Saturday, December 31, 2011

'Welcome 2012! Good riddance, 2011'

2011 has not been kind to many of us.  Most of us have lots jobs in the bookselling industry, and many have lost their homes.  Many of us have had to supplement our meager incomes by raiding our retirement savings.  Let's face it:  2011 sucked.

But not in the publishing industry.  My fellow book bloggers and I have been extremely fortunate to have read new works by talented authors; some have deep backlists, others are new to the publishing game.  I honestly don't care if an author is established.  All I know is that we have been graced with some tremendous stories.

And the world will always need more stories.

I have searched websites and found hundreds of 'Top 100 Books of 2011' lists.  When I open my newspaper (yes, a real newspaper) on the last day of a year, I always head for the 'Top' lists.  Top movies, top music. But I am most eager to read reviewer's choices for Top Books.  I don't always agree with their picks, but I respect the fact that any little mention of a book is invaluable for the industry and the author.

I have not listed my favorite books of 2011.  Each story is so different that putting them on a list seems almost disrespectful.  It reminds me of the Academy Awards; how can one pick a 'top' actor when each performance is so unique to its setting?

So, I say to you all, read on.  Pick up a book and give it a chance.  The author has spent countless hours composing a story that might reach the hardest of hearts.  I, myself, have received books that I thought I might not like.  But once I open the book and start reading, I am transported to a different place.

And that's what storytelling is all about.  Transporting us.  Enlightening us.  And most of all, sharing our experience.  No matter which way you read a book (i.e., digital or 'real'), no matter where you read a book (i.e., bath tub.  My favorite place), just read.

When a book blogger suggests you try reading a book by a new author, just read.

Every writer got his/her start somewhere, and the new author you discover just might turn out to be your very favorite.

Happy New Year to all!  Be safe, be healthy...and happy reading!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

'The Midwife of Venice'

After reading so many thrilling mysteries, I felt that it was time for something paced a bit slower.  I was in the mood to read something that didn't leave me reeling, that made me appreciate the subtleties of fine writing (the mysteries were well-written, but they made me race to the end).

'The Midwife of Venice', by Roberta Rich, was the story I was looking for.

Set in 1575 Venice, Italy, it is the story of Hannah Levi, a Jewish midwife.  Her husband, Isaac, who had left to secure a better life for them, is captured at sea and held for ransom.  Hannah is an accomplished midwife, with a small secret:  She has invented 'birthing spoons', the forerunner of today's forceps.  Afraid of being accused of witchcraft, Hannah uses her 'spoons' in secret, careful not to let the mother and attendants see them.  But late one night, a Christian aristocrat begs her to help save his dying wife who is having difficulty giving birth to their child, but by a Papal edict, Jews are not allowed to offer medical assistance to Christians.  However, the count offers Hannah enough money to pay her husband's ransom.  As events unfold, she is witness to a family treachery that threatens her very life.

Ms. Rich has skillfully written a tale that is full of humanity, yet left me stunned.  I felt Hannah's desperation, appreciated Isaac's resolve, and cherished the love they had for one another. 

This is a brilliant, sensitive read, and I hope that Ms. Rich soon gifts us with another.

'The Midwife of Venice' will be released in April 2012

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

'The Devil's Elixir'

After reading the fantastic S/F thriller, 'Specific Impulse', by Charles Justiz, I was very happy to receive yet another exciting mystery from a master of suspense, Raymond Khoury.  His new book, 'The Devil's Elixir' is a suspenseful read, and I couldn't put it down.

When I read 'The Last Templar', I wasn't sure if Mr. Khoury could surpass that novel (but after watching the televised version of it, I was sure he could), but '...Elixir' is a sure bet.

Set in present time, his story once again features Sean Reilly and Tess Chaykin, who appeared in Mr. Khoury's 'Templar' series; Tess is an archaeologist, and Reilly is an FBI agent.  Although mystical and exciting incidents color their world, we are still interested in their personal relationship, and that's what gives Khoury's stories their warmth.

In 'The Devil's Elixir', Reilly discovers that he has a new person in his already-complicated life, and he wonders if Tess can overcome her objections.  But before they can sit back and discuss their future, an event arises that almost shatters their world.  A new drug has been discovered that can induce an experience that will change people's lives.  But a dangerous man wants to control it.

The drug was discovered in ancient Mexico, and used exclusively by holy men.  But if the drug is used in present-day, it could change the world in the worst way.

'...Elixir' is very fast-paced and I recommend it when you're in the mood for something that rivets you to your chair.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Mark Twain's Christmas Letter: My Gift to You!'

With thoughts of my favorite author running through my head, I give to you, as a Christmas gift, the delightful letter he wrote to his daughters one Christmas so long ago.

May your season be merry, and may your inner Book Hog shine bright!

From my house to yours,

Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning

Clemens as Santa
illustration courtesy of Dave Thomson
I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands--for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters--I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself--and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: "Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.
There was a word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak--otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here--I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.' " Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall--if it is a trunk you want--because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.
People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all--so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag--else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?
Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.

Your loving SANTA CLAUS 
Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"

Monday, December 19, 2011

'Specific Impulse'

When the new novel, 'Specific Impulse', by Charles Justiz, landed on my desk, my first impression was, "Is this one going to be a Tom Clancy clone?"  For the record, I don't read Clancy's books.  His military 'techno blab' is beyond me, and there isn't enough warmth to sustain my reading pleasure.  

Nevertheless, I opened Mr. Justiz' book and had a happy surprise:  I actually enjoyed it!

The story is a marvel; part military, part science, part government conspiracy, but mostly thrilling.  Although I was a bit confused by some of the scientific information (face it, not all of us are rocket scientists), none of it took away from this roller-coaster ride of a story.  Mr. Justiz has a great gift of bringing his characters to life; the two protagonists are very real, full of great human compassion, intelligence, and humor.

But what truly impressed me about this story is the fact that a woman is portrayed as a person who can handle her own life, who is extremely intelligent, and knows just what she wants.  She does not exhibit 'girly' behavior; no 'dumbing down', no flirtation.  First and foremost, scientist Carin Gonzales is a human being.  Gender rarely comes into play, and I thank the author for that.

Her partner in this exciting tale is Jake Sabio, a former submarine commander.  They meet in the most alarming way:  While separately visiting the Barringer Meteor Crater, an explosion brings them together, and transforms them in inexplicable ways.  But along the way, they are targeted by not only a mysterious assassin, but also by Special Agent Will Greenfield, who demands answers.

Jake and Carin are constantly on the run, outwitting and outrunning every threat to their existence.  Along the way, they are assisted by machine intelligence, which they have named FRED.    

Full of twists-and-turns, this story was near-impossible to put down.  Science Fiction and Thriller join forces to mesmerize any reader hungry for a thrilling read.  The ending begs for a sequel.

And I'll be excited to read it.

Note:  Writer/director, visual effects creator and award winning comic book creator Kevin VanHook has signed to write the screenplay for sci-fi thriller Specific Impulse, the first of a science-based trilogy written by retired NASA pilot Charles Justiz.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Trail of the Spellmans'

When I was working at Borders, one of my favorite sections was Mystery/Thriller.  So many customers clogged the aisles, trying to decide just what mystery novel would satisfy their book craving.  Swedish authors are 'hot' right now; 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo', 'The Ice Princess', Henning Mankell's fascinating Kurt Wallander series.  I could go on.  But we shouldn't discount American mystery writers, and one of the most popular is Janet Evanovich, author of the hugely popular 'Stephanie Plum' novels.

But Janet can only write so fast, which leaves so many fans bereft.  That was when I stepped in and suggested they read Lisa Lutz' hysterical series about the Spellmans, a family of private eyes.  Of course, it took a little persuasion, but most of the time, customers would give the first book a try.  And then I'd see them a few days later, asking for the second.  Before I knew it, they would be clamoring for more.

When the fourth book in the series arrived, I was sad to learn that Lisa was ending the series.  She displayed her cleverness and sarcasm in such a wonderful way, and I knew that I would miss the further adventures of such a strange family.  What would happen to Rae, the sly, wise-cracking little sister?  And what about David, the handsome lawyer brother?  But, mostly, what would happen to Isabel, the narrator?  I was depressed.  No more Spellmans.

But in my house, Christmas came early; the fifth novel of the quirky Spellman family arrived on my doorstep!  I was in Book Hog Heaven.  I couldn't wait to plop down on the sofa and devote my entire evening to a family that has given me so much laughter.

And there is lots of laughter.  Lutz hasn't lost her touch, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I suggest you try this series.  It will make you laugh, you really won't learn anything (unless you need some tips on spying), and you'll fall in love with a family that is somewhat normal, yet very vindictive.  But in a good way.

Although 'Trail of the Spellmans' won't be released until March, get a head start and read the first four books.  By the time you get to the fifth, you'll be a fan.
                             -The Spellman Files
                             -Curse of the Spellmans
                             -Revenge of the Spellmans
                             -The Spellmans Strike Again

Thank you, Lisa Lutz, for bringing the Spellmans back into my reading life.  I can die happy. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

'Girl Reading'

As we scramble to find the perfect gift, stress has become a constant companion, whether we like it or not.  The only way to put that stress in a time-out is to enjoy one of our own.  For me, lounging on the couch and reading a good book is a proven remedy.  All the stress melts away as I enter a new world and escape into a new story.  

And that is what I did amidst the flurry of work, gift buying, and lack of funds.  I came out of my 'mind spa' more alert, yet somewhat wistful.  

'Girl Reading', the first novel by Katie Ward, was a pleasure to read.  Each chapter travels through history, and tells the story of a particular woman and a book, and the people who paint or photograph them.  The first chapter begins in 1333 Italy, and the final chapter, which ends in 2060, nicely ties together the whole novel.  The stories, which are written with great care and intelligence, require time to ponder, to wonder if the way we live now was the same back then.  And we discover that no matter how progressive we may seem, evolution has not changed the way we feel about love, longing, and art.  The choices we make, we soon discover, have not changed at all.

I loved each and every chapter, but my particular favorite takes place in 1864 England, when spiritualism and all things metaphysical were the rage.  A set of twins have a special connection, and when one of them decides to travel a more 'normal' path, you realize that no matter how different their lives have become, the unique gift they share remains steadfast. 

Ms. Ward has a great talent for narration; the inner voices of each character are beautifully exposed.  As each chapter traveled through time, I admired how well she could surround me in the trappings of another era...and make me long for more when the chapter ended. 

Although this superb novel won't be released until February 2012, I suggest putting it on either your personal list of 'books to read', or on your reading group list.  I promise that it will promote a great discussion about women, art, and books.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

'The Chairs' Hiatus'

Back in the sixties, when I was a little kid, my mom and dad always took us to the local Fred Meyer grocery store after church.  My sister, brother, and I would plant ourselves in the magazine aisle and spend happy moments reading comic books.  My personal favorite was 'Classics Illustrated', which led to my love of literature (when I mention 'Classics Illustrated' now, most people tell me that they have never heard of the series).

Times change and comic books have taken a more decidedly adult turn; I enthusiastically embrace graphic novels.  I still love my Superman and Batman stories, and Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman' series became a particular favorite.  I revel in the beautiful illustrations and intelligent text.     

Graphic novels are not 'throwaways' to be left strewn about the house; they are art.  With the explosion of new, exciting artists and writers, those old, flimsy comics I used to adore are now bound books which have finally earned respect in the literary world.

And it is true art I have found in the newest graphic novel I've just finished reading.  'The Chairs' Hiatus', written and illustrated by Matthew Bogart, is a starkly-illustrated story of friendship, betrayal, and reconciliation.  Nel and Mary make up the rock duo, 'The Chairs', but when they part, Mary wants nothing better than to escape, to be left alone.  But when two people show up at her apartment one evening, her chosen path takes a sudden turn.      

I hope to see more from Mr. Bogart; he is a welcome addition to the pantheon of talented graphic novelists.  His book will take its rightful place on my bookshelf, right next to the 'Sandman' series and my beloved copies of 'Classics Illustrated'.

Visit Matt's website at

Friday, December 2, 2011

'The Dovekeepers'

"So these people died with this intention, that they would leave not so much as one soul among them all alive to be subject to the Romans."  

I put off reading 'The Red Tent' , by Anita Diamant, for a long time.  I was either not interested, or I wasn't sure about the author.  But, fortunately, I was wrong on both counts.  'The Rent Tent' is a fantastic story, and, although I live in the 21st century, I could relate to it.  Reading a novel written from a woman's perspective is challenging, yet comforting.  Challenging, because I wonder if I share the same perspective.  Comforting, because that same perspective is one which all women have shared down through the ages.

When Alice Hoffman's new novel, 'The Dovekeepers', landed on my desk, I eagerly read the brief synopsis and knew it was the book for me.  It shares the same historical perspective as 'The Red Tent', although the outcome is more...intense.  Based on the true story of Masada, 900 Jews are holding out against the Romans in the mountain stronghold which was once the refuge of Herod the Great.  It is the story of four women (some of whom survived the mass suicide), and is at once heartbreaking and ironic.  Hoffman's characters lead lives of surprising strength and tender vulnerability.  The author spent five years researching this story, and the result is magnificent.  

Alice Hoffman had enchanted me with her previous novels, but this one was a total surprise.  Her rendition of these women's lives is heartfelt and tragic.  

So, be touched.  You will feel their pain.  And you will appreciate your freedom and life so much more.

'The Dovekeepers' is a magnificent gift for Alice Hoffman fans, and even those who have an interest in Jewish history.  Although I love her previous novels, I consider 'The Dovekeepers' to be her masterpiece.  

I applaud her newest offering, and I'm sure you will, also.

Historical information and a glossary can be found on Hoffman's website:                                          

Monday, November 28, 2011

'The Readers Speak' Guest Recommends 2 Coming Soon!

I'm sure all of you have read the previous post and took some of the guest recommendations under consideration.  I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of those who sent me such glowing recommends!

But now is the time for more.  Yes...more!  I invite all of you to send me your recommends for Christmas gift giving.  Aside from the fact that we need some ideas, we might also find a book just for ourselves.  And who deserves a gift more than YOU!

So, warm up your keyboards, pull out your dictionaries, and wander through your bookshelves.  Be sure to include the title, author, a brief synopsis, and (most important), why you love that particular book(s).  You are welcome to send it in the comment section, or send me a message via Facebook if you are a 'friend'.  Don't be afraid to send me a recommend; I want your words to come from the heart.  Christmas will soon be upon us, and, in my opinion, nothing is better than receiving a book.

Besides, underwear and socks are so 'last year'.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Readers Speak: Great Recommends for Christmas Gift Giving

ThePassionatebookworm recommends:
'Divergent', by Veronica Roth

"OK. We all know Hunger Games is a huge hit. Therefore,  I don't mention this one because it's already on most wish lists or already bought.  Up next: I recommend 'Divergent', by Veronica Roth. With a passion I recommend this! Great Dystopian read, strong female lead.  Tons of action and ideas that will seriously make you think!  Perfect description @"

Dyan P. recommends:
'A Discovery of Witches', by Deborah Harkness.  

"A very grown-up supernatural story which differs from anything I have read.  It has romance (clean and PG 13), mystery, folklore & mythology, science & magic, and is the first in a trilogy, with more to come in the Spring.  For people who like paranormal without gore/violence/blood; it is all hinted at, but tasteful.  I could not put it down."


D'Arcy M. recommends:
'Little Women', by Louisa May Alcott

"Louisa May Alcott, a pioneer for all women; in a time when women were destined to be: Wife, Mother, or Old Maid, Louisa dreamed of something more. Encouraged by her brother to write she would come to write one of America's greatest classics and become one of the greatest writers of all time. 

'Little Women', set during the Civil War, tells the story of the March sisters: Josephine (Jo), Elizabeth (Beth), Margaret (Meg), and Amy; so different from each other, yet have an unbreakable bond as they lean upon each another for guidance, strength, and emotional support. 

Once a wealthy family, they too become victims of the war through poverty and death, after their father leaves home to be a Chaplain for the war. Never a family to let obstacles get in their way, the women always find a way to help the needy and neighbors battling illness, for they know there is always someone in more desperate need than they. Without help from their father's wealthy Aunt Josephine the young sisters are thrust into a premature adulthood. It is through these struggles through poverty, war and death that Jo gains her perspective and begins to write.  And she writes about what she knows best:  her sisters.  

It is believed that Jo's character was developed from Louisa May Alcott's own life. Smart, feisty, and full of life are just a few words that have described both author and character. 

I recommend this book for two reasons. As women, we too have a bit of Jo in us, some more than others; but we will do anything for our family, no matter what is going on around us. I also recommend this book for the reason of Women Rights, as it wasn't too long ago that our great-grandmothers were fighting for the right to vote and our grandmothers and mothers the right to work without fear of sexual harassment. I thank women like Louisa May Alcott for paving the way for me and my fellow women."


Lindsay T. recommends:
'The Dragonriders of Pern' series by Anne McCaffrey

"Anne McCaffrey is an author who truly brings her characters to life. She has also done an amazing job in passing this along to her son, Todd McCaffrey. In recent years, Todd has taken over the series and has done a remarkable job. Many readers have a difference of opinion on which books to read first.

My opinion is that you really should pick up Dragonsdawn first. In this book we meet the world of Pern. The book takes place as the settlers of the world first arrive. This book is divided into three sections. The first section is very much Sci-Fi as it takes place in space. The second section transitions to the world of Pern and eventually the introductions of dragons, as the title suggests. Some will find this book a slow read; however, I promise that the information provided will be crucial to the stories to come."

WritingGoddess recommends:

"Personal favorites on my list include Replay by Ken Grimwood, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Life Expectations by Dean Koontz, and the entire Spellman File series by Lisa Lutz. For adventure, check out The Ark by Boyd Morrison, and for thought-provoking stories, you can't beat any title by Jodi Picoult." 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'

As most of my friends know, I'm not a big fan of stories written in a personal letter format.  Sometimes the letters go on for so long that I get bored and set the book aside, never to finish it.  I realize that it's a tad unfair to the author, but some stories written as personal letters make reading more of a chore than a joy.

But I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up a copy of 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society', by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.  While working at Borders, we were required to recommend this book to customers, and I've always felt that to be truly honest with any recommend, I should know the story.  I reluctantly opened the book and soon found myself totally involved in this thoroughly enchanting, funny, and, often, heartbreaking novel.

Right after WW2, London writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from one of the founding members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Soon intrigued, Juliet smells a story, and begins a correspondence.  She learns that the island had been occupied by German soldiers during the war, and decides to visit in order to find out just what happened to the islanders during such a horrific time.  Along the way, she establishes a close bond with many of the people.  Her visit exposes lies and reveals secrets.

'Guernsey' is a quick read, and I hated to see it end.  I found myself really caring for the well-developed characters.  I laughed and cried, then laughed some more.  

This a great book to put under someone's tree...and they'll thank you, again and again.  

And they might even forget to eat their Christmas dinner. 

Available in trade paperback at any bookstore 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Christmas Book Recommendations...From YOU!

The holiday season is almost upon us.  Stores will be open earlier than usual, and stay open longer.  Craft stores are doing great business, and electronics continue to lead the pack in most requested gifts.  For those of us in retail, it's a very busy season, and we don't always have the time to shop for just the right gift.

But books are always number one on my list.  And that's 'real' books.

So, this time, I'm asking you to send me your recommends*. What book moved you?  Or inspired you?  What mystery novel kept you up late at night?  What book made you stay in the bathtub until the water turned cold?

Send me your recommends in the comments section.  If you are a Facebook friend, please feel free to send it in a message.  You may recommend any book, as long as you are an advocate for it.  

I will place all of your recommends in a later post to Book Hog. Some comments may be edited, due to space.

This is your time to tell the world why you love a particular book.  It can even be an e-book.  I have to make room for everything, it seems.

So, let's help make our loved one's Christmas a little merrier.  

Everyone Reads.  And so should our loved ones. 

*Note:  Please include the author's name! 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Da Vinci's Ghost: The Untold Story of the World's Most Famous Drawing'

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.  -Leonardo da Vinci

Who has never wondered about our place in the Universe?  And who has ever wanted to explore the lives of those who tried to answer that question?

'Da Vinci's Ghost' by Toby Lester, artfully explores such questions through the research he undertook in uncovering the origins of da Vinci's most famous drawing, 'Vitruvian Man'.  The iconic drawing has been featured in commercials, as corporate logos, even on food packages.  But just what inspired da Vinci to draw it?  Our place in the Universe?  Medical purposes?  Or mathematical musings?

The Renaissance was a ray of sunshine compared to the dark, oppressive Middle Ages.  It was a time made for 'curious minds'; of searching and discovery, of the creation of some of the most famous pieces of art ever produced.  Thanks to the encouragement (and open wallets) of wealthy patrons, such as Lorenzo Medici, art flourished, science advanced, and philosophy enjoyed it's own renaissance.   Religion was still at the forefront, and celebrated in brilliant architecture throughout Italy.  

Leonardo da Vinci was one of those 'curious minds', yet undoubtedly the most famous.  He excelled in almost everything he attempted; painting, sculpture, music, engineering, architecture.  You name it, he attempted it.  But more than an iconic figure, he was a human being, filled with doubt and, at the same time, overconfidence.  

Author Toby Lester has brought 'Vitruvian Man' to life, and at the same time, lifted the curtain on da Vinci's life.  A man of insatiable curiosity, he kept notebooks filled with questions, concerns, and sketches.  He drove people crazy with all his questions.  But, as the book shows, such questions shaped da Vinci's personna and exposed the 'method to the madness'.  Lester even brings back the theory that the face of Vitruvian Man is a self-portrait of da Vinci.

'Da Vinci's Ghost' is a phenomenal story filled with great insight, fantastic research creatively displayed, and a huge cast of the era's most brilliant minds, some of which are Hildegard of Bingen, the religious visionary; Brunelleschi, he of the famous dome; even Augustus Caesar.  The illustrations and plates enhanced the whole reading experience.    

Mr. Lester's prose is extremely easy to process; even entertaining; and because of that, I hated to see it end.  Such tremendous insight and curiosity color this book, and I'm sure that you will learn something new about one of the greatest minds the world has ever known.

And I liked Leonardo even more after learning that he was famous for procrastinating.

That's something to which all we geniuses can relate.

(Release date February 2012)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

'The Crown'

Now that we are into 'reading season', most people can find me sitting around with a book practically glued to my hands.  Not only have I been re-reading some beloved classics, but new titles beckon me with their tempting cover art and saucy one-line blurbs.  

But beyond the cover art, the book has to be good.  It has to really deliver, keeping me firmly in place on the sofa or hot bath. It has to make me forget to make dinner, or fold the laundry.   Sometimes, it has to make me late for work.  Those are the stories that make us feel sad when we finally get to the last page.

'The Crown', written by Nancy Bilyeau, is such a book.  Not only is it interesting and jam-packed with information, but is written with great skill.  Not a mere 'knock off' of the genre.  
It reminded me of Ellis Peters' wonderful 'Brother Cadfael' series.

The story takes place in London in 1537.  Henry VIII is on the throne and eagerly awaiting the birth of his third child, hoping it will be the male heir that he has been expecting.  But Henry has been busy elsewhere, too.  After his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, he begins to plunder and then destroy the bastions of Catholic faith, the monasteries and priories of England.  With the aid of Cromwell, many of those serving the Church are thrown out onto the streets to fend for themselves.   Many are tortured and killed for defending their faith.

Joanna Stafford, a high-born young woman and now a Dominican novice serving in Dartford Priory, has run away to London to comfort a beloved cousin who is to be burned at the stake for treason.  But Joanna and her father are soon arrested and held in the Tower of London, where he is tortured.  In order to rescue her father, Joanna agrees to search for a sacred relic, a crown which came from the time of one of the first English kings,  but is now hidden somewhere in the Priory.  Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester and the leader of the faction trying to save the monasteries, believes that the crown has the power to halt the Reformation. 

With Brother Edmund and Brother Richard by her side, Joanna searches high and low,  finding clues in the unlikeliest places. But her greatest discovery is that no one can be trusted.

Written with great care, Ms. Bilyeau has composed a story that not only kept me turning pages, but also enlightened me.  The characters are beautifully realized, but it was Joanna, the savvy heroine, who made me hope that the author will write another book about her.

Due to be published January 12, 2012

Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Bright and Distant Shores'

Take me to a bookstore and two of the first sections I'll explore will be Fiction and History.  Fiction, because, well...I enjoy creative minds and what comes out of them.  Creating whole worlds and characters is a huge challenge and I appreciate the fact that authors have the courage to release their work to the world.  And History...  History, if written with a new perspective and impeccable research, will turn you into a glutton.  Seriously.  If I hadn't read Robert Graves' 'I, Claudius' series, I would probably be lacking in knowledge about the Roman Empire.  It takes a good author to satisfy not only a craving for historical non-fiction, but also gives us the impetus to explore our world even more.  History is more than famous leaders.  It's more than world-shaking events.  It is about the people who went about their daily lives, touched by what was happening around them.  We are descended from those people, and it their memories and experiences that even now touch our own lives, prompting us to explore the past.  Who wouldn't want to find out if our great-great-great grandparents were cattle rustlers?  Or feminists?  Or queens and kings?  To take these facts and create a good novel can be a daunting task.

'Bright and Distant Shores' by Dominic Smith is a well-told piece of historical fiction.  Taking place in 1897, it begins in Chicago, where an insurance magnate has just completed the construction of the world's tallest skyscraper.  To commemorate the building, he sends to the South Sea Islands a young adventurer who is entrusted to purchase artifacts which will be exhibited in the skyscraper.  But not only is he to bring back weapons and art, but he must also return with several natives.

The love story contained within isn't the usual romance.  It is highly intelligent and very real.  While visiting an exhibition, the young, poor adventurer meets a woman of high social standing and the resulting relationship is at once tender and rare.  The woman is a force to be reckoned with; as most wealthy women in that era had not much to do, they poured their ambition into charity work, but Adelaide's endeavors are genuine.  She deeply cares about helping others who are less fortunate.  

While I enjoyed reading about Chicago in the late 1800's, it was the South Sea adventure that thoroughly grabbed my interest.  The Chicago chapters made me want to break away from its stifling atmosphere and sail off to a part of the world that was still somewhat fierce and exciting.  In that, my heart was with Owen, the young adventurer.

During his search, Owen meets Argus Niu, a houseboy serving a minister who is the head of a Christian mission.  When Argus is reunited with his sister, who had joined another tribe, the clash between his Christian faith and her superstition is beautifully realized.  Civilization was creeping in, and the end of exploration of the South Sea islands was nearing its end.

Many early reviewers have compared this novel to works by Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and I thoroughly agree.  

But I'm adding a dash of H. Rider Haggard, without the metaphysical element.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

'The Last Testament: A Memoir by God'

Everyone needs a reason to laugh, especially during these rough times.  'Occupy: (pick your city)', the 'revving up' of political campaigns, and the loss of homes, jobs, and health care are our most major concerns.

So now it's time for some laughter.  Something light.  Something controversial.  Something that could only be 'co-written' by a former executive producer and head writer of 'The Daily Show'.  If you're a fan of the show (as I surely am), then you know that anyone associated with it is not afraid to take great leaps into controversy.  Or should I say, plunge.  David Javerbaum, the author of the hilarious, 'What to Expect When You're Expected', has given us yet another book that will keep you laughing late into the night and into the morning.

God, of course, is the main author, and why He would need a co-writer is beyond me.  But let's just accept it and move on.

God lives in Heaven with his wife, Ruth and their children Zach, Jesus, and Kathy.  That alone should make milk spurt out of your nose.  His opinions are varied and hilarious, such as his take on smiting.  And His plan to make the 2012 Olympics truly memorable is worth the price of the book alone.  And when you near the end of the book, don't pass on reading His new Revelation for the year.

It's a doozy.

(Coming soon in November 2011)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

'The Book of Lost Fragrances'

M. J. Rose has written a series of mystery/thrillers which captured my interest the moment I opened the first book.  In her new novel, due out in March 2012, she didn't disappoint.

'The Book of Lost Fragrances', the fourth in the series, which includes 'The Reincarnationist', 'The Memorist', and 'The Hypnotist', not only follows the author's familiar path into reincarnation, but also gave this reader a deeper understanding of the history of perfume.  Some might think of contemporary scents linked to famous singers and actresses, but the making of perfume stretches back in time for thousands of years.  Usually used in religious and death rites, perfume was also used in magical ceremonies.  In fact, Cleopatra had a perfume factory which had been built for her by Marc Antony.

'The Book of Lost Fragrances' revolves around the search for some ancient pottery shards that, upon smelling, might evoke memories of past lives.  Several people are searching for it, are willing to kill for it, but a clever brother and sister, scions of a once-famous French perfumery, have a higher purpose for the shards.  At once a tender, centuries-old love story, and a thrilling chase through Paris and it's catacombs, 'The Book of Lost Fragrances' is entertaining, although the scenes in the catacombs left me feeling a bit claustrophobic.  Some of the characters kept me guessing, and what happens to the shards made me want to cheer.  

Rich in history, and with a vivid cast of characters, I recommend this book if you're looking for a story full of adventure.  The well-documented research alone is worth it!

And learning something new will make your inner Book Hog very happy.

M. J. Rose is the founder of the marketing company for authors,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Great Halloween Read

The book world is being inundated with a genre that's close to my heart:  Horror.  I'm not really comfortable reading about gore and dismemberment (vampires can stay in their coffins, as far as I'm concerned), but I love subtle suspense.  Suspense earns a special place in the memory, and many of the classic horror writers have utilized this very well.  H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Justin Cronin, and Richard Matheson, to name a few.

But my particular favorite employs a special psychological horror which is a hallmark in almost everything she's written.

Shirley Jackson was an academic/housewife/author/addict who wrote stories about life in suburbia.  But her special gift was writing horror stories that, to this day, scare the beejeezus out of her readers.  Her plots begin in an everyday sort of way; suburban life, sibling relationships, everything people experience in their daily lives.  But keep reading, get involved, and the horror slowly creeps in.

One of her finest examples is the short story, 'The Lottery'.  I read it in high school and the ending blew me away.  I didn't see it coming, something that isn't typical in most current horror.  

But the story that has me coming back every year is 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle', a quiet study of insanity.  As you are drawn into the sisters' routine world, you slowly learn about the real horror of their existence. 

For a great introduction into Jackson's works, start with 'The Lottery' and 'The Haunting of Hill House' (which has been filmed two times; the best of the two stars Julie Harris).

Just remember that I warned you.


Friday, October 14, 2011


I have a good friend who reads and reviews Young Adult fantasy/fiction, and I have wanted to ask her if she has read any novels written by Ellen Hopkins.  Ms. Hopkins has written the very popular YA books, Crank, Glass, et al.  Although I haven't read them, I will do so very soon because I just finished reading her new adult novel, 'Triangles'.

This book isn't for kids.  

Written in verse, I was rather hesitant about reading it; I've never been a fan of stories written in poetic verse or a letter format (re:  'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society').  But once I took a deep breath, shoved aside my misgivings, and opened the book, I easily fell into the rhythm of the first chapter.

'Triangles' tells the story of three female friends:  Marissa, a woman with a gay son, a terminally ill daughter, and married to an emotionally-distant man.  Her life, it's safe to say, is filled with stress and challenges.  Andrea, her sister, is divorced and a single mother.  She has had relationships, but is now celibate.  And then there is Holly.  Holly is married to a loving man and together, they are raising three children.  But, filled with regret, she rushes into extra-marital affairs, disguising them in her attempt at writing erotic fiction.

This novel is not your typical 'Chick Lit'; not 'cutesy' and clever.  It is full of pain, heartache, joy, and remorse.  And a lot of sex.  Ms. Hopkins has written a very real story, one that captured my attention and didn't let it go until the heartbreaking end.

There's something for everyone in this story; things to which most of us can relate.

So, for my friend, and for all of you who enjoy Ms. Hopkin's YA fiction, take a step up and read her newest book. It's so very well worth it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'The Time In Between'

When life grows boring, we all need a bit of intrigue to perk us up.  Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum wrote perfect examples of intrigue at its finest.  Espionage, lies, subterfuge; the spice of a spy's life.   And movies...  'Casablanca'.  'The Bourne' series.  The list of books and films is endless.  

A new addition to this genre landed on my desk not long ago, and it brought to mind more of the 'exotic' side of World War 2 intrigue, and not so much the horror and outrage.  It's filled with Nazis, and Franco, and the heroes of the Resistance, including Alan Hillgarth and Rosalinda Powell Fox, real people who did their utmost to secure information for the Allies.  

'The Time In Between', by María Dueñas, is set in Madrid, and focuses on the choices made by Sira Quiroga, a seamstress by trade.  She is engaged to a man who aspires to become a civil servant in pre-WW2 Spain.  But when she runs away with another man who promises her the moon, she is subjected to one of the worst kinds of betrayal.  Stranded in Morocco, and left penniless, she is offered a new life and new identity.  As a result, she becomes the most popular couture designer for the wives and lovers of German Nazi officers stationed in Madrid.  She is soon involved in a conspiracy that could either leave her dead, or help save the war effort for the Allies.

For a first novel, 'Time...' is very promising.  The twists-and-turns kept me up all night, and Ms. Dueñas has a deft hand at bringing her real and fictional characters to life.  A welcome addition is the bibliography at the end of the book, which will help those readers who want to learn more about the inner workings of the Resistance movement and the people who sacrificed their lives to help win the war.

(Due to be released in early November 2011)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

'A Dog's Purpose'

It's a nice Autumn day in my corner of the world.  I have a pot of chicken soup cooking on the stove, and a cup of warm tea by my side.  A nice accompaniment to all this coziness is the sound of a tail wagging.

I'm a 'cat person', although my heart belongs to any animal, no matter how large and/or dangerous.  My three cats are a total delight and can sense when I'm in a melancholy mood; cat kisses are prevalent during the 'blue' days.  However, I've recently rediscovered that the mere wag of a dog's tail can bring a smile to my face.  My daughter is unable to take care of her dog for a few months, so I offered to give said dog a temporary home.  But I'm so afraid that when the time comes for Indy to go back to her permanent home, I'll find a large part of my heart missing.  

For the time being, I'll enjoy my 'grandpup' and try not to think about the day when she will leave.  

That brings to mind a wonderful book I read just a few months ago.  'A Dog's Purpose', by W. Bruce Cameron, is the story of a dog searching for the meaning of his life through several lifetimes.  That's right:  Several lifetimes.  Narrated by the dog, this most incredible book deals with the eternal question, "Why are we here?".  Through several incarnations (always as a dog), the dog finds 'his boy', loses him, then finds him again in one of the most heartbreaking chapters I've ever read.

Many readers will compare this novel to 'The Art of Racing in the Rain', the fantastic book by Garth Stein, but you will find that both books compliment each another.  

If you love any animal, I highly recommend 'A Dog's Purpose'.  It's a beautifully written story by an author who, I'm sure, will go on to write even more touching novels.

It's brought me even closer to the animals sharing my life.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


During these dark, chilly days of Autumn, I like to hunker down with a good book.  I want something intriguing, something that keeps me in the bathtub until the water turns cold.

I'll admit it here:  I loved 'The DaVinci Code'.  It was fast-paced, centered on an age-old religious controversy, and made me think.  In fact, I've read the story a number of times because I always find something that I missed during previous readings.

So, I was happy to find another book that fit the same bill.

'Sanctus', by Simon Toyne, centers around the Sancti, a secretive, centuries-old religious order living in a mountain called The Citadel, near the town of Ruin in modern-day Turkey.  The escape of a member of the order and his subsequent display from atop the Citadel sets into motion the hunt for a young woman who is the key to solving the mystery of the Sancti.  But the Sancti does not want the world to learn their secret and they will employ any means necessary to make sure no one finds it.

Good and evil are aptly displayed in this story, and the denouement left me stunned.  It is a real 'page turner', and I was pleased to learn that this is the first book in the Ruin trilogy.

The second book cannot come soon enough.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

'Angelina's Bachelors'

Naming a genre for a particular type of book can be a tricky business.  There is Mystery/Thriller, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Apocalyptic fiction.  The list is endless.  But the name of a rather new genre doesn't sit well with me:  Chick Lit.  When I see those words, I wonder why men's fiction isn't given a 'clever' genre.  I could come up with a few; for instance, 'Men in Their Caves', or 'Testosterone Trauma'.  

When I was given a copy of 'Angelina's Bachelors', I knew that because a woman's name was in the title, the genre would be a given.  That's an obvious clue.

But the book is much more than that.

It's the story of Angelina D'Angelo, a woman living in a tight-knit South Philadelphia neighborhood, and she is gifted with the greatest of culinary skills.  She has been happily married for five years to Frank, the love of her life.  But when tragedy strikes, Angelina is left bereft, emotionally and financially.  Although she is surrounded by a loving family, they cannot provide exactly what she needs:  A job.  One night, overcome by grief, Angelina spends an entire night cooking, and cook she does!  She makes so much food that she gives it to her neighborhood friends.  A gentleman new to the neighborhood offers her a proposition:  For a generous salary, she will cook for him twice a day, six days a week.

Soon, the group grows to seven, and Angelina finds herself surrounded by support and encouragement, which results in a new direction in her life.

The story is written by Brian O'Reilly, the creator of Dinner: Impossible, with assistance from his wife, culinary writer Virginia O'Reilly.  Although 'Angelina's Bachelors' is a quick read, I was filled with warmth for the well-written characters, and was delightfully surprised a couple of times.  

This is a perfect Autumn read.  Snuggle on the couch with cup of hot tea in hand.  And don't forget to try the recipes.  

If you make too much, I live in Oregon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

'The Lady of the Rivers'

Who isn't a student of history?  Some may not claim to be, but by living it every day, we truly are students of history.  We live it, we breathe it.  History happens all the time.  Turn on the tv, or the computer, and you'll see history happen.

But there are those of us who tend to linger on past events.  We eagerly read about World War II, or ancient Rome/Greece/Egypt.  We read about the Civil War, and participate in battle reenactments.  

And then there are those who much prefer to sit back with a historical novel.  I happen to be one of them, and if the era is well-researched, it spurs me on to read even more books about that particular point in history.  Case in point:  'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God', by Robert Graves.  The series propelled me into reading books written by Suetonius, and Cato the Elder, and Cicero.

And now another gem arrives, prompting me to dig even further into English history.

'The Lady of the Rivers', by Philippa Gregory, takes place right before the beginning of the War of the Roses, the time in English history when two rival clans of the royal House of Plantagenet (Lancasters and Yorks) declared civil war in order to win the throne.  

The story opens with the house arrest of Joan of Arc, and a young female member of the household, Jacquetta, senses a mysterious magical kinship with the prisoner.  After Joan's death, Jacquetta soon marries a kinsman much older than her, and he uses her sixth sense to uncover future events.  But after his death, the duke's squire, Richard Woodville, declares his love and he and Jacquetta are married in secret.  Although they are afraid that they will be exiled from court when their marriage is discovered, they are invited back and become close friends to the new king, Henry VI, and his queen, Margaret.  But soon, rivals try to claim the crown, and the discontent of the English people threaten to destroy Henry's kingdom.

'The Lady of the Rivers' is well-researched and intelligently told.  

(Due to be released in early October 2011)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

'The Dog Who Knew Too Much'

"Bookselling must be a dream job!"  That's a remark I've heard countless times during my many years of bookselling.  But they are right:  Bookselling is a 'dream job'.  

If you read often, you know that there comes a time when you have no idea what you want to read next.  That's when a good bookseller comes into play.  You could always go to an online store, but you won't get the satisfaction of talking to an actual person who will give you an honest opinion/review about a book you've plucked off a shelf.  I'm one of those honest booksellers, and the best part is 'playing the detective'.  "Do you have a favorite author, or genre, or hobby?"  It's fun.  It's demanding.  And it's worth it when the customer comes back a few days later and asks me for another recommendation.

The 'Chet and Bernie' mystery series, by Spencer Quinn,  is one of my most successful recommendations for light, entertaining reading.  But for me, it's more than a mystery series.  The thing that brings me back is the special relationship between Chet the dog, and his partner, Bernie, a private investigator.  They are close, no doubt about it; they read each other so well.  But, for me, the icing on the cake is the fact that Chet narrates each story.  He's real, he's delightful.  Sometimes I wonder if Mr. Quinn is part dog.  It wouldn't surprise me because he captures Chet's essence in such an humorous way.

'The Dog Who Knew Too Much' is the fourth book in the series, and it doesn't disappoint.  Chet and Bernie are hired to find a missing boy who had been staying at a wilderness camp.  Their investigation leads to a very dark discovery, one which threatens both man and beast.  And if that isn't bad enough, a stray puppy who resembles Chet arrives in the neighborhood.

Although the books are a 'quick read', I can almost guarantee that you will go back to them, time and again.  It is the bond between man and canine, along with Chet's boundless curiosity and unconditional love, that drives this series onto best-seller lists.

Everyone should have a Chet like this in their lives.