May 12, 2014

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

Welcome to It's Monday: What Are You Reading? at Book Journey. Also visit Mailbox Monday, hosted by Vicki, Leslie, and Serena.

Very excited about two new books:

The Visitors
Season of the Dragonflies

Here's what's new on my shelves. Just love the covers and the titles. What did you get in your mailbox this week?  

CYCLING SOJOURNER: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Washington by Ellee Thalheimer

Summer is coming up, and long distance cyclists on the road have another tour guidebook, this time in the state of Washington!

Title: Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Washington by Ellee Thalheimer
Expected publication on May 15, 2014; Microcosm Publishing
Genre: travel guidebook, cycling

Publisher description:
As the second book in a one-of-a-kind cycle-touring series, this guidebook reveals hard-to-find information about exploring Washington by bike. Learn about the state’s remotest ribbons of road in the Okanagan, the best bikeable berry stands in the San Juans Islands, luscious Walla Walla wine country vineyards best reached by bicycle, and routes across the Cascade Mountain Range that will transform you into an interminable lover of the Pacific Northwest.

Like a cycle-touring concierge, Cycling Sojourner takes care of the logistics and removes obstacles between you and your two-wheeled adventure, so you can grab your bike and go. The nine tours in the book are meticulously laid out and include cue sheets; maps; and information about weather, difficulty level, camping and lodging options, and how to get to the ride’s start. The voices of Thalheimer and the four contributing Washingtonian authors use storytelling, local history, and humor to draw out your inner adventurer.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for feature/review.

May 10, 2014

Book Review: A Tiger's Tale by Laura Morrigan

Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also visit The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer.

Here is a book review for today's Sunday Salon. I like the cover and the premise of A Tiger's Tale.
Title: A Tiger's Tale: Call of the Wilde #2 by Laura Morrigan
Published May 6, 2014; Berkley
Genre: cozy mystery

Animal behaviorist Grace Wilde has special abilities - she can communicate mentally with animals. She keeps her psychic abilities secret, except from her love interest, the cop Kai Duncan. Grace is known to have a special rapport with animals and is called in to calm down the normally sedate Siberian tiger Boris who seems to have suddenly gotten aggressive. Grace has to find out why and see how it's linked to the disappearance of a teenage girl, a volunteer at an animal rescue facility.

I enjoyed the new angle to this cozy - an amateur sleuth and animal behaviorist who uses mental telepathy to communicate with animals. Grace gets clues to the mystery of the missing teen from what the various animals observe and can tell her. Entertaining and well written, this cozy is a 4 star read, with a very likable main character and an equally interesting set of animal characters.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book for the publisher's book tour.

May 9, 2014

Book Review: The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli

Title: The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli
Paperback published March 3, 2014
Genre: historical fiction
First paragraph: I chew my lower lip while I wait to see my father's gondola catch fire. 
Page 56: I have done my best to stay hidden during daylight hours, observing, waiting - for what, I cannot say. 
A young boy, Luca, has accidentally caused the burning of his family's boat making factory after a fight with his father. He runs off to stay with an old friend, an oar maker, but soon disappears to become a gondolier for a well known artist, ferrying the artist to his various appointments and running errands by boat.

The novel is more than a coming-of-age story set among boat makers and gondoliers in 16th century Venice. It tells how Luca grows up to learn to handle responsibility, gets to know a world outside that of his small town, and falls in love. He discovers an old boat produced by his family in years past and sets out to restore and repair it, improving his boat making skills and working on making his own oars. How he handles misfortune, disappointment, even imprisonment, and how he redeems himself is the crux of the novel.

The setting is detailed and the atmosphere and feel of Venice is well done. We are immersed in the surroundings and lives of Venice's gondoliers and how they handle their boats, the techniques of boat makers and their exacting craft, and the skill needed to make boats of the highest quality boats.

I was captivated by the story and easily slipped into the Venice of the 16th century. The author has artfully woven Luca's story into the historical fabric of the times. I learned a lot about gondolas of the time, the laws of the city regarding boat making, and much more. My objective rating for this fascinating historical novel: 5/5.

Author's Bio:
Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, and has taught college-level art history in the US and Europe. Laura is the author of Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest (Rizzoli). The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction. Visit her at Laura Morelli Facebook Twitter

For a list of other reviews of the book, visit iRead Book Tours
I received a complimentary review copy of the book for this tour.

Here is a Q and A that will tell us more about Laura and her writing.
1. Where are you from?
I grew up on a farm in Georgia. It was a wonderful childhood, climbing trees, riding horses, playing in the barn with cows and chickens, fishing in the lake. There were not many kids around so I learned to be independent. I read everything I could get my hands on; the used bookstore in town was one of my favorite spots. I still remember the smell of it! I always had the idea that I would write books, and I dreamt of writing a novel for as long as I can remember.
How did you start writing?

I was educated as an art historian. Those of us in academia are trained to write in a specialized style that comes across as dry and dull, full of terminology that is inaccessible to all but those of us who spend many years studying the field. In the end, this kind of writing strips out the passion that is so inherent in the arts, even though of course I hold great respect for the rigor of scholarship and those who publish exclusively in academia. Art history is the most fascinating subject in the world!

 I realized that I enjoyed writing for a more general audience and that I had an opportunity to bring art history to a wider audience through my writing. I try to bring both the knowledge as well as the excitement of art history to my readers. I  also try to capture the excitement and passion I felt when I first discovered the history of art. 

3. How did you do research for The Gondola Maker?

The foundational research that went into The Gondola Maker was actually conducted for another book. I didn’t plan it that way! While I was writing Made in Italy, I traveled all over Italy, from the Alps to the islands, talking with contemporary artisans who still practice centuries-old traditions like Murano glass, Florentine leather, Sicilian ceramics, Roman gold smithing, and of course, Venetian gondolas. Over and over, the people I interviewed emphasized how important it was to pass the torch of tradition to the next generation. I began to wonder what would happen—especially centuries ago—if the successor were not able… or willing. The character of the gondola maker and his son began to take shape in my head.

As I began to work on The Gondola Maker, it was an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the primary historical sources about the history of the gondola, the world of the guilds or arti, and Venetian boatmen in Renaissance Venice. Historically, Venetians were well aware of their position in the world and so there are a lot of historical sources from which to draw, although private boatmen and other domestic servants only appear incidentally in the historical record, sometimes in reference to a crime or other infraction.
4. What other books have you written?

I’ve written a series of specialty guidebooks with the goal of leading travelers beyond the tourist traps to discover authentic local traditions and artists, and come home with great treasures in their suitcases. My focus in on cultural immersion through a greater appreciation of art objects and the people who make them.  
5. What are you currently writing?
I am working on revised editions of my books, Made in Italy and Made in France, and am also writing a series of small guides that lead travelers to discover authentic arts in specific cities and regions of Europe. Venice will be the first!

Other relevant information and links:

May 6, 2014

Book Review: THE MEDICI BOY by John L'Heureux

The Medici Boy
Title: The Medici Boy by John L'Heureux
Published April 1, 2014; Astor + Blue Editions
Genre: historical fiction

Michelozzo's wedding was the occasion for another of those Medici interventions in the lives of artisans that have produced astonishing works, like Donatello's bronze David or the frescoes of Fra Angelico or the Madonnas of Filippo Lippi whom Cosimo locked in a room and refused to let out until he had made progress with his painting. These would never have existed without Cosimo's insistence. And his money.

The art patron in question is Cosimo de'Medici, the wealthy and influential banker in Renaissance Florence, who commissioned the sculptor Donatello to make a bronze statue of David, the statue that gave the author the idea for this book, The Medici Boy. The title of the book does not refer to Donatello or to David, however, but to a fictional character in the book - the handsome young Agnolo, who is the model for the David sculpture.

The Medici Boy is about the works of Donatello in one part, the history of the Medicis in Florence in the early 15th century in another, and in yet another, a fiction about Donatello's personal life and loves during a time when love between men or between men and boys was punishable by death.

The Night Officers were not men to antagonize.... Donatello seemed not to realize this. His infatuation with Agnolo had in truth become a kind of madness. (ch. 33)

The fictional narrator Luca observes Donatello and Agnolo with great care and with some jealousy. He works as the keeper of accounts and helper in Donatello's workshop in Florence and later in Padua. We see everything through his eyes, and he has his own intriguing personal story to tell also.

I recommend the book not only for its historical information on the life of a great artist and his wealthy Medici supporter, but also for its social implications which extend to our own time. The author's fluid narration and his command of language made this informative and thought provoking novel both a challenge and a delight to read. I was a little scared I would not do justice to the book, so I will add this link to the recent Washington Post's review (which I have not yet read). It should add more.

John L'Heureux has served on both sides of the writing desk: as staff editor and contributing editor for The Atlantic and as the author of sixteen books of poetry and fiction. His stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Harper's, The New Yorker, and have frequently been anthologized in Best American Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. His experiences as editor and writer inform and direct his teaching of writing. Since 1973, he has taught fiction writing, the short story, and dramatic literature at Stanford. In 1981, he received the Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and again in 1998. His recent publications include a collection of stories, Comedians, and the novels, The Handmaid of Desire (1996), Having Everything (1999), and The Miracle (2002).

The Medici Boy Readers Guide
Video Trailer for the book

Thanks to publishers Astor + Blue for a review copy of this book for their book tour.

John L'Heureux

May 4, 2014

Sunday Salon: Reading for Book Tours

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also visit The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer; It's Monday: What Are You Reading? at Book Journey. Also visit Mailbox Monday.

Re the garden, we put in wire around our raised vegetable garden bed, and not even the chipmunks can get it. There are already shoots of bean? showing. A ton of sprouts are showing in the raised flower bed - cone flowers, asters, marigolds, or? It will be great to see which seeds will grow, of all the ones we planted.

I finished reading several books last week and posted reviews and/or comments:
Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hiraraha, a mystery set in ethnic neighborhoods of LA
Death Money by Henry Chang, a mystery set in NYC Chinatown
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, a novel of suspense with a controversial ending
The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose, a fantasy

A book tour for The Medici Boy comes Tuesday and am still reading the book, though it's an easy read and very well done. After that, The Gondola Maker, another historical novel, is my May 8 book tour.

I received only one book last week in the mail! Bee Summers by Melanie Dugan, for another book tour on May 22. Before that, I'll review The Idea of Him on May 19.

Bee Summers
We have given away the frame and headboard of a twin bed that had been taking up space in the basement. That leaves me with room for more book shelves, yah! Slowly downsizing and leaving only those things "most loved." Also, sharing the goodies - shipped off a small box of cozies and a copy of Mrs Poe to my niece, a fellow lover of mystery novels. Her older daughter likes historical fiction. So glad to have some family members to share books with. Most of them are too busy to be readers! Ahem!

How did your week shape up?

May 2, 2014

Book Review: Death Money by Henry Chang

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.

Death Money

Title: Death Money: a Detective Jack Yu Investigation by Henry Chang
Published April 15, 2014; Soho Crime
Genre: police procedural

  page 56
"Find out anything, bro?" It was Billy Bow.
"Yeah, he's Chinese,"snapped Jack. "Why?"
"Last name Chang, right?" teased Billy.
"And you know that how?"Jack countered.
"Ancient Chinese secret."
"Stop f---ing around, Billy. It's a homicide deal now."

Book beginning:
It was 7 A.M. when Detective Jack Yu stepped into the frigid dawn spreading over Sunset Park.A slate gray Brooklyn morning with single-digit temperatures driven by wind shrieking off the East River. He scanned Eighth Avenue for the Chinese see gay radio cars bur saw none, only a couple of Taipan minibuses, sai-ba, queued up a block away from the Double Eight Cantonese restaurant.

(above quotes taken from an advance uncopyedited edition of the book; final copy may differ)

Publisher description: 
Novelist Henry Chang returns us to the Chinatown of NYPD Detective Jack Yu, and spins one of his most noir tales yet. When the body of an unidentified Asian man is found in the Harlem River, NYPD Detective Jack Yu is pulled in to investigate. The murder takes Jack from the benevolent associations of Chinatown to the take-out restaurants, strip clubs, and underground gambling establishments of the Bronx, to a wealthy, exclusive New Jersey borough. It's a world of secrets and unclear allegiances, of Chinatown street gangs and major Triad players. With the help of an elderly fortune teller and an old friend, the unpredictable Billy Bow, Jack races to solve his most difficult case yet.

My comments:
I enjoyed the author's previous books, Year of the Dog and Red Jade, and continue to find the world of NYC's Chinatown fascinating, as it appears in this series. The novel has a no-holds-barred frankness that may shock some, but its honesty in its portrayal of people, places, and situations makes it an intriguing book.
There is a subplot that I wish had been developed more in the novel - Jack Yu's romance with an attractive Chinese lawyer. The subplot could help to lighten some of the tense events of the mystery novel as it went along.

I received a complimentary ARC of this book from the publisher.

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...