Dec 8, 2013

Sunday Salon: Winter Reading

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also visit The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer, and It's Monday: What Are You Reading? at Book Journey. Also, Mailbox Monday hosted by Rose City Reader this month.

I downloaded books for the first time on Edelweiss, thanks to an offer by William Morrow for the following e-galleys for review:
Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey. a mystery/thriller set in Florida.

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants by Ruth Kassinger, a history of the first botanists and info on the plants of today.
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore, a "satiric Venetian gothic"
That Old Black Magic by Mary Jane Clark, Wedding Cake Mystery #4

I'd much rather have paper books in my hot little hands and will take print any day over e-books, but I am going to do my darn est to read these before they disappear from my computer. I only have them for 45, 52, 80, or 136 days, depending on the release date of the books.

I also found myself reading several books at a time, vowing to finish them all:

The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan, Chinese-American fiction, a book from my shelves

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, memoir and essay writing
Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith, spy thriller
Paws for Murder by Annie Knox, cozy mystery that I'm quite enjoying
I worry that I have Book-ADD (a term I made up) and am too easily distracted by a new book while I'm already reading one.

Review books and AREs (advance reader's editions) that came recently?

The Altarpiece (The Cross and the Crown Series, Book One) by Sarah Kennedy- an imagined h8istory of what might have happened to all the nuns after Henry VIII took over the church in England in the 16th Century.
The Last Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim, a romance, murder mystery, and suspense - historical novel set in Paris just before WWII

Children of the Revolution (Inspector Banks Novel #21) by Peter Robinson, police procedural and crime thriller

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash, fiction

What I bought for myself, on Kindle:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Berg, historical novel involving a family of botanists.

What's on your winter reading list? Keep warm!

Dec 7, 2013

Until My Soul Gets It Right by Karen Wojcik Berner

Title: Until My Soul Gets It Right: The Bibliophiles, Book Two
Author: Karen Wojcik Berner
Published May 23, 2012; Kindle and paperback
Genre: women's fiction
"Hey, Catherine," Scott said loudly enough for everyone to hear as he followed her into the living room. "I hope we can put aside any past animosity and be friends." He lowered his voice. "And you are going to play along, aren't you? ..."
My comments: 
Catherine Elbert is dissatisfied with her small Wisconsin farming town, her family, and her circumscribed life there, and 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 a main character one may not like. But is she heading in a direction of self-realization?

Publisher description:
 From the author of  A Whisper to a Scream comes a story about growing up, making peace with your past, and finding love along the way. Catherine has never been good at making decisions, whether it was choosing an ice cream flavor as a small child, or figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. The only thing Catherine knew for sure was there had to be more to life than being stuck on her family’s farm in Wisconsin. While watching a PBS travel show, Catherine becomes entranced by Portland, Maine. The ocean. The lobsters. The rugged coast. Nothing could be more different from the flat, nondescript farmlands of Burkesville.

Despite her parents threatening to disown her and her brothers taking bets on how many days until she comes home, Catherine settles on Peaks Island, off the coast of Portland. She was finally free. Or so she thought...

About the series: 
suburban classics book club, members also reveal their personal stories. Includes Reader's Guide with book club discussion questions. Until My Soul Gets It Right is a 2013 Readers’ Choice Award Nominee by BigAl’s Books & Pals

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

Dec 5, 2013

The Thrill of the Haunt by E.J. Copperman

Friday 56 Rules: *Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader  *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you. *Post it. *Add your (url) post in Linky at Freda's Voice.

Also Book Beginnings by Rose City Reader.

Title: The Thrill of the Haunt: A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery by E.J. Copperman
Published November 5, 2013; Berkley
Genre: cozy mystery

Page 56:
She pulled out a pair of dark sunglasses. "These will be good to hide my face," she said.
Book beginning:
"Are you the ghost lady?"
I've heard the question many times, but I'm not crazy about it, frankly. Living in a large Victorian with my eleven-year-old daughter and two dead people who never took the hint - while trying to make a go of the place as a guesthouse - is difficult enough. 
"Alison Kerby’s guesthouse is already crowded with spirits. As Alison’s reputation as “the ghost lady” grows, so does her business—and not always in a way she’d like. Tourists may be flocking to her guesthouse for a chance to glimpse her resident spirits, but her special abilities are also bringing unwanted private investigation cases to her door.

And she has no choice but to take a case when the local homeless man is found murdered under mysterious circumstances, just hours after asking for help in exorcising a specter. If that weren’t enough to deal with, Alison’s other PI case soon turns fatal, as the mistress she was spying on for a jealous wife turns up dead as well. The cases seem as if they couldn’t possibly be linked, but with clues, motives and suspects—both living and dead—Alison will have to think fast before someone else checks out for good." (publisher description)

Are you in the mood for a ghostly mystery?

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

Dec 4, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: Paws for Murder by Annie Knox

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted weekly by Jill @ Breaking the Spine. Let us know what new releases you are eagerly awaiting. Link your post to Breaking the Spine.

Title: Paws for Murder: A Pet Boutique Mystery by Annie Knox
To be published January 7, 2014; Signet
Genre: new series, cozy mystery
"Animals aren't meant to wear clothes," Sherry continued. "It's not natural."
I didn't bother pointing out that guinea pigs didn't "naturally" travel in canvas slings. Or live in Minnesota, for that matter.
(ch. 1)
Publisher description:

"Izzy McHale wants her new Trendy Tails Pet Boutique in Merryville, Minnesota, to be the height of canine couture and feline fashions. But at the store’s opening, it turns out it’s a human who’s dressed to kill….

Izzy’s own beloved pets are dressed to the nines for the grand opening. Feisty feline Jinx is large and in charge, and happy mutt Packer is lapping up the attention. Izzy and her best friend Rena have their hands full meeting Merryville’s menagerie and serving tasty pupcakes and kitty canapes from their "barkery.” The last thing they need is the town’s local activist, Sherry Harper, scaring off customers and picketing the event.

The two manage to stop Sherry’s protest, but the trouble is just beginning. Sherry is found murdered in back of the shop, and Rena is named the lead suspect. Now Izzy and her furry friends have a new pet project—collaring a killer."

What new release are you eagerly waiting for?

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

Dec 3, 2013

Chasing Utopia by Nikki Giovanni

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: Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni
Published October 29, 2013; William Morrow
Genre: a combination of prose and poetry

First paragraph:
So here is the actual story. I was bored. Well, not bored because I had the privilege of interviewing Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, who said she pursued a degree in physics and also became a medical doctor to keep her mind occupied. Mae's IQ must be nine hundred and fifty-five or thereabouts. I asked, "How do you keep from being bored?" And she replied, "A friend of my father's once told me "'If you're bored you're not paying attention.'" 
Poetry teaser:
Poets shouldn't commit
That would leave the world
To those without imagination
Or hearts
(from the poem, "Poets")
Publisher description:
"Nikki Giovanni's poetry has spurred movements and inspired songs, turned hearts and informed generations. She's been hailed as a healer and as a national treasure. But Giovanni's heart resides in the everyday, where family and lovers gather, friends commune, and those no longer with us are remembered. And at every gathering there is food--food as sustenance, food as aphrodisiac, food as memory. A pot of beans is flavored with her mother's sighs--this sigh part cardamom, that one the essence of clove; a lover requests a banquet as an affirmation of ongoing passion; homage is paid to the most time-honored appetizer: soup.

With Chasing Utopia, Giovanni demands that the prosaic--flowers, birdsong, win-ter--be seen as poetic, and reaffirms once again why she is as energetic, "remarkable" (Gwendolyn Brooks), "wonderful" (Marian Wright Edelman),"outspoken, prolific, energetic" (New York Times), and relevant as ever."

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

Dec 2, 2013

Book Feature: The Purchase by Linda Spalding

Title: The Purchase: A Novel by Linda Spalding
Published August 6, 2013: Pantheon
Genre: historical novel

About the novel: 
Winner of Canada's 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction

In this historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.

A novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life.

Excerpt from the novel: 
Daniel looked over at the daughter who sat where a wife should sit. Cold sun with a hint of snow. The new wife rode behind him like a stranger while the younger children huddled together, coughing and clenching their teeth. The wind shook them and the wagon wounded the road with its weight and the river gullied along to one side in its heartless way. It moved east and north while Daniel and all he had in the world went steadily the other way, praying for fair game and tree limbs to stack up for shelter. “We should make camp while it’s light,” said the daughter, who was thirteen years old and holding the reins. But Daniel wasn’t listening. He heard a wheel grating and the river gullying. He heard his father – the memory of that lost, admonishing voice – but he did not hear his daughter, who admonished in much the same way. 
Some time later the child pulled the two horses to a halt, saying again that they must make camp while the sky held its light. The new wife arranged dishes on the seat of the wagon, and the child, whose name was Mary, pulled salted meat out of a trunk at the back. It was their fifth day on the road and such habits were developing. By morning there would be snow on the ground, the fire would die, and the children would have to move on without warm food or drink. They would take up their places in the burdened wagon while Daniel’s fine Pennsylvania mares shied and balked and turned in their tracks. A man travelling on horseback might cover a hundred miles in three days, but with a wagon full of crying or coughing children, the mountainous roads of Virginia were a sorrow made of mud and felled trees and devilish still-growing pines. 
The children, being young and centered on their own thoughts, were only dimly aware of the hazards of the road and of the great forest hovering. They hardly noticed the mountains, which were first gentle and then fierce, because all of it came upon them as gradually as shapes in an unhappy dream. The mountains only interrupted a place between land and sky. The forest got thicker and darker on every side. They had, within a few weeks, watched their mother die, given up home and belongings, landscape and habits, school and friends. They had watched people become cold to them, shut and lock doors to deny them entrance. How were they to understand? There were other wagons leaving Pennsylvania and going south and west, but none were so laden with woe as the one that carried the five children and the widower and his new bride. 
Excerpted from The Purchase by Linda Spalding. Copyright © 2013 by Linda Spalding. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the author:
Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. The Purchase received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine.

Visit Linda's website at

Thanks to Wiley Saichek,  Marketing & Publicity Consultant, for the excerpt and author and book information. 

Dec 1, 2013

Book Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon!  I want to discuss this intriguing book I've just finished reading. 

Title: The Valley of Amazement: A Novel by Amy Tan
Published November 5, 2013; Ecco
Genre: historical novel

Comments: Finishing this novel has led me to read more of Tan's books and I have started The Kitchen's God's Wife, her second book after the popular Joy Luck Club. I seem better able to put myself into the cultural context of those first two books, more than I was able to the first time I tried reading them. The emphasis on superstition and ghosts and women who lived in a feudal environment was not something I understood very well or could relate to, as an example.

The Valley of Amazement is a novel about courtesans in early 19th century Shanghai, and revolves around a tense and tenuous mother-daughter relationship, as well as the lives of courtesans in China, their customs, formalities, behavior and norms. As I read along, I was reminded of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, then Puccini's Madame Butterfly without the tragic ending, and later on of the Chinese film Raise the Red Lantern, which is about women in a household with multiple wives. These themes are all in Tan's new book.

The second half of the book had its own drama and some excitement for a reader who loves a chase. There are themes of sisterhood among the "flower sisters" or courtesans who bond and help each other in difficult situations. There are themes of different kinds of love in men-women relationships, themes of reunion and forgiveness.  I can't get into specifics without revealing plot!

This was an enlightening as well as entertaining and informative book. It took me effortlessly into another time and place and culture through its characters' ups and downs during a dangerous and daring time in Chinese history.

Publisher's book description:
"Moving between the dazzling world of courtesans in turn of the century Shanghai, a remote Chinese mountain village, and the rough-hewn streets of nineteenth-century San Francisco, Amy Tan's new novel maps the lives of three generations of women connected by the mystery of an evocative painting known as "The Valley of Amazement."

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai.  Half-Chinese and half-American, she struggles to understand who she really is. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, Violet's quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path of danger and complexity.

Lucia, a willful American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai's most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which began when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for redemption will bring her to a startling reunion.

Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters, that returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club."

The book is set between 1905 to around 1937-38, just before the war broke out with the Japanese. The book ends there, but as a reader I wondered what could have happened had the novel continued. That's how real the characters became for me.

Thanks to Ecco for an ARE of this novel for review.

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