Saturday, December 28, 2013

First Lines 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, I'm pleased to participate in an end-of-the-year meme, First Lines, for the fifth consecutive year.  Created by Melwyk from The Indextrious Reader, the idea of this meme is "to take the first line of each month's first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year."  First Lines provides a unique summary of a year in reading, and writing.  It's interesting to look back at posts from each month, and to review your blog in this manner.  I keep this meme in the back of my mind all year, as a reminder to write more compelling opening sentences, especially at the beginning of each month.  I created the graphics in this post on CoolText, a terrific graphics generator that's fun, free, and easy to use (don't worry, you can choose from a wide range of colors!).  Here are my first lines from the past year.


Lines from a well-known nursery rhyme were stuck in my head. 

My mother was an avid reader of mysteries, and I'd often wish I could emulate her in this regard.

Well, at least we get a month, right?

Really, really random.

It ain't brain surgery.

Was Virginia Woolf a foodie?

Just one book, that's all it took, yeah 
Just one book. . .
(My apologies to The Hollies)

My stacks runneth over.

At times, reading a novel leads me to some sort of a project.

Are you afraid of clowns?


It feels like Christmas!

So there you have it--my year of first lines!  If any of these opening sentences lure you in, simply click on the month above the first line to access the post. Thanks for reading, and have a safe and happy New Year!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Almost Always: Review and Giveaway

In spite of the holiday madness, I managed to carve out enough quiet time to read Almost Always by Bobbi Reed.  This is my last book review for 2013.

Published in 2012, Almost Always tells the story of fifty-four year old Eva Palmer, who's been married to John for thirty-four years.  The story begins when Eva overhears two teenagers talking in a booth at Bob Evans, a restaurant in Ohio.  Eva then initiates a conversation with a pregnant and distraught eighteen-year-old, Cecelia Rudgely.  Determined to find a baby for her daughter, Shelly, and a grandchild for herself, Eva's entranced by the idea that she could give the teenager's baby to Shelly, her daughter.  Shelly and her husband, Brad, have been trying unsuccessfully to start a family for several years, and are discouraged and disheartened,  Optimistic that things will work out, Eva embarks on a new mission, and befriends Cecelia, with the hope of giving her daughter a very precious gift--a baby.

I know we're all busy with the holidays, so I'll "cut to the chase".  Simply put, I loved this book.  I'm glad I chose to read it, because I enjoyed it greatly.  Almost Always is a well-written and believable story.  Although my words may sound clichéd, the story touched my heart, and made me laugh and cry.  (I actually cried quite a bit while reading this book.)

Eva may be meddlesome, but this protagonist was my favorite character, a homemaker and caregiver who genuinely cares about others.  I adored her character.  Eva stays true to character, as a caregiver who puts others first, and wishes to make them happy.  She also helps an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Darlene Hemley, an ailing, childless widow.  Throughout the book, which is written in the present tense, we're privy to Eva's private thoughts and feelings as a wife and mother, to her joys and doubts.  Naturally, she worries that Cecelia may ultimately decide to keep the baby.  Readers are kept in suspense, not knowing what Cecelia and her boyfriend, Jeremy, will decide to do after the baby's born.  I relished the side plots in the book, in particular Eva's husband's puzzling new hobby, making gingerbread houses from scratch, which seems feminine and out of character for him (he's a retired State Highway Patrol trooper).  Gradually, details about Eva's long marriage to John unfold throughout the pages, revealing the history of their marriage and family, which includes two adult children, Shelly and Scott. 

Almost Always is a love story of a different kind.  It's not about heady romance or glittering new love.  It's about seasoned love that has developed over the course of many years, through good times and bad. This book is about love at the very core of marriage and family, and how that love provides the courage to face each day.  I think Bobbi Reed's novel is fabulous, and highly recommend it, especially to readers who enjoy books that center around marriage and family.   

Wonderful news!  Author Bobbi Reed is generously offering an international giveaway for a copy of Almost Always (print copy, U.S.; ebook, elsewhere).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PST on Monday, January 6.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, January 7.

Thanks to Bobbi Reed for sending me a complimentary copy of her book, and for offering a giveaway to my readers.  Your comments are welcomed, as always.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mailbox Monday

Aren't books and boxes beautiful?  I've combined the two in this iPhone photo because we've been getting fruit and other treats in stunning boxes this season in the mail.  Many of these boxes will be reused to hold ornaments and cards and other stuff.  Book wise, I received Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat from the author, and We by Michael Landweber for an upcoming TLC tour.

Something else arrived in the mail for the holidays, an adorable red sweater for Daisy, custom crocheted by Naida, the bookworm.

The color is bright, the fit is just right, and it keeps Daisy toasty warm.

The sweater works well with her harness, so it's perfect for walks! 

Created by Marcia from To Be Continued, Mailbox Monday is a fun, social meme that's been "on tour" for the past few years.  Gilion from Rose City Reader is the host for December.  What new books have you added to your collection recently?

Monday, December 9, 2013

The First Phone Call from Heaven

I'm crying as I type up this review.  For the past few years, I've kept a phone message from my mother from May of 2011. She passed away less than a month later, of cancer.  In the message, she's telling me that her most recent cancer treatment was okay.  She's reassuring me, as she often did. (After her first chemo treatment, about ten months earlier, she called me on my cell, to let me know that it was tolerable.)  Her message is definitely a "keeper", a connection to her that I want to save, forever.  When I need to hear my mother's voice, I listen to her last message.  The power of hearing someone's voice is very great, very real.

Something extraordinary happens in  The First Phone Call from Heaven, the new book by Mitch Albom, published in 2013.  The people of Coldwater, Michigan, begin to get phone calls from deceased loved ones.  Coldwater is just another ordinary small town, until the phone calls begin.  Phone calls from heaven.  

  • Tess Rafferty's deceased mother, Ruth, calls and leaves a message on the answering machine for her daughter.
  • Police chief Jack Sellers gets a call from his deceased son, Robbie, who tells him not to worry.
  • Katherine Yellin excitedly tells Pastor Warren that she's received a call from Diane, her deceased sister. 

This is just the beginning of the calls from heaven.  Initially the calls are met with shock and disbelief, but this changes into joy and anticipation and excitement as time goes on, for most of the recipients. They relish hearing the voices of their loved ones, and they relish their words. The deceased tell loved ones not to worry, that they are at peace, that heaven is magnificent. The dead are miraculously able to communicate, by phone, with their loved ones.

Katherine decides to share the amazing news and tells the congregation at the Harvest of Hope congregation about her phone calls from her sister, which began three weeks earlier.  She tells them that Diane's soul is alive in heaven, and that she's been calling regularly.  The town is suddenly cast into the spotlight, and the whole character of Coldwater quickly changes as a result of people's reactions and invasive media attention which focuses on the phone calls from heaven.

But some people, including Sully Harding, who's suffering because his wife, Giselle, died tragically, thinks the calls are a hoax, while Sully's young son, Jules, wishes that his mom would call from heaven.  Many suspend their skepticism and want to believe that the calls are real, because the calls reassure them and indicate that a beautiful heaven awaits.  The book brought to mind The Miracle on 34th Street, a movie I've loved since I was a child.  To believe or not to believe, that is the question.  As a reader, I wanted to believe.    

I'm a big fan of Mitch Albom's work, so I was thrilled to be among the first to read this book (an uncopyedited manuscript I'm not to quote from).  I've read Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven,  For One More Day, and Have a Little Faith.  Books written by Mitch Albom always manage to engage my emotions.  His books get to me, because he writes about belief and faith and life and death, in an eloquent, intelligent, and loving manner.  This time, I felt as if I were rediscovering the author and his tremendous talents as a storyteller.  While reading the book, I imagined how'd I feel if my mother called me from heaven.  She'd sound as cheerful as she always did, and although she wouldn't stay on the phone for too long (she never did), she'd convey her care and concern for me.

The First Phone Call from Heaven is an incredibly inspiring story about what happens to people when they hear from their deceased loved ones.  Will this astonishing communication with the deceased incite the residents of this small town, and people elsewhere, to live more joyfully and lovingly?  I think you know the answer to this question.

Special thanks to Trish from TLC for sending me the first edition of this novel.  For more reviews of the book, please visit the other stops on TLC's blog tour for The First Phone Call from Heaven.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Shadows In My Room & What’s That Noise?

At bedtime, many young children become anxious and have difficulty falling asleep.  A fear of the dark is a common fear among children, who imagine various dangers concealed by darkness.  Children who dread being left alone in their bedrooms at night may request story after story at bedtime, because they don't want to be left alone in the dark.  Shadows In My Room & What's That Noise?: Bedtime Stories by Linda Weaver Clarke is a book that will be released the third week of December (although it's available now on Amazon).  It's comprised of two stories that address specific fears that many young children have at night.

In the first story, Shadows In My Room, a young girl named Kayla wants to be as brave as her brother, Adam, but she becomes nervous at night.  She's scared of the shadows she sees outside of her window, and inside of her room.  Mama comes in to reassure Kayla.  She's loving and doesn't belittle her daughter.  Mama also talks about the power of imagination.

In the second story, What's That Noise?, a young girl named Amber hears a "spooky sound" outside.  She considers going into her brother Cameron's room for safety, but then she hears it again, and cries out for her mother.  Mama comes into Amber's bedroom and they talk about the sounds they hear.  She spends time with her daughter, and offers her imaginative explanations and reassurance. 

Both of these sweet bedtime stories will appeal to children, especially to those who become fearful when darkness falls. The stories are not too long or too short--they seem just about right for reading before bedtime or naptime.  Shadows In My Room & What's That Noise? is only 29 pages long.  A parent or other caregiver could read one story and save the second one for the next time, or read both of them at once if time permits.  I read these on my iPad mini, which makes a nifty eReader.  The author's husband, George Ames Clarke, helped design the book, which features illustrations by Matthew Cole.  The cheerful, bright colors and cartoons will appeal to children and their parents.  These gentle stories offer comfort at bedtime, and should help children to fall asleep and have sweet dreams.

Thanks to author Linda Weaver Clarke for sharing her wonderful new book with me.  Kid Konnection is hosted each Saturday by Booking Mama.  If you'd like to participate, simply post about a children's book (picture, middle grade, or young adult), and stop by Booking Mama to add your post to the Mister Linky.

Your comments are welcomed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mailbox Monday: It Feels Like Christmas

It feels like Christmas!  When packages of books arrive in the mail, they bring Christmas to mind, year-round.  Recently I've won and received more than my fair share of books and other goodies, pictured above.  I won Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle on Kristin's blog, Always With a Book, Songs of Three Islands by Millicent Monk on Leslie's blog, Under My Apple Tree, and Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui on Bellezza's blog, Dolce Bellezza.  Additionally, I won a Buried Leads swag prize package from LynDee Walker on Yvonne's blog, Socrates' Book Reviews, which includes bookmarks, a wine glass charm, and Ghiradelli Peppermint Bark candy.

Created by Marcia from To Be Continued, Mailbox Monday is a wonderful, weekly meme that's been "on tour" for the past few years. December’s host is Gilion from Rose City Reader.  What new books have you recently added to your shelves?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mailbox Monday and the Book Blogger's Dilemma

What's the best way to photograph books?  You want to be fair to the authors, book cover artists and designers, but you also want a decent, eye-catching photo.

 This is a snazzy picture of my new books, but it only shows the top book cover!

This shows most of each of the book covers--but does the photo draw you in?

Here's a classic way to highlight books for Mailbox Monday.  However, it shows only the top cover, and the book spine poetry aspect of this particular stack is definitely lacking.

When you have only a couple of new books to showcase, it's fairly easy to show the covers, but you need to be more creative with a larger stack.  What's your approach to this dilemma?  ;)


These are the books pictured above, which I received in the mail from agents and authors:

Freedom Fries and Café Crème by Jocelyne Rapinac
Almost Always by Bobbi Reed
House of Miracles by Ulrica Hume (featured in my last MM post, but I've included it again because it happened to be "hanging out" with my newest books)

Please stay tuned for my reviews of these books.

Created by Marcia from To Be Continued, Mailbox Monday is a fun, social meme that's been "on tour" for the past few years.  This weekly meme needs a new home; if you're interested, please contact Marcia.  November’s host is Crystal from I totally paused!

What new books have you added to your shelves recently?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Winner of Unravelled, and The Friday 56

And the winner is. . .

Anna from Diary of an Eccentric!

Congratulations, Anna!  You've won an ebook edition of Unravelled by M.K. Tod.  To whet your appetite, here's a snippet from the novel, from page 56:

"Stark flashes of red lit the clouds as he rounded another corner and saw stretcher-bearers coming towards him followed by a stumbling line of German prsisoners, one of them dressed in pyjamas.  On the stretcher lay a gray-faced soldier bleeding from wounds in the arm and leg.  Edward squeezed past the smells of blood and fear."
~Unravelled, M.K. Tod

The Friday 56 is a meme hosted by Freda's Voice.  If you want to play along, the rules are simple:
  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56.
  • Find a sentence, or a few, to share in a post. 
  • Add your post's link to the linky.

Thanks to everyone who entered this giveaway.  Please remember to take a look at the other giveaways listed on the right side of my blog.  As a courtesy to my readers, I'm often updating and adding to the list.

As always, I welcome your comments.  Thank you for reading!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What I Came to Tell You: A Guest Review

Move to the South, become a writer?  Lately I've been wondering if there's a unique inspiration in the South that leads to the pen.  I've noticed a new wave of authors in the southern states, including the Carolinas, although perhaps it's only my awareness of them which is new.  At any rate, one of "my" southern authors, Steve Cushman, the author of Heart With Joy, wrote a review of another southerner's book, Tommy Hay's book, published in 2013, What I Came to Tell You.  I enjoyed the review, and decided to share it with my readers.  I've also linked it to Kid Konnection, as the book is geared toward children in middle school.  I like that this book features a prominent, southern literary figure. You'll have to read the review to find out who I'm talking about!


What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays:
A Guest Review by Steve Cushman

Asheville author Tommy Hays’ first middle grade novel, What I Came to Tell You is sure to touch the hearts of readers young and old alike.  The novel follows Grover Johnston, a 12-year-old Asheville boy, as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his mother 6 months earlier.  

After her death, Grover retreats into the bamboo forest near his house and creates beautiful weavings, or tapestries, out of bamboo and leaves and branches and anything else he can find.  While Grover retreats into the woods, his father spends more and more time at work, managing the failing Thomas Wolfe house and essentially leaving Grover and his 10-year-old sister, Sudie, to fend for themselves.

If things weren’t difficult enough for the Johnstons, it looks as though one local man’s greed may take away the very things that are keeping them going--the bamboo forest and the Thomas Wolfe house.  But over the course of a few months, the Asheville community along with new neighbors, the Roundtrees, who are recovering from their own loss, help put Grover and his family on the path to healing and loving each other again.  

The novel is set in Asheville, and Hays does a fine job of pulling in the local feel of the town with its bookstores and coffee shops.  The town’s most famous literary figure, Thomas Wolfe, is also omnipresent throughout.  The cemetery where Grover’s mother is buried also contains Wolfe’s family.  And Grover and his sister are named after characters in Wolfe’s most famous novel, Look Homeward, Angel.  

Hays is the Executive Director of the Great Smokies Writing Program and teaches at UNC Asheville.  His previous novel, The Pleasure was Mine, was a wonderful story of loss and connection and the importance of family, and was selected for several community-wide reading programs in various cities and counties, including Greenville, SC, and Greensboro, NC.

While What I Came To Tell You is aimed at younger readers, it certainly will catch and keep the interest of readers of all ages.  Anyone who believes in the healing power of art, and family and love, will find something here that will touch them and make them glad they’d taken the time read this new gem of a novel by one of North Carolina’s best writers, Tommy Hays.


Thank you for this terrific review, Steve!  Kid Konnection is hosted each Saturday by Booking Mama.  Your comments are welcomed, as always. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Unravelled: Review and Giveaway

Published in 2013, Unravelled by M.K. Tod is a historical novel that focuses on Edward Jamieson, a signaller who fought in Vimy Ridge, and his wife, Ann.  Although Edward is haunted by the horrors he experienced in WWI, he and his wife travel from their home in Toronto to France in 1936 for the Vimy memorial dedication ceremony.  At the ceremony, Edward spots his former love, Helene Noisette, whom he met before meeting his wife; the attraction between Edward and Helene is still strong.  (Oh, oh!)  The story is set in the 1930s and 1940s (chapters are dated), and begins with this trip to France.  Later in the book, at the onset of  WWII, Edward joins a group training espionage agents, and often travels, while Ann stays at home to take care of the house and the children, Emily and Alex, and also volunteers to counsel grieving women.  Leading separate lives due to the nature of their work (and other factors) during WWII, the couple grows apart, and their marriage begins to unravel.

"Disconnected sentences gradually gave way to a flood of words as Ann disclosed her fears that Edward would never return, that her marriage was over, that life would never be the same, that she would not have the strength to go on.  When she finally stopped, they sat in silence again for several minutes.  A calm, comforting silence."
~Unravelled, M.K. Tod

Unravelled is a page turner and then some.  Passionate, exciting, and intense, this book depicts the profound effects of both wars on people and focuses on the marriage and family life of the Jamiesons.  I was moved to tears a few times.  The novel gives us the private, innermost thoughts of both protagonists, Edward and Ann.  We're privy to their secrets, and they earn our compassion. We feel their anguish and joy and everything in-between; we witness their struggles to keep their marriage--and themselves--intact.  (I'm married, and I enjoy reading about married people; so many books focus on singles searching for love.)  The themes in the book are serious--war, death, survival, love, marriage, sex (including adultery)--so this book is best suited for adults.  Because Edward and Ann spend a lot of time apart, they experience loneliness and uncertainty, and their marriage becomes noticeably strained during wartime.  They make mistakes which threaten to destroy their marriage and family.  (I wanted to admonish them at times, but of course, characters in a book do not listen to readers!)

The battles and campaigns mentioned in the book are based on actual events, and the entire feel of the book is authentic.  Although I'm not an expert on WWI or WWII, the book is well researched (sources are cited by the author in the Afterword), and M.K.Tod brings them to life in a riveting fashion.  This novel will appeal to those who relish novels about WWI and WWII, as well as stories about love, marriage, and family.  As for me, I could not put this book down!  I think it would make a great historical movie (although I haven't decided yet who I'd cast as the male or female leads).  I'm currently sleep deprived, as Unravelled has kept me up late the past few nights.  But it was definitely worth it.

Wonderful news!  France Book Tours is offering an international giveaway for an ebook edition of Unravelled.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PST on Thursday, November 14.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Friday, November 15.

Thanks to Emma from France Book Tours for sending me a copy of this novel.  For additional reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on the book tour for Unravelled.  Although this is not an epistolary novel, it features several letters and telegrams which contribute substantially to the story, so I've linked my review to the Postal Reading Challenge on Melwyk's blog, The Indextrious Reader

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Really Random Tuesday #74: Dealing with Bedside Books (again!), a Giveaway Winner, and Toasted Pecans

Geez!  Why do books congregate at the sides of the bed?  I finally put some of my stacks of books in an oversized tote bag and moved them out of the bedroom, because the small bookcase by my bed was looking extremely cluttered.  My stacks of books looked about ready to topple over!  I didn't want to get rid of any books, I just wanted the area cleaned up.  It's much, much better than it was.  Next, I need to tackle the books by my husband's side of the bed (photo below).  A box or two should do the trick.  I wish we had room for more bookcases.  That would solve the challenge of having so many books! 

Hubby's bedside needs help!


As promised, I have a book winner to announce.  Jaclyn from Jaclyn at the Thrift has won a copy of Commune of Women by Suzan Still.  Congratulations, Jaclyn!  I haven't read this book, but I read and enjoyed  Fiesta of Smoke, a historical novel by the same author.

If you didn't win this time, why not take a look at the other giveaways listed on the right side of my blog?  Later this week, I'll have a new, international giveaway for an ebook edition of Unravelled by M.K. Tod, the book I'm currently reading, so please return here to enter that giveaway if you're interested.


As the days become cooler and shorter, I enjoy being indoors, warm and toasty in my home.  My cat and dog mostly "hang out" in the core of my home--the den and kitchen--so I try to spend more time with them in the evenings, reading on the couch, or working in the kitchen.  Every once in a while, I get inspired to try a new, healthy recipe while I'm in this part of my home.

Recently I've noticed recipes for toasting pecans on Joy Bauer's Food Cures, and other wonderful food websites.  Raw pecans can be toasted in an oven (or toaster oven) at 350° for about 5 -10 minutes, or in a pan on the stove top, on low to medium heat.  I've tried making them both ways, and they're simply scrumptious either way.  Lately, I've been more partial to cooking them on the stove top--so I don't have to wait for the oven to preheat.  To toast pecans in a pan, I usually add a smidgen of coconut oil to the pan, then a liberal sprinkle or two of cinnamon, and a bit of pink Hawaiian salt.  You can add whatever spices you wish to the nuts--sometimes I add cayenne.  Last time I made these--yesterday evening--I added a squeeze of raw, organic honey as well.  The toasted pecans taste rich and buttery--they are quite a treat!  I use as many organic ingredients as I possibly can, although organic pecans can be rather expensive (I wish Trader Joe's carried them!). 

Toasting pecans in a pan is very easy

Toasted pecans, ready to be enjoyed


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  I often announce book winners in these posts.  If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, then add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page

Your comments are welcomed! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Wild Words (from Wild Women)

I've wanted to do this for the longest time.  In addition to my 365 New Words-a-Year calendar, I have a Wild Words from Wild Women calendar, which I keep on my antique desk in the den.  This calendar features quotations (often called "quotes", as language has become more casual) from the "world's most famous and infamous women".  I decided to highlight their words this week for Wondrous Words Wednesday, as Kathy, this meme's lovely and intelligent host, says in her brief directions, "feel free to get creative!".

1. October 30:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
~ Marianne Williamson, creator of A Course in Miracles

You've probably read this before.  I know I have, numerous times.  But I had forgotten who said this, although when I was first married, I read some of Marianne Willamson's inspirational books.

2. October 31, Halloween:

"A lot of parents are strange; they say, 'Ration the candy.'  I say, "Let them eat as much as they want--they throw up, the rest is mine.'  That's how I handle Halloween."
~ Cory Kahaney, joke jock
Let them eat candy.  A fun quotation for Halloween!

3. November 1:

"Be an arrogant idiot.  You know those guys around the office who share their opinions without thinking, who rally everyone around their big (often unformed) ideas?  Be more like them.  You can afford to move a few inches in that direction."
~Tara Sophia Mohr, leadership coach
I agree that many women hold themselves back, for various reasons.  These words encourage us to have more confidence in our ideas, and to be more outspoken.  Good advice, I think.

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme, created and hosted by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog, where you can share your love of words--and exercise your creativity!  What new words have you discovered recently?

Friday, October 25, 2013

'Tis the Season for Gone Reading

It's time to think outside of the book.  While the frenzied nature of the holiday season ahead may curtail reading time, we can incorporate our love for books and reading in a different manner.

I'm a huge fan of GoneReading, a wonderful website that features gifts for readers.  On a philanthropic mission, GoneReading donates 100% of their after-tax profits to reading-related charities, and they recently funded a children’s library in Ethiopia, the Gebeta Community Children’s Library.

Thinking about starting my holiday shopping, I browsed through the newly expanded GoneReading site, and found some very cool items for readers. They have book shaped plates and platters that would be perfect for snacks served at book club meetings--or book blogger conventions--or simply as gifts for a favorite reader or two.

GoneReading's floating book shelf caught my eye.  Stacked books  appear to float in space, striking and surreal.

GoneReading also has a best-selling board game for readers called, “It was a Dark & Stormy Night".  To play this game of "first lines", participants listen to the opening line or two of a book, then try to identify its title or author.  (Do you know the origin of "It was a dark and stormy night"?  I had to visit Wikipedia to refresh my memory.)  This game would be a lot of fun to play at gatherings with other book lovers.  GoneReading also has a terrific trivia game for the legion of "P. & P." fans.

When you shop at GoneReading, you can save 20% by using the discount code SUKOS20 at the check-out (good until the end of the year).  All purchases from GoneReading contribute to their philanthropic work, which helps to increase literacy around the world!

Thanks for reading! Comments welcomed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fiesta of Smoke: Review and Giveaway

Broad in scope yet richly detailed, Fiesta of Smoke is a historical novel by Suzan Still, published in 2013.  The book is about Calypso Searcy, a successful American novelist, and Javier Carteña, a commander of insurgent Mexican forces, who meet in Berkeley and fall in love.  Many years later, in Paris, an investigative reporter, Hill, becomes involved in and absorbed by Calypso's disappearance, and her story.

As the story unfolds, the book takes us to many places, goes backward and forward in time, and the author depicts fifty years of the history of Mexico.  Although the first chapter of the book takes place in Paris in 1992, the story transports us to various parts of Mexico and other places--back and forth numerous times--and includes the present (2012) and the Conquest of the 1500s, and many years in between.  As a reader, this was, to my relief, quite easy to follow, because the place and time (and main character) is provided as a guide in each section, which helped a great deal.

The author spent thirty years working on this book (although she set it aside at times)--and it shows.  Suzan Still's writing is beautiful, powerful, and lyrical, and the descriptions of places in Mexico are particularly striking.

"On one trip to Mexico's Sierra Madre, they had managed an entire week of complete felicity.  They rode the train, the Chihuahua al Pacifico, to the rim of the Barrancas de Cobre, then hiked into the village, still innocent of roads, where he was born.  They stayed at his cousin's old adobe house with its wide plank floors and patio bordered in flower gardens and lived an idyll of sweet wood smoke, tortillas hot from the comal and the flat clang of the cracked church bell in its listing adobe tower."
~ Fiesta of Smoke, Suzan Still 

Completely captivating, this story comes to life and is believable, although it does feature a few events which could be called magical realism; the author believes these instances are "expressions of dimensions of experience that are available to anyone under the proper circumstances" (from the author interview in the back of the book).  Primarily, Fiesta of Smoke is a unique love story between two enchanting characters who draw you into their world fully, Calypso and Javier, who also share a love for social justice.  I think the characters make this book so outstanding, Calypso, Javier, and other significant characters, like Hill, Farabundo, Estrella, and Carmelita.  Calypso is an especially strong and interesting protagonist, and other women in this book are also important, along with the concept of the Divine Feminine.  As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I want to read more by this talented author.

Buenas nuevas! In conjunction with TLC book tours, The Story Plant is generously offering a copy of Commune of Women, the author's earlier book, as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).  I'm not sure if I can enter this giveaway as I'm the host, but I'd sure like to read this book!

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PST on Monday, November 4.  A winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, November 5.  Good luck! 

Special thanks to Trish from TLC for sending me a complimentary copy of this novel.  For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's blog tour for Fiesta of Smoke.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mailbox Monday: New Books and a Sweater for Daisy

Last week, I received two books in the mail, House of Miracles by Ulrica Hume, and The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom, which arrived for an upcoming tour with TLC.  I also got an adorable, handmade, crocheted sweater from Naida, the bookworm, for Daisy, my feisty little Chihuahua blend puppy.  As you can see, the color and fit are perfect for her.  Thank you very much, Naida!

Created by Marcia from To Be Continued, Mailbox Monday is a meme that gives book lovers a reason to relish Mondays.  This month, Gina from Book Dragon's Lair is hosting Mailbox Monday.

What new books did you add to your shelves recently?

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Friday 56: Coulrophobia, and the Monk Book Winner

Are you afraid of clowns?  Do you believe that their garish faces and outlandish costumes hide evil interiors?  It's difficult to say exactly how common this phobia is, or if it's prevalence is exaggerated.  But it's no mystery that Adrian Monk's list of one hundred major phobias includes coulrophobia.

" 'Hazard pay?'  Stottlemeyer snorted.  'For one thing, you're a homicide consultant, so it's always hazardous.  That's the job.
And . . . it's a clown, for God's sake.  A clown!'
'Don't say that!'  Monk shuddered and sank away."
 ~ Mr. Monk Helps Himself, Hy Conrad

The Friday 56 is a meme hosted by Freda's Voice.  If you want to play along, the rules are simple:
  • Grab a book, any book.
  • Turn to page 56.
  • Find a sentence, or a few, to share in a post. 
  • Add your post's link to the linky.

I'm also ready to announce the winner of the giveaway for Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad, a book I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing recently for Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.  Please help me to congratulate the lucky winner, Carol M.  Congratulations, Carol!  I think you'll enjoy reading this marvelous mystery.  If you didn't win this novel, why not take a look at the other giveaways listed in my blog's right sidebar?  You might discover another book that you'd like to win.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed, as always.
Joseph Grimaldi clown picture courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mr. Monk Helps Himself: Review and Giveaway

Have you met Monk yet?  This was my first meeting with detective Adrian Monk, "a brilliant San Francisco detective whose obsessive compulsive disorder just happens to get in the way". Published in the summer of 2013, Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad is a cozy mystery, the first novel in the series to be written by this author, who spent eight years writing for the Monk television series.  The book is set in San Francisco (one of my favorite cities), and is narrated by Monk's assistant, Natalie Teeger, who's studying for her PI license.

"Monk himself isn't a licensed PI.  For one thing, he's horrible at tests.  Not because of the questions, but because he has to sharpen and resharpen the pencil and then fill in every circle so that it's completely black and within the borders. So it's up to me to get the license and incorporate and make our business legit.  Monk and Tegger, Consulting Detectives."
~ Mr. Monk Helps Himself, Hy Conrad    

Natalie is at a Best Possible Me retreat when the leader, Miranda Bigley, suddenly jumps off a cliff.   Her death looks like suicide, but Natalie supects it's murder.  Adrian Monk is also at the self-help retreat at Half Moon Bay, to rescue Natalie from this apparent cult.  But Detective Monk, who suffers from OCD and has numerous issues with cleanliness, aardvarks, and other things, is mostly concerned about helping the SFPD solve the case of a murder of a clown, even though he suffers from intense coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

My first impression of the Monk series is quite a favorable one.  The title of this book is perfect, Hy Conrad's writing seems effortless, and the book is funny and riveting.  I loved the humor that runs through the book, which brings us Monk's obsession with cleaning light bulbs, and a shop named Poop on Union Street, although the book has an affecting, underlying sadness as well, because Monk's wife, Trudy, was killed by a car bomb, which remains a devastating, unsolved murder.  We have empathy for Monk, who was fired from the SFPD when his fears grew disabling, and hired back four years later as a consulting detective because of his keen ability to solve perplexing cases.

Although I like to figure things out myself whenever I read a mystery, perhaps most importantly, I've rediscovered something else--cozy mysteries are fun and entertaining!  At least, good ones are.  Additionally, Mr. Monk Helps Himself sparked my interest in watching the TV series, which I'd heard of but have never seen.  (Naturally, I turned to Wikipedia for help in this area.)  Monk (2002 - 2009; eight seasons) is an American detective television series created by Andy Breckman, starring Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk.  Having read this one book, I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy watching the TV series as well, largely because the characters, especially Natalie, Monk, Ellen, and Devlin, are great.  By this I mean that they're quirky and caring and likable; I'm eager to see these mysteries enacted (and I love another TV mystery series, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series).  I truly enjoyed reading this comedic yet heatrending mystery novel.  More Monk, please!

Wonderful news!  Author Hy Conrad is generously offering a copy of Mr. Monk Helps Himself as a giveaway to one randomly chosen reader.  This giveaway is international (U.S./Canada, choice of print or ebook; ebook elsewhere)!

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. 
  • Have you read other Monk books, or watched the TV show?  If so, leave a comment about this for an additional entry.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Thursday, October 10.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Friday, October 11.  Good luck!

Thanks to Teddy from Premier Virtual Author Book Tours for sending me a complimentary copy of this mystery novel.  I am the last stop on this book tour.  For more reviews and giveaways, please visit the other stops on the Mr. Monk Helps Himself book tour.

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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