Thursday, November 30, 2006

Review of Lost to Them by Gaytri Saggar

2006, Outskirts Press
311 pgs
Rating: * (Fair)

First Sentence: “Shh” murmured Ramu to himself as he bent down and straightened the brass vase he had knocked down.

Reason for Reading: I was selected to review this particular book for Front Street Reviews. It particularly caught my attention because of the setting and cultural aspects the novel promised to explore.

Comments: The Kaushal family is a wealthy one, running a successful estate in Kaushalpur, India. While the males straddle both traditional and Western cultures, the females lead a more traditional existence. When young Yash first approaches his father in 1924 about his desire to travel to Africa to explore more of the world, the elder Kuashal at first refuses to let him go. Yash is permitted to go with the promise that he will return from his trip and accept an arranged marriage with Gauri. He is accompanied by one of the estate’s employees, Nath, who is of a lower caste. The two men become instant friends on their journey.

Both Nath and Yash settle in Kenya with their families, establishing a happy and prosperous existence for themselves. After sixteen years of marriage, Yash and Gauri finally have children of their own, a beautiful girl named Selina and the youngest, a son called Nikki. Growing up in Africa and in a wealthy family, the children, especially Selina, are afforded more freedom than most Indian children. Although raised in many of the traditional ways, Selina cannot help but be influenced by the Western culture as well.

By introducing readers to the Kaushal family, author Gaytri Saggar offers a generational view that helps cast light onto Selina’s story. The family’s background, origins, beliefs and choices in life have all played a part in the events that are to follow, however, it dragged the book down and almost had me stop reading because it was so dry. After finishing the book, it seems as if I had read two different books: the history of the Kaushal family and then Selina’s story, which was a much more interesting and heartfelt story.

The cultural divide between her own and that of the white community was not as obvious to her as it becomes that fateful day that Selina falls head over heels in love with Dirk Willers, an English businessman, nine years her senior. Selina decides their relationship is best kept a secret for the time being. Prejudice and family duty are not so easy to overcome, especially amidst the political and economic upheaval in a country seeking it’s own independence where suddenly roles and status come into question. Selina and Dirk only want to be together and hope their love is enough to survive the obstacles they face.

Selina is a character that lives and breathes. She was raised and taught to have an open mind and yet that was challenged within her family and society. Selina was vulnerable and had to fight to be strong, a quality often too easily bestowed on main characters in novels, making them slightly less real. Selina’s flaws made her human. I did have one particular concern about her character, however. To mention it here would pose too much of a spoiler.

In what at first appears to be a conventional love story about two people from two very different backgrounds, author Gaytri Saggar offers readers so much more. Lost to Them is not such a simple novel. It touches on subjects of the heart, the tug of war between the heart and family duty that can result when cultures collide, the pain of betrayal, and an undying hope. Gaytri Saggar’s novel, Lost to Them, is a poignant tale that will leave the reader’s heart aching; and, for me at least, wanting a bit more resolution.

Favorite Part: The novel took off at about the time Selina decides to return to Kenya from England. It was impossible to put the book down from that point on.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Review of The Messenger by Daniel Silva

2006, Putnam
338 pgs
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: It was Ali Massoudi who unwittingly roused Gabriel Allon from his brief and restless retirement: Massoudi, the great Europhile intellectual and free thinker who, in a moment of blind panic, forgot that the English drive on the left side of the road.

Reason for Reading: I have heard great things about Daniel Silva’s spy novels and when I saw this book up for review on, I decided to give it a try.

Comments: When fate plays a hand in ending the life of a possible terrorist recruiter, information of a planned attack on the Vatican and the threat of the assassination of the pope fall into Israeli hands. The special security advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel, Ari Shamron, seeks out the help of the best man for the job, his old friend and one time recruit, Gabriel Allon.

Gabriel seeks a conference with the pope’s private secretary, Monsignor Luigi Donati, a long time friend, in hopes of thwarting the attack on the pope and the Vatican. As events unfold and the stakes rise higher, it soon becomes clear that the terrorist web runs wide and deep. The leader of the terrorist group called the Brotherhood of Allah is believed to be Ahmed bin Shafiq, a former employee General Intelligence Department, Saudi’s intelligence service. At the request of the CIA and his own government, Gabriel assembles a team together to penetrate the heart of the organization believed to be hiding the Shafiq, a feared and most evasive man. It is not an easy undertaking for it is believed that Shafiq has the protection of a wealthy and powerful Saudi businessman called Abdul Aziz al-Bakari, or Zizi as his friends call him.

Gabriel will need someone special if he is to infiltrate the organization, as Zizi is sure to recognize an Israeli plant. Gabriel Allon turns to American, Sarah Bancroft, a failed CIA candidate for help. She is beautiful and intelligent. Her background as an art curator proves to be just the ticket Gabriel needs to lure in Zizi and hope he will take the bait. From there on out, the novel offered nonstop suspense.

Daniel Silva captures the volatile political climate of today, delving into the economic resources of terrorists, the Saudi’s influence on America, global terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. Although slanted in favor of the Israelis (difficult not to do considering who the lead character is), the author does offer differing views on the approach to terrorism through the eyes of his many characters. This offers a much-required balance.

Although I felt a little something was missing having not read any other books by Daniel Silva starring the famous Gabriel Allon, it is not necessary to have done so. The Messenger is very much a stand-alone. There was a lot of set up, which played an integral part of the story. It is plot driven, intriguing and an enjoyable read. The Messenger definitely developed my appetite to read more by Daniel Silva, in particular to go back and start at the beginning with Gabriel Allon. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2006

Favorite Part: I love the character of Gabriel Allon. I hope to read earlier books in the series so that I can better get to know him. My favorite part of the novel was the point in which Gabriel and his team are training Sarah Bancroft for the mission and getting everything in place. I found myself holding my breath, waiting to see if they could pull it off.

Miscellaneous: This book reminded me of the movie Munich. Maybe I should go out and rent it.
We did catch two movies in the theater recently: Stranger Than Fiction which is a must see. I really enjoyed that one. It’s a drama with some humor mixed in for good measure. Very good story. The other movie we watched was the comedy Borat that seems to be attracting a lot of attention—and lawsuits. Just about everyone from every walk of life was made fun of in that movie.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Review of The Hunt by Allison Brennan

2006, Ballantine Books
472 pgs (manuscript version)
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: I don’t want to die.

Reason for Reading: I found this title among the review offerings and the book sounded like something I might enjoy. I’d seen the author’s name mentioned favorably in some of my reading groups.

Comments: Author Allison Brennan has written a fast paced novel that will have readers sitting on the edge of their seats. The Hunt offers thrills as well as a little romance on the side. Twelve years ago, Miranda Moore escaped certain death at the hands of a serial killer. Her best friend, Sharon, was not so lucky, gunned down as the girls fled for their lives. Miranda more than proved herself as courageous at the time, leading the investigators, including FBI agent Quincy Peterson to the cabin where she and Sharon had been held captive and tortured for several days before the killer set them free so he could go on the hunt.

Now the head of the local search and rescue division, Miranda and the local authorities are on the trail of her captor once again. Nicknamed the Butcher, he has proven he is a cold and ruthless killer; torturing, raping and hunting his victims before he murders them. Miranda is the only one who ever got away. Sheriff Nick Thomas calls in the FBI, requesting the help of an old friend, Quincy Peterson, when a young woman is found dead in the forest.

Miranda, Nick and Quinn share a past not so easily put behind them. Miranda has mixed feelings about seeing her old lover, Quinn, again. It was because of him that she failed in her attempt to join the FBI nearly a decade before. Quinn never stopped loving Miranda. And then there is Nick, who had once wanted nothing more than to capture Miranda’s heart. Despite the tangle of feelings between them, they must set their personal feelings aside when another woman turns up missing.

It has been over 12 years, seven known victims, with at least nine young women missing in the Bozeman area of Montana. With the media and politicians breathing down their necks, the pressure to catch the Butcher intensifies. They decide to track the killer by going back into the past, searching for a pattern and hoping the possible suspects from the first murder, that of Penny Thompson, reveal something that had not been uncovered all those years before.

Miranda has built her life around staying in control, proving that she’s a survivor and not a victim. The ghosts of the past haunt her no less, especially with the discovery of the Butcher’s latest victim. Allison Brennan has created a character who is not only a strong, intelligent and independent lead character, but also one with a vulnerability that cannot help but to touch the reader’s heart. The two men in her life, Nick and Quinn, love Miranda and want to protect her, but neither wants to hold her back.

Although the identity of the Butcher remains a mystery for most of the novel, he makes several appearances throughout, allowing the reader into his thoughts and past. His own childhood was one full of abuse and pain, which turned into hate and anger, surfacing into the violence he wreaks on his victims.

Just as the title indicates, The Hunt describes the final game the Butcher plays with his victims, as well as the hunt for him by Miranda and the authorities. It’s a race against time—one of life and death for all those involved. Allison Brennan has crafted an entertaining and gripping novel, tempered with a touch of romance that will have readers racing to the end to see who comes out on top. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2006

Favorite Part:
The pecan pie scene was probably my second favorite scene. My first favorite scene would be too much of a spoiler to mention here, although I guess I could go so far as to say in involved a confrontation.

I liked that the main character was smart—not your typical heroine who gets in over her head because she is so stubborn (not that Miranda isn’t stubborn . . .). The men who loved her weren’t overbearing or too protective of her, worrying about her, but not trying to control her.

Miscellaneous: I read this book in manuscript form that I don’t recommend for the average reader. I think it took a little longer to get into because of the format—my editor’s hat went on automatically, and I had a hard time setting that aside to enjoy the book for what it was.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What Kind of Reader Are You?

I could not resist taking part in this little survey. Thanks to Marg from Reading Adventures!

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Friday, November 24, 2006

Mizbooks' 2007 TBR Challenge

Since beginning this blog in July, I have mostly used it as a reading journal of sorts, posting reviews about the books I read. There are some amazing book related blogs out there that put my little one to shame.

One of the many things I have discovered in the book and reading blogsphere are the challenges people have set up for themselves and their fellow reading bloggers. Sometimes prizes are offered, which is always a good motivator, but most of all I think the challenges are great at bringing readers together.

The From the Stacks Winter Challenge , which is under way at the moment. Participants are to read 5 books from their TBR stacks (no new purchases allowed!). It is the perfect type of challenge for someone like me who has a rather large personal library of unread books. The R.I.P. 2006 Autumn Challenge sounded like a lot of fun where readers were asked to read 5 books that had a sort of spooky, gothic or eerie type motif.

When I came across the 2007 TBR Challenge, I just about jumped for joy. This will be a great way to start off the year. As I told Mizbooks in one of the online groups we belong to, my only worry is that I will get so excited about the challenge that the 12 books I select will get moved to the top of my TBR pile and I will have them read long before the end of the year.

The TBR Challenge basically involves pulling 12 books from my To Be Read shelves that have been there 6 months or more and reading them, one each month during the next year. The advantages to a challenge like this are that I will not only be reading books that I want to read but have not gotten to yet, the time frame and number of books is very reasonable, and it will make my husband happy to see spaces on my shelves open up (and maybe a box or two disappear). Personally, I plan to read many more than just 12 books from my TBR room next year, but I hope to use this challenge to read some of the books that somehow keep getting passed over for other books on my TBR shelves.

These challenges are not too much different than the personal reading goals I set for myself each year. The main difference is that I will be joining with others in a common goal. There's an added accountability in that, as well.

Going over my TBR list, I've decided on the following titles (the dates is parentheses are how long the book has been in my TBR room):

  1. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (04/2005) [read]
  2. Emma by Jane Austen (07/2005) [read]
  3. April Witch by Majgull Axelsson (10/2004) [read]
  4. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert (01/2006) [read]
  5. Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg (12/2005) [read]
  6. The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (06/2005) [read]
  7. In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes(04/2006) [read]
  8. Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos (10/2005) [read]
  9. Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi (01/2006) [read]
  10. Atonement by Ian McEwan (01/2005) [read]
  11. Sula by Toni Morrison (12/2004) [read]
  12. The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle (06/2005) [read]


  • Pope Joan by Donna W Cross
  • The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley [read]
  • The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum
  • Tending Roses by Lisa Wingate
  • Thursday, November 23, 2006

    Review of I, Tutus: The Son of Heaven by Don Phillips

    2005, Publish America
    263 pgs
    Rating: * (Fair)

    First Sentence: My sire was Mighty Tiger Slayer, famous for his quickness, his ability to jump and his ferocious manner.

    Reason for Reading: I was selected to review this particular book for Front Street Reviews.

    Comments: Do not be fooled by this seemingly odd basis for a novel. It is actually a unique premise, which is at times charming. An anthropologist doing research into the insight that channeling can offer his studies, seeks help from a well known channeler who agrees to put him under hypnosis. Professor Sunny Dayberry hoped to contact someone from prehistoric times, but instead his continued attempts to do so resulted in his channeling a pug in China over 2000 years ago. I, Tutus: the Son of Heaven, is a compilation of his notes into the story of the pug’s life in China and her journey west. This is the first of two books that will follow the adventures of the sweet and brave pug, Xiao Ji Long.

    Xiao Ji Long was born to greatness. Her father was the famous Mighty Tiger Slayer and her mother, the beautiful Most Delicate Harmony. Xiao’s birth was not an easy one nor would her life prove to be. Going from the loving attention of the eunuch called Uncle Stupid to the harsh lessons of Cheng Sung and then onto the more gentle guidance of Li Haun, Xiao is being prepared for her presentation to the Son of Heaven, the 11 year old Emperor of China.

    Xiao leads a relatively simple life at the palace. Xiao takes pleasure in playing among the lovely and adoring concubines, especially the beautiful Splendid Moon and the clever Precious Wisdom. She romps around with the giant mastiff, Prince. Xiao lives her life much as a dog would be expected to, relatively oblivious to the politics, secret love affairs, sorrows and conspiracies, although each in turn impacts her easy life. All of that comes to a screeching halt, when Xiao Ji Long finds herself a victim of kidnapping, suddenly removed from all she knows and taken on the road where life will never be the same.

    Don Phillips weaves into his story the philosophy, religious beliefs, and politics of the time. He captures the lifestyle and cultural differences between the various people Xiao comes into contact with throughout the novel, giving the time period and events a more authentic feel. At times, however, the philosophical discussions went on a little too long and bogged down the story.

    Told from the point of view of Xiao, the pug, author Don Phillips skillfully fits in a dog’s natural behaviors, adding life and insight into his heroine. Her innocence is endearing, her energy and curiosity boundless. There was a certain disconnect, however, that was disconcerting at times, between the events going on around Xiao and what she was experiencing. Once Xiao was away from the palace and the journey west was under way, this problem seemed to be resolved.

    While I do think that just about any dog lover who enjoys historical fiction as well, might enjoy getting to know Xiao and sharing in her adventures, the story in I, Tutus is on the surface, lacking any real depth to it.

    Favorite Part: My favorite part of the book is when Xiao comes to live with Ayaru and Kaidan and their parents. I felt it was the best drawing out of Xiao’s character in the entire novel.

    Miscellaneous: Hubby and I went to see Casino Royale in the theater last weekend and thought it was really good; one of the best James Bond movies I've seen.

    To all my American friends, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Save some pumpkin pie for me, please!