Monday, November 24, 2008

On Tour: Linda C. Wisniewski, Author of Off Kilter

I am very excited to join WOW! Women On Writing this month for author Linda Wisniewski's virtual book tour. Linda is the author of the memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother and Her Polish Heritage, which I discussed yesterday on my Sunday Salon post.

Please welcome Linda to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

My Love Affair (With Books!)

by Linda C. Wisniewski

When I hold it in my hands, my heart races. Within its pages, I am lost to the world, falling inside to a place as comfortable and warm as a quilt . . . or so exciting it keeps me awake. I travel here in a new book by a favorite author.

When I was a little girl, I lived with Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames Student Nurse, the Hardy Boys, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the Five Little Peppers, and Jo and her sisters in Little Women. These, my truest friends, were always available, waiting for me to join them on their latest adventure. I spent long afternoons at the public library, an old Carnegie building fronted with stone columns and a carved scroll that read “Open to All” above the massive doors.

When I left home for college in the 1960s, I read whatever my philosophy teacher liked, including Herbert Marcuse and Karl Marx. I read Emerson and Thoreau, the beat poets--Ferlinghetti, Kerouac--and the radicals--Abby Hoffman, Eldridge Cleaver. I had yet to notice I was not reading serious work by women.

Right after graduation, I married my boyfriend. One happy year, I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan while my husband attended grad school and I discovered the first Borders bookstore. My collection of paperbacks soon overwhelmed the shelf space in our tiny apartment.

After the marriage ended, I read the journals of May Sarton. Journal of a Solitude got me through dozens of lonely weekends. By then, it was the 1980s, and self-help was the hottest section in the bookstore. I think I lived there for awhile. Every book seemed to be written for me: Women Who Love Too Much, Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, Women Who Do Too Much, Codependent No More. I joined a women’s spirituality group. We read Starhawk, Marge Piercy, Margot Adler, Germaine Greer, Betty Freidan, and Gloria Steinem. I decided to read only women authors.

My latest favorite genre is women’s memoirs, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Annie Dillard and Anne LaMott are among my favorite authors. All three Annes inspired me to write my own story, my newest passion. I am in love with it. I buy it gifts -- fancy gold ballpoint pens, purple ink rollerballs, fat spiral notebooks, scented candles, New Age background music. I long for my writing when I have been away from it for just a day. I lie awake at night thinking about what I plan to do with it tomorrow. And after all these years, I’ve found one of the best parts about a life of reading: meeting others who adore books too. In this love affair, with so much that is new to choose from, there is no cause for jealousy between my friends and me: as long as they return my books.

* * *
Linda C. Wisniewski writes for the Bucks County Herald and teaches memoir classes for Bucks County Community College. A graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, she holds a master's degree from Villanova University and a certificate of advanced study from Drexel University. She is regional representative of the International Women's Writing Guild and a board member of the Story Circle Network. Linda is a contributing editor for the Story Circle Journal and is co-editor of Story Circle Book Reviews.

You can find out more about Linda by visiting her website.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Salon: Off Kilter

And what a reading week it was! My arm was twisted and I relented. I read Twilight by Stephanie Meyer just in time for the release of the movie. I am going to drag my husband to the movie (a movie in which I do not have high expectations) tomorrow and will post my review this next week.

This past week, I also had the opportunity to read Linda C. Wisniewski's memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage. It is written in a style more akin to a series of connected essays than the more familiar (to me) novel-like memoirs of today. As a result, Off Kilter can be read all at once or in small doses.

Linda Wisniewski grew up in Amsterdam, New York. She had a difficult childhood, raised by an emotionally and verbally abusive father and a mother who could not protect her children, much less herself. Linda shares some of her most personal memories with readers about her family, dealing with the diagnosis and consequences of having Scoliosis, her mother's dementia, and about coming to terms with her past. Her story most struck me as being one of finding balance in life and understanding why we are the way we are.

I think most people can relate to feeling "off kilter" at some point in their lives as we struggle through life. The link between who we are - why we are the way we are - and our upbringing is strong throughout the book. Both our family and outside influences such as religion and culture play a large part in how we think and react to life. Linda's writing is thoughtful, and it is clear that she holds a lot of insight. Off Kilter hit a very personal chord with me, and it is a book I will be returning to again and again.

Author Linda C. Wisniewski will be making a guest appearance here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty tomorrow. She will be discussing her love affair with books. Be sure and stop in and say hello!

I have moved on to a crime fiction novel called Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill. Set in Laos, the protagonist is the national coroner. It is my first novel by the author but I can already tell it will not be my last.

Week in Review:
Review of Red Sea by E.A. Benedek
Review of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe by Jennie Shortridge (and an interview with the author)
Review of Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer
The one where I talk about new book acquisitions, offer a little tease, and share my thoughts on honesty and book reviews.
Off Topic Chatter

Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Saturday Fun: Mailbox Monday, Tuesday Teaser, and Booking Through Thursday

Mailbox Monday

This week's mail turned out to be a real boon for me. My latest acquisitions:
Probable Claws by Clea Simon
Presepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
Someone Knows my Name by Lawrence Hill
The Witch's Trinity by Erika Mailman
Baby Shark by Robert Fate
Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

A little tease from what I've been reading lately:
The nurse asked if I liked to read. Was she kidding? Reading was my salvation, my refuge from my parents' arguments. It was everything to me. [pg 72 from Off Kilter by Linda C. Wisniewski]


Suddenly and inexplicably, she began to giggle shrilly. A dog in the gutter fled in panic. It seemed to Siri, amidst a sudden atmosphere of foreboding, that the monster sitting before him might have swallowed a young girl whole.
[pg 16 from Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill]

Suggested by JM in regards to books sent to bloggers for review:

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews.

Back in April of this year, I touched upon a similar topic after reading a story about an author who took matters a little too far after reading a review of her book on a bookstore website. I believe in being respectful and considerate as well as honest regardless of where the book comes from:
. . . I do not think that readers/reviewers should avoid writing well thought out negative reviews. It is never my intention to hurt anyone's feelings, but I value honesty and have to be true not only to myself but also to those who may happen upon my thoughts about any given book. To do otherwise would put into question my credibility as well as my self-respect.
I am not a professional reviewer, nor do I get paid to talk about books. Reading and writing are my passions, and I enjoy being able to combine them here on my blog. Truth be told, I do not write the reviews of the books I read for you, at least not primarily. I do it for me. I began my reading journal one and a half years before beginning this blog. I wanted to keep track of the books I read and record my impressions of each one for future reference. If I stopped blogging today, I would still keep up my reading journal. I blog because I enjoy talking about books with others, sharing my thoughts, exchanging ideas, and learning about new books. I love being a part of this great community.

Whether I am shopping for a book on my own or agreeing to read one where the copy is free, I am selective about what I say yes to (it's not my fault so many books sound so good!). My time is precious to me, especially since reading is something I do for pleasure, and so I try and select books that I will enjoy. And most of the time, it works out just that way. So, if my reviews seem to lean in the direction of being more positive than not, that is exactly why.

Frankly, I do not know of one person who would say they would lie in a review. We each have our own styles and personalities. For some of us, gentle criticism comes more naturally; while for others, a more blunt or snarky approach fits more easily. Some people choose not to post negative reviews at all, which is their right. We each do things our own way, in our own fashion, however it works best for us. Our styles are different as much as our tastes in the books we read is. I respect and appreciate our differences, although I do draw the line at viciousness and personal attacks.

As for whether a disclaimer is necessary, I tend to believe that it should not be. What is the purpose of a review in the first place if not to provide an honest assessment of the material being evaluated? However, what I think should be obvious is not always obvious to others. Text messaging while driving, for example. It's a dangerous thing to do. And yet we have to have a law to say it isn't okay just the same. There are always those few people who would not give it a second thought otherwise.

My husband suggested that perhaps we book bloggers should come up with a manifesto that we all link to if we agree. A fancy button we can attach on our sidebars for authors and publicists to visit if they want to know what our expectations are as readers/reviewers. Maybe that's not such a bad idea. And it would be easier for me since I'm not quick on my feet when it comes to thinking up what should go into that sort of thing.

This is one of my favorite responses to this past week's BTT question: Take a look.

Friday on Saturday and Meme Fun

1. The last performance I saw live was the 9 to 5 musical.
2. What I look forward to most on Thanksgiving is good company and delicious food.
3. My Christmas/holiday shopping is nearly complete.
4. Thoughts of everything I need to get done before the end of the month fill my head.
5. I wish I could wear that little dress of mine, but I think I may need to lose a few pounds before I can fit into it again.
6. Bagpipes remind me of weddings, parades and funerals.
7. And as for the weekend, Saturday I'm looking forward to finishing up the last of the holiday gift shopping and Sunday, I want to take in a movie, finish the laundry, and enjoy the day! Monday comes all too early and then it's back to work.

I've been tagged! I am not going to tag anyone in return; however, feel free to play along if you would like to.

Thanks to Melody, Jenclair and S. Krishna for tagging me for the Bookworm Award and meme.

Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following.

The following quote is taken from Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill.
Siri laughed. "About a man electrocuting himself in the bath?"

"Siri. Please restrain the levity. The deputy governor was up here recently paying a courtesy visit to the Soviet embassy. I'm sure you recall how their ambassador likes to give away those horrible Soviet-built appliances as souvenirs: irons, fans, soldering equipment, all that type of stuff."

Thanks to Jenclair for tagging me for the Kreativ Blogger Award and meme.

7 Things I Did Before
1. Collected tiger items
2. Played Soccer
3. Pen pal
4. Went Camping for Vacation
5. Stay up all night reading
6. Worked long hours
7. Read books

7 Things I Do Now
1. Collect dog and cat items
2. Play Minesweeper
3. Blog
4. Stay in Hotels while on Vacation
5. Pass out in the middle of a chapter when sleep gets the better of me
6. Work long hours
7. Read books

7 Things I Want to Do
1. Wake my husband up so we can get our shopping done early today.
2. Give the animals cuddles.
3. Make reservations at Marie Callendar's for Thanksgiving Dinner.
4. Visit Hawaii again. Tomorrow. Yeah, not going to happen. At least not tomorrow.
5. Spend more time reading.
6. Sleep in. Someday. At least once.
7. See Phantom of the Opera in January.

7 Things That Attract Me to the That Special Someone
1. Sense of Humor
2. Honesty
3. Intelligence
4. Common Interests
5. Generosity of Spirit
6. Hands
7. Thoughtfulness

7 Favorite Foods
1. Pizza
2. Cheesecake
3. Chicken Parmigiana
4. Enchiladas
5. Homemade Brownies
6. Chicken and Rice
7. Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt

7 Things I Say Most Often (this one is hard!)
1. No
2. Yeah
3. Ho hum
4. I wish I had more time to read.
5. I have that book in my TBR collection.
6. Whatever you want is fine. (usually in regards to dinner ideas)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer & a Giveaway

First Sentence: The $4 million Nike athletic-shoe contract in Shandell Bird’s shirt pocket wasn’t about to solve his problem—couldn’t even put a dent in it—neither would the $3.2 million he expected to start drawing in October, once the NBA season started.

Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer
Frog Books, 2008 (ARE)
Crime Fiction (MYS); 362 pgs

Blackbird, Farewell is the first mystery by Robert Greer I have had the chance to read and it likely will not be my last. This novel is the latest in the CJ Floyd series, although, in what I assume is a departure from the series, the author focuses on a different protagonist: a young man about to head off to medical school. CJ Floyd is enjoying his honeymoon in Hawaii when his godson's best friend is murdered. Damion Madrid learns more about his friend, Shandell Bird, after death than he ever knew while he was alive.

Known as Blackbird and Blood on the court, Shandell and Damion had been among the best players on their college basketball team. Shandell had a career in the NBA ahead of him and a contract with a major shoe company. Life could not have been better for the young man. Or so it seemed. Shandell and an investigative journalist are gunned down one night on a Glendale basketball court, and the police have very few leads. Damion is determined to find out what he can about his friend's death. He is confident he can find the answers before the police do. He enlists the help of his godfather's business partner, Flora Jean Benson, a bounty hunter and former military intelligence officer. Knowing Damion is better off with her help and knowing he will go it alone without her, Flora Jean agrees to help.

The more questions that Damion asks, the darker the secrets he uncovers and the more he comes to realize that people aren't always what they seem. Could his best friend really have been involved with drug dealing and point shaving? If he was guilty of all of these things, why did he go down that road? What other secrets could his friend have been hiding from him all this time? The more Damion learns, the more danger he is in. People in high places have taken notice.

Author Robert Greer takes readers into the underbelly of the pro-athletic world and introduces readers to a cast of interesting characters, some of whom have obvious history in previous books. While the bad guys (and gals) are obvious, exactly who did what and when is not always so clear. The story unfolds bit by bit as the novel progresses, starting off slow and picking up speed with each turn of the page. There is a lot going on inside the pages of the novel and there were a couple of occasions when I thought it might be a little too much.

Although the story is told in third person and jumps from one character’s perspective to another, it is Damion’s story that takes center stage. His loyalty to his friend is endearing. There is a young man’s overconfidence about him mixed in with an innocence that reminds the reader just how vulnerable and unaware he is. Shandell’s own story is tragic in its own way. I didn’t think much of him in the beginning, but I could better sympathize with him by the end.

I was most impressed with the women in the novel, all of them strong in their own ways. Aretha Bird, Shandell’s mother, had suffered through a difficult marriage and raised her son mostly on her own. Flora Jean Benson is a tough cookie who obviously is used to getting what she’s after. Niki, Damion’s girlfriend knows how to take care of herself just fine, and Damion’s mother worked hard to earn her law degree and make a name for herself.

Blackbird, Farewell is an entertaining mystery. Although billed as a CJ Floyd mystery, CJ himself makes only a minor appearance. The author has certainly whet my appetite in finding out more CJ and his friends.

Rating: * (Good)

Be sure and check out the author's website. If you would like to follow Robert Greer's book tour in progress, visit the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours blog.

Thank you to Dorothy of Pump Up Your Book Promotion and the author, Robert Greer, for the opportunity to participate in this book tour.

Other Blog Reviews of this book:
Michele - One "L"

I will be giving away a new hardbound copy of Blackbird, Farewell to one lucky commenter! Leave a comment along with your e-mail address if you are interested in winning this book. Drawing is open internationally. Deadline to enter is December 1st at 11:59 p.m. PST.

Added 12/06/2008: Recent events in my life caused me to overlook naming the winner in this contest until now. I apologize for keeping you all waiting so long. The lucky winner of Blackbird, Farewell is ChristyJan! Congratulations, ChristyJan. I'll be sending you an e-mail to request your address.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review: Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe by Jennie Shortridge & Interview With the Author

Nothing had changed. Everything had changed. She didn't know how she knew it, but Mira had never been more certain of anything.
[pg 59]

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe
by Jennie Shortridge
NAL Accent, 2008
Fiction; 367 pgs

I have only seen Oregon through the windows of a car, traveling on my way to Washington, Seattle to be exact, which is exactly where Mira ends up after fleeing her life in Pacifica, a small Oregon coastal town. Her perfect life is crumbling before her eyes. Her adult daughter hates her and her husband’s interest in her has strayed. She feels betrayed, abandoned and scared. If she goes far enough, maybe she can start over and discover what it was she had lost and why things had gone so terribly wrong.

Mira has almost always tried to be what everyone wants her to be. She aims for perfection, wanting the perfect house, the perfect family, and to be the best at all she does. Whereas Mira thinks this is her strength, her daughter, Thea, sees it all in a different light. Thea believes her mother expects perfection in those around her as well, an impossible dream. Thea also knows that her mother, as a result, is unable to see things as they really are because Mira is always trying to avoid rocking the boat. Thea feels as if her mother does not understand her and does not accept her for who she is. She has a lot of anger and frustration built up inside of her. And then there is Parker, Mira’s husband and Thea’s father. He does not feel like he can open up and talk to his wife as he once did. Their lives are more mechanical—they each go through the motions—and the passion seems to be missing. Mira does not realize it right away, but she too, longs for something more.

Mira and her dog settle into an apartment above a Seattle coffee shop where she takes the job as manager. It is there she comes to terms with the direction her life has gone and discovers what it is she wants just as those she’s left behind are also forced to look inward and make their own difficult choices. Both Mira and Thea are undergoing changes throughout the book—the mother is adjusting to mid-life and the daughter is finding her way into womanhood as an adult. Both want to be accepted and loved. They long to be able to be themselves, loved for themselves.

I had not expected to be so taken in by Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe. The story was much more evolved than your simple husband-cheats-on-wife, wife-needs-empowerment story. There are no villains in this story (unless you count Sequoia, a barista at the coffee house in Seattle). Parker and Mira have both made mistakes in their lives, and both are responsible for the problems they are facing.

Author Jennie Shortridge has written a beautiful and touching novel. The emotions of the characters are very palatable—very real. I could feel Thea’s sense of abandonment and frustration; Parker’s grief and longing; and Mira’s feeling of hopelessness and of being all alone. I could feel her desire to be wanted and loved. The characters were all very real, flawed each in their own ways. I came to care about each of them, including the other wonderful characters in the novel, wanting only the best for each of them.

It’s my habit to internalize the stories I read, and to compare them to my own life. It was no different in the case of this book. I found myself relating to nearly all of the characters in one way or another. I could see myself in Thea and Mira, especially.

Besides the ending, my favorite scene from the book is when Mira is left to run the coffee shop all by herself; the way her faithful customers came together was heartwarming—and something she desperately needed at that moment in time—to know that she wasn’t alone and that there were people out there that cared about her.

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe touched me in unexpected ways. I am so glad I read it.

Rating: * (Good +)

Check out the author's website for more information about her books.

Author Jennie Shortridge was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome Jennie to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: I understand you used to perform in coffeehouses. Is that where the notion of the Center of the Universe came from? How much of your own experiences and life, if at all, played a part in your novels and, in particular this book?

Jennie Shortridge: I love coffeehouses and it was so much fun to have the story take place in one. Yes, I have performed in many over the years, and I have written in them (still do) and met friends there and gone for solitude. I have also cooked in little cafes in my past, so the working part of the story is definitely from that experience. I do like to use experiences in my life to embellish a fictional story. In my first book, Riding with the Queen, I use my experiences as a working musician, and in the second book, Eating Heaven, it's all about cooking, magazine writing, and caregiving. With Love and Biology, I had to actually write less from my own experience because I've never had kids, never lived in a small town, I'm not of Italian-American heritage, etc. But I do know the pain of being dumped, which is the worst thing ever, and the joy of finding a "family of choice" as Mira does at the Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe.

LF: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

JS: I guess the feeling, or the validation, that we're all human, all doing the best we can with what we've been handed in life. I think that's what's at the heart of all my books. And hope. Always hope.

LF: What is one of the more memorable experiences you've had on a book tour?

JS: I was JUST at the Texas Book Festival this past weekend, and after I'd been sitting at my signing booth for a couple of hours, telling hundreds of people what my books were about ("I've never heard of you" was a common comment), a young woman and her husband walked up with huge smiles on their faces. "We're so glad you're still here," they said. They'd just driven two hours to come see me in Austin. The young woman had read all three of my books and felt very strongly aligned with the characters and stories, and brought her books for me to sign. I had to get up and hug her, of course, and her husband kept saying, "This means so much to her, you don't know," and he took pictures, and we talked for a long time, and it was just so meaningful to me that the stories I write could touch someone so personally. I'm very grateful to my readers, and I love when I get to meet them.

LF: Some authors have a designated work space in their home where they spend hours writing while others prefer to settle in at a local cafe. A few authors swear by writing with pen and paper and yet others prefer the modern technology of the computer. Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

JS: I absolutely do. I write first thing in the morning in my little home office on my desktop computer. Around noon or so I feel done, and start doing other tasks, but sometimes in the afternoon I like to take my laptop to a coffee shop and do a little more work on the book I'm writing, if I'm feeling so inspired. Lately I've been traveling so much promoting Love & Biology, while finishing the next book (When She Flew, coming out Nov. 2009), that I write in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms.

LF: Are you reading anything at the moment?

JS: Usually I can't read while writing, but I did just finish a wonderful new book called The Little Book, by Selden Edwards. It's a beautiful tale of time travel, love, connectedness, all set in the time when the world was changing in huge and horrible ways as Hitler was about to rise to power. The human stories and relationships are wonderfully done, and it is definitely a book of hope. I loved it.

[Note to self: Add The Little Book to wish list]

Many thanks to Jennie Shortridge for taking the time to answer my questions. I also want to thank the author and TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

Jennie Shortridge's TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Saturday, November 1st: Estella’s Revenge e-zine (author interview)
Monday, November 3rd: Booking Mama (review)
Tuesday, November 4th: Booking Mama - (author guest post)
Wednesday, November 5th: She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, November 7th: Curly Wurly Gurly (contest for a $15 Starbucks or other coffee shop gift card!)
Friday, November 7th: Curly Wurly Gurly (review)
Monday, November 10th: Fizzy Thoughts
Wednesday, November 12th: Tripping Toward Lucidity
Friday, November 14th: Literarily (Guest Post by Author)
Monday, November 17th: Shelf Life (Interview with Author)
Friday, November 21st: Bookshipper
Monday, November 24th: Minds Alive on the Shelves
Wednesday, November 26th: Book Addiction
Sunday, November 30th: B & b ex libris

Other Blog Reviews of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe:
S. Krishna's Books

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review: Red Sea by E.A. Benedek

. . . Gabi was all to familiar with the nearness of death.

The worst of it, which came much later, was that the survivors would never find any sense in the deaths. Understanding brought no relief. There was nothing to understand. The terrorists didn’t know their victims, didn’t care about their particularities. To their killers, the dead weren’t people, only statistics, body counts. Those who loved them didn’t matter at all. The survivors were then left with an unbearable choice: to live choked with rage and hatred, to fight their way back to life through some form of forgiveness, bitter as it might be.

“When will it end?” She muttered . . . [pg 7]

Red Sea by E.A. Benedek
St Martin’s Paperbacks, 2007
Crime Fiction (S/T); 405 pgs

Although much focus has shifted to the state of the economy, terrorism against and in the United States remains a real threat. Efforts were made after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 to improve the country’s security from future attacks. However, much evidence exists to suggest that the measures taken have not been nearly enough. Author E.A. Benedek makes that quite clear in the thrilling spy novel, Red Sea, in which a terrorist group seeks to exploit those very weaknesses and make an example out of the United States.

The novel opens with the disappearance of three airliners, each carrying people from all over the world. E.A. Benedek wastes no time painting human faces on the victims in those exploding planes, making their deaths even more powerful. Fear grips the world, and governments go into high alert as news of the crashes spread.

Retired Israeli security officer Julian Granot is enjoying his vacation on the Turquoise Coast with his family when the call comes informing him of the attacks. His expertise is needed back home. Although Israel had not been directly targeted, the Israelis make a habit of collecting intelligence and investigating terrorist threats and acts that may eventually prove to be a threat against their own interests.

As Julian begins his investigation, his attention is caught by a young American journalist, Marie Petersson, who works for the magazine, Aviation Monthly. He realizes instantly that she would make a good asset for gathering information. Marie will get her story while Julian will have access to whatever information Marie is able to uncover. Marie is not only intelligent, but she is also insightful. The Israeli plays on her ambition to draw her in. Marie is both eager and willing, although not without fear. She realizes the risks. I worried how the author would introduce a journalist in the mix, however, I shouldn’t have been. E.A. Benedek creates a scenario that is easy to buy into. Marie’s personal history as well as Julian’s make their teaming up together seem like a perfect pairing, both professionally and personally.

While the first assignment is simple, a visit to a London electronics repair shop, the second is much more risky. After a fourth plane explodes, this one over land, Marie is to travel to Baghdad where she is to interview the terrorist suspected of being behind the exploding planes. Mansour Obaidi has taken on different identities throughout his life. Julian, however, could never forget the pain Mansour Obaidi caused him many years ago. He would know the terrorist anywhere. Even so, Julian remains focused on his task and in protecting Marie.

In walks Morgan Ensley, FBI agent, positioned in Baghdad on his own secret mission. He is a bit of a cowboy who likes to go his own way. He and Marie hit it off instantly and join forces in gathering information, albeit each for their own purposes. Morgan, Marie and Julian become integral parts in the events that unfold leading up to the final climax in an attempt to save thousands of people from one of the worst possible terrorist acts imaginable.

It is frightening how easy it is to breach security in the United States. While Red Sea is a work of fiction, the possibility of future terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is very real. Airport and seaport security continue to have major holes, and unfortunately the wrong people know that as well. There is also a sense that the American government bureaucracy can cause more problems than it helps, especially with all the agency infighting, which I have no doubt exists. The novel points to a gap in knowledge and intelligence by the American people of what we are up against and the lack of willingness to cooperate with others in order to become more educated and better prepared. Another area which should cause concern.

Red Sea is suspenseful and thrilling. I was immediately drawn into the story and attached to the characters, Julian Granot in particular. There’s just something about a fictional Israeli spy that I cannot resist. I blame Daniel Silva for that and E.A. Benedek only proved my point further. I was also quite taken with Marie Petersson. She is a strong female protagonist who is searching for her place in the world. Morgan Ensley was in interesting character, although I never quite felt like I knew him as well as I came to know his fellow protagonists. Marie, Morgan and Julian value loyalty and are willing to fight for what they believe is a right and just cause. These characters are people I would most definitely want on my side.

While the novel is political in some respects, those politics are not overwhelming, never overshadowing the story or the characters. It is a fast paced adventure that thriller readers won't want to miss. Fortunately for me, it looks like the author is working on another book featuring Marie, Morgan and Julian. I can't wait!

Rating: * (Very Good)

Check out the author's website for more information about E.A. Benedek and her books.

Many thanks to E.A. Benedek and TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

E.A. Benedek's TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Tuesday, October 21st: Jenn’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, October 22nd: Rough Edges
Monday, October 27th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Wednesday, October 29th: Michele - Only One ‘L’(author interview) and review
Monday, November 3rd: Right Truth
Wednesday, November 5th: Dark Party Review
Monday, November 10th: The Sleepy Reader
Wednesday, November 12th: The Tome Traveler
Thursday, November 13th: Should Be Reading

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Salon: Book Signings

I attended a book signing this past Tuesday. Okay, so that's not quite true. I stopped in at the bookstore hoping to find a particular book and there just happened to be an author there, signing her books. I thought of author Gayle Trent and her advice to walk right up and say hello even if I might not want to buy the author's book. Easier said than done. Not the walking up or saying hello part, but the not buying part. I'm easily swayed into buying by kindness, especially when the author is standing right there in front of me, with hope in his or her eyes. I hate to disappoint, you see.

It actually turned out well though. As I browsed the shelves, author Sharon Lewis Koho approached me with a little postcard, describing each of her books. She didn't linger, just a simple hello and introduction, offer of the card, and on she went to the next person. I suppose there are some who might find her approach pushy or annoying, however, I thought it was a brilliant idea. This gave me a chance to decide if I wanted to take the time to drop by her table and take a closer look at her books or not.

I did stop by her table. I wanted so much to say more to her than I did, but as usual, I was tongue tied. She had spent year writing the first book and it was obvious a lot of love went into it. The story wasn't quite finished after that first book, and so she went on to right the sequel and final book. It was the Alaskan setting that most attracted me to her books, admittedly. After giving the books my first paragraph test and deciding to take a chance on them, Mrs. Koho asked if I wanted her to sign the two books, and I, of course, agreed.

I never did find the book I originally was looking for.

Have you ever happened on a book signing in progress, one you hadn't set out to attend? If so, did you stop and check out the author's work or pass on by?

The coworker I convinced to try Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series has been on my case for months now to read Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. With the movie coming out this week, I finally am going to cave in. I tried to explain to her why this might not be a good idea, but she insists and, since she did try one of my favorite authors' books (and ended up loving them), I figure I should return the favor and give her favorite author a try. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, I am enjoying a murder mystery at the moment called Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer. If everything works out as planned, I will be posting an interview with the author at the end of the week along with my review of the book. I have an extra copy of the book that is looking for a home; so be on the watch for the giveaway.

Be sure and stop in tomorrow to read my review of E.A. Benedek's spy thriller Red Sea. Later in the week, I will be reviewing Jennie Shortridge's Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe and posting my interview with the author.

Week in Review:
Review of Shot Girl by Karen E. Olson
Guest Post by Author Karen E. Olson: So Have You Heard About The Red, White and Blue Pickle?
Review of The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
Bookish Chatter and Then Some

Happy Reading!

A quick reminder: It is that time of year again! Nymeth and Dewey have joined together to host this year's annual Book Blogger's Christmas Swap. The deadline to enter is on Tuesday, November 18th; so you had better hurry if you are interested. It is open internationally.

'Tis the fire season in Southern California again. I wanted to publicly thank those who have expressed concern for my family and let everyone who might be wondering know that my husband, furkids and I are fine. The Triangle Complex Fire hasn't been an actual threat to us, thank goodness. Please say a prayer or think good thoughts for my friends and loved ones who are in the path of the Triangle Complex Fire and the other wildfires that are threatening lives and homes.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Week on Friday

Mailbox Monday

This week's mail turned out to be a real boon for me. My latest acquisitions:
The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
Echoes From the Dead by Johan Theorin
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

A little tease from what I've been reading lately:
As he nosed the Jeep away from the curb, running temporarily without headlights and headed for Mario's house in a mostly Italian neighborhood in North Denver, he kept telling himself, Just let me make it, God. Just let me make it.
[pg 134 from Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer]

For this week's Tuesday Thingers, Marie asks
LT Things- t-shirts, bags, CueCats - are you into the "stuff"? Do you use a CueCat to enter your books, or do you enter them manually? What do you think of the stuff?
When I first joined LibraryThing, I considered buying a CueCat. The thought of entering over a thousand books into my computer was a bit daunting. However, I only had a week's vacation ahead of me and it had already started. There was no way the CueCat would arrive in time. And once I began entering my books manually, I did not want to stop. My books and I bonded over the experience, each one making the trip to my computer room (I didn't have a laptop at the time), and then finding a new home on the shelf. I was able to re-organize my books, file books away that had yet to find homes on the shelves, and I discovered hidden treasures I had either forgotten about or was completely unaware of.

I admit to having a weakness for book related paraphernalia. I have yet to buy anything LibraryThing related at this point, however, other than my lifetime membership. Perhaps someday I might invest in a tote. I am a booklover, and I have no problem flaunting that fact.

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?

Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?

If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?

My bookaholism goes beyond just reading. I also love to be surrounded by books. In my own home. I like to wake up in the middle of the night and know that I have a wide selection of books to choose from to read right then and there. I have a huge TBR collection, and so it really is not a problem these days. And awful as it might sound, I am partial to new books, although I do buy and read used books as well. When I buy books, I feel like I am contributing to the local bookstores as well as supporting authors who work hard to write the books I read and enjoy. And then there is always the chance that if I don't get the book I want when I see it, I may never find it again. It's happened, unfortunately.

Then there is the fact that I hate deadlines, and, being the rule follower that I am, it causes me a lot of guilt if I am not able to return a book on time. I got out of the habit of using the library because, for years, my working hours did not coincide with the library's hours. Getting to the library was next to impossible. I began buying books more and more as a result and, once that book buying bug bit me, I was hooked.

In case you are wondering, I am not rich, not even remotely. I do not have a lot of extra money to throw around any which way I want. So maybe I took Erasmus a little too seriously when he said, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. " What can I say?

Hello. My name is Wendy, and I'm a bookaholic.

1. Please feel free to send me a book for Christmas.
2. When I try a new hand cream I can't help sniffing it occasionally.
3. My favorite thing to cook is a marshmallow over a campfire.
4. Reading is something I can't get enough of.
5. That's the thing I love most about books.
6. When Anya throws herself at my head while jumping from chair top to chair top, it always makes me think to myself, what the heck?
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a tall glass of ice cold chocolate milk and a chance to put my feet up; tomorrow my plans include seeing the new James Bond movie and Sunday, I want to hop on a plane and visit my friend in Hawaii, but, alas, that will not happen!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

The woman was there again, pushing the swing, except this time the swing wasn’t empty. Holding tightly to the rope arms sat a small boy, his mouth open in laughter, the sound like soft air brushing against my cheeks.
[pg 21]

The House on Tradd Street
by Karen White

New American Library, 2008
Fiction; 329 pgs

Melanie Middleton was the best at her job. She had made a name for herself as the go to person if you were looking to buy or sell a historical home in Charleston. However, her own tastes ran toward the modern, finding the old homes to be money holes and more trouble than they were worth. Her feelings had everything to do with the fact that she could see dead people, a gift she had inherited from the mother who had abandoned her when she was a young child.

She never anticipated what a single visit to the elderly Nevin Vanderhorst would bring about. Melanie went to the home hoping to add it to her list of available homes for sale, only to discover Nevin was really only interested in talking to her. His father and Melanie’s grandfather had at one time been best friends and business partners until a falling out in the early 1930’s. Nevin’s mother had supposedly abandoned him around that time, although Nevin knew in his heart that could not possibly be true.

Upon his death, just days after Melanie’s visit with him, Nevin willed his house to Melanie. In a letter, he mentioned that he wanted Melanie to uncover the truth about his mother’s disappearance. Due to terms in the will which includes that she cannot sell the house for at least a year and is to spend funds from the estate on its restoration, Melanie is saddled with a house and a dog she does not want. Meanwhile, she is also surrounded by the ghosts of the house, including a malevolent spirit that desperately wants her out.

Author Jack Trenholm, well known for exposing little known histories, has taken an interest in the house and its history. He convinces Melanie to allow him access to the house; however, he is not completely forthcoming with her about his motives. The two have their work cut out for them as they begin the restoration process and their quest to uncover the truth behind the secrets buried there.

Karen White’s novel, The House on Tradd Street, is all at once a ghost story, a mystery, with a dash of romance. Melanie’s own past is connected to that old house both by ancestral ties as well as the similarities in hers and Nevin’s situations. They were both seemingly abandoned by their mothers at a young age, and, as Melanie searches out the truth of one past, she must face her own.

Melanie is one of those women most of us love to hate. She is both beautiful and can eat anything she wants without worry about gaining a pound. She is extremely practical and likes to maintain control of her life and situations she finds herself in. She sees her ability to communicate with the dead as a burden and tries to stifle her gift, ignoring the voices and spirits around her as often as she can. She is highly successful in her career but her personal life is lacking. Melanie does not let many people get too close. She has been disappointed too many times to take that risk again. There was an occasion or two when I did get annoyed with Melanie, knowing she was smarter than she was acting, but I suppose we all have moments like that, don't we?

I was most drawn to Melanie’s relationship with her father. For as long as she could remember, Melanie had to pick up after her father who drank too much. She has trouble believing he can maintain his new found sobriety and is not sure she wants to give him another chance. They are forced together due to the terms of Nevin’s will, however. I could plainly feel Melanie’s distrust, skepticism, and love for her father just as I could sense Mr. Middleton’s desire to make things right in his daughter’s eyes, knowing he’s disappointed her almost beyond repair.

The ghosts themselves were intriguing characters. Louisa, Nevin’s mother, carried the scent of roses with her. She had loved her son dearly, as well as her husband. Although it took awhile for Melanie to figure out who the evil spirit in the house was, it really was no surprise. He lived in the afterlife much as he did when he was alive.

The story was both absorbing and compelling. Not to mention I loved the setting of the novel. Karen White made me feel right at home in Charleston, South Carolina, capturing the atmosphere and the history. It will be interesting to see where the author takes us in the second installment, The Girl on Legare Street, featuring Melanie Middleton and Jack Trenholm, which is due out about this time next year. I would love the opportunity to meet Melanie’s mother.

Rating: * (Good +)

Be sure and check out the author's website. If you would like to follow Karen White's book tour in progress, visit the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours blog.

Thank you to Dorothy of Pump Up Your Book Promotion and the author, Karen White, for the opportunity to participate in this book tour.

See What Others Had to Say About This Book:
The Book Czar
Cafe of Dreams
Diary of an Eccentric
S. Krishna's Books
Savvy Verse & Wit (Author's Guest Post)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Tour: Karen E. Olson, Author of Shot Girl

Karen E. Olson's new book, Shot Girl, featuring crime reporter Annie Seymour hit bookstores last week. I thought it would be fun to have Karen stop in and visit as part of her virtual book tour this month. You can read my review of her latest book here.

Please welcome back Karen to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

So have you heard about the red, white and blue pickle?

Back more than a few years, there were two reporters. They were covering a very, very, very small town and were bored to tears. So they decided to write a story about a farmer who grew a red, white and blue pickle for the Fourth of July. He had several false starts; some pickles were purple and yellow and others striped. But finally he persevered.

The two reporters filed the story and a photograph of the farmer holding the pickle. The story ran in the paper. It got picked up by the wire service. And then someone at the Associated Press said, “Wait a minute.” Do you know that pickles aren’t grown, but are actually cucumbers? And you can’t grow a cucumber, much less a pickle, that’s a different color than green. And on top of that, the farmer in the picture looks an awful lot like one of those reporters.

This is just one example of how easy it is to make stuff up and get it in the newspaper. This is something I’m exploring in my new Annie Seymour mystery, SHOT GIRL. I look at how a reporter who is on the rise gives in to temptation and financial gain and makes up a story that almost goes undetected.

When I started writing fiction, it was so liberating to be able to make stuff up and not worry about it. I didn’t have to check with three sources to make sure what I was writing was factual. I didn’t have to do any research at all if I didn’t want to. Annie owns a gun, but I didn’t actually ever hold a gun or shoot one until two years ago. I’ve never been beyond the fences at the New Haven port, much less been on an actual freighter. But I wrote about both in DEAD OF THE DAY. I’ve never seen tic-tac-toe playing chickens (although I’ve read about them), but I wrote about them in SECONDHAND SMOKE. I’d never seen a Cow Parade before writing SACRED COWS. I’ve never climbed down a fire escape, like Annie does in SHOT GIRL.

Fiction opened up a whole new world for me. And for the record: The red, white and blue pickle story really is true. The reporters had to find other jobs. Maybe they’re writing fiction now.

* * *
Karen E. Olson is the author of the crime fiction series featuring crime reporter Annie Seymour. She is currently working on a new series that will feature a tattoo shop owner in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Karen E. Olson has teamed up with several authors at the First Offenders blog, maintains her own blog at Amazon as well as her own website.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Review: Shot Girl by Karen E. Olson

He looked better dead than alive. Can’t say that about many people.
[excerpt from Shot Girl]

Shot Girl by Karen E. Olson
Obsidian Mystery, 2008 (ARE)
Crime Fiction (MYS); 302 pgs

Karen E. Olson’s crime fiction series featuring crime reporter Annie Seymour always leaves me craving pizza. I am sure it has something to do with all the talk of food and the great restaurants in Annie’s New Haven. Annie doesn’t actually get her pie in the latest novel, Shot Girl, but the mere mention of it is enough to make me want a slice.

Annie Seymour did not want to attend the bachelorette party of a colleague nor did she want to run into her ex-husband, whom she had not seen in 15 years, at the Rouge Lounge. She most definitely did not want to have suspicion fall on her when he ends up dead on the sidewalk outside of the club. The .22 caliber gun in her car and casings around the body point in her direction, however.

Temporarily placed on the social services desk, writing articles about community gardens and quilting bees until the investigation into her ex-husband’s murder is sorted out, Annie couldn’t be more miserable. Crime reporting is where her heart is, and she cannot leave it behind even if it means carrying out her investigation on her own time. Annie is determined to find out just what her ex-husband was involved in before his death and what secrets everyone is keeping from her. Nothing is quite what it seems, and the closer Annie comes to the truth, the more danger she ends up in.

Annie Seymour is as brazen and persistent as ever and still going against the advice of both her private investigator boyfriend, Vincent DeLucia, and her former lover, homicide Detective Tom Behr. Author Karen E. Olson takes readers into Annie’s past as Annie struggles to come to terms with her past as well as the events unfolding in the present. She cannot help but look at where she has ended up in life as compared to what she had wanted when her life was still very much ahead of her. Her life has not quite worked out the way she had anticipated, but then, life seldom does. The reader gets a glimpse at why Annie is so cynical and untrusting.

It is no surprise that Shot Girl is filled with a colorful cast of characters, just as the previous books have been. Annie always manages to attract the most interesting of people, whether it be a young hoodlum, a reverend with a shady past, a college professor with a penchant for his female students, or a male stripper whose stage name is Jack Hammer.

The author has been known to mix things up style wise, taking a different approach with each of the four books in the series. In Shot Girl, the main character, Annie, is an unreliable narrator. Annie is too personally involved and keeps relevant information close to her vest, not only from the authorities and her boyfriend, but also from the readers. This was an effective technique in keeping me guessing as to what would happen next.

Shot Girl was definitely a compelling read and impossible to put down. I devoured it in a matter of hours. As much as I have grown to love Annie, I am looking forward to seeing what else Karen E. Olson has up her sleeve with her new series, the first of which is due out next year.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Be sure and stop in tomorrow to read Karen E. Olson's guest post.

Many thanks to author Karen E. Olson for giving me a chance to read and review
Shot Girl!

Read what others had to say about this book:
Book-a-rama (and Guest Post by Author)
Hello, My Name is Alice (and Guest Post by Author)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Salon: Goodbye Books

I finally did it. Well, it was not the first time, but it never gets any easier. I spent much of yesterday in my TBR room, going through my books, pulling out the ones I no longer have an interest in reading. It is always a difficult process. How do I know I won't decide tomorrow that I do want to read a particular book? The truth is, I've put a lot of thought into which books to weed out. I even made a list that I had been thinking long and hard about for months now. These are books I have had for years but have yet to get to. The urge finally struck me yesterday to follow through. Not all of the books on my list ended up finding another home. Some stayed. And there were books that ended up losing their spot on my shelves that had not been on the original list. I feel pretty good about my decision, and yet I also feel a bit sad. But no regrets. Not at this point anyway. Hopefully I won't.

I have more space in my TBR room. I have one less box of books and fewer piles. My shelves are still overflowing. I still have plenty of books to read in case of that rainy day.

Week in Review:
Guest Appearance by Author Gayle Trent
Tuesday Teaser and Tuesday Thingers: Duplicates
Review of Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent
Review of All Together Dead and From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
Off Topic Chatter

Stop by this week for my review of Karen E. Olson's latest Annie Seymour crime fiction novel, Shot Girl. Karen E. Olson will be making a guest appearance you won't want to miss. I will also be reviewing Karen White's newest, a ghost story called The House on Tradd Street. If we are lucky, Karen White be dropping in for an interview towards the end of the week.

Happy Reading!

Thank you to everyone who participated in my recent giveaways!

Winner of David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife:

Violet Crush

Winners of Imaginary Friends edited by John Marco and Martin H. Greenberg:

Congratulations to all the winners!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Fill In Fun

1. My blueprint for success includes getting plenty of sleep, drinking lots of water, and taking time out for oneself even when things get really hectic.
2. A candy cane was the last candy I ate.
3. The best facial moisturizer I've ever used is still out there undiscovered. I have used several different moisturizers over the years, but cannot say I like one over the other.
4. Book shopping can be good therapy.
5. I'd like to tell you about the time I lived in a tree house for a week, eating sauerkraut and hot dogs and reading nothing but old Highlights magazines, but that would be a lie and you'd see right through it.
6. My ability to tell a one liner with a straight face is my strongest characteristic.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to enjoying a late dinner with my husband and catching up on some reading; tomorrow my plans include taking in a movie and maybe doing a little blog hopping; and Sunday, I want to stay up late and relish the idea that I don't have to be at work again until Wednesday!

Anya is playing with the snake Monica sent her. It's one of her favorite toys.

Anya hasn't yet learned to jump up to each level of the tree yet, and so she does it the hard way. She's headed up to join Parker.

Anya and Parker lazing around.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Reviews: All Together Dead and From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris

When I first heard that Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series was being turned into a television show, I was skeptical. It would never work, I thought. As time went by, however, my excitement grew and I became more and more curious as to how HBO would handle the show. I convinced my husband that subscribing to HBO for the final season of our favorite show, The Wire, and for the upcoming True Blood series was a good idea. I talked one of my coworkers, a diehard Harry Potter fan, into reading the series and, despite the strain it put on her budget, she didn't hesitate too long before subscribing to HBO either.

My husband and I watch the show faithfully every Sunday, and when I arrive at work every Monday morning, two of my coworkers and I get together to discuss what we thought of that week's episode. True Blood is edgy and fun. I love the spin the television show has added to the series. For those who demand every detail be the same between book and movie, it probably comes as a big disappointment. While some of the details are similar, many others are very different. I haven't been too keen on television's take on vampires in the past and there are certainly some things about True Blood I could offer up a complaint about, but I do enjoy the show. My husband and a coworker who have never read the books have had no problem following the show and are quite smitten with it as well.

The coworker I convinced to read the Southern Vampire Series finally caught up to me in the book series and cajoled and pouted until I agreed to set aside my current reading commitments to read the last two books published in the series. She wanted someone to discuss the books with and did not want to have to hold back for fear of giving away spoilers. And so, it was with great anticipation that I picked up All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris.

Some might think that the television show would harm my reading of the series, inserting the characters from the television show straight into the images of the characters I was reading about. And sure enough, I did hear Anna Paquin’s voice, southern accent and all, as I read the novel narrated by Sookie Stackhouse. I saw Stephen Moyer in the place of Bill. And even Eric took on the look of Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd (the jury is still out on whether I like the casting for this role). Despite that though, my enjoyment of the series has not been compromised in any way. It's been enhanced, if anything. I'm even more excited about the book series (if that is even possible, as it's always been among my favorites).

All Together Dead was an exciting and fun romp with old friends. I hadn't realized just how much I missed them until I began reading the book. Charlaine Harris has created a cast of characters that are memorable and interesting. In this edition of the Southern Vampire Series, Sookie joins the Louisiana contingency of vampires for a summit in Rhodes, Illinois. The vampire queen needs Sookie's expertise, her gift of reading the minds of humans. The queen is not only facing murder charges but also is in a weakened position after the damage to her area caused by Hurricane Katrina and is not sure who she can trust. When the vampire bringing the charges against the queen is murdered, it sets off a chain of events that Sookie finds herself neck deep in. Sookie reunites with fellow mind reader, Barry, and the two join forces to try and find answers as well as to save lives. If that isn't enough, the sparks are flying between Sookie and her new beau, weretiger Quinn, while Eric, the vampire sheriff, struggles with his own feelings for the blond mind reader. All Together Dead was impossible to put down and I had my own little read-a-thon as I raced to the end to find out what would happen next.

I was so entranced in Sookie Stackhouse’s world that I jumped right into the next book of the series, From Dead to Worse. Sookie finds herself in the middle a were war, a vampire coup, and a completely unexpected family discovery. With her boyfriend, Quinn, missing, an old enemy in town, and her brother’s marriage on the rocks, Sookie is feeling rather desperate. Thank goodness for her shape shifting boss, Sam, and her roommate, Amelia, the witch. From Dead to Worse seemed to be a bringing together of the series, reminiscing of past events and tying up loose ends while adding to the story lines here and there. The novel read more like a series of short stories, with the main story arc was much more personal and internal this time around.

It has been interesting to see Sookie grow over the course of the series. She led a relatively simple life when Dead Until Dark opened. In the eighth book of the series, Sookie has come into her own. Her life is much more complex and dangerous. Whereas so much in the world seemed so black and white once upon a time, Sookie finds herself straddling the line more and more. There are many more shades of gray than she ever could have imagined.

The Southern Vampire Series continues to be one of my favorites. The characters grow even more interesting with each book and the stories are intriguing. Charlaine Harris had yet to let me down.

All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris
ACE, 2007
Fantasy; 323 pgs
Rating: * (Very Good)

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
ACE, 2008
Fantasy; 359 pgs
Rating: * (Very Good)

Check out the author's website for more information about her books.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Review: Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent

I turned forty this year. Forty seems to be a sobering age for every woman, but it hit me especially hard. When most women get to be my age, they at least have some bragging rights: successful career, happy marriage, beautiful children, nice home. I had none of the above. My so-called bragging rights included a failed marriage, a dingy apartment, and twenty years’ service in a dead-end job. Cue violins.
[Excerpt from Murder Takes the Cake]

Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent
Bell Bridge Books, 2008
Crime Fiction (MYS); 260 pgs

Murder Takes a Cake was my first experience reading an e-book. Technically though, I cheated by printing the book out so that I could carry it around to read at my convenience. For those who prefer paper books, it is available in that format as well so do not despair if you decide you would like to read this book.

Daphne Martin, named by her mother after author Daphne du Maurier, has left behind an abusive husband and a dead end job in Tennessee, returning to small town Virginia to be closer to her family. She is trying her hand at running her own business, baking and decorating cakes. Daphne’s first customer just had to be Yodel Watson, the town’s meanest gossip.

Hoping that the third time is the charm, Daphne makes her way to Mrs. Watson’s house with her latest attempt to meet the older woman’s demands; only, she finds the woman dead on the floor. Gayle Trent’s cozy mystery takes off like a shot, growing more complex and multilayered as the story unfolds.

The mystery deepens when Daphne is asked to retrieve the dead woman’s diary for safe keeping until Mrs. Watson’s daughter can come to town to get it. Inside the diary, Daphne discovers secrets she may regret knowing for all the trouble it lands her in. Unfortunately, some of what she uncovers hits close to home, and she begins to question her own family’s past, particularly that of her mother, a woman Daphne does not especially get along with.

Daphne decides to search for answers herself when her name is tarnished by evidence that Mrs. Watson had been poisoned. Plus, she cannot help but to pry into her own family history.

Daphne is a well meaning character who has had a difficult past. She can be stubborn, which proves to be both a curse and an advantage as it sometimes leads her astray while at other times makes her stand her ground even when threatened. Daphne comes close to being annoying, but did not quite go over that edge fortunately. With all the small town gossip, I wondered just how much Daphne was contributing to it herself.

There is a host of interesting characters that Daphne encounters both in her inquiries and through her business. I look forward to getting to know Ben better. He is a childhood friend of Daphne’s, now a reporter with the local newspaper. One of my favorite characters, besides Sparrow, the one-eyed cat, is Juanita who works at the local grocery store. She is a very minor character, but one that holds a lot of promise. Then there are the eccentrics like Belinda Fremont who throws birthday parties for her dear guinea pigs and Fred, a bagger at the grocery store, who runs hot and cold depending on the day.

The mystery itself is curious, leading readers in a variety of directions. Although I figured out the whodunit before Daphne did, it still came as a surprise when I realized who it was.

Murder Takes the Cake has all the earmarks of a good cozy: a mystery to solve, a cast of colorful characters, humor, and tiny hint of romance. It is a promising start to a new series. You did not think I could resist a one-eyed cat, did you?

Rating: * (Good +)

Visit Gayle's Websites:
Daphne's Delectable Cakes
Gayle's Squidoo Page on Freelance Writing

Thank you to Angela with WOW! Women On Writing and author Gayle Trent for the opportunity to read and review Murder Takes the Cake.