Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: Jesse's Girl by Gary Morgenstein

Jesse's Girl
Review of Jesse's Girl by Gary Morgenstein

Teddy Mentor is woken up in the middle of the night by a call from the Montana wilderness program informing him that his 16 year old adopted son, Jesse,  has run away.   Jesse had just begun the court mandated substance abuse program and no one knows where he might have gone.

Mentor has his own problems.   Divorced and widowed by Jesse's mother, Mentor is barely getting by in his PR job in NY.   But Mentor leaves his Brooklyn apartment and heads to Montana to find Jesse.  Checking all leads, skulking after drug dealers, getting thrown in jail, and constantly searching, Mentor eventually runs into Jesse at an isolated bus station.  In an effort to bond with his son, Mentor agrees to drive Jesse to meet a girl in Kentucky.    Jesse's girl is in an abusive relationship and somehow Mentor finds himself on the run with Jesse and Theresa.   

The strength and complexity of parental love was one of the dominant themes in Jesse's Girl. While I'm not knowledgeable about adoption, addiction or spousal abuse, all of which permeate and shape the story, but I was engrossed by how these complex issues drove the characters.  I wasn't drawn to any of the main characters and was frustrated by Jesse, but I found myself involved and interested in their shared journey.  While it differed from my usual read, I found  Jesse's Girl  engrossing, difficult to put down.

This was my first Gary Morgenstein novel, and hadn't known what to expect.  The author and his main character live in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and this made the work of particular personal interest as well.   The strength of his writing and narrative encourage me to look for his other books.  

Warning:  The book contains adult subject matter and strong language.

Publisher: CreateSpace (March 13, 2009), 340 pages.
Courtesy of Bostick Communications.  

Thank you, Bostick Communications and Gary Morgenstein for this opportunity!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday 56: Week 4

* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions 
on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of this blog.
Post a link along with your post back to this blog and to Storytime with Tonya and Friends here or at
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Here's my entry:

"Where are you headed?"  She released a small sigh, glad to be free from his scrutiny.  Besides, limp noodles were not worth eating.  "To the Palace. That was where my father went, six months past."

-Silver Phoenix: beyond the Kingdom of Xia  by Cindy Pon

Book Review: Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

I noticed in interviews, Cindy Pon would refer to the book's blurb to describe the work, so I'm following that example. Here's the publisher's blurb, which evokes an action film:

On the day of her first betrothal meeting - and rejection - Ai Ling discovers a power welling deep within her. She can reach into other people's spirits and hear their thoughts, see their dreams...and that's just the beginning. 

Ai Ling has been marked by the immortals; her destiny lies in the emperor's palace, where a terrible evil has lived stealing souls for centuries.  She must conquer this enemy and rescue her captive father, while mythical demons track her every step.  And then she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own, whose fate is intertwined with hers.  Here is a heart-stopping, breathtaking tale of action, fantasy, and romance - of anything with the making of legend. 

To watch a trailer of the book, click here or visit

Review of Silver Phoenix: beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon

Ai Ling is a young girl who is raised differently from most girls.   Her father had been a respected member of the Emperor's court and given his daughter the best education possible.  Not only can Ai Ling read and write with a beautiful hand, she is familiar with the most sacred texts. Despite her education and skills,  Ai Ling is still subject to society's rules and finds herself betrothed to a well positioned young man whom she has not met.

At the betrothal meeting, Ai Ling finds that she has the ability to hear people's thoughts.  She hides her gift, but Ai Ling is considered an unsuitable match and is humiliated.  Her bad fortune does not end there. As her parents search for a replacement match for Ai Ling, her father must suddenly journey to the Emperor's court.  Before he leaves, he bestows on his daughter a special pendant to keep her safe.   When he fails to return, Ai Ling and her mother have no one to turn to.  Ai Ling is unable to solve their problems in the village and undertakes a quest to find her father and bring him home safely.

During this journey, Ai Ling befriends Chen Yong, a half Xian and half Western young man who is on a quest to learn more about his parents, and Li Rong, Chen Yong's adoptive brother.  Together the friends encounters mythical beasts and dangerous enemies and must face challenges that they had not imagined and could not have prepared for.   

Set in the Kingdom of Xia, the tale appears to takes place in a mythical world similar to the era of the 16 Kingdoms of China between 407 AD to 431 AD.

To be honest, I had been very excited about the book even before I had the chance to read it.   A young adult fantasy novel set in Ancient China with a young, smart and brave Chinese heroine on a quest to save her father from an evil presence in the Emperor's Court!?  Count me in, I thought!  Growing up, I hadn't read that many books that were set in Asia or had strong women heroines.   I had read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, but the heroine there is worlds apart for Ai Ling. 

While reading the book, I was very conscious that it had a young heroine whose family helped her develop her intellect and strength.  Ai Ling was strong and had confidence in her abilities - this helps her through the trials ahead.  I also got a kick out of how much the book reflected the flora, fauna, food and possibly myths of China so naturally in its references to images, scents and atmosphere.  For instance,  Ai Ling's betrothed was "a bamboo of a boy, the barely green type, with large almond eyes in a pale face."   I'd be the first to admit that it's a bit silly to be happy that Ai Ling had dried mangoes and dried squid in her traveling pack and that she craved pork buns, hand pulled noodles, dumplings, and duck, but I was!  I couldn't help but notice that even the scents and jewelry were Asian, from Ai Ling's mother's the gardenia oil and jade hairpin to the peonies that inspired Ai Ling to paint.  Food  and smells evoke memories and location in my mind and have appeared effectively in many of my favorite novels,  so these descriptions resonated with me and was just another reason for me to chuckle while reading Silver Phoenix.

But putting aside my excitement to have an Asian heroine, I enjoyed the book for many other reasons.  The writing was so clear and effective without being overdone.   The characters were well established, seemed so natural and were so simpatico that I was on their side from the start.  The kingdom of Xia was unique and well developed as a whole new world inhabited by demons and fantasy creatures that were different from the usual fantasy mold.   Plus, the journey was action packed - I found myself constantly waiting for the next phase in their adventure to see how Ai Ling, Chen Yong and Li Rong would respond.  

I highly recommend Silver Phoenix to anyone that likes adventure and fantasy stories.  It's a book that I intend to give to my niece and friends' kids once they get older.   It's a keeper!

Publisher: Harper Teen (April 28, 2009), 352 pages.

To visit Cindy Pon's website and blog click here or visit

To read a few interviews with Cindy Pon and learn more about her writing process,  Silver Phoenix, and bringing the book to fruition,  visit these sites and links :

Jen  Hayley on Jan 21, 2009 - click here or visit

Writing the Renaissance on April 21, 2009 - click here or visit

The Enchanted Inkpot on April 28, 2009 - click here or visit

Frenetic Reader on April 29, 2009 - click here or visit

Authors on the Verge on April 30, 2009 - click here or visit

Authors Now! on May 1, 2009 - click here or visit

Into the Wardrobe on May 18, 2009 - click here or visit  

The Ya Ya Yas on May 21, 2009 - click here or visit

Writing It Out on May 22, 2009 - click here or visit

The Five Randoms on May 29, 2009  - click here or visit

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Giveaway: Night Gardener by George Pelecanos

Thanks to Valerie at Hatchette Books, I'm hosting my first book giveaway! I have 5 copies of The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos.

story image

Synopsis courtesy of Barnes and Noble:

When the body of a local teenager is found in a community garden, homicide detective Gus Ramone relives intense memories of a case he worked twenty years earlier. When he was still a rookie, Ramone and his partner Dan "Doc" Holiday assisted legendary detective T.C. Cook as he investigated a series of killings involving young victims left overnight in neighborhood parks. The killer, dubbed, "the Night Gardener," was never caught. Since then, Holiday has left the force under a cloud of morals charges; he now works as a bodyguard and driver, taunted by his dreams of what he might have been. Cook retired, but he has never stopped agonizing about the unsolved case. Ramone is "good police," working as a homicide detective for the city's violent-crime division. He is also a devoted husband and father, and his teenage son, Diego, was a friend of the most recent victim, a boy named Asa." Could the Night Gardener be on the prowl again? Asa's death draws the three men together on a mission to finish the work that has haunted them for years. For T.C. Cook, it means solving one of the few cases that eluded him in his distinguished career. For Doc Holiday, the Night Gardener case is one last chance to prove - to Cook, to Ramone, and to himself - what kind of police officer he once was. For Gus Ramone, catching the killer means not only doing his job but knowing that his son will not be the next victim. The regret, anger, and fierce sense of purpose that once burned between them come rushing back as they race to lay to rest the monster who has stalked their dreams.

Visit George Pelecanos's website to read excerpt of the book or learn more about the author. Read my review of The Night Gardener posted on June 22.

To enter, list a book that you'd like to read next or a book that you'd recommend.

1. Please include your email address, so that I can contact you if you win.
2. For an extra entry, sign up to be a follower. If you're already a follower, let me know and you'll get the extra entry as well.
3. For another extra entry, subscribe via googlereader or blogger or by email and let me know that you do.
4. For another entry, blog about this giveaway and send me the link.
5. Leave a separate comment for each entry or you'll only be entered once.

The contest is limited to US and Canada only. No P.O. boxes. The contest ends at midnight of June 30, 2009.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley

Review of The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley's book caught my attention.   He writes that the principle of the path governs the way that our lives progress, whether we're aware of it or not.   Our paths that will take us to the path's destination, regardless of what we'd intended or had hoped to go.   Certain actions always have the same results.  In the simplest terms, the principle of the path is like the principle of the harvest, we reap what we sow.    Or as he puts it, "Today's decisions create tomorrow's experiences."

It is easy enough to identify when someone else seems to be on the wrong path - one of disappointment or regret.  It is not as easy to spot in our own lives.  We can see the paths that we took in hindsight,  but we need to take special care to see where our paths are pointing us right now. The book provides us with questions for self-examination to help with this.

As we identify areas which we need to address, Stanley stresses that it is direction not intention that sets our destination.  He writes that by acknowledging and acting on this cause and effect principle, we can avoid the regret that might come on many levels,  "What seems like a sacrifice now will feel like an investment later on."  The key is identifying when we're on the wrong path.    The principle of the path does not try to provide a solution or fix, but instead proffers a guide to better self awareness.

Review and reaction:
I received this book through the Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger Program.   It's my first exposure to their books and found the book interesting and a bit discomfiting.  The writing is anecdotal and clear.  While the main point is straightforward,  I thought the discussion was helpful because it forced me to think through my own actions and the areas in my life that need some work.  It was the review of my own life that was a bit discomfiting.

I particularly liked his description of the ways that we rationalize decisions.   We delay making changes.   "We listen to our hearts, and then we assign our heads the responsibility of building a case to support our hearts' decisions.  But again, the reasons follow the decisions - they aren't the real reasons behind the decisions." 

I found the book interesting and helpful and would recommend it to others who are interested in examining their own lives and whether they're taking the right steps to reach their long term goals, whether financial, relational, or on any other level.

Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishing, Inc. (March 31, 2009), 204 pages.
Courtesy of Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers program.

Thank you, Thomas Nelson, Inc. for this opportunity.  If you're interested in joining their book review bloggers program, click here or visit

Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Review: In Darkness, Death by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Review of In Darkness, Death by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Cover Image

Samurai Lord Inaba is murdered in his sleep while under the protection of the Shogun.  Judge Ooka and his adoptive son, Seikei, attempt to investigate with a bloodstained origami butterfly as their sole clue.  Judge Ooka enlists the aid of a "retired" ninja, Tatsuno, to accompany Seikei as he travels across Japan searching for the maker of the origami butterfly.

Their travels lead Seikei and Tatsuno to meet impoverished farmers, wary monks, and powerful daimyos.  While Tatsuno attempts to warn Seikei to rein in his idealistic fervor,  Seikei's code of honor win Tatsuno's respect.   In the end, Seikei must flee from false imprisonment and face a dangerous and powerful ninja to find the truth behind the assassination.

In Darkness, Death introduces another interesting character in the series.  Tatsuno, the "retired" ninja is cynical and resists having to accompany the young Seikei.   Though Tatsuno could have abandoned Seikei numerous times, we find that Tatsuno follows a strict code of honor of his own.   I enjoyed learning about Tatsuno and the lives of ninjas during the 1700s, their relationship to the monks and to the local farmers.    
This adventure shared the wonderful balance of action and insight into Seikei's personality.  His slow realization of the plight of the farmers, the power of the daiymo and the role of the Shogun and his officials was sad but very interesting.  The dilemmas that he faced added further depth to fourteen year old Seikei's character.  

Publisher: Philomel Books (193 pages), 2000.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Book Review: The Sword that Cut Burning Grass by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Review of The Sword that Cut Burning Grass by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

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During the period of Yoshimune, the 8th shogun of the Tokugawa family, Judge Ooka was well respected for his wise and honest decisions and regarded as the Sherlock Holmes of Japan.   

Seikei was born to a merchant family, but had won the Judge's respect when he voluntarily assisted him solve a case and prevent serious injustice.  Judge Ooka adopted Seikei and is fulfilling Seikei's dream to become a samurai. 
Now fourteen year old samurai apprentice Seikei is called upon to assist his adoptive father, Judge Ooaki, serve the Shogun.  The emperor of Japan is a young boy and has refused to perform his duties.  The Shogun sends Seikei to Kyoto convince the emperor to leave the temple and to resume his duties.    The Shogun explains that the emperor must make a public appearance at the time of the spring solstice, plow a furrow of land and sow rice seeds to maintain the peace.  If the emperor fails to perform this duty, the farmers will fear for the harvest and will be unable to deliver the proper quotas to their daimyo lords, and this will result in widespread unrest.  Seikei must convince the emperor to resume his duties.
Seikei meets with the emperor, but soon after he leaves the temple, sudden violence erupts.  The emperor is suddenly missing and Seikei is arrested.

To save himself and to serve his country, young Seikei must track down the emperor's whereabouts and prevent a daimyo's grab for control with the help a mysterious samurai and a young serving girl.   Meanwhile, Judge Ooaki is unaware of the dangers that track his young charge.

I enjoy  historical fiction and detective novels.  Japan during the 1700s,  the time of the powerful Shoguns, holds particular fascination for me.   Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler's series are made even more enjoyable by their choice of lead characters.  Judge Ooka is a historical figure with a reputation for wise and honest decisions and has been described as the Sherlock Holmes of Japan. He served the 8th shogun of the Tokugawa family.   In his official capacity, Judge Ooka is assigned to solve crimes and to help the Shogun maintain the peace.   Judge Ooka is assisted by his adoptive son, the young Seikei.

The point of view of Judge Ooka's adoptive son, Seikei works particularly well.  Born as a merchant's son, Seikei  wants to become worthy of his new samurai status.  Seikei has a strong sense of honor and considerable courage but is still developing his samurai skills.  When asked which do he values more, life or honor? "Honor," replies Seikei dutifully, "because everyone must die, but honor lasts forever."  

Since a fourteen year old boy can blend in and observe a great deal, Seikei undertakes critical missions much more than an easily recognized official of the Shogun.  Stout of heart and determined,  Seikei serves his father, the Shogun and the Emperor well.   This particular installment is one of the more captivating of the series because of the friendships and adventures that Seikei makes along the way.

Format and cover: Catchy and accurately reflects the text within.
Publication date:  (208 pages)
Publisher: Sleuth Philomel
Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Book Review: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith

Review of Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built


The latest and tenth installment in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith,  we find the owner and proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency,  Mma Precious  Ramotswe is approached by the proprietor of a local football team to help him discover the reason behind the team's losing streak.  Though unfamiliar with the rules and world of football, Mma. Ramotswe and her prickly assistant Mma Grace Makutsi enlist the help of Mma. Ramotswe's football loving and very observant adopted son, Puso.  With their gentle prodding, interviewing and powers of deduction,  the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is tracks down the cause of the problem.

All the while, Mma Ramotswe is heartsick with a problem of her own.  While she is happily married to Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni, one of Botswana's most talented mechanics,  she is dismayed to discover that her much-loved and battered white van is finally giving out.  Mma Ramotswe is loyal and recalls all the adventures with her white van. She is not ready to retire the van.   She calls upon the help of Fanwell, Mr. Maketoni's second assistant,  to see if the white van can be brought back to life.

Mma. Ramotswe's assistant, Grace Makutsi is herself distracted by trouble brewing with her fiance, the  owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop, wealthy and hardworking Mr. Phuti Radiphuti.  Mr. Phuti has hired her nemesis from the Botswana Secretarial College, Violet Sephotho, as a new saleslady in his shop.  Though Mr. Phuti is oblivious, Mma. Makutsi suspects that the beautiful and scheming Violet is plotting to steal him away.   Mma. Makutsi searches for a way to remove the danger without alerting Mr. Phuti.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built does not disappoint!  As the latest in the series, we are happy to find Mma. Precious Ramotswe with her gentle and kind ways unchanged. She still pays respect to the traditional ways.  She generously offers help and comfort to those who need it.   As she gets to know Fanwell and his circumstances, you are glad to become better acquainted with the characters in her life.  The constant sense of pride in Botswana and her love for her father are woven into the narrative but the book never dips to the maudlin, folksy or cute.  This book is a very enjoyable way to pass a few hours! 

I highly recommend it for fans of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, people fond of detective cozies, and someone looking for a heartwarming glimpse into another culture.

Format and cover: Eye catching while it reflects the tone and content of the book. 
Rating 4.5 out of 5
Release date: April 21, 2009
Publisher:  Pantheon Books (212 pages)
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library.