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: