. Some forty-six years later, an aging Pasquale turns up in Los Angeles, hoping to find Dee, the actress, and this starts the producer Michael Deane off on what he plans to be another of his money-making film schemes.

Comments: I found this a moving story of love and friendship, duty and trust, and two people who survive the greed for fame, fortune and reputation, whether in the film industry or in tourism. The title has multiple meanings, I think, referring to the beautiful but "ruined" Dee of the film industry, maybe even to the beautiful Richard and Liz, and the ruins of the WWII bunker Dee visits with Pasquale whose paintings show fading beauty of another sort. I gave the novel 5 stars for the characterization, the plot, the writing, and the message. For the entire book. Go read it!

Title: Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walters
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)

Book description: From the moment it opens—on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat—Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins is an inventive story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

For more reviews, visit the tour schedule and TLC Virtual Book Tours, which provided the review copy of the book.

Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His collection of short fiction, We Live in Water, has just been published by Harper Perennial. He lives in Spokane, Washington. Find out more about Jess at his website and follow him on Twitter.

This review is linked to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link Up Party

Apr 7, 2013

Sunday Salon: New Books for April

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also submitted to Mailbox Monday hosted by Mari Reads. Visit to see the new books of other bloggers.

A few surprises plus two books I requested and got! How cool is that?

First the surprises:

Title: Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom
Published October 25, 2012; Fourth Estate
Book description: A history of paper, in all its forms and functions. Both an international cultural study and a series of personal reflections on the meaning of paper, the book is a timely meditation on the very paper it's printed on.

Title: Out of Range: A Novel by Hank Steinberg
Publication: June 4, 2013; ARC from William Morrow
Book description: In Uzbekistan, journalist Charlie Davis was wounded when the government fired on a group of protestors he was covering on assignment. He and his pregnant wife, Julie, barely escaped. Years later on a trip to Disneyland with their children, Julie vanishes. Charlie soon discovers this isn’t a random abduction and Julie isn’t who she seems to be. She’s been harboring dark secrets that have come back to terrorize them.

Ooh, suspenseful. Can't wait to read it!

Two books I hoped to get:

Title: The Cooked Seed: A Memoir by Anchee Min
To be published May 7, 2013; ARC from Bloomsbury
Book description: In 1994, Anchee Min made her literary debut with a memoir of growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution, Red Azalea. The book propelled her career as a critically acclaimed author.Twenty years later, Min returns to the story of her own life as an immigrant to the U.S., from the deprivations of her homeland to the sudden bounty of America, without language, money, or a clear path.

Title: A Natural History of Dragons: a Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Published February 5, 2013; Tom Doherty Associates
Book description:  All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. A science fiction and fantasy novel.

Now if these don't pique your curiosity, as they do mine....

What's your Sunday like? 

Apr 5, 2013

Book Review: The Boreal Owl Murder by Jan Dunlap

When I found this free on Kindle, free for a time anyway, I thought it would be a good book to get ready for the bird watching season around Lake Erie, during the annual warbler migration in May.  I really enjoyed the book.

In Minnesota, high school counselor Bob White finds a Boreal owl researcher's body in the deep woods. Bob had gone in the middle of the night to the nature preserve to catch a glimpse of the elusive owl.  After discovering the body, Bob becomes a target too for someone who wants to keep him away from the owl's habitat deep in the woods.

I liked the plot, especially since I could not guess the real culprits or the motives. It kept me reading along. There is also a lot of humor in the dialogue, which lightens up the book quite a bit. I only wish the cover had a better drawing of the owl! I hope to find and read more in the series.

Book description from goodreads: "Birding, the gentle pastime of watching birds, can at times become a competitive sport. Even at its worst, though, when birders don't give out information of their sightings and try to sidetrack other birders, it seldom rises to the level of serious harm, usually. But when Bob White, a mannered school councilor and dedicated weekend birder, finds a body on a birding trip, the idea that there's an exception to every rule gets hammered home."

Title: The Boreal Owl Murder: Bob White Murder Mystery #1 by Jan Dunlap
Published September 1, 2008; Kindle edition
Source: free on Kindle

Here is the Cornell University photo and description of the Boreal Owl:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology 
"A small owl of boreal and montane forests, the Boreal Owl is found throughout Alaska and Canada, and across northern Eurasia, as well. It is found in the lower 48 states only in the mountains of the West, in extreme northern Minnesota, and as an occasional winter visitor to the northern states."

Boreal: Of or relating to the forest areas of the northern North Temperate Zone, dominated by coniferous trees such as spruce, fir, and pine. (definition from the Free Dictionary).

Submitted to Saturday Review of Books

Book Review: House of Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt

Rocamora compared Rembrandt's appearance with that of another great artist, Velazquez, always well groomed and conscious of his handsome mien. Rembrandt, by way of contrast, is a disheveled unkempt man of gross peasant features and wild hair. Rocamora amused himself imagining how this rumpled genius would have fit into the Spanish Court. (ch. 4)
This novel continues the life of Vicente de Rocamora, former Dominican priest and confessor in the Spanish royal court of the 17th century. His life of political and religious intrigue and danger was outlined in the previous book, Rocamora, Vicente has left Spain to live in the Netherlands as a physician and has changed his name to Isaac in the follow-up novel, House of Rocamora.  In this book he also meets the famous artist Rembrandt.

Book description: A new life and a new name … House of Rocamora, a novel of the 17th century, continues the exceptional life of roguish Vicente de Rocamora, a former Dominican friar, confessor to the Infanta of Spain, and almost Inquisitor General.

 After Rocamora arrives in Amsterdam at age forty-two, asserts he is a Jew, and takes the name, “Isaac,” he revels in the freedom to become whatever he chooses for the first time in his life. Rocamora makes new friends, both Christian and Jew, including scholars, men of power and, typically, the disreputable. He also acquires enemies in the Sephardic community who believe he is a spy for the Inquisition or resent him for having been a Dominican.

As Isaac Israel de Rocamora, he studies Medicine at Leyden and, at age forty-six, receives a license to practice. That same year Rocamora weds twenty-five year old Abigail Touro, and together they raise a large family. During his time in Amsterdam, Rocamora has a bizarre encounter with Rembrandt, serves the House of Orange as physician, and advises Spinoza before the philosopher’s excommunication.

He survives a murder attempt, learns from the great English physician Harvey, and a surprise visit from a childhood friend leads to an unusual business venture. Life is never routine or dull for Rocamora. The intrigues start with his arrival in Amsterdam and do not end until he takes his last breath."

Title: House of Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt
Publication Date: November 19, 2012
Raven’s Wings Books paperback
Genre: historical novel

Here is my review of the previous book: Rocamora. Visit the author's website to find out more about how and why he wrote the books.

A review copy of this novel was provided through the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Visit their website for other reviews of the Rocamora books. 

Apr 3, 2013

Book Review: Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt

2012 Finalist International Book Awards for Historical Fiction
 The novel, Rocamora, gives an account of Vicente de Rocamora's life in the 17th century Spanish court as a Dominican priest and confessor to the Spanish Infanta, as a priest who rose to such fame that he almost became Inquisitor General of Spain. It is fascinating because of the historical background. The book details the atmosphere of fear, ambition, political greed, and the obsession of "purifying"  Spain during this time, to rid itself of not only Jews, Moors, and others not of "pure blood." Many were expelled from Spain in the 15th century and many others chose to leave the country over time unless they had decided to convert and become "New Christians". Anyone declared a heretic as well as anyone deemed to be homosexual, bigamist, blasphemer or other were subject to the auto de fe, a public penance and sentencing that could result in burning at the stake.

Vicente de Rocamora in this novel is based on a real person in 17th century Spain,  a poet whose works did not survive. He had family members in the Dominican order of priests, became a Dominican himself and served in the Spanish court, but later in life, after learning he was part Jewish and not one of the"pure bloods" in Spain, changed his name to Isaac, moved to the Netherlands, and became a physician.

Rich historical detail and atmosphere is the background tapestry for the story of Vicente rising to power in the Spanish Court, an ambition that gave honor and fame to the family name. I enjoyed reading the novel though it does take time to read to absorb the detailed information. I highly recommended the novel for those interested in the religious atmosphere of Spain during this time.

In an historical novel, I always want to know what's fiction and what is historical fact. It's helpful that the author has asterisks marking the fictional characters in his list of important people in Rocamora. He also has a map of Spain and Portugal in the 17th century and historical notes at the beginning and at the end of the novel.

Book description: "Rocamora, a novel of 17th century Spain, is based on the life of Vicente de Rocamora, who struggles to make his place in a Spain obsessed with limpieza de sangre, purity of blood untainted by Jew, Moor, or recent convert.

Poet, swordsman, and master of disguise, at the insistence of his family, Vicente enters the Dominican Order and is soon thrust into the scheming political and clerical hierarchies that at Court. Vicente becomes Confessor and Spiritual Director for King Philip IV’s teenage sister, the beautiful Infanta Doña María, five years younger than he, protégé and possible successor of Inquisitor General Sotomayor, and an invaluable assistant to the King’s chief minister, the Count-Duke de Olivares.

Vicente needs all his skills and cunning to survive assassination by a growing list of ruthless foes in both Church and Court, solve a centuries-old riddle to quell rumors of his own impurity of blood, and above all suppress his love for the seemingly unattainable María."

Title: Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt
Published September 26, 2011; Raven’s Wings Books
Genre: historical novel
Source: review book provided. For other book reviews, visit Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Donald Michael Platt's novel, ROCAMORA, set in 17th century Spain and Amsterdam during their Golden Ages, was released December 2008 and republished September 2011. The sequel HOUSE OF ROCAMORA was published November 2012. He is working on a novel set in the 9th century Carolingian Empire about another unusual historical character, Bodo, the Apostate. Please visit his Webpage for more information. 

Apr 2, 2013

Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Julie Amin:

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

Opening sentences: "Kalu stood still, staring up in to the banyan tree, oblivious to the sounds around him or to the man resting against one of the tree's many trunks. Finally, spotting the perfect leaf, the boy began to climb."
Book description: “'Kalu picked up the flute by his side and started to play. The sound was deep and full, as if he were translating his thoughts into music.' 
Abandoned as a young child, Kalu, a cheeky street kid, has carved out a life for himself in the village of Hastinapore, India. Kalu has also found friends: Bal, the solitary boy who tends the local buffaloes, and Malti, a gentle servant girl, who with her mistress, Ganga Ba, has watched over Kalu since he first wandered into the small town.

 One day, perched high in the branches of a banyan tree, Kalu chooses a leaf, rolls it tightly, and as he’s done for as long as he can remember, blows through it. His pure, simple notes dance through the air and attract a traveling healer, whose interest will change Kalu’s life forever.

 Dancing to the Flute is a heartwarming story of a community, the transforming powers of music, the many faces of friendship, and a boy’s journey to become a man."

Title: Dancing to the Flute: A Novel  by Manisha Jolie Amin
Published February 5, 2013; Atria
Genre: literary novel

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...