Friday, December 30, 2011


Just received this email from Chronicle Books.  Refreshing and inspiring indeed!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I try to give every book the same consideration, particularly when it's in the review pile.  As a (wannabe) writer myself, I can understand the toil that an author went through.  I respect that.  But there are still some books, that no matter how much I should have liked, and thought I would enjoy, I just can't get excited about it.  It stinks.  It's a disappointment to me as an expectant reader, and I'm sure as an author and publisher.

But with a New Year quickly approaching, I feel it is as good a time as any to slough off some of the titles that have straggled on my nightstand...


I loved Taylor's previous work, Bright Young People, about high society in 1920s in London.  That book was nonfiction.  Ask Alice once again draws on Taylor's encyclopedic knowledge of the era but in novel form.  The heroine, naive but learning, goes from beguiled to ingenue to jaded.  
The opening pages of the book, told from Alice's point-of-view, were completely riveting.  Once Taylor introduces a London character who has a pigpen in his back garden, the whole thing falls apart.  The narrative voice loses its way.  Even when we return to Alice on the London stage, Taylor cannot regain the balance or the verve of the early pages.
To his credit, Taylor is an excellent descriptive writer.  His sentences are well-formed and packed with elegance.  In this case, it is the over-arching story that is weak. 

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Language: English ISBN-10: 1605980862


Here again is a book from one of my favorite authors.  The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre left me in tears and The Beautiful Miscellaneous was quite touching.  My penchant for his writing coupled with my downright obsession with the 1893 World's Fair should have been a no-brainer.  

What was lacking here was Smith's usually extraordinary narrating characters.  Rather than feeling their adventuresome spirit in the vivid colors of the South Pacific, it reads more like a monochrome manual for gathering archaeological samples.  I desperately wanted to like this book, but I just can't recommend it.  

Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Language: English ISBN-10: 1439198861

by Catherine E. McKinley

Indigo is my favorite color; it always has been.  It was the color of my bridesmaids' dresses and plenty of decor at my wedding.  I'm also always a fan of books that take a small idea or item and uncover vast histories about it.  I thought this is what I would find between the covers here -- a surprising and insightful look at a stunningly beautiful color.

Indigo is less a history and more a personal diary.  The author embarks on a journey to Africa in order to discover more about indigo, but she is sparing in her details about the history that brings her there.  Rather than intertwining the old and the new, the old becomes abandoned for her own adventures.  There were also glaring historical errors like her mention of "the invention of the cotton gin in 1974," (page 4) that made it hard to enjoy.

Hardcover: 256 pp

Size: 5.5 x 8.25 in
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1608195058


In all cases, I sincerely wish to thank the publicists for providing the review copies.  I hope they will not find me unfair in my assessments.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas

Wishing you a very merry Christmas, and hoping there are many book under your tree this year!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Christmas hustle and bustle got you harried?  Want to win something? For yourself?  You don't have to tell... just leave a comment below and  you'll be entered to win a copy of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, out in paperback this December 27.  Easier than reciting a magic spell!

Here's a bit about the book:

- Set in real, storied and historic places on the campus of Oxford University, England.
- It debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and was published in 34 countries.
- Warner Brothers has acquired screen rights to A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and its sequels.
- A second installment in the All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night, is due out in summer 2012.
- Read about the author and her works here:


Here's a bit about the giveaway:
- To enter, leave a comment on this post with A) Your First Name & B) Your Email in the following format  [email (at) domain (dot) com.
- Winner will be chosen via  Entries must be posted on December 30, no later than 5:00pm EST.
- Prize is one paperback copy of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness.
- Prize will be mailed directly to the winner from the publisher.

Good luck!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Volume 1
by hitRECord & Joseph Gordon-Levitt

This book is pure joy.  Short, succinct thoughts and ideas with curious and thoughtful illustrations are compiled in this small tome.  But don't let the size deceive you; as William Blake wrote, "One thought fills immensity."

Some stories garner a chuckle.  Some make you feel like you've been stabbed in the heart.  Others simply remind you to stop and smell the roses.  None are overly sentimental; rather these make up a sort of Poor Richard's Almanack for modern life.  

It's a collective of collaborations from - one you will find yourself visiting over and over. Self-described as: "HITRECORD is an open collaborative production company, and this website iswhere we make things together. Writers, musicians, filmmakers, video editors, animators, illustrators, photographers, photo-shoppers... Wanna work with us? I direct our community in a variety of collaborations. When one of our productions makes money, we split the profits 50/50 between the company and the contributing artists."

But don't just take my (or even their) word for it.  Let these "excerpts" speak for themselves. 

I truly can't wait for volume 2.  And am already skulking around their site, hoping for more modern wisdom with a wry smile.

Many thanks to Joel at !t Books (HarperCollins) for the review copy.

ISBN: 9780062121660
ISBN10: 0062121669
Imprint: It Books
On Sale: 12/6/2011
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 4 x 6
Pages: 88; $14.99
Ages: 18 and Up

Monday, December 19, 2011

REVIEW: THE VICES by Lawrence Douglas

Ah, the holiday season... Time to gather with family and surround oneself with warm, comforting memories. 

Or, more realistically, subdue rising anxieties about the perfect meal, dodging insults about your housekeeping abilities, the way you are bringing up the kids, avoiding this year's taboo topic, and desperately hoping your gift will meet with a less-whithering gaze this year.  It's when we set aside our normal, (mostly) functioning lives to invite dysfunction in for a couple of days. Now, it's not all that bad, really, but everyone has had some sort of awkward dinner to attend, perhaps at the new girlfriend's parents' house.  From the outside observer, it makes for some hilarious schadenfreude.  

For this narrator, he remembers his friend and colleague Oliver Vice as an aloof, strangely wealthy philosopher type.  After Oliver's disappearance over the rails of the Queen Mary 2, the reminiscences attempt to piece together an enigmatic character.  Oliver is at one fearless and shy, dapper and stunted.  

The Vices reads like a prose version of an Edward Albee play.  In fact, more than one scene could be out of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  However, I must disagree with some of the "advance praise" quotes.  While I found the book very engaging and was anxious to keep reading it, I did not find it terribly funny.  It's not "widely comic" nor does it imbue a "bright sense of humor."  I say this not as a slight on the book; it's very well-written.  I just wish to dispel any expectation of chuckles along the way for any future reader.  I think I would have enjoyed it all the more had I not been expecting it to get funny.  

Any humor that is to be gleaned from its pages comes from the most uncomfortable awkwardness of the characters.  The Vice Family Christmas Dinner is not something I would want to attend.  It was so vividly drawn I found myself wincing for their transgressions.  

Additionally, the Vices' backstory, which is woven into the narrator's search for the family's true identity, is quite interesting.  So much identity was lost -- deliberately and accidentally -- during great migrations of people in the 20th century.  Unfortunately, this trail is not fully-formed by the author and the final pages of the book peter out.  

Imperfect though I found it, it makes for an enjoyable read.  Book clubs should consider it as a choice for their readers.  There is plenty to be pondered and discussed.  

Many, many thanks to OTHER PRESS for the review copy.  


Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
On Sale: August 16, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59051-415-3 (1-59051-415-7)

Friday, December 9, 2011


It's called the "bystander effect" and its real.  It's been proven time and again by psychologists.  And it has been under discussion again with the Penn State scandal.  (Read about it here from NPR) Most people think they would intervene if they saw a crime happening in front of them.  They would either step in, or at least call the police or an ambulance.  The truth is, as humans, it's not that cut and dry.  The more witnesses there are, the less likely it is that someone will come forward.  Why?  Everyone assumes that someone else will pick up the phone.  The mind makes excuses.  

In 1964, this bystander effect cost a young woman her life.

Based on the true events surrounding the attack of Kitty Genovese, Ryan David Jahn explores the by stander effect, creating scenarios for each of the neighbors who did nothing.  Each chapter changes point-of-view, showing what each character was doing, instead of helping Kitty.  Failing marriages, draft papers, corrupt cops and an ailing mother all lurk behind the windows, safely inside.  

Kitty Genovese
Jahn creates a set of very believable characters and the book begins quite strongly.  But as the story progresses, it devolves into repetitive, spiraling narratives about selfish and shallow people. The only threads that kept me slogging through the mid-pages were that of Frank and Erin and Patrick and his mother.  It finds its footing once again as the threads come together once again in the final chapters.  Most effective is the first-person narrative of Kitty.  Her inner thoughts of terror and determination for survival is gripping, and is the strength of the book.  Even as it is a novel to be read for itself, hopefully, it will remind its readers of the importance of stepping in, speaking up and making a difference.


Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

ISBN 9780143118961 | 288 pages | 31 May 2011 | Penguin | 5.15 x 7.87in | 18 - AND UP

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I adore this book.  It's a completely individual way to tell a story.  It's a novel masquerading as a scrapbook -- or perhaps it's the other way around.  Author Caroline Preston says of taking on this project, "I spent an unhealthy portion of my childhood rooting around in the boiling-or-freezing attic of my parent's house in Lake Forest, Illinois.  My mother could be called a tidy pack rat —keeping many generations worth of diaries, letters, clippings, dresses and weird souvenirs in neatly labeled trunks and boxes."  

She could be talking about me.  With family in rural Illinois and a grandmother who has been a wonderful archivist, I have spent untold hours staring at pictures of ancestor's I never knew.  My cousin Rachael and I also frequent the many antique shops in small towns -- not to mention the treasure troves we find in old barns and sheds.  I've got piles and stacks and boxes of my own now.  Postcards and driver's licenses from people I don't know.  

One of my prized finds.
Preston takes actual pieces of vintage ephemera and constructs a story about a young girl who's growing up during the fabulous Roaring 20s.  Frankie Pratt lands a scholarship at Vassar, rubs elbows with wealthy socialites, gets a broken heart, dances the Charleston, and lives it up in Art Deco Manhattan and expatriate Paris.

Page 116
Preston's narrator is sweet, naive but not useless.  She is reminiscent of Cassandra from Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle.  She chooses experience over caution, but she's not spoiled or reckless.  Simply a smart girl who wants to get the most out of life.  And her scrapbook makes her even more endearing to the reader.  

Page 180
Preston's collection is even more impressive when you learn that it's all real. She created an actual scrapbook of actual items that she found.  Preston recalls, "In all I collected over 600 pieces of original 1920's ephemera.  Some I found in my own stash of vintage paper, the rest I tracked down and bought from dozens of antique stores and hundreds of eBay sellers."  And she did a beautiful job. 

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt reads, in parts, a bit like a young adult book but not enough to be only read as such.  It's completely enjoyable for any age.  The items found on the pages enlighten the reader about a past era.  Frankie Pratt is a lively voice from the past.  

Many thanks to Heather at HarperCollins for the review copy.


ISBN: 9780061966903
Imprint: Ecco 
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Pages: 240; $25.99

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


It's going to be impossible to review this book without comparing it to the works of PG Wodehouse.  The writings share a number of attributes -- silly surnames, ridiculous situations, and even more unlikely solutions.  Barrister Horace Rumpole tells stories from the first person, much like Bertie and Mr. Mulliner, but his are from the Old Bailey and its environs.  And instead of focusing on the theft of cow creamers and fickle romances, Rumpole must use his wits to set free ne'er-do-wells who (probably) didn't commit the crime they are on trial for.

Somewhat jaded, Rumpole has seen it all at this point.  He is little fazed by the cluelessness  of dregs of society or the incredible antics of the Ministers of Parliament.  His nonchalant narrative makes the stories all the more entertaining for a lay audience.  One needn't be a student of the law to get caught up in the tales of the court anymore than you need to have a country house to want to go Bunburying.  I will admit, however, that my maniacal watching of Law & Order: UK hasn't hurt any with some of the vocabulary.

Unlike Bertie Wooster, Rumpole is actually trying to better his world, one client at a time.  He doesn't think of himself first, or rely on a Jeeves to get him out of a scrape.  Rumpole takes on injustice when everything stacked against him.  He thrives on it.  He's a bit like Wile E. Coyote, except his traps actually work.  While other barristers and solicitors are content with a deposition, Rumpole finds the one tiny detail that unravels an entire case.

Reading Rumpole is a sheer delight.  The stories are lithe and funny.  Mortimer has drawn imperfect, realistic characters for us to watch from the gallery.  Or better yet, beside him at a pub, sharing a pint and stories of "that time when...".

A great many thanks to Meghan at Viking for the review copy.

ISBN 9780670023066 | 528 pages | 10 Nov 2011 | Viking Adult | 5.98 x 9.01in | 18 - AND UP 

Monday, December 5, 2011


I became a fan of Bradford Morrow somewhat late in the game. He's been writing, teaching and winning awards for sometime now.  Yet I only I read, loved and reviewed The Diviner's Tale last year, but I could barely wait to read more by him.  I was thrilled when I was sent an advance copy of his book of short stories, The Uninnocent.  

Working in a different format than his last novel, Morrow is freed from structure.  It's actually quite surprising how his voice changes from tale to tale.  While not really modern Gothic or supernatural, like The Diviner's Tale, these stories are incredibly dark.  Most are told in the first person, making the psychological insight all the more disturbing.  These are creatures who suffer from an extreme form of desperation, yet remind us how fine that line is for all of us.

From O. Henry's Full House (1952)

Lush is like a modern version of an O. Henry story. It recalls The Gift of the Magi and The Last Leaf, though in a completely different and dysfunctional way.  My favorite might be the eponymous tale in which a child recalls seeing the ghost of his brother.  The narrator speaks with simplicity.  He captures how a child speaks before he thinks, not restrained by the embarrassments that we acquire as we age.  And it is this naivete that makes his story even more unsettling.  Ellie's Idea is strangely amusing, but not all of the stories leave one satisfied.  This collection is not for the squeamish, and should probably be read in the daylight hours and in small doses.  But I mean that as a compliment.  Morrow draws you into the characters' minds, gets you dizzy, then leaves you to find your own way home.  It's well done and enjoyable; just be sure to drop some breadcrumbs along the way.


Many thanks to Claiborne at Pegasus Books for the advance copy.

ISBN 978-1-60598-265-6
Size 6 x 9
272 pages
December 5, 2011