Saturday, May 1, 2010

Giveaway of Anita Shreve's A Change in Altitude

Valerie and Hatchette Book Group are sponsoring a giveaway of 3 copies of Anita Shreve's A Change in Altitude. I heard Anita Shreve talk about A Change in Altitude during the Boston Book Festival last October and am very excited to host this giveaway!

About the Book:
Margaret and Patrick have been married just a few months when they set off on what they hope will be a great adventure-a year living in Kenya. Margaret quickly realizes there is a great deal she doesn't know about the complex mores of her new home, and about her own husband.

A British couple invites the newlyweds to join on a climbing expedition to Mount Kenya, and they eagerly agree. But during their harrowing ascent, a horrific accident occurs. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Margaret struggles to understand what happened on the mountain and how these events have transformed her and her marriage, perhaps forever.

A Change in Altitude illuminates the inner landscape of a couple, the irrevocable impact of tragedy, and the elusive nature of forgiveness. With stunning language and striking emotional intensity, Anita Shreve transports us to the exotic panoramas of Africa and into the core of our most intimate relationships.

About the Author:
Anita Shreve began writing fiction while working as a high school teacher. Although one of her first published stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975, Shreve felt she couldn't make a living as a fiction writer so she became a journalist. She traveled to Africa, and spent three years in Kenya, writing articles that appeared in magazines such as Quest, US, and Newsweek. Back in the United States, she turned to raising her children and writing freelance articles for magazines. Shreve later expanded two of these articles — both published in the New York Times Magazine — into the nonfiction books Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone. At the same time Shreve also began working on her first novel, Eden Close. With its publication in 1989, she gave up journalism for writing fiction full time, thrilled, as she says, with "the rush of freedom that I could make it up."

Since Eden Close Anita Shreve has written eleven other novels: Strange Fits of Passion, Where or When, Resistance, The Weight of Water, The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks, The Last Time They Met, Sea Glass, All He Ever Wanted, Light on Snow, A Wedding in December and, most recently, Body Surfing. In 1998 Shreve received the PEN/L. L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction.

Learn more on Anita Shreve's website at

Interested? Share the reading group guide with your book club!

Reading Group Guide:
1. How would you interpret the novel's title? Does the concept of altitude have significance in the story beyond its literal meaning?

2. During the drive to Mt. Kenya, Margaret and Patrick were talking about whether photography detaches you from the present or helps you immerse yourself in it more fully. In your own life, do you find that taking photographs enriches experiences or prevents you from being fully in the moment?

3. When Diana brings Adhiambo to stay with Patrick and Margaret for the night, they disagree about how best to deal with the situation. Margaret seems more concerned about Adhiambo's emotional well-being, while Patrick focuses on her physical state. In what way do their differing perspectives reflect other aspects on their characters? Do you think Adhiambo would have been better off if Patrick and Margaret had taken her to the hospital that night?

4. Throughout the novel, Margaret is struck by the way Kenyan characters use the phrase "Just all right". How would you interpret the meaning of the phrase? Why is it so surprising to Margaret?

5. How culpable is Margaret in what happens on the mountain? To what extent does the blame fall on others involved in the climb? Should a person be held responsible for the unintended consequences of her actions?

6. Is Patrick right to confront Margaret about what happened on the mountain? Margaret argues that if he loves her and intends to stay with her, he should not have told her about his opinion, while Patrick believes it is most important to be honest. What do you think is most important in a relationship, total honesty or sensitivity to the other's feelings?

7. Why do you think Margaret feels so strongly about taking the photograph of the leopard? Are there parallels between this action and Diana's behavior on the glacier? Have you ever put yourself in danger because of a momentary impulse? What do you think motivates actions of this kind?

8. What is your definition of infidelity? Does Margaret's relationship with Rafiq constitute unfaithfulness to Patrick? Is there such a thing as emotional infidelity or is only physical cheating really cheating?

9. How much of a marriage's failure or success be attributed to the love between husband and wife, how much can be attributed to external factors, such as jobs, finances, location, and other people? Patrick says, "I think couples need projects to keep them together". Is he correct that a couple must put in effort to make their marriage work?

10. If the accident on the mountain had never occurred, do you think Margaret and Patrick's relationship would have evolved differently? Would anything more have happened between Arthur and Margaret? Between Rafiq and Margaret?

11. Imagine Margaret and Patrick thirty years after the end of A Change in Altitude, looking back on their life in Africa. How do you think each of them would describe the trajectory of their relatinship during this time?

12. Describe your response to the novel's ending. Do you find it sad? Uplifting? Do you feel that things had worked out for the best? For more information, visit

Want your own copy? Join the giveaway below!


To enter, please tell us about a "must read" book. Thanks!

1. Please include your email address, so that I can contact you if you win. No email address, no entry.
2. You must be a follower to join the contest.

The contest is limited to US and Canada only. No P.O. boxes. The contest ends at noon on May 30, 2010.

Thank you so much to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group for sponsoring this giveaway!

Giveaway of The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

Valerie and Hatchette Book Group are sponsoring a giveaway of Tom Rob Smith's The Secret Speech, a fast paced thriller set in Russia.

About the Book:
Tom Rob Smith-the author whose debut, Child 44, has been called "brilliant" (Chicago Tribune), "remarkable" (Newsweek) and "sensational" (Entertainment Weekly)-returns with an intense, suspenseful new novel: a story where the sins of the past threaten to destroy the present, where families must overcome unimaginable obstacles to save their loved ones, and where hope for a better tomorrow is found in the most unlikely of circumstances . . .


Soviet Union, 1956. Stalin is dead, and a violent regime is beginning to fracture-leaving behind a society where the police are the criminals, and the criminals are innocent. A secret speech composed by Stalin's successor Khrushchev is distributed to the entire nation.

Its message: Stalin was a tyrant. Its promise: The Soviet Union will change.

Facing his own personal turmoil, former state security officer Leo Demidov is also struggling to change. The two young girls he and his wife Raisa adopted have yet to forgive him for his part in the death of their parents. They are not alone. Now that the truth is out, Leo, Raisa, and their family are in grave danger from someone consumed by the dark legacy of Leo's past career. Someone transformed beyond recognition into the perfect model of vengeance.

From the streets of Moscow in the throes of political upheaval, to the Siberian gulags, and to the center of the Hungarian uprising in Budapest, The Secret Speech is a breathtaking, epic novel that confirms Tom Rob Smith as one of the most exciting new authors writing today.

About the Author:
Tom Rob Smith graduated from Cambridge University in 2001 and lives in London. His first novel, Child 44, was a New York Times bestseller and an international publishing sensation. Among its many honors, Child 44 won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Learn more on Tom Rob Smith's website at Or visit the book's website at

Curious? Share the Reading Group Guide with your book group! Here's the link to a PDF of the Reading Group Guide.

Reading Group Guide:
  • Zoya and Elena's true parents were killed by an officer under Leo's command. Do you think that Leo was morally required to take care of them?
  • When Leo was a member of the state security force it was his job to arrest many of his fellow citizens. To what degree should he be held responsible for his past actions, even though he was doing his duty and following orders?
  • How do you think the political atmosphere and the role of women in society affected Fraera's transformation from a priest's wife to a vory leader?
  • Raisa seems willing to sacrifice her relationship with Leo to save Zoya. What do you think of her decision?
  • As rioting gulag prisoners prepare to execute Sinyavsky, the camp commander, he pleads that he should be spared because in addition to the terrible things that he'd done while running the gulag, he also tried to help when he could. "Can I not try to put right the wrongs that I've done?" he asks. Should the prisoners have given him a second chance?
  • Zoya ends up seeking her revenge on Leo by joining Fraera's gang, but in doing so she hurts her little sister, the only family that she has. What do you think of Zoya's actions?
  • Leo was trained to be a devoted, loyal servant of the State but he forged an an unorthodox path for himself outside of the security services, despite the clear risk. Why do you think he was able to do this, when so many others couldn't or wouldn't do so?
  • At the end of the story we meet a musician who is revered as a genius but his work was actually stolen from another composer who died in the gulags. If he were to reveal the true source of the music he would be exposed as a fraud and arrested as a thief. Now, riddled with guilt he asks Leo, "What would you have me do?" How would you answer?
  • There are many "secrets" in this story -- Leo choosing not to tell Raisa what he knows about Zoya and the knife, Raisa keeping her meeting with Fraera from Leo, and Krushchev's Speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, are only a few -- and the question of what the consequences for keeping those secrets might be plays out in ways large and small throughout. Do you feel that there are situations in the book where characters were right to keep their secrets? What about the final scene with Leo, Zoya and Elena? Should Zoya tell her sister the whole truth?
Curious? Listen to a podcast!
Want your own copy? Sign up for the contest!


To enter, please (1) visit Tom Rob Smith's website and either share something that you learned about him or The Secret Speech OR (2) tell us about a book that you're looking forward to reading this year.

1. Please include your email address, so that I can contact you if you win. No email address, no entry.
2. You must be a follower to join the contest.

The contest is limited to US and Canada only. No P.O. boxes. The contest ends at noon on May 30, 2010.

Thank you so much to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group for sponsoring this giveaway!

Book Giveaway of I Has A Hotdog by Professor Happy Cat

This giveaway is a little late in posting - but thanks to Anna and Hatchette Book Group, we're giving away 3 copies of Professor Happy Cat's I Has A Hotdog: What Your Dog Is Really Thinking . The book is a witty compilation of photographs, captions, and visual jokes.

About the Book:

An you thawt we dint! Now Professor Happycat tells you what's in it and, from I HAS A and beyond, lets over 200 LOLdogs loose on the world, all barking the truth about kibble, toys, and bad kitties. This collection of favorites and never-before-seen photos will have you barking for more!

For all you hoomins, a LOLdog is a kay-nine picture with a funny, misspelled caption.

About the Author:
Ben Huh is the CEO of Cheezburger Network, which owns and operates I Has A Hotdog, I Can Has, Fail Blog, and 38 other popular humor sites. He is a former journalist turned dot com entrepreneur who has a knack for nailing the zeitgeist. Ben has been credited with bringing Internet memes to the mainstream and popularizing Internet culture. The success of his business is attributed to his knowledge of memes, viral content, and crowd sourcing. Ben has been featured in the New York Times, TIME, the LA Times, and Wired magazine, among many publications in print and online. Learn more on Ben Huh's website at


To enter, please visit Ben Huh's website and tell us something that you learned about him.

1. Please include your email address, so that I can contact you if you win. No email address, no entry.
2. You must be a follower to join the contest.

The contest is limited to US and Canada only. No P.O. boxes. The contest ends at noon on May 30, 2010.

Thank you so much to Anna and Hatchette Book Group for sponsoring this giveaway!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Winners of Iron Man 2 by Alexander Irvine

Winners of Iron Man 2 by Alexander Irvine

littlemisschatterbox - confirmed
jewell330 claudine - confirmed
librarygrinch - confirmed
ravndahl - confirmed

I've emailed the winners and they have until noon on Monday to respond. Thanks for participating! Thank you so much to Anna and Hatchette Book Group for sponsoring this giveaway!

Winners of The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann

The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann
thetometraveller - confirmed
gcwhiskas - confirmed

I've emailed the winners. They have until noon on Monday to send me their contact details. Thanks for participating and thank you to Judy and Random House for sponsoring this giveaway!

Winners of Hatchette Giveaways in April


Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz - leenbeen2001 - confirmed

Foxy by Pam Greir
mitzihinkey -confirmed
mamie316 - confirmed
lizzi0915 - confirmed

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
bea - confirmed
florida982002 -confirmed

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
librarygrinch - confirmed
denny - confirmed
123yes456 - confirmed

The Art of Choosing: The Subtext of Life by Sheena Iyengar
janetfaye - confirmed
krtrumpet - confirmed
thndrstd - confirmed

I've emailed the winners. They have until noon on Monday to send me their contact details. Thanks for participating and thank you to Anna, Valerie, and Hatchette Book Group for sponsoring these giveaways.

Friday 56: Week 41

* 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 at
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Here's mine from Within the Hollow Crown: A Valiant King's Struggle to Save His Country, His Dynasty, and His Love by Margaret Campbell Barnes. Richard II is fourteen years old and his country is facing its first peasant uprising - and the young king rises to the challenge.

Richard heard it too, together with a lot of other wild suggestions. "Don't worry, my dear," he said soothingly. "Walworth won't let them get into London. He'll raise the movable bit of the bridge first."

Winners of Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton

Winners of Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton

xxsquigglesxx - confirmed
candc320 - confirmed
wakeupangel -confirmed

Congratulations!!I've emailed the winners and they have until noon on Sunday to send me their contact details.

Thanks for participating and thank you so much to Hatchette Book Group and Valerie for sponsoring this giveaway!

Winners of Denise Mina's Slip of the Knife

Winners of Denise Mina's Slip of the Knife

BethsBookReviewBlog - confirmed
chey127 - confirmed
a649 chris - confirmed

Congratulations!!I've emailed the winners and they have until noon on Sunday to send me their contact details.

Thanks for participating and thank you so much to Hatchette Book Group and Valerie for sponsoring this giveaway!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Winners of Apologize, Apologize by Elizabeth Kelly

Winners of Apologize, Apologize by Elizabeth Kelly

wendyhines - confirmed
dawnpnr bea - confirmed
pbclark -confirmed

Congratulations!!I've emailed the winners and they have until noon on Sunday to send me their contact details.

Thanks for participating and thank you so much to Hatchette Book Group and Valerie for sponsoring this giveaway!

Winners of Maria Semple's This One Is Mine

Winners of This One Is Mine by Maria Semple

enyl - confirmed
sassyladi - confirmed

I've emailed the winners and they have until noon on Sunday to send me their contact details.

Thanks for participating and thank you so much to Hatchette Book Group and Valerie for sponsoring this giveaway!

Winners of Cara Elliott's To Sin With A Scoundrel & David Cristofano's The Girl She Used To Be

Winners of Cara Elliott's To Sin With A Scoundrel

booklover0226 ysa m. - confirmed
marielay - confirmed
Bookbunny68 - confirmed
mckelly74 - confirmed
spynaert - confirmed

Winners of David Cristofano's The Girl She Used To Be

womackcm - confirmed
readingatthebeach - confirmed
rafael - confirmed

I've emailed the winners and they have until noon on Sunday to send me their contact details.

Thanks for participating and thank you so much to Hatchette Book Group, Anna and Valerie for sponsoring these giveaways!

Meredith Duran Stops By!

We're very fortunate to have Meredith Duran visiting with us to talk about her recently released book Wicked Becomes You. I reviewed the book earlier this week - read my review of Wicked Becomes You here.

Just a little background on Meredith Duran before we head over to the chat. Meredith grew up enamored of British history. At thirteen years old, she made a list of life goals that included writing romance novels, trying sushi, and going to London to see Holbein's portrait of Anne Boleyn. She's now a doctoral student in anthropology and reports that all three goals have since become her favorite things to do. When not studying, doing fieldwork in India, or working on her next novel, Meredith can be found in the library, browsing through travelogues written by intrepid Englishwomen of the nineteenth century. Learn more on Meredith Duran's website at

Now, let's welcome Meredith Duran!

Wicked Becomes You

Thank you, Meredith for the opportunity to review the book and for taking the time to chat.

MD: Thanks for having me!

Q1: I thoroughly enjoyed Wicked Becomes You, the two romantic leads were such witty and likable characters. How did you come up with the characters of Gwen Maudsley and Alexander Ramsey?

MD: I owe it all to Pink. No, seriously – I was driving to the library and one of Pink’s songs came on the radio. I’d never heard it before but the lyrics caught my fancy – a woman is betrayed by her husband and her reaction is, “So what? I’m still a rock star…I’ve got a brand new attitude and I’m gonna wear it tonight – I’m gonna get in trouble; I’m gonna start a fight.” It amused me, and I thought, there’s an idea for a book – a very nice girl gets jilted, and instead of wilting, she decides to try out a brand new identity as the bad girl. The humorous possibilities really intrigued me.

From there, I built Gwen’s backstory – because you don’t grow up determined to be Pollyanna unless you’ve got a very good reason for it. And would a reformed Pollyanna fall for another nice guy? No way. She’d go straight for the bad boy. But if the bad boy had his own private reasons for not wanting her to follow his wicked example… well, that would be doubly interesting. Thus was Alex born.

Q2: How did you first decide to write historical romance novels?

MD: I’d always loved writing fiction. But I decided on historical romance when I was thirteen. I was obsessed with English history, and fed up with all the historical fiction I was finding in my school library – it focused too exclusively on men, and the dry details of great events and political maneuverings. Someone left a copy of Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven lying in the dorm common room, and I happened to pick it up and flip through it—and then, realizing that it was historical fiction about a woman, I clutched it to my chest and scurried back to my room (where, about two hours later, I was probably scandalized to come across a full-blown sex scene. Scandalized and delighted, of course). When I finished the book, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to write myself. I’d already spent so much time daydreaming, trying to imagine what the past smelled like, felt like, looked like; how people back then felt and thought, what they believed. Now I’d discovered an entire genre devoted to recreating the experience of everyday life in times past, with female protagonists. The fact that they were love stories just was an extra thrill – I’d always been a sucker for rom coms. :)

Q3: What sort of research do you do when writing?

MD: I love research, so I do a ton of it, to the point where it often becomes a procrastination device, unfortunately. I do collect non-fiction books about the periods in which I'm writing or would like to write, but when I'm working in an era that produced so much literature and commentary of its own (like nineteenth-century England), I favor primary sources -- journals, memoirs, novels, newspapers, pamphlets, letters from the period.

Q4: What are you currently reading? Which writers do you enjoy reading? Who inspires you? Which books are you looking forward to reading this year?

MD: The book on my nightstand right now is White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway. I’m halfway through – there’s some very lovely imagery in this novel, and I’d recommend it to anyone enamored of lyrical writing or Hong Kong, although I’m still waiting for the plot to kick in! I’m a pretty omnivorous reader; the only genre I can’t get into is mystery, although I’ve certainly tried and will keep trying. Among my favorite writers of historical romance are Judith Ivory, Laura Kinsale, Jo Goodman, and Anne Stuart. Judith Ivory’s books are particularly inspiring when I’m feeling burned out; she has such a gorgeous, surprising way of hooking together sentences. Two other books really revitalized me when I was writing Wicked Becomes You: Like No Other Lover, by Julie Anne Long, and Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Both just took my breath away.

As far as upcoming books -- I can’t wait for Anne Stuart’s historical trilogy to release. I’m also excited for Sherry Thomas’s His at Night (I’ve read it and it’s amazing, but I want my own hard copy). And in July, Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed an Earl comes out. I’ll be first in line at the bookstore!

Q5: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

MD: There’s lots of good advice out there. Read as much as you can. Finish a manuscript, no matter how you feel about it, because the discipline you gain by making yourself finish will serve you in good stead for the rest of your writing life. Believe in yourself – if you write, you ARE a writer, no “aspiring” to it. Learn to separate yourself, your feelings, your ego, from your writing: criticism is valuable and emotional dissociation, once the piece is finished, will do you a world of psychological good, especially once you get published!

Q6: Is there a question that you wish you'd been asked in previous interviews? Anything that you'd like to share with our readers?

MD: Sure. Here’s potentially the most damaging advice to give to aspiring writers: don’t try to become a professional writer unless you could not imagine life without writing every day. Back when I was aspiring to publication, I would lurk on writers’ boards and often run across this advice, generally during discussions in which people would remark on what an endless, unceasing joy writing provided to them. It felt so dispiriting. I could very happily live through a day without wanting to write. Did this mean I was not meant to be a writer?

Further down the road, now, I want to say that while writing every day is great advice in terms of producing a draft, I know many published authors who do not write every day, and who do not want to write every single day. If you have a deep-seated desire to be a writer but writing is not always a joy to you, that’s okay. Please do recall some famous pieces of advice:

Red Smith: “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing. I love having written.”

Some days, writing IS a joy to me. The dialogue crackles; the scene is alive in my mind; I am breathless as I write; I cannot wait for people to read what’s appearing on the screen.

Other days, it is a struggle to force myself to the keyboard. My brain feels like one of those old black-and-white televisions in the second after the screen is switched off: an ever-shrinking dot thinning out to a flat line. I write anyway. The sentences feel lifeless, but I write. And sometimes, later, I realize that what I wrote is actually quite good.

And then there are those days when I don’t force myself to write at all. And that’s okay, too. The world is a pretty interesting place, and if you sometimes find its offerings more fascinating than the prospect of your head vs. Microsoft Word, I adamantly believe that that’s a boon for your work. Getting out in the world, surrendering yourself wholly to its wonders, can replenish that mysterious part of your subconscious that connects dots and builds unexpected webs and produces ideas the origins of which you’ll never be able to consciously explain. Do not doubt yourself, or your ambitions to be a writer, simply because you’re not hearing angels sing every time you take a seat at the keyboard. And do not squander a chance to replenish your well of inspiration by feeling guilty about the fact that you’re not at the keyboard.

So, how do you balance your daily impulses with the demands of your writing? You set yourself a deadline for producing a first draft. Vow that you will meet that deadline. Honor your vow. However you make the deadline – grinning like a loon all the way through, or grinning like a loon on Tuesdays, kicking and screaming on Wednesdays, and playing hooky on Thursdays – makes no difference once you’ve got the draft in your hands.

And now, for a confession: there is one writing-related activity I can’t bear to live a day without doing. That would be reading. :)

Thank you so much, Meredith! Really appreciate your stopping by. I look forward to hearing about your next project!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review of The Founding: Book One of the Morland Dynasty Saga by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The blurb:
Seeking power and prestige, grim and ambitious Yorkshireman Edward Morland arranges a marriage between his meek son Robert and spirited Eleanor, young ward of the influential Beaufort family. Eleanor is appalled at being forced to marry a mere "sheep farmer"; she is, after all, secretly in love with Richard, Duke of York.

Yet from this apparently ill-matched union, Robert and Eleanor form a surprising connection that soon will be tested by a bloody civil war that so often divides families, sets neighbor against neighbor, and brings tragedy close to home. But from peace and plenty, love and loyalty, greed and envy, come the foundations of a dynasty that will last the might of the British Empire.

The Founding, set in Yorkshire in the early 1400s, is the start of an engrossing historical saga. The Founding is the first in the Morland Dynasty series, and in it we meet Edward Morland, a wealthy sheep farmer, who pairs his only son with a well connected but orphaned Eleanor Courtney. Though Edward Morland is unpolished, he is ambitious and has a long view that holds him and his family in good stead. Though Eleanor never fully warms to her gruff and bullying father-in-law, he teaches her well and they, along with the gentle and industrious Robert, the three of them lay the foundation for one of the largest fortunes in England. Vast wealth is only one part of the Morland legacy.

Arguably, the Morland's greatest asset is Robert Morland's beautiful and spirited wife, Eleanor Courtney. Though Eleanor had initially resented being forced to marry into trade, she proved to be an astute businesswoman in her own right. Robert's steadiness and industry and Eleanor's ambition and connections gave the Morland family an edge which they used to go forward. The Founding takes us from the very start of the Morland's rise to their early ties to the House of York and to their place in King Richard III's court.

One of the longest and most successful family sagas, Morland Dynasty saga draws you in and you soon find yourself caring what happens to Robert, Eleanor, Job, and the other members of their extended family. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles weaves historical figures and events into the dramas, failures, and successes of the Morlands. Reading the first in the series, gave me much the same feeling that I had when I first discovered R.F. Delderfield's trilogy of the Swann family, but while Delderfield's series captured the Industrial Age in the UK, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles's is 34 volumes and spans five hundred years. The Founding is a fascinating read and I'm eager to dive into the next book in the series.

ISBN-10: 1402238150 - Paperback $14.99
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark; Reissue edition (April 1, 2010), 560 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born in Shepherd's Bush in London. The birth of the Morland Series enabled her to become a full-time writer in 1979. The series was originally intended to comprise twelve volumes, but it was proved so popular that it has now been extended to thirty-four. Harrod-Eagles still lives in London and has a husband and three children, and apart from writing, her passions are music (she plays in several amateur orchestras), horses, wine, architecture, and the English countryside.

Learn more about Cynthia Harrod-Eagles and the Morland Dynasty on her website

Thank you so much to Danielle and SourceBooks for this review opportunity!

A Spotlight on New York City Bookstores by She's Too Fond of Books

Dawn Rennart of She' has compiled a guide of bookstores and sellers in NYC for the upcoming BEA and Book Blogger's Conference. The new website, Spotlight on New York City Bookstores is meant to be used as "a self-guided tour of bookish delights in the Big Apple."

The site lists bookstores in each borough, their websites, contact information, and directions to the store. There's a link for booksellers to upload information on their stores. According to Shelf Awareness, the listings will continue to be updated after the May 2010 events.

If you need further directions to the bookstores or getting around any of the 5 boroughs, I recommend

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review of Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

The blurb:
When a beautiful lawyer from the prosecuting attorney's office Carolyn Polhemus, is brutally murdered, assistant prosecutor Rusty Sabich is entrusted with the case. But he and Carolyn were much more than colleagues, and zealous fellow prosecutor Tommy Molto becomes convinced that Sabich is guilty of the crime. Soon Rusty's passion for a woman who was not his wife has put everything he loves and values on trial -- including his own life -- in a story that lays bare a shocking world of betrayal, murder, and corruption. . . as well as the hidden depths of the human heart.

I first read Presumed Innocent almost fifteen years ago. I'd been thinking of going to law school and Presumed Innocent is on the list of books that many law schools send you the summer before you begin studying. I remember thinking that the book spent more time on legal technicalities than the other thrillers that I'd read. Reading Presumed Innocent with an eye to joining the profession gave it a certain air as well.

Now after years as an entirely different sort of lawyer, the detective work, legal technicalities and procedural law aspects continue to delight me. Though I've read the book and watched the movie and am vaguely aware that a twist is sure to come, Presumed Innocent draws me in as though it were completely new. Scott Turow's writing remains fresh and engaging.

Other reviewers have mentioned that the book has lost its impact for them, that they're not as impressed by it years later. I have a very different reaction to the book -- years later and after close to 15 years studying and practicing law, I find that Presumed Innocent has grown to be even more gripping and entertaining. Though you might have expected me to figure out the ending given that I'd read the book before and seen the movie, but the enjoyment comes from how Turow built up the suspense and described the trial. It's the execution of the concept that makes Presumed Innocent a legal thriller that will last for years to come. I'm very much looking forward to reading Turow's next book Innocent that comes out on May 4, 2010 -- next week!

ISBN-10: 0446676446 - Paperback $14.99
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (December 1, 2000), 512 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author, courtesy of Amazon: Scott Turow was born in Chicago in 1949. He graduated with high honors from Amherst College in 1970, receiving a fellowship to Stanford University Creative Writing Center which he attended from 1970 to 1972. From 1972 to 1975 Turow taught creative writing at Stanford. In 1975, he entered Harvard Law School, graduating with honors in 1978. From 1978 to 1986, he was an Assistant United States Attorney in Chicago, serving as lead prosecutor in several high-visibility federal trials investigating corruption in the Illinois judiciary. In 1995, in a major pro bono legal effort he won a reversal in the murder conviction of a man who had spent 11 years in prison, many of them on death row, for a crime another man confessed to.

Today, he is a partner in the Chicago office of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal an international law firm, where his practice centers on white-collar criminal litigation and involves representation of individuals and companies in all phases of criminal matters. Turow lives outside Chicago.

Thank you so much to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group for this review opportunity!

Book Blog Tour of Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Vanitha Sankaran

Welcome to the Book Blog Tour of Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Vanitha Sankaran.

The blurb:
Watermark is an atmospheric and compelling debut novel about the search for identity, the power of self-expression, and the value of the written word.

The daughter of a papermaker in 1320s France, Auda has an ability to read and write that comes from a place of need. Silenced, she finds hope and opportunity in the intricacies of her father's craft. But the powerful forces of the ruling parties in France form a nearly insurmountable obstacle.
In time when new ideas were subject to accusations of heresy, Auda dares to defy the status quo. Born albino, believed to be cursed, and rendered mute before she'd ever spoken, her very survival is a testament to the strength of her spirit. As Auda grows into womanhood, she reclaims her heritage in a quest for love and a sense of self.

Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages opens with the event of Auda's birth, her welcome to the world, and a glimpse of the superstition that she faces throughout her life. By the time Auda is grown, she has learned her father's craft and has learned to express herself clearly in her writing. Few of the people around her are literate, but Auda has fashioned a life for herself.

Between assisting in the papermaking, serving as a scribe, and hiding her albino features, Auda has learned to move around in her world. Despite the danger to her person, Auda is not one to trade freedom for safety or independence for marriage. Though with the spread of the Inquisition's power, Medieval Europe is fraught with danger for anyone who seems different - and Auda knows that she can never blend in.

When Auda obtains the job of scribe in the castle, she flourishes. Her skills and writing bring her the respect and appreciation of powerful women. But her writing and beliefs also bring danger and loss.

Watermark is a carefully crafted and fascinating work of historical fiction. It's a story of love, fear and superstition, and of the struggle to keep one's identity.

ISBN-10: 0061849278 - Paperback $14.99
Publisher: Avon A (April 13, 2010), 368 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

About the Author:
Vanitha Sankaran holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. In addition, her short stories have been published in numerous journals, such as Mindprints, Futures, Prose Ax, and The Midnight Mind. She is at work on her second novel, which is about printmaking in Italy during the High Renaissance. Read more on Vanitha Sankaran's website.

To check out other participating sites, head over to TLC Book Tours's Watermark page!

Thank you so much to Vanitha, Harper Collins, Trish and TLC Book Tours for this review opportunity!

Book Review of Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

I was so excited when I was offered a review copy of Jean Kwok's debut novel, Girl in Translation. The book sounded so interesting (and the cover is gorgeous)! I am glad to say that I loved the book even more than I'd hoped.

Girl in TranslationThe blurb:
What is it like to be surrounded every day by a language and culture you only half understand? How would it change your life?

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, they speak no English and own nothing but debt. Kimberly's talent for school does not pay the bills, and she quickly begins a double life, carefully hidden from the outside world: an exceptional student by day, she is a Chinatown sweatshop worker by evening and weekend. Disguising the most difficult truths of her life -- her staggering poverty, the weight of her family's expectations, her love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition -- Kimberly learns to translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the two worlds she straddles.

Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, Girl in Translation is an inspiring debut about a young immigrant in America, a smart girl balancing schoolwork and factory labor, custom and desire, a girl who is forced at young age to take responsibility for her family's future, with decisions that she may later regret. Through Kimberly, we feel the shock of a new world and the everyday struggles and sacrifices of recent immigrants -- and through her, we learn to understand how these experiences can ultimately shape a life and the choices one make.

Like Kimberly Chang, author Jean Kwok emigrated to Hong Kong as a young girl, and she brings to the page the story of countless others who have been caught among the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires. Written in an unforgettable voice that dramatizes the tensions of a girl growing up between two worlds, Girl in Translation is a story of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

When Kimberly Chang and her widowed mother move to New York from Hong Kong, they are heavily in debt and dependent on her aunt for housing and employment. The adjustment is tough - she'd previously at the top of her class in Hong Kong and well loved but now finds herself looked at with suspicion by her new teacher Mr. Bogart. Kimberly doesn't let Mr. Bogart's disdain keep her down. Her days brighten when she makes friends of her own: Matt, another Chinese kid working at the garments factory, and Annette, a friendly girl in her class in school who shares her sense of humor.

The details of Kimberly's life would be depressing but for Kimberly's attitude and spirit. Kimberly and her mother have each other and when they're together, the smallest things cheer them up and give them hope. Living in a condemned and rodent infested apartment without heat, the two Changs somehow make it through. As Kimberly slowly finds ways to improve their situation, you'll find yourself touched by this story of sacrifice, love, loyalty, and perseverance.

I loved Girl in Translation - Kimberly's story and her voice stayed with me long after I finished the book. I've been fortunate to find a lot of good books in the last year, but this one stands out.

ISBN-10: 1594487561 - Hardcover$25.95
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 29, 2010), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author, courtesy of the publisher:
Jean Kwok was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to Brooklyn as a child. She received her bachelor's degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia. After working as an English teacher and Dutch-English translator at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Kwok now writes full-time.

Learn more about on Jean Kwok's website at Visit Jean's blog - I recommend her post on "How to Go From Complete Unknown to Published Author." Watch Jean's video at

Thank you so much to Jean, Lydia, Sarah and Penguin Books for this review opportunity!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review of The Highest Stakes by Emery Lee

The Highest Stakes
The blurb:
She's lonely and neglected, but she knows horses. . . Charlotte Wallace is orphaned and alone until a sympathetic stable boy takes her under his wing and teaches her everything about thoroughbred racing. In the process, the two discover in each other a love destined to be thwarted at every turn.

If only he could, he'd take her away with him forever. . . Robert Devington has tried everything to persuade Charlotte's uncle to allow them to marry. Then an ill-fated friendship, a scandal in the making, and one desperate act of folly rob them of their love and his livelihood. . .

Dead set on retribution, all Robert's hopes are hanging on one small horse -- his only chance to reclaim his land, his dignity, and his love, against all odds. . . .

Emery Lee's The Highest Stakes opens at the races in Litchfield, Staffordshire in 1742. It's at this race that we're introduced to the characters that shape the novel. The race is for untried horses - those who have yet to win a race. Sir Garfield Wallace, a merchant who recently rose to the gentry, and an avid turf follower entered the gray mare White Rose ("Rosie") in the first race. But on the day of the race, the Wallaces are running late and the jockey, Sir Garfield's son Charles won't make it in time. The race is limited to gentlemen jockeys: no professional jockeys are allowed -- the horses must be ridden by the owner or a member of his family. Robert Devington who has worked for Sir Garfield as a trainer, jockey, and all around problem solver decides to take a dangerous risk and claims a relationship to the Wallace family in order to keep Rosie from forfeiting the race. Devington handles Rosie brilliantly though he wins the Wallaces considerable status, he finds himself shut out once again.

Though much in love with Charlotte Wallace, Sir Garfield's niece, Robert decides that the best way to win her hand is to break away from the Wallaces and to make his own fortune. Robert enlists in the King's Horse. Robert Devington proves his mettle and somehow Robert's commanding officer, Captain Drake, becomes Robert's mentor and closest friend.

Robert and Drake find themselves closely allied as they woo Sir Garfield's niece and daughter respectively. But romance, intrigue, and social ambition keep the lovers apart -- and make The Highest Stakes a fascinating and unusual read.

In The Highest Stakes, the horse racing and breeding are more than a backdrop for the action and romance. It's the horses and those that breed, race and love them that give The Highest Stakes its unique and strong charm. I've loved horses and riding since I was young, but I think most animal lovers and lovers of historical fiction will find The Highest Stakes to be an engrossing and satisfying read.

ISBN-10: 1402236425 - Paperback $15.99
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark; 1 edition (April 1, 2010), 560 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Emery Lee is a lifelong equestrienne, a history buff, and a born romantic. Combine the three, and you have the essence of her debut novel, an epic of love, war, and horse racing. A member of RWA and GRW, she resides in Upstate South Carolina with her husband, sons, and two horses.

Thank you so much to Danielle and SourceBooks for this review opportunity!