Friday, October 31, 2008

7 Random Facts - Book Edition

Monie over at Reading with Monie tagged me for the "Random Facts" tag - Book Edition.

Unfortunately today is crazy on the home front, so I can't play. I think it's a fun idea though, so click back to her site and join in!

Winner - Giveaway - The Heretic's Daughter

The winner of the giveaway of The Heretic's Daughter, courtesy of Hachette Books was picked using And that person is:

Sara of Win a Book Contests !

Congratulations! I know you'll love it as much as I did - you can read my review here.

The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent

I just turned the last page.... Wow.... What a really, really good book!

It seems appropriate to post this on October 31 as The Heretic's Daughter is a novel of the Salem Witch Trials. We have all heard of them, but Kathleen Kent has more than heard of them. She is a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier, who was hanged for a witch in Salem in 1692. Stories of Martha have been passed down through her mother's family for generations. Kent has taken fact and blended it with fictional license to tell the story of Martha, her husband Thomas and their five children.

The book opens with Martha's daughter Sarah writing a letter to her granddaughter in 1752, finally revealing the secret she has guarded for sixty years. From this letter, we go back and relive Sarah's past.

I'm not going to go into much more plot detail. Kathleen Kent spent five years researching and writing this book. Her attention to detail and descriptions of people, events and attitudes bring this terrible time in history alive on the page. I was moved by the love and fortitude of this family - I was crying my eyes out at the end.

Miriam from Hachette Books hosted a Blog Talk Radio interview with Kathleen Kent. Hearing her speak about her writing and research was an added bonus.

This was such a powerful debut novel. I can't wait to read her second.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Free Books

Okay I know that got your attention - mine as well! Here's a site you might be interested in - Free Book Friday.

What's it all about?

"Jessica Brody, author of The Fidelity Files (St. Martin’s Press – 2008) was searching for creative new ways to market her debut novel and collaborate with fellow authors at the same time. She noticed that free giveaways seemed to be highly effective in driving website traffic so she came up with the idea for, a website that, true to its name, promotes authors by giving away free books every Friday."

"About Free Book Friday: The concept is simple. Each week, a new author is featured with an exclusive author interview podcast and a drawing to win free signed copies of his/her book. Website visitors are asked to sign up to be eligible and winners are chosen at random and posted on the site every Friday morning. Hence the name, "Free Book Friday!" - Jessica Brody

And a new Teen Free Book Friday launches November 1st.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life After Genius - M. Ann Jacoby

Just released today is M. Ann Jacoby's debut novel Life After Genius.

Teddy Fegley is smart, very smart - in fact he's a genius. Having endured taunts and teasing all his life in his small town of High Grove, he is more than ready to escape this - and his mother. He refers to his mother as the six legged monster for her annoying habit of sitting in a chair watching him. Teddy is excited to go to University. He is young, only fifteen, but is more than ready to start fresh and decides to go by his middle name - Mead - and leave Teddy behind.

Cruelly, Mead discovers there will be no fresh start, other than academically. He struggles to fit in and find his place, but is again subjected to ridicule. He immerses himself in his studies and excels. His work on the Riemann Hypothesis - a math equation- is second to none.

A few days before his graduation, he abruptly leaves school and runs back home. Herman, the one friend he had made, may be at the root of the leaving. Mead wonders if he has foiled Herman's scheme.

"...watching his master plan crumble to pieces before his eyes...'

What scheme, what plan, what could Herman have possibly done to Mead that would make him leave his beloved studies?

At home his mother is determined to get to the bottom of things and fix it all. His father is patient, understanding and willing to let Mead tell him what's going on when he is ready to. Mead joins his father and uncle at the family furniture and undertaking business.

We are witness to the struggles of Teddy's childhood, and Mead's efforts to overcome the 'genius' label placed on him by both his family and the town. His family is not immune to discord either. There are many unresolved issues that come to light with Mead's return to High Grove. The story is told back and forth, from High Grove to the Chicago University. We slowly piece together what has happened between Mead and Herman.

It was sometimes difficult to read of the cruelty dished out to Teddy/Mead. He gamely keeps trying, optimistic again and again. He often does what he thinks is the right thing, only to have it turn out 'wrong'.

M. Ann Jacoby based the character of Mead on her father, who was also a math genius. You can watch a video here of her discussing Life Before Genius.

I enjoyed this novel very much. Mead is an engaging character, with a wonderful sense of humour and an indomitable spirit. Other characters are also drawn well, eliciting strong responses. This is a truly moving story of a young man who is book smart, but struggling to find his way outside of the books. You'll find yourself cheering for and laughing with Mead as he struggles to find his place in the world.

This is a great new release from Hachette Books . You can have a peek inside below...

Or see what some of my fellow bloggers thought of it;

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mega Picture Puzzles- by What!Design

--Challenge Yourself to Spot the Differences--

Okay I admit it - I love puzzles, jumbles, crosswords, sudoku, spot the differences, any game that keeps your mind active. Does anyone else remember the hidden picture puzzle in Highlights Magazine from their younger years?

This new release from Ulysses Press features 148 different puzzles. There are two of every photograph, all in full colour with up to twelve differences between the two images. They range in difficulty from starter to advanced, something for all ages. And if you're really stuck - the answers are in the back. There are a series of boxes to check off the differences as you spot them. I was a bit loath to mark up the book, as it is so nice.

I was thinking that this would be a good book to have on hand to give as a gift - birthday or Christmas.

Thanks to Mini Book Expo for the opportunity to review this book!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent - Blog Talk Radio Interview and Giveaway

*** This giveaway is closed****
Join Miriam from Hachette Books on Wednesday, October 29/08 at 1:00 pm ET for a Blog Talk Radio interview with Katheleen Kent - author of The Heretic's Daughter.

You can either dial in at 646-378-0040 or listen online at this link.

This is a perfect read for Hallowe'en! Salem Witch Trials........

And thanks to Hachette Books, here's your chance to win a copy for yourself. Open to both US and Canadian residents. No PO Boxes. Just comment below and please make sure I have a way to contact you! Giveaway ends Wednesday Oct 29/08 at midnight.

No Such Creature - Giles Blunt

I have long been a fan of Canadian Giles Blunt and his John Cardinal crime series. Blunt is another one of those authors I just know is going to be a good read.

I was surprised to find that this was not part of the series, but a stand alone book. After the first twenty pages I was hooked and could not put it down.

Owen has been raised by his great uncle Max since he was orphaned at twelve. Max is a failed thespian, but is a very accomplished but genteel thief. Owen is now eighteen and their road trips across America robbing rich Republicans have honed his skills as well. Using acting skills, disguises and charm they have so far steered clear of violence. Owen is thinking of packing it in after this summer to attend Julliard and study drama. He plans to tell Max soon. It is in Vegas that things start to go sour. There is a shadowy legend among thieves about a gang called the Subtractors - mysterious men who steal from other thieves and use whatever means necessary to get what they want. And it looks like they want the riches from Owen and Max's last job. On the road with them now is Sabrina, the daughter of a former 'associate' of Max, who is running from a problem as well - named Bill.

As Sabrina says "Living with a criminal - or being one - is like living on the Titanic. You just know it isn't going to end well."

This is a story that grabs you and just doesn't let go. I kept turning pages well into the night. The plot is great but it is the witty dialogue and characters that stand out for me. The character of Max fairly leaps off the page, larger than life. Max's soliloquies, his manner of speech and pronouncements on life are funny yet poignant. Although we know they are thieves, Max's gang - including the trivia obsessed Roscoe and Pookie - are likable and Max, though flawed, is lovable even. Certainly he loves Owen.

This is a story of larceny, love, heartache, humour and life. Definitely not your typical crime story, but boy is it a good one!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Written in Blood - Sheila Lowe

-- A Forensic Handwriting Mystery--

Many of today's best forensic crime novels are penned by authors with a background or career in the area they're writing about. We've seen the handwriting expert on shows such as CSI, but Sheila Lowe is the real deal. She works as a court qualified handwriting expert. She has written books and developed software used in handwriting analysis.

So, her new series featuring graphology expert Claudia Rose is full of fascinating information on the many ways handwriting can be used - determining document authenticity as well as personality, emotional traits and characteristics.

Paige Sorensen hires Claudia to prove that the will made out by her much older, rich, deceased husband is not a forgery. His adult children are contesting the will that leaves everything to Paige, including a prestigious private school -The Sorensen Academy. Claudia becomes more involved than she should, as she is concerned by a troubled student everyone seems to have written off. She begins graphotherapy sessions with Annabelle, hoping to help her. There's more trouble than just a contested will bubbling under the polished veneer of The Sorensen Academy and Claudia is smack dab in the middle of it all.

I wondered- how could a complete novel be built around a handwriting expert? I was pleasantly surprised. Claudia is a spunky woman whose natural curiosity and caring lead her into more than she bargained for. Mix in a cop boyfriend, some fun friends, a personal life and Claudia is soon fleshed out to become more 'real'.

I had a few problems suspending disbelief with some of the procedural details. For example - when Claudia chooses to not contact the police with information that may help them. But these did not detract from the overall story.

Lowe has created an engaging new sleuth in an untapped area of expertise. Written in Blood is the second in this series. Poison Pen is the first. You can read sample chapters of both here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

À La Cart - Hillary Carlip

--The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers --

Okay, this was just one of those absolutely quirky fun books I had to share.

Hillary Carlip started collecting shopping lists she found as a teenager. This book is the result of that collection. She has taken each list and based on the items listed, the notepaper used and the handwriting, has concocted a story for the twenty six lists in the book. If that wasn't enough, she then becomes each character and is photographed in a shopping environment that matches the list. The transformations are quite spectacular. Take a look at the cover again - those are all Carlip!

Fans of Tracey Ullman or The Office would appreciate the humour in this book!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Murder Takes the Cake - Gayle Trent

Murder Takes the Cake is a brand new series from Gayle Trent, just released by Bell Bridge Books.

Middle aged Daphne Martin moves back home to small town Virgina to start over after her marriage ends. She settles in and opens 'Daphne's Delectable Cakes.' She is delivering her third attempt- a spice cake with cream cheese icing - to Yodel Watson. Her previous two cakes have been rejected by hard to please Yodel. However, Yodel won't be rejecting this cake - she's dead. Is it murder or natural causes?

Yodel was the town gossip and kept track of everything in a diary. Yodel's out of town daughter asks Daphne to pick up the diary from her mother's house for her.

'Mother kept a diary - a virtual tell-all of the happenings in the community. If someone killed her , the reason why is in that book".

This stretches believability a little bit. If that's the case, why not give the book to the police?

In any case, Daphne does pick up the book and begins to read it. She discovers much more than she had bargained for. Her family is mentioned in the book, along with half the town. It looks like a lot of people had motives to kill Yodel - including her own family. And half the town thinks it was Daphne's spice cake that killed Yodel! So Daphne sets out to clear her name.

The folksy names, dialogues, settings and characters all promise a good cozy (culinary) mystery. This was an easy, entertaining read. It reminded me a bit of a comfortable, enjoyable game of Clue. A second in this series - "Dead Pan" is already in the works.

There are lots of cake decorating ideas throughout the story and some recipes are included. Daphne has her own cake decorating web page as well!

Murder Takes the Cake was a semi-finalist in's Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters - Lorraine Lopez

The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters begins in Los Angeles in 1966. We meet the four sisters - Loretta, Rita, Sophia, Bette and their brother Cary - all named by their late mother after movie stars. The girls are still mourning their mother. Their beloved housekeeper, Fermina, becomes ill as well. She has always promised that when she passes on she will give the girls each a gift. When she dies, the girls try to discover what each gift is. They aren't tangible items, but maybe the gifts are abilities......

Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of the sisters. Interspersed are tantalizing excerpts from Fermina's life, beginning in the 1930's, taken down by a data collector from Work Projects Administration.

This novel traces the lives of the girls through joy and heartache. Through it all runs the memory of their mother. Each girl remembers her differently. And Fermina - who was she really - her life with them is a bit of a mystery.

The women in this story are the dominant, strong characters. I was caught up in the lives of the Gabaldon sisters. Their bickering, angst, joy and passion for life was intoxicating. Although they make some bad decisions in life, their acceptance of what life brings, their devotion to their children and their love for each other is compelling. The story rings true and real, with no sugar coating. As we follow the sisters' lives, we also follow Fermina's in further reports from the WPA until the two tales meet and we discover who Fermina was and what the gifts truly were.

This newly released novel from Hachette Books is a story that will appeal to sisters and friends. It would be an excellent suggestion for a book club.

Fermina's life is drawn from Lopez's own family history.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jeremy and Mom - Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

---A Zits Retrospective You Should Definitely Buy For Your Mom ---

I hope you've had a chance to enjoy this wonderful comic strip. It's one I faithfully read every day and it never fails to give me a chuckle. I've been cutting out the ones that really strike a chord and leaving them on my teenage son's placemat for years.

Scott and Bergman perfectly capture the joys and tribulations of raising an adolescent male - messy bedrooms, sneakers and clothes everywhere, a seemingly bottomless pit of an appetite, learning to drive and so many more.

I borrowed this from the library. The fun part - I caught my son reading it and chuckling as well!

Zits appears in 1600 newspapers, 45 countries and 15 languages. You can follow it online here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Too Close to Home - Linwood Barclay

Okay fellow readers - learn from my mistake! I started Linwood Barclay's newly released suspense novel Too Close to Home too close to bedtime. I couldn't put it down! ( And I was very tired at work the next day.)

Seventeen year old Adam Langley and his parents are headed out on a week's vacation. Adam's best friend Derek Cutter decides to hide out in their basement until they're gone. He has plans to use the Langley house as a meeting place for him and his girlfriend Penny. He's just settled in, waiting for Penny when the Langley's SUV pulls in. He hides again. Mrs. Langley is sick and they've cancelled the holiday. While Derek is figuring out how he's going to get out and get back home, shots ring out. Someone else is in the house and has killed the entire family. And Derek's still hiding..

Okay, that was just the prologue!! And the opening line? From Derek's father Jim....

"The night they killed our neighbours we never heard a thing."

Derek does escape and runs home. From there things get crazy. Could the killings have something to do with some data Adam and Derek found on an old computer? Will the cops believe Derek's story? Does this killing have something to do with two other recent murders in town? The past has unexpectedly come back to haunt the present and Jim Cutter is determined to protect his family at all costs.

Just when you think the story is headed one way, it takes a sharp left turn and heads in a new direction. There's great foreshadowing at the end of many chapters, which kept me reading even later. Although I did figure out one thread ahead of the ending, there were many twists and turns I didn't see coming.

I discovered Barclay when I read his first novel, Bad Move, a darkly humourous mystery. Since then Barclay has just gotten better and better, heading more into suspense. If you've enjoyed Harlen Coben, you will love Linwood Barclay!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Booth's Sister - Jane Singer

Jane Singer is a published Civil War scholar. Booth's Sister is her first fiction foray from Bell Bridge Books.

Singer first came upon two photographs of Asia Booth Clark and the story she wrote about her brother, John Wilkes Booth, published in 1938 as The Unlocked Book. Singer felt the need to know more about Asia and has written this fictionalized account exploring Asia Booth's life.

Nearly everyone (including us Canadians) can tell you who shot Abraham Lincoln and where. Beyond that I didn't know too much. Booth's Sister is a fascinating look at the life of the sister who was left to deal with the aftermath of the assassination.

The book opens with the statement:

"My brother killed Abraham Lincoln. That is my weight, my shame."

From there we travel back to relive their childhood, from Asia's viewpoint. Raised in rural Maryland with an often absent actor father who insisted that Shakespeare be part of everyday life, the two youngest Booth children embraced the theatre. The freed black woman Gillian seems to have been a much stronger force in her life than their own mother. Inklings of Johnny's political leanings are hinted at in his childhood.

I found the first part of the book a little confusing. Singer has taken great literary license in imagining their days. Asia seems to want to be her brother. Lots of Shakespearean quotes and references let us know how great a role the theatre plays in their lives. But I sometimes had to read pages two and three times to understand what was real and what was imagined.

The second half of the book, their adult life, captured me more. It seemed more grounded and readable. Asia still longs to be a man and particiapate in the theatre. Her brothers are celebrated actors and she longs to be on the stage with them. Instead she enters a loveless marriage, but continues to help her brother with his plans to bring down Lincoln's government. 'Johnny' commits his crime and Asia's life is forever changed.

There are two monologues- " Voices From the Time of the Assassination" at the end of the book that I found to be excellent. I enjoyed them almost as much as the book. I love the idea of fictionalizing history and Singer has done an admirable job of bringing to life a lesser known figure from the past.

Monday, October 6, 2008

All the Colours of Darkness - Peter Robinson

Ohh, it was with great happiness and anticipation that I settled in on the couch with All the Colours of Darkness, newly released from McClelland!

This is the 18th book in the Inspector Banks series from Peter Robinson. Every last one has been a great read and this one was no exception.

The series takes place in England and has followed the career of Alan Banks and his co workers. Just as interesting is Banks' personal life. Over 18 novels, it has been fascinating to follow the progressions of the character's lives. It gives such a realistic note to the books and makes the characters even more believable. Banks' fondness for listening to all types of music has more than once sent me on a search for a CD, just to hear what he has described.

Annie Cabot's (Banks' partner and ex-lover) latest case appears to be a suicide by hanging on a school property. However, when she finds the man's lover bludgeoned to death, Banks is called back to work from a weekend away. The case takes an even more curious turn when one of the victims is discovered to have worked for M16 - Britain's Security and Secret Intelligence Services. Even more curious is the speed at which the case is declared closed. Murder suicide - the end. Bank's supervisor, Inspector Gervaise, insists on him taking some time off and to accept that the case is closed. While agreeing, Banks decides to investigate further on the sly and enlists the help of Annie Cabot and Winsome Jackman. And they do discover more....

"Oh, jealousy, betrayal, envy, ambition, greed, lust, revenge. The usual stuff of Shakespearean tragedies. All the colours of darkness."

This case borrows from current headlines and as always is an intelligent mystery.

There is just something comforting about settling down with a Peter Robinson. I never bother reading the cover notes anymore - I just know that I'm in for a really good read. If you haven't yet discovered this award winning series, I encourage you to. They don't need to be read in order - each book is a great tale on it's own.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Soloist- Steve Lopez

A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship and the Redemptive Power of Music.

Steve Lopez writes for a Los Angeles newspaper. One day he hears someone playing violin in the street. It is an older, disheveled obviously homeless man playing a violin with only two strings. He stops to listen, as the music is beautiful, speaks the man and heads back to the paper to write a column about the homeless violinist. And so begins an unusual relationship.

The violinist is Nathaniel Ayers. He was a very promising musician in his youth, winning a scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School. Although he excels, his ends up dropping out his second year - he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. He spent the next 35 years on the streets, still in love with music. Lopez becomes caught up in Ayer's life, determined to help him back into mainstream society. Along the way he discovers that his idealistic goal is not reality. Nathaniel is mentally ill. Ayers declares that he is happy with his way of life. The next two years are a fascinating story as Lopez spends nights with Nathaniel on Skid Row, fending off sewer rats with sticks and traverses the minefield of mental health issues, problems and solutions. Nathaniel becomes not a project but a friend to Lopez.

The Soloist was born from the series of columns that Lopez wrote. It is a fascinating read and should be a great movie as well. Slated for release in November 2008, it will star Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.