Friday, May 29, 2009

Read-it-First: Sworn to Silence

This week I received and read approximately seventeen pages for the current St. Martin's Read-it-First selection, Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. A thriller/mystery centering around the possible return of a serial killer and set in the world of the Amish. Kate Burkholder, who grew up Amish and left the fold, is currently the chief of police in Painter's Mill, Ohio, her hometown. She knows these murders. She has seen them before. Is she hiding a secret that could possibly lead to the capture of the murderer? One of the mysteries to find out.

Although some of the descriptions were quite graphic, I was intrigued with the story from the start. I couldn't wait until the next day's installment. It is certainly a page turner. Sworn to Silence is a breakthrough novel for Ms. Castillo. She takes a giant leap out of her comfort zone, romance novels, and lands smack dab in the middle of the suspense thriller genre. A successful landing.

This is a book that I will have to purchase and read!

Looking forward to next week's preview!

The Crying Tree

Imagine yourself in the early 1970's. A time when bell bottoms, mini skirts and platform shoes ruled the fashion world. The birth of Aerosmith, Kiss and the Ramones took center stage in the music world. A time of political awakening. Now imagine yourself knowing nothing about this and living in an isolated town in Oregon. You are living what appears to be the American dream – married, two kids (one boy, one girl), etc.... But, then tragedy strikes and what you love most in the world is taken from you. Your only son is brutally murdered in your home.

How do you cope? How do you go on living? What kind of a life do you have? Can there be justice? In The Crying Tree, we are witness to one family's struggle to survive. We share their grief and feel their desperation. We observe as they become bitter and frustrated with one another - they become strangers. There is forgiveness. There are secrets. There are sins of commission and sins of omission. When these are brought to the forefront, we see the unbreakable bonds of family surface.

Ms. Rakha is a wonderful story teller. She was able to hold my attention until the end. I wanted to know how things would work out. The characters were sympathetic including the murderer. This is a tragic novel; however, it is also one of love, forgiveness and redemption. I recommend to those searching for a new voice. A good book for book clubs.

Thank you Shelf Awareness and Random House for this copy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - The Crying Tree

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

1. Grab your current read
2. Open to a random page
3. Share two (2) "teaser"; sentences from somewhere on that page (BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

There are sins of commission, things that maybe shouldn't have been done, or possibly just done differently, and Nate believed he could justify those. But then there are sins of omission. The things never done, not given nor said.

-The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha, p 155

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rooftops of Tehran

I tried to write my review for this novel as soon as I finished reading; however, I was unable to do so. Whether it was from writer's block or from fear of writing an inadequate review, I do not know. I am leaning toward the latter. I considered stringing together a set of adjectives: brilliant, funny, original, haunting. Although they could all be used to describe this novel, it would not have been enough. Instead, I started off with the following: Rooftops of Tehran, a debut novel by Mahbod Seraji, is a wonderfully written coming of age story of young love. After that I just stared at the page for quite some time and gave up. How could I do justice to Mr. Seraji's masterful prose?

From the rooftop of his home, Pasha and his friends talk about life - sharing their dreams, hopes, and fears. But where are the rooftops? New York, London, Paris. Could be but, no, they are in Iran. Not a place nor a people that most Westerners know much about. Through his vivid characterizations and descriptions, Mr. Seraji is able to transport us to Iran and give us a glimpse into this ancient world. I could clearly picture the homes, alleyways, streets and rooftops. He breathed so much life into these characters that they will not be forgotten. I laughed when Pasha's father was unwittingly the perpetrator in ding dong ditch. I felt compassion for Grandma and was awed that the entire neighborhood looked after her – not something that is commonplace here in America. I felt for the characters when tragedy struck and I rooted for them in their moments of rebellion. In short, his characters had That – they had honor, treasured friendship, prized love, had courage and strength to stand up for what they believed in.

Rooftops of Tehran is much more than a love story. It is a an affirmation of shared human experiences. We all dream, love, laugh and cry. We have fears and and want good things for our children. Mr. Seraji has given us a glimpse into the unknown and it is up to us to recognize that regardless of religion or culture we are more alike than some would like us to believe.

At times, this novel is funny and at other times tragic. It is certainly unforgettable. I highly recommend to those wishing to broaden their horizons and learn more about the Persian people and culture. Mahbod Seraji is an author to watch. I know I will be looking and waiting for his next novel.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Read-it-First: Finding Grace

St. Martin's Read-it-First program presented us with Finding Grace by Donna VanLiere.

This week I received and read approximately twenty six pages – the most that I've received for any Read-it-First selection – granted this was only my fourth week participating. This was also the first non-fiction selection. Ms. VanLiere shares her story about losing her way in life only to find it again at some later point. She shares her reflections about her childhood expectations of life and how things blindside you and change the course of your life. The pain and abuse that she experienced during childhood is heartbreaking. The writing is both beautiful and sensitive. Finding Grace is an inspirational story.

Looking forward to next week's preview!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

People of the Book

In People of the Book, we follow Hanna Heath, a rare book expert, as she uncovers the mysteries surrounding a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript, the famed Sarajevo Haggadah. As Hanna examines the Haggadah, she uncovers various artifacts from the past that lead her to investigate how the book survived the Inquisitions, the Nazis and several other acts of violence. The rarity of this Haggadah stems not only from its' age but also from the illuminations it contains. Why are they there? Who created them? Another mystery since these types of illuminations are not usually associated with Hebrew texts.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is quite real; however, the story told in this novel is one of fiction. Ms. Brooks has created a wonderful account of the Haggadah's survival for the last 500 years. In it we see not only the events that took place but also the people who were either involved in the creation of the Haggadah or in its' protection, regardless of their religious beliefs. As each artifact is researched in the 'present', Ms. Brooks presents us with a flashback account of how that artifact came to be in the book. These flashbacks are accomplished via alternating the chapters between the 'present' and the past. They start with the more recent past and move backwards in time. I thought that this was nicely done.

I thought that the novel was well researched/written and I enjoyed reading about the history surrounding the Haggadah. Was their an underlying message? Possibly. One in which Jews, Christians and Muslims can coexist in peace as they once did. I recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction, mysteries or Geraldine Brooks.

Lemonade Award

I received the Lemonade Award from Jennifer at Just Jennifer Reading! Thank you so much!!

Please pass this award on to ten others! The Rules:

1) Put the Lemonade Award logo on your blog or post.
2) Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great attitude or gratitude.
3) Link to your nominees within your post.
4) Let the nominees know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
5) Share the love and link to the person from whom you received your award.

I nominate the following blogs:

Tutu's two cents
Cindy's Love of Books
Missy's Book Nook
Find Your Next Book Here
Starting Fresh
Chick with Books
A Sea of Books
One Literature Nut
Scuffed slippers and wormy books

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shakespeare's Kitchen

Shakespeare's Kitchen is a collection of thirteen interconnected short stories. The theme that runs throughout the collection is one of human need. A need to be loved, to have friendships and to belong to someone or something. Is there a plot? No, not really. At times, I felt as though I was watching a bad episode of Seinfeld. I did not enjoy the protagonist, Ilka Weisz, and did not see much in her emotional growth. My main turnoff to Ilka come fairly early in the book. In the second short story, An Absence of Cousins, we clearly see her loneliness and her need to belong; however, she is rude and dismissive of secondary character, Gertie Gruner, who is just looking for the same. The secondary characters were just that. I could find no relevance for their inclusion in the stories and would have preferred them to be absent altogether.

Ms. Segal's writing style was okay. There were several times where I felt that the writing faltered – sentences just did not 'roll' off the tip of my tongue and I found the banter (intellectual or not) that occurred between the characters irritating. She did have some insights about how one navigates through life; however, not enough to hold my interest.

I would recommend to those who have read Lore Segal in the past.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Read-it-First: The Last Child

During my third week of participation in the St. Martin's Read-it-First program, we previewed The Last Child by John Hart. A thriller about a child's search for his missing twin sister and the terrible truths he discovers in a small North Carolina town.

This week I received and read approximately sixteen pages - slightly less than I've received for the past Read-it-First selections; however, it was enough. Obviously, the third time was a charm, I am hooked. At this point in the novel, we have only met Johnny, a thirteen year old boy. Mr. Hart has done such a wonderful job with character development that I feel as though I know Johnny. My heart breaks for him. Both the writing and the storyline kept me interested and on my toes. I found it to be an intriguing read and could not wait until the next day's installment.

This book has made it onto my to be purchased and read list.

Looking forward to next week's preview!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Angel's Game

In The Angel's Game, I was transported to Barcelona, albeit the Barcelona of the 1920s. Through Mr. Zafon's descriptive prose, Barcelona was brought to life. I got a chill reading about the Pueblo Nuevo Cemetery with its 'forest of angels and crosses' and the scenes that took place within its walls. I could hear footsteps echoing in the alleyways, smell the putrid stench of decay, feel the neglect of buildings abandoned long ago, and see 'the whole of Barcelona stretched out …' (pg 50) before me. Mr. Zafon has also created several memorable characters: David Martin, the tortured narrator; Andreas Corelli, angel or demon; Isabella, a kind and generous soul; etc.... These characters stayed with me long after I finished reading. They seemed to inhabit my dreams.

Mr. Zafon's novel centers around a young writer who unwittingly makes a pact with the devil. Yes, a Faustian bargain; however, there is more to the novel, namely, there is an underlying mystery that will have you guessing/thinking throughout the novel. The story moves quickly. I found myself repeatedly saying I have time for just one more chapter. I read the book in three days – because life interrupted and I needed sleep. It is a book that you will not want to put down.

People have commented that this book is one in a series and a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. I have yet to read that book and did not find myself at a disadvantage. I believe that this book stands on its own quite well and highly recommend to those that have read previous works of Zafon or those who like mystery/thrillers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Commoner

The Commoner is a beautifully written and well researched novel. Mr. Schwartz has given us a glimpse into the world of the Japanese royal family. He has chosen a woman, Haruko, as his narrator and does a remarkable job depicting her thoughts and feelings as she transitions from life as a commoner to that of the Empress of Japan. We are witness to her most private and painful moments. After all she has experienced, some of Haruko's actions are questionable. Although an attempt at redemption is made towards the end of the novel, there can be none.

One cannot help but feel pity for these characters whose every action is choreographed. Is life as a royal worth the price of one's freedom?

This was an enjoyable book and I recommend to those interested in historical fiction or Japanese culture.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Read-it-First: Liars Anonymous

During my second week of participation in the St. Martin's Read-it-First program, we previewed Liars Anonymous by Louise Ure. A crime novel featuring a roadside assistance operator who believes she has overheard a murder during a late night assistance call.

Once again, I received and read approximately twenty pages. Unlike the last Read-it-First novel, I believe that I did read enough of the story to determine whether or not I would purchase the book. Sadly, this is not a book for me. I did not care for the protagonist, Jessie. Additionally, neither the crime nor the background mystery involving Jessie was enough to draw me into the story. I did not find that the writing flowed easily. It felt a bit forced and choppy at times that I found myself having to reread sentences and transitions between several paragraphs.

Looking forward to next week's preview!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

Imagine waking up and not remembering your life. Admittedly, this is something that I worry about all the time so I was intrigued when I read the back cover of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana and found it to be the premise of the novel.

The main character, Yambo, finds himself unable to remember anything about his life and attempts to piece together his past - a mystery of sorts. Throughout the novel, the reader is treated to an endless barrage of list upon list of songs, cartoon characters, magazines, books, works of art, etc…. I found this to be quite exasperating; however, I did finish the book. Why? I was hoping the book would become more interesting and I wanted to know what happened to Yambo. Mr. Eco was able to create a likable character floundering in a sea of minutiae. Sadly, this book was not for me; however, I will give Mr. Eco another read.

I recommend his book for those who are nostalgic about Italian culture during World War II, the influence of propaganda, and interested in psychology.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Read-it-First: Everything Asian

It is the end of my first week participating in the St. Martin's Read-it-First program. This week's book was Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo. A coming of age novel about a twelve year old Korean boy who moves from Korea to America. Specifically, New Jersey.

I received a total of twenty pages through e-mail. There were no gitches. In fact, I joined mid-week and was provided with a link to read the days that I had missed.
Obviously, I did not read enough of the book to provide a review. But, did I read enough to entice me into buying the book? Eventhough, the writing is pleasant and the story seems like it is going to be a light read, the jury is going to have to say no. Since this is a debut novel, I would have liked to have read just a little bit more before making that decision. I will have to pick it up in the store, read a little and then make my decision.

All in all, I think that I will continue to enjoy the Read-it-First program and it will convince me, on occassion, to purchase a book.