Saturday, October 31, 2009

giveaway: the heretic's daughter

Happy Halloween!! Thanks to Hachette, I have five copies of The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent to giveaway.

Here's the starred review from Publishers Weekly:
"A family's conflict becomes a battle for life and death in this gripping and original first novel based on family history from a descendant of a condemned Salem witch. After a bout of smallpox, 10-year-old Sarah Carrier resumes life with her mother on their family farm in Andover, Mass., dimly aware of a festering dispute between her mother, Martha, and her uncle about the plot of land where they live. The fight takes on a terrifying dimension when reports of supernatural activity in nearby Salem give way to mass hysteria, and Sarah's uncle is the first person to point the finger at Martha. Soon, neighbors struggling to eke out a living and a former indentured servant step forward to name Martha as the source of their woes. Sarah is forced to shoulder an even heavier burden as her mother and brothers are taken to prison to face a jury of young women who claim to have felt their bewitching presence. Sarah's front-row view of the trials and the mayhem that sweeps the close-knit community provides a fresh, bracing and unconventional take on a much-covered episode."

There's a Reading Group Guide for The Heretic's Daughter.

1. How was Sarah changed by living with her cousin Margaret? How was she changed by returning to her family?

2. What was it about Martha's character that seemed to antagonize so many neighbors?

3. What do you think was the most compelling reason that Martha was eventually brought to trial?

4. Discuss the various factors that lead to the witch hysteria.

5. Why did Martha choose to take a stand of innocence knowing that a refused confession meant death?

6. Why did Thomas, despite his size and capabilities, not seek to persuade or deter Martha from her course of action?

7. Why did the community of Salem, and the magistrates, so easily believe in and rely on "spectral evidence”?

8. How has reading the book changed your opinions about the men and women hanged as witches?

9. Are there modern day "witches”?

10. Can we, or should we, redefine the meaning of the word "witch"?

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on November 21. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

review and tour: wisdom hunter by randall arthur

Pastor Jason Faircloth lost his only daughter twice in as many years. As a teenager Hannah decided she could no longer tolerate her father’s extremely religious hardline rules, so she ran away. Jason went on preaching as he always had until news of his daughter’s whereabouts finally arrived. Unfortunately, the news was that Hannah died during childbirth. Hannah’s husband doesn’t want her family to have anything to do with the baby. Jason’s wife is so distraught by the news that she immediately falls ill and dies shortly thereafter. Having lost everything in this world, Jason also turns his back on the faith he had so zealously subscribed to all his life. He leaves the church and begins his hunt for his granddaughter. Will his search for his last family member also restore his faith?

Jason undergoes a great change when faced with the loss of his family. It’s terrible that he had to lose so much in order to recognize his faults, but he definitely became a better man. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for all the characters. When first introduced Hannah’s husband seemed very loving; it was clear he adored Hannah and was excited they were going to have a child. Cody’s personality changed drastically after Hannah’s death. Yes, he was grieving, but he became a very cruel man who later commits a horrific act. I found the change difficult to believe especially since Cody had a veterinary clinic and obviously loved the animals he treated. This is where I felt Randall Arthur failed. It seemed that Cody became such a horrible man only to force the reader to side with Jason. I felt Cody could’ve been a nice man, struggling to raise his daughter and readers still would’ve wanted Jason to find his granddaughter simply because Jason became an admirable character.
Check out these other participating sites:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

review and tour: shadow government by grant r. jeffrey

A bit of a confession: I like to freak myself out late at night by watching those Armageddon and Nostradamus specials The History Channel sometimes runs. So I kind of love all the conspiracies and indications of end times Jeffrey writes about in Shadow Government. He proposes that we are very close to the end times. Jeffrey references biblical passages that predict what will happen leading up to the Antichrist appearing then points out how recent events could be interpreted to fit those passages.

It’s clear Jeffrey put a lot of research into Shadow Government; what’s not so clear is how legitimate the sources are as most are websites. Of course one can argue that it would be quite difficult to prove a secret shadow government using only reputable, verifiable sources. If you could, then it wouldn’t be worth writing about since everyone would know. Still, I need a bit more evidence before I start believing the government is spying on me. I’m sure Jeffrey is correct that the technology exists for them to do so; it’s just that I think our government officials have better things to do.
Check out these other participating sites:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

review and tour: japan took the j.a.p. out of me by lisa fineberg cook

When Lisa Fineberg Cook agreed to move to Japan immediately following her wedding, her friends thought she was crazy. She knew it would be different, but imagined living a glamorous life eating sushi and drinking sake. Immediately upon arriving, Cook discovers that an apartment considered large in Japan doesn’t exactly meet her standards.

I was onboard from Cook’s first laundry experience in Japan. (I kind of wanted to smack her husband at times though with his “I’m a better person for having lived overseas as much as I have” pompousness.) As someone who hates to do laundry in the full-sized machines conveniently located between my bedroom and bathroom, I was horrified at her discovery of a tiny washing machine that destroyed her bra. And then to have to hang the wet clothes on a line out on the balcony…well, let’s just say I won’t be moving. Cook’s descriptions of her experiences in Japan were so vivid that there were times I could really picture the scenes even though I’ve never been to Japan.

Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me details Cook’s many funny experiences (the description of Cook attempting to use the clothespins even though her fingers were numb from the cold washing machine water was fantastic), but there were also some serious moments. I especially loved it when she tried to rally her senior students (all female at a private school) to stand up for themselves and fight for equality. Cook was also dealing with the first year of marriage, which was of course made more difficult since she was struggling with the culture and was initially bored to death since she didn’t have a job right away. Moving to Japan immediately after marrying definitely changed Cook, which affected at least one friendship back home, but the interview included at the end of book indicates she would do it again. Since Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me only documents the first year in Japan, I hope Cook writes a second book about the second year.
Check out the other participating sites:
The Life (And Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object
The Neverending Shelf
Drey’s Library
A Sea of Books
Libby’s Library News
Bookin’ With Bingo
That’s A Novel Idea
Starting Fresh
Just Another New Blog
Blog Business World
My Friend Amy
Chick With Books
Book N Around
So Many Books, So Little Time
Keep on Booking
Reading at the Beach
Found Not Lost
Brizmus Blogs Books
I Read

Sunday, October 25, 2009

giveaway: prime time

Author of the Charlie McNally series, Hank Phillippi Ryan, is letting me host a giveaway for her Agatha-winning first novel, Prime Time. There are three copies up for grabs. Additionally, one person will win a tote bag along with the book.

My review of Prime Time is here. And here's the description from Amazon:
"In the cutthroat world of television journalism, seasoned reporter Charlotte McNally knows that she'd better pull out all the stops or kiss her job goodbye. But it's her life that might be on the line when she learns that an innocent-looking e-mail offer resulted in murder, mayhem and a multimillion-dollar fraud ring.

All too soon her investigation leads her straight to Josh Gelston, who is a little too helpful and a lot too handsome. Charlie might have a nose for news, but men are a whole other matter. Now she has to decide whether she can trust Josh…before she ends up as the next lead story. "

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. Two bonus entries can be gained by commenting on the interview. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on November 7. Winners will be selected at random. Winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

author interview: hank phillippi ryan

This post contains affiliate links.

How excited was I went Hank Phillippi Ryan, the author of the fantastic Charlie McNally series (if you've read my reviews, you know how much I love the books), agreed to an interview!! She's also letting me host a giveaway.

What inspired you to write the Charlie McNally series? Did you intend to make it a series?

It was really a special moment--and I remember it all perfectly. First--let me say I’ve always wanted to be a mystery author. Yes, I’ve been a TV reporter for more than 30 years, but ever since I read my first Nancy Drew...well, you can imagine the rest. But even though TV became my life, there was always the mystery-possibility simmering in the back of my brain.

One day, I got a strange email. It was clearly SPAM, sent to millions of people, but the subject line and the subject matter inside didn’t match. Why would someone put lines from a play from Shakespeare in an obvious spam about mortgage refinancing?

It crossed my mind--maybe it's a secret message.

And then I thought: My plot! And from that moment I was obsessed with writing what become the Agatha-winning PRIME TIME.

Nope, it wasn’t a series to begin with. But then one day I thought--Face Time. Air Time, Drive Time. And I couldn't resist.

In addition to writing the Charlie McNally books, you’re a reporter in Boston. How do you balance the two careers? Do you have a writing routine?

Ah—that’s the big question! Quick answer—I work all the time. I haven’t had a vacation in four years. Sleep was the first casualty, then cooking, then fun. Oh, and exercise. And going to movies. Luckily I have a very very patient and supportive husband.

My routine? I get up at say, 7. (Couldn’t possibly write that early—I’m always so impressed by the authors who get up at 4am and dash off some chapters before the sun rises. Sigh. My head would be klonked on the keyboard. Could not do it!) But on workdays, I head to the office, and get home about 7pm. When I’m in writing mode, I write til about 10, then make dinner! My husband and I always have dinner together, then I write a bit afterwards. (I’m definitely a late night writer. All those years of reporting for the 11 pm news, I guess.) Weekends, I write. (Luckily I have a beautiful study, lined with books, working fireplace, antique desk in a bay widow, looking out over a now-bright yellow-gold maple tree.)

Right now I’m in promo mode! So after work I usually have a signing or a reading. It’s wonderful to meet so many new people, and introduce them to the books.

Charlie’s cat Botox behaves a lot like my cat. The parts with Botox are some of my favorites because of how true to life they are. Do you have a cat?

Oh, thanks, Nicole. We don’t have a cat now, but I did have the hilarious and clever Leon, who died at age 14. (I named him Ponce De Leon because I found him, as a tiny kitten, dumped on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta.) I also had the one-of-a-kind neurotic but wonderful Lola—who chose me when I saw her at the animal shelter as kitten, then died in my arms at age 20. I still almost cry when I think of it—and that was 7 years ago! So yes, Botox is a very dear character to me, too, and I love her relationship with Charlie.

As a child, Charlie stayed up late reading Nancy Drew. What was your favorite book as a child?

Ah—well, certainly Nancy Drew! But I also loved any book about horses, there was a series the started with—Silver Birch, something like that? And all the Black Stallion books. And Donna Parker and Vicki Barr—anyone remember those? Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, certainly. Ivanhoe. Anything about King Arthur. Books by Edward Eager. And Jane Langton’s The Diamond in the Window. Amazingly, I had a signing with her recently—I could barely believe I was in the same room. She’s such an icon.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

Well, it’s odd to say my own. But it might really be PRIME TIME! I’ve been a reporter for 30 years—and to write a mystery that’s successful opened the door to me to such a new part of my life! I’m truly the poster child for following your dreams. I t would be lovely if someone else, seeing how I made a career addition in mid-life, got the courage to do the same thing. Shows you how books can change your life in many ways.

If I had to pick a book that taught me about storytelling, it would with be Steven King’s The Stand, which was so pivotal to me! (I literally called in sick in 1980 to stay home and read it—the only time that’s ever happened. To Kill A Mockingbird. Winds of War. Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird. My favorite book is The Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. Anyone read that?

What’s up next for Charlie in Drive Time?

Ah, big changes in the works. Just as Charlie begins to believe that she might be able to have it all—career and a happy marriage—it all begins to fall apart. Lots of choices for Charlie—and lots of changes for those closest to her. Some, I promise, will surprise you. (And some I cried while I wrote.)

DRIVE TIME is fast-paced, tense and suspenseful…Is there a deadly and sinister plot unfolding at the prestigious prep school where Charlie’s fiancé teachers? And is he the next murder victim? Or what if he’s a suspect? And—Charlie’s tackling another big story—what really happens to your car in valet parking?

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 24 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers.

Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won also won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a legislative aide in the United States Senate (working on the Freedom of Information Act) and at Rolling Stone Magazine (working with Hunter S. Thompson).

Her first mysteries, PRIME TIME (which won the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First Novel, was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner)and FACE TIME(a Book Sense Notable Book), were best sellers. They were both re-issued this summer from MIRA Books. Her newest book is AIR TIME (MIRA Sept. 2009)which is already an IMBA bestseller. (Sue Grafton says: "Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. This is first-class entertainment.") Drive Time will be published in February 2010. Her website is

giveaway winners: tall, dark, & fangsome and fierce style

Congratulations to all the winners. Haleyknitz, ladystorm, wwrk, slangdon, and Alison each win Tall, Dark, & Fangsome while Bingo wins Fierce Style.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

review: the x and y of buy by elizabeth pace

A good marketing plan is important, especially today when people are thinking twice about spending money; so Elizabeth Pace’s book provides advice on different marketing strategies for men and women. She illustrates her point about how the sexes react differently by giving examples regarding purchasing a new car and going shopping at the mall.

The X and Y of Buy is more of an introduction to marketing rather than a full guide as it’s so brief that it barely grazes the surface; furthermore, Pace fails to adequately address the variables. This presents fairly black and white versions of how men and women react. At the beginning, Pace states there are exceptions, but seems to forget that as the book progresses. Some advice is impractical and a bit stalkerish. Does anyone really have time to hunt down the organizations a potential client belongs to and then join them in order to build trust?

Much is made of women being motivated by the nest without acknowledging that many women have no children and are not motivated by such desire. Hopefully anyone seeking marketing advice will realize there’s much more to be studied. An introductory course on marketing or business communication would be a better way to go since such courses cite the scientific research lacking from The X and Y of Buy.

review: after you by julie buxbaum

As Lucy’s best friend, Ellie knows far more about Lucy’s husband Greg than she really wants to. After Lucy is shockingly murdered while walking her young daughter to school, Ellie flies to London from her home outside of Boston; it’s not long before she discovers there are things she never knew about Lucy. But Ellie can’t dwell on Lucy’s secrets because eight year old Sophie has stopped talking after witnessing her mother’s violent death. Ellie gives her all to helping Sophie to the detriment of her own marriage, which was suffering even before she left.

As Ellie struggles through her grief while attempting to comfort Sophie, she reflects on the past: the loss she and Phillip suffered that drove the wedge between them, her parents’ dysfunctional on/off relationship, and memories of Lucy (which make the deceased character incredibly real). Ellie remembers her mother read The Secret Garden to her after her grandmother died, so Ellie reads it to Sophie who shares her passion for books. Amazingly, The Secret Garden (along with some therapy) helps them both. Even so, Ellie continues to avoid her life until some unexpected circumstances force her to return.

While After You does focus on grief there’s a bit of comic relief with Ellie’s parents who have decided to remarry after divorcing years ago. Ellie and her brother think it’s a bad idea and have some pretty funny conversations about their parents. The siblings are an interesting contrast to their parents and each other while also sharing so many familial traits. Julie Buxbaum’s sophomore novel is a hauntingly beautiful story that I never wanted to end, even as I raced through it to discover what would happen next.
Review copy provided by the publisher, The Dial Press.

Friday, October 16, 2009

review: searching for whitopia by rich benjamin

With shades of Barbara Ehrenreich’s exploration of minimum wage jobs in Nickel and Dimed, Rich Benjamin plunged himself into three predominately white communities for three months each. But Coeur d’Alene, ID, St. George, UT, and Forsyth County, GA are not simply predominately white, they are “whitopias,” which means they’ve reported a minimum six percent population growth since 2000, often from white migration. Many moved from more ethnically diverse parts of the country. In interviewing them, Benjamin found they cited crime rate and schools as big reasons for moving.

A number of fascinating experiences occurred during his journey. As a native of the northwest and having lived near Coeur d’Alene for a few years, I was most intrigued by what he had to say about that community. Benjamin actually attended a Christian Identity retreat while there! Shockingly the people treated him with respect and even helped locate his misplaced car keys. An interesting bit from the section was that those espousing the most racist views are not natives, but like Richard Butler, moved to the area. The research for Searching for Whitopia is extensive and evident in each section.

Rich Benjamin follows his experiences by writing about the consequences of whitopias. He believes those living in whitopias will suffer from their long commutes and sociocultural isolation. Furthermore, Benjamin believes others suffer because they can’t afford to live in the whitopias and benefit from the low crime rates and remarkable school systems. In the end, Benjamin cannot offer a solution nor should he be expected to. The underlying issue has been going on since Columbus “discovered” America. So Benjamin ends with this: “I want desperately, come 2042 [when whites are predicted to be the minority in the US], for our national experiment to work.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

giveaway: the historian

Only a few pages in and I'm already loving The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This originally came out in hardcover a few years back, but now it's available in paperback. Thanks to Hachette for this giveaway, which is going to run a little different than the others. This time there will be at least three winners. In order for there to be more winners, I'm looking for a certain number of entrants. So if there are at least 15 unique entries, I'll up the number of winners to five.

Here's the review from Publishers Weekly:
"Considering the recent rush of door-stopping historical novels, first-timer Kostova is getting a big launch—fortunately, a lot here lives up to the hype. In 1972, a 16-year-old American living in Amsterdam finds a mysterious book in her diplomat father's library. The book is ancient, blank except for a sinister woodcut of a dragon and the word 'Drakulya,' but it's the letters tucked inside, dated 1930 and addressed to 'My dear and unfortunate successor,' that really pique her curiosity. Her widowed father, Paul, reluctantly provides pieces of a chilling story; it seems this ominous little book has a way of forcing itself on its owners, with terrifying results. Paul's former adviser at Oxford, Professor Rossi, became obsessed with researching Dracula and was convinced that he remained alive. When Rossi disappeared, Paul continued his quest with the help of another scholar, Helen, who had her own reasons for seeking the truth. As Paul relates these stories to his daughter, she secretly begins her own research. Kostova builds suspense by revealing the threads of her story as the narrator discovers them: what she's told, what she reads in old letters and, of course, what she discovers directly when the legendary threat of Dracula looms. Along with all the fascinating historical information, there's also a mounting casualty count, and the big showdown amps up the drama by pulling at the heartstrings at the same time it revels in the gruesome. Exotic locales, tantalizing history, a family legacy and a love of the bloodthirsty: it's hard to imagine that readers won't be bitten, too."

Since this book has been out for a while, there's a Reading Group Guide you might find interesting as well.
1. In the “Note to the Reader,” the narrator tells us, “There is a final resource to which I’ve resorted when necessary — the imagination.” How does she use this resource in telling her story? Is it a resource to which the other historians in the book resort as well?

2. The theme of mentors and disciples is an important one in The Historian. Who are the story’s mentors, and in what sense is each a mentor? Who are the book’s disciples?

3. Near the end of chapter 4, Rossi says, “Human history is full of evil deeds, and maybe we ought to think of them with tears, not fascination.” Does he follow his own advice? How does his attitude toward history evolve in the course of his own story?

4. In chapter 5, Paul’s friend Massimo asserts that in history there are no small questions. What does he mean by this and how does this idea inform the book? Do you agree with his statement?

5. Helen and Paul come from very different worlds, although they share a passion for history. How have their upbringings differed? What factors have shaped each of them?

6. Throughout the book, anyone who finds an antique book with a dragon in the middle is exposed to some kind of danger. What does this danger consist of? Is it an external power or do the characters bring it upon themselves?

7. Each of the characters is aware of some of the history being made in his or her own time. What are some of these real historical events, and why are they important to the story?

8. At the beginning of chapter 1, Paul’s daughter notes, “I had been raised in a world so sheltered that it makes my adult life in academia look positively adventurous.”How does she change as a person in the course of her quest?

9. Helen’s history is deeply intertwined with that of Dracula. In what ways are the two characters connected? Does she triumph over his legacy, or not?

10. In chapter 73, Dracula states his credo: “History has taught us that the nature of man is evil, sublimely so.” Do the characters and events of the novel prove or disprove this belief?

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. Two bonus entries can be gained by telling me what your Halloween plans are in your first comment. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on October 31. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

review: jumping off swings by jo knowles

With Ellie’s teen pregnancy, Jo Knowles tells a heartbreaking story about a girl who feels unloved by her parents and craves being touched as a result. For a few moments, Ellie is able to believe she’s beautiful and loved, but then the boy is done with her. It’s a devastating pattern. Ellie soon learns she is pregnant from her last encounter with a virgin named Josh. She tells her best friend, but doesn’t want Josh to know. It’s immediately assumed Ellie will have an abortion before anyone even notices her growing belly, but is that what Ellie really wants?

Jumping Off Swings doesn’t just give Ellie’s side, there are three other teens involved who all have very different family lives. Josh, like Ellie, is unhappy at home. His father is an alcoholic who mourns his lost rock star dreams and his mother avoids time at home. Ellie’s best friend is stable, but far too young to adequately help Ellie. So Corinne talks to Caleb who’s had a crush on Ellie for many years and is also friends with Josh. Caleb doesn’t have a relationship with his father, but his mother is always there for him. She proves to be the most help to the teens as Ellie struggles with what to do.

Some characters were more realistic than others. One of Caleb’s first full scenes has him revealing quite a bit about his feelings to his mother. Though Liz is presented as someone the girls find easy to talk to, it was a little hard to believe a teen boy divulging that much to his mom. The very different home lives of the characters serve as a nice reminder that children need more than material possessions. Ellie’s joy over Liz’s homemade bread illustrated that point well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

giveaway: the sound of sleigh bells

WaterBrook Multnomah has provided one copy of The Sound of Sleigh Bells for a lucky winner.

My review is here, but also check out the publisher description:
"Beth Hertzler works alongside her beloved Aunt Lizzy in their dry goods store, and serving as contact of sorts between Amish craftsmen and Englischers who want to sell the Plain people’s wares. But remorse and loneliness still echo in her heart everyday as she still wears the dark garb, indicating mourning of her fiancé. When she discovers a large, intricately carved scene of Amish children playing in the snow, something deep inside Beth’s soul responds and she wants to help the unknown artist find homes for his work–including Lizzy’s dry goods store. But she doesn’t know if her bishop will approve of the gorgeous carving or deem it idolatry.

Lizzy sees the changes in her niece when Beth shows her the woodworking, and after Lizzy hunts down Jonah, the artist, she is all the more determined that Beth meets this man with the hands that create healing art. But it’s not that simple–will Lizzy’s elaborate plan to reintroduce her niece to love work? Will Jonah be able to offer Beth the sleigh ride she’s always dreamed of and a second chance at real love–or just more heartbreak?"

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on October 31. Winner will be selected at random. Open to all US residents; PO Boxes are just fine this time.

review and tour: the sound of sleigh bells by cindy woodsmall

This post contains affiliate links.

Though the traditional mourning period for the loss of a fiancé is long over, Beth continues to wear black dresses and doesn’t mingle with the other singles in her Amish community. Her aunt Lizzy, who never married, fears Beth will experience the same loneliness she has. So when the opportunity to play matchmaker presents itself, Lizzy fibs a little in order to setup Beth with an Amish woodcarver from another community. Lizzy knows Beth will be upset when the truth is revealed, but what Lizzy and all the others don’t realize is that Beth isn’t wearing mourning clothes out of grief; she’s actually keeping a secret regarding the death of her fiancé. The guilt she feels over the secret is what keeps her from starting a new relationship.

While the courting that goes on between Beth and the carver Jonah is sweet, it’s a little hard to believe that Beth would be so resistant to the relationship. The secret she’s keeping doesn’t seem like one that would prevent loving someone else.

Cindy Woodsmall is on tour for The Sound of Sleigh Bells. I'm also giving away one copy of the book.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

giveaway winners: morning sunshine!

Congratulations to the winners of Morning Sunshine!: etirv, Bethie, Sheila, Amanda, and Bev. If you haven't yet, please send me your address so Hachette can send the books.

Friday, October 9, 2009

giveaway: fierce style

Do you love all things Project Runway like I do? (I've picked Althea to win!) If that's the case, then you'll be excited about this giveaway: Fierce Style by season four winner Christian Siriano! Thanks to Hachette for providing one copy for this giveaway.

My review is here, but also check out the publisher description:
"In 2008, Christian Siriano made headlines as the youngest designer to win the hit reality series Project Runway. But the now twenty-three-year-old is bigger than a TV celebrity. From his prodigious fashion talent to his one-of-a-kind personality, Christian is the embodiment of fierce style.

Now in his first book, he helps readers discover how to look, feel, and act fierce in everyday life. With tips from some of fashion and Hollywood's biggest names -including Victoria Beckham, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Vanessa Williams -- along with gorgeous original sketches by Christian, never-before-heard stories, and behind-the-scenes photos, he tells his journey of developing his own fashion sense and overcoming obstacles to success.

Giving advice on creating personal style, sharing tips on building self-confidence, and revealing his own list of fashion dos and don'ts, Christian shows how to use one's unique strengths to get ahead - and go from tickity-tack to totally flawless."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. I'll give two bonus entries to anyone including in the first comment a guess at who will make the top three for season six. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on October 24. Winner will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

review: fierce style by christian siriano

Fierce Style by the winner of season four of Project Runway surprised me in a good way. I expected Christian Siriano would be more restrictive in his fashion advice. Although he does love Louboutin shoes (and really, who can resist the red soles?), he has suggestions for those who need a lower price point. Siriano informs women that they can grab basic items at stores like Old Navy, but then cautions that certain items should really be bought from higher end places. An item is obviously cheap when the print doesn’t line up at the seams.

Toward the end, Siriano branches beyond fashion advice to talk about his experience of going to college, landing jobs, and being on Project Runway. This part gives more than just his background; it also provides inspiration to those struggling in their chosen field. There have been plenty of times when Siriano was in over his head, but he worked hard and figured out how to succeed.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

review: girl mary by petru popescu

Girl Mary is the story before the biblical story of the Virgin Mary. Love, loss, and political strife are amongst the things Petru Popescu imagines for Mary’s life leading up to the biblical story of the virgin birth.

Even as a child, there seemed to be something special about Mary. Now she’s seventeen and living in exile with her family and the other members of their tribe. It was expected they would perish in the desert, but they found a well. This gets attributed to Mary’s powers and she gains a reputation, which attracts the attention of Caesar who sends Pontius Pilate (using a fake identity) to find out more.

In addition to the “magical Mary” story, there’s the issue of marriage and procreation. Before her tribe was cast out into the desert, Mary wanted to marry Joseph. Her parents initially rejected his proposal because he was a bondsman (basically an indentured servant). Being exiled then separates Mary from Joseph. Although many men pass through the desert and stop for water at the well the tribe has found, Mary isn’t interested. She asks God to make it possible for her to marry Joseph, but another obstacle presents itself. He is set to marry two other women in order to bring peace to Nazareth. Mary doesn’t want to be one of three; she wants to be the only wife.

I have mixed feelings about Girl Mary. Overall, the story is interesting; I enjoyed the new take on a familiar story. I loved the fact that Mary was a strong female at a time when women were meant to be subservient; she even questioned God on why women were treated thus. However, the plot dragged and jumped around. I also found all the various names for God confusing. There were times when I wasn’t sure if Mary was referring to God or some man in the community. This isn’t one to read fast; it’s easy to get lost regarding how the characters are related, which ones are Roman, and the timeline of everything.
ARC Review

author article: zippora karz

As someone who loves the ballet, I'm thrilled that I will soon be reviewing Zippora Karz's book The Sugarless Plum: A Ballerina's Triumph Over Diabetes. In anticipation of that review, here's an article Karz wrote about her diabetes diagnosis.

The Sugarless Plum

I left my home in Los Angeles at the age of 15 to study at the famed School of American Ballet, the official school of the New York City Ballet. By the age of 18, I became a full member of the NYC Ballet. By 20, I was starring as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, dancing roles created by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

The following year I was featured in a new ballet by Peter Martins (the company director following Balanchine's death). It was an incredibly exciting time, but also a very exhausting one. Dancing all day and performing every night, I ignored the strange symptoms I was feeling. I didn't think anything was wrong.

I thought I was feeling thirsty and hungry, spaced out, having to urinate frequently, and losing weight because of the intense schedule and my nerves for the big premiere. I would have continued to ignore my symptoms had it not been for the sores under my arms that had become infected. It was terribly painful to lift my arms, not to mention how unattractive it was. I was often dizzy and I found it hard to feel my extremities, particularly my toes, when I danced.

My diagnosis was informal and cold. I sat in that office and was handed pamphlet after pamphlet about diabetes and its terrifying complications, anything from heart disease and stroke, to blindness, kidney failure and loss of limbs. All I could think about was getting back to the theater. I left the doctor's office confused and annoyed. Back at the theatre, I convinced myself the blood work was off because of my exhaustion or a lab error. I was a 21-year-old aspiring ballerina with the New York City Ballet. A disease people give money to for charity had nothing to do with me.

I was clearly in denial, fueled by the fact that because of my age, doctors assumed I had type 2 diabetes (associated with lifestyle, being overweight and inactivity) and I was put on oral medication. Everything came crashing down when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Going on insulin felt like the ultimate failure. I hated my body for its inadequacies. I felt hopeless at the thought of how I would juggle shots of insulin with my performance schedule. I was inexperienced with how much insulin to take at any given time before dancing, and unaware of the immediate danger of taking too much.

I should have discussed my concerns and difficulties with my doctor, but at the time it was easier to find a new one rather than try to communicate with the old one. Once again I was told I had type 2 diabetes. This new doctor even took me off insulin, to even stop checking my sugar levels. He thought the lows on stage were far more dangerous than letting my sugars go up a bit. He thought I was being obsessive. Could he have been right?

How could I have convinced myself it was okay to let my blood sugars go high? I was still hoping the whole thing would go away or would reverse itself. I was still in denial, happy to put the meter away and stop my shots. It didn't take long for my original symptoms to return. I think dancing all day and night, and eating as perfectly as I could, is how I survived with no insulin for almost a year. But I looked and felt terrible. Even though the company still let me dance in the Corp de ballet every night, there were no leading roles coming my way. When I finally "woke up" and checked my blood sugar levels, the meter would not go that high. It was time to end my denial, take responsibility for my body, and accept my insulin-dependent diabetes.

I started a balanced insulin program and began looking and feeling better. Ironically, as I learned how to perform every night without experiencing extreme lows, I also psychologically started to question the reality of my situation.

Was this a suitable lifestyle for a person with type 1 diabetes? Maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself. I was exhausted from all the ups and downs with my physiology and from trying so hard to prove I was the same promising dancer I once was. I was not the same. Maybe it was time for me to admit I had accomplished a lot, but it was time to find a more suitable lifestyle for an insulin-dependent diabetic.

As much as I wanted to quit dancing, I just could not let myself do it. When I listened to the small voice in my heart, I admitted to myself that if I quit, I would be using diabetes as an excuse. The truth is I was more tired about wishing I could be the dancer I once was, alive and joyful, than I was tired of diabetes. I told myself I hadn't yet danced on the right insulin regime for long enough and didn't know what was possible. I did not want to look back with regret. I knew I would always wonder, so I had to stay and keep trying.

Nine years after I joined the company (six years after my diagnosis), I was promoted to Soloist Ballerina of the New York City Ballet. I performed with the company another 7 years, 16 years total with the company and 13 with diabetes. I loved every performance and am grateful for every moment I had on stage. Today I am a teacher and I stage George Balanchine ballets all over the world.

We all have a story. We all experience obstacles that affect our motivation and ability to take the best care possible. We can't always see the light at the end of the tunnel, even though it is there, brighter than we can imagine. If, in the end, it is just too much, know that you did the best you could. I believe our best is good enough!
©2009 Zippora Karz, author of The Sugarless Plum

Zippora Karz, author of The Sugarless Plum: A Ballerina's Triumph Over Diabetes, is a former soloist ballerina with the New York City Ballet where she performed for 16 years on stage and in televised performances. She was featured in a variety of roles choreographed by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins (The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker being one of her favorites) as well as works choreographed for her by such choreographers as Peter Martins and Lynne Taylor Corbett. Miss Karz danced with the New York City Ballet from 1983 through 1999. She now serves as a teacher and repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, rehearsing and staging Balanchine's choreography for a host of national and international dance companies. She is also a diabetes spokesperson and educator who regularly addresses major diabetes conferences and organizations worldwide. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

review: gone to the dogs by mary guterson

When your fiancé’s father is the one to inform you his son is dating somebody else, how do you react? Grad school dropout Rena’s answer is to steal the new girlfriend’s dog. Now she’s living with a dog she doesn’t know how to care for in a building that doesn’t allow dogs. Rena quickly discovers she has to take the dog outside every day, but that’s a problem since the building’s super spends his day watching the tenants’ comings and goings and a friend of Rena’s ex also lives in the building. Dealing with the breakup and sudden acquiring of a dog (what’s she supposed to feed “Big Guy” anyway?) should be enough, but her family decides to throw some more at Rena. Her sister might be abandoning her husband and religion while Mom has found new love and thinks Rena should have a new boyfriend too. Can Rena really straighten out her life when she’s still harboring the dog?

With all of that Gone to the Dogs should be depressing, but it’s just funny. I had to laugh when, upon learning Ron is her mom’s date, Rena thinks, “Suddenly the serial killer looked—dare I say it?—dangerously attractive. And very employed. He looked like a guy with potential, with features you might be able to work with.” That’s Rena. The guy’s a serial killer if he’s for her, but has potential if he’s with someone else. My favorite part was when Rena took Chuck (her setup) home after her mom conned him into having dinner at the restaurant where Rena is a waitress. In trying to suss out how Chuck will react to her dognapping, she asks what the worst thing he’s ever done is. The conversation that follows is terrific.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

review: one scream away by kate brady

When Beth Denison agreed to meet with a museum curator seven years ago, she had no idea she’d also meet a killer. Beth escaped and Chevy Bankes went to prison, but now he’s been released. This time Beth is prepared for him; she’s trained in kickboxing and carries a gun because she knows he’s coming. The cops, however, have no idea about the connection between the two. A trail of murders and phone calls lead them right to Beth’s door, but she denies any knowledge believing she can handle Bankes herself. One of the investigators, an ex-FBI agent named Neil, isn’t about to let her do that. He pursues Beth and the case relentlessly…and Beth just might give in to Neil’s charms.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about One Scream Away was that the romance element didn’t end up overtaking the rest of the story. Sometimes the circumstances make it unreasonable for a romance to occur regardless of how attracted the people are to each other, so I appreciated that Beth wasn’t really interested in starting something with Neil. The story is rightly focused on why Chevy would be stalking Beth, why he’s killing women, and how to stop him. There was one moment toward the end where I groaned, “This would never happen,” but it was explained moments later. The scene still wasn’t quite right, but the explanation made it more believable.

giveaway winners: cult insanity

Congratulations to Sheila, andie.v107, Linna, Marian, and Jaime who are the winners of Cult Insanity. Enjoy!

Friday, October 2, 2009

giveaway: tall, dark, & fangsome

How about a vampire book just in time for Halloween? Thanks to Hachette for providing five copies of Michelle Rowan's Tall, Dark, & Fangsome for this giveaway.

Here's the publisher description:
"Sarah Dearly's vampire life is not all B-positive cocktails. A curse made her a nightwalker, the most vicious vamp there is; the charm she wears to curb her deadly tendencies is losing its juice; and a hunter from hell is turning up the heat. Gideon Chase will kill the ones she loves most if she doesn't obey his orders. That includes breaking up with master vampire Thierry and turning Gideon into an immortal vamp so he can escape a doom of eternal hellfire.

Making things worse are Sarah's growing feelings for Gideon, a bad boy who keeps showing a vulnerable side . . . but is it for real? Will Sarah's dark side take over? Or can she cure herself of the nightwalker curse in time to stop Gideon and finally live happily ever after with Thierry . . . forever?"

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on October 24. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

review: june bug by chris fabry

This post contains affiliate links.

First off, if the copy you pick up has the Publishers Weekly quote about Les Misérables, you should ignore it. While there is a slight similarity in storyline, June Bug could also be compared to The Face on the Milk Carton. The scene where June Bug sees her picture in Walmart immediately sparked the comparison to Janie and the milk carton (interesting as well that June Bug has John Johnson and Milk Carton has Janie Johnson). This scene, as in Milk Carton, is what sets in motion the rest of the book's events. June Bug doesn't tell her father about the missing child poster immediately, but she does begin asking questions that make him realize he needs to revisit his past. Complicating matters is the Walmart employee who befriends them, but has some suspicions. She wants to know how Johnson makes money, what happened with June Bug's mom, and what he's running from. The recent news reports coming out of Dogwood about new developments in the case of missing Natalie Edwards make the situation even stickier for Johnson. When Johnson and June Bug travel back to Dogwood, the truth of what happened seven years ago is finally revealed.

Fabry has crafted a beautiful tale of familial love. I found it refreshing that Johnson was portrayed as a good father even though he wasn't providing June Bug with the stereotypical "good life." He recognized that he failed her in some ways (denying her the joy of having a pet is one example), but understood that she had saved him just as much as he had saved her. The pacing of the mystery at the heart of the book was well done--revealing just enough here and there to keep things going without spoiling the shock of the ending to come.