Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Review of The Dogs of Rome: A Commissario Alec Blume Novel by Conor Fitzgerald

It is thanks to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program that I received The Dogs of War: A Commissario Alec Blume by Conor Fitzgerald. The Dogs of War is the first of a series of Alec Blume novels - detective mysteries set in present day Rome.

The Dogs Of Rome

The blurb:
In a hot summer morning, Arturo Clement is sloppily murdered in his Roman apartment by a mysterious slasher. The killing is brutal, amateurish, and by all appearances random. But Clemente is no ordinary victim: He has made enemies by campaigning against illegal dog fighting, and he is married to a prominent politician. And his mistress is Manuela Innocenzi, the daughter of a dangerous crime boss.

By the time police inspector Alec Blume arrives at the crime scene, it has already been compromised. Blume, a clever American expatriate with skeletons in his closet and a disposition against authority, soon realizes that he is being watched from on high. Forced to negotiate with powerful, suspicious people on all sides of teh law, Blume must rely on instinct, drive, and luck to find the killer.

But Blume is contending with more than a search for justice. The murder of his own parents continues to haunt him, and his solitary existence and petulant nature are now beginning to risk more innocent lives. As he careens toward the conclusion of the case, he must decide who to trust, when to take a stand, and when to step back and save his own neck.

The Dogs of Rome is both a riveting detective story and a vision of underground Rome. Blume is a perfect hero for this story: intelligent but flawed, cynical but unafraid. He is a trustworthy and compelling protagonist for this first installment in a gritty and promising series.

I am partial to detective mysteries and especially enjoy those set in exotic locations or historic periods. So, I jumped at the chance to review the first novel in Colin Fitzgerald's Commissario Alec Blume series, The Dogs of War.Set in present day Rome, The Dogs of Rome combines a familiarity with Rome, Roman culture, and Italian politics with a strong and complex detective mystery. Alec Blume is a flawed but engaging character - and a fine detective. When faced with an unusual murder scene, he systematically searches for the truth - wading through corrupted evidence, ignoring pointed directives from his superiors and pressure from both the political elite and powerful players in the criminal world.Alec Blume isn't just driven by a desire to learn the truth - he is sufficiently worldly and the reader realizes that there is more to him than that. But for his cynicism, Blume has a strong appreciation of the innocent and the good, and an appeal to his better self leads him to promise to find the truth no matter where it leads. It leads the reader to on a fascinating chase with unexpected twists and a satisfying conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed The Dogs of Rome by Conor Fitzgerald and am looking forward to reading more adventures of Commissario Alec Blume.

ISBN-10: 1608190153 - Hardcover $25.00
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (March 2, 2010), 400 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher and through LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.

About the Author:
Conor Fitzgerald has lived in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Italy. He has worked as an arts editor, produced a current affairs journal for foreign embassies based in Rome, and founded a successful translation company. He is married with two children and lives in Rome.

Thank you so much to Bloomsbury and the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program for the copy of the book and this review opportunity!

LibraryThing Early Reviewers


Friday, May 7, 2010

Cambridge Cheap Eats: Japanese Food at Porter Square's Porter Exchange Mall

My brother Charlie always takes us to these small inexpensive places with terrific food. Today we went to two Japanese places in Cambridge's Porter Square. In the Porter Exchange Mall at 1815 Massachusetts Avenue, you'll find a tempting range of Japanese food. From sushi to comfort food and pastries to tea shakes and bubble tea, you can satisfy almost any craving for Japanese food on a budget.

Cafe Mami: Japanese Bistro
1815 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA 02140 Lunch 11:45 am - 3:45 pm
(617) 547-9130 Dinner 5 pm - 8:45 pm
Cash only. Lunch Specials run until 2 pm Closed on Tuesdays

Seating is limited (8 small tables and a lunch counter) and Cafe Mami is always busy. Their $5 lunch specials are great value, but even their regular priced dishes are very good value. Salad, miso soup, unlimited rice, and authentic Japanese comfort food for prices that range from $5 to $8.99. Special recommendations include: Chili Tomato Hamburg Set (Ground marinated beef steak in Mami's spicy chili tomato sauce) for $8.99, Wafu Hamburg Set (Ground marinated beef steak with homemade ginger sauce and Ponzu sauce) for $8.99, Rock n' Chicken Set (deep fried marinated chicken cooked in Mami's special spicy sauce) for $8.99, Cutlet set (Deep fried breaded chicken or pork cutlet with Tonkatsu sauce) for $8.99, Cutlet Curry (Japanese style chicken with beef broth curry made from scratch) for $8.99, Yaki Beef Tofu Set (thinly sliced beef panfried with fresh onions, tofu, beansprouts in Mami's special spicy sauce) for $8.99, Ninniku Chicken Set (tender chicken panfried with garlic and fresh lemon then simmered in Mami's homemade ginger sauce) for $8.99 and the various donburi selections ($6-$7). If you make it there in time for the $5 lunch specials, I recommend the Gyu Don (Beef bowl with thin juicy slices of beef simmered in onions with Mami's special sauce) or the Yaki Don (Spicy Sliced Beef Bowl, similar to the Gyu Don but spicier and with bean sprouts and onions) or the Oyako Don (Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl with tender slices of chicken and egg cooked with onions in Mami's sweetened soy sauce). For a special treat, have the enormous green tea milkshake ($3.50), order it to go because if you're having food - you might not be able to finish off the entire shake in one sitting!

Japonaise Bakery & Cafe
1020 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02446 (617) 566-7730
1815 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140 (617) 547-5331
1032 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215 (617) 738-7200

"Japonaise Bakery...has the best Japanese donut, which is filled with mung bean, no, sorry, the sweet azuki bean with cream: best dessert ever." - Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger restaurant & star of the Emmy nominated public tv series Simply Ming

If you're in the mood for a Japanese pastry 0r homemade ice cream or frozen yogurt, Japonaise Bakery & Cafe is less than a 2 minute walk away. In the same Porter Exchange Mall, you'll find light, tasty, and unforgettable chocolate horns. The chocolate horns are sweet bread filled with chocolate custard cream and dipped in Belgian chocolate. For something a little different, try the Azuki Cream which is a croissant baked with red sweet bean (azuki) filled with light sweet cream and dusted with powdered sugar. Whenever we drop by, we always take home a chocolate horn and an azuki cream for later - and we invariably wish that we'd bought more.

Japonaise's African Queen cake won Best of Boston's award for light chocolate cake.

If you want frozen yogurt, choose from vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, mango, kiwi, pineapple, nectarine, red bean or banana flavors. Ice cream comes in green tea, red bean, coconut, ginger, and vanilla.

How to get to Porter Exchange Mall by public transportation?

Using the Red Line of the T - get off at Porter Square stop. Take a left on Mass Ave after exiting the station. Walk one block down and Porter Exchange Mall will be on your left.

Check out for point to point directions.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Friday 56: Week 42 - My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

* 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 My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares. It's a book that I've just started. It's a bit reminiscent of Twilight but I find the characters to be more interesting.
The blurb:
The story of a love that lasts more than a lifetime.
Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophie have been drawn together -- and he remembers it all. Daniel has "the memory," the ability to recall past lives and recognize the souls of those he's previously known. It is a gift and a curse. For all the times that he and Sophie have been drawn together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally apart. A love always too short.
But just as Sophia (reborn as "Lucy") finally begins to awaken to the secret of their shared past, the mysterious force that has always wrenched them apart reappears. Ultimately, they must recognize what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.
Here's my Friday 56:
And as you look longer, if you let yourself see, the subtleties will clamor to show themselves. Doubts, compromises, and disappointments little and big -- those usually reside around the eyes, but there are no rules. The hope usually lurk around the mouth, but so does bitterness and tenacity. A sense of humor is easy to spot around the eyebrows, and so is self-deception. Add to your observation the set of the head on the neck, the carriage of the shoulders, the posture of the back, and you know a lot more.

Audio Book Giveaway: James Patterson's 9th Judgment

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are generously sponsoring this giveaway!

About the Book:
During an intimate dinner party, a cat burglar breaks into the home of A-list actor Marcus Dowling. When his wife walks in on the thief, the situation quickly teeters out of control, leaving an empty safe and a lifeless body.

The same night, a woman and her infant child are ruthlessly gunned down in an abandoned garage. The killer hasn't left a shred of evidence, except for a foreboding and cryptic message: WCF, the letters written in blood-red letters.

With two elusive criminals on the loose, Detective Lindsay Boxer calls on the Women's Murder Club to help her stop them before they continue their spree. But before they can break either case, the Lipstick Killer changes his act and demands a ransom--not for a single victim, but for all of San Francisco. Lindsay puts her own life on the line--but will it be enough to save the city from this deranged killer?

About James Patterson:

The subject of a recent Time magazine feature called, "The Man Who Can't Miss," James Patterson is the bestselling author of the past year, bar none, with more than 16 million books sold in North America alone. In 2007, one of every 15 hardcover fiction books sold was a Patterson title. In total, James's books have sold an estimated 150 million copies worldwide. He is the first author to have #1 new titles simultaneously on The New York Times adult and children's lists and is the only author to have five new hardcover novels debut at #1 on the list in one year — a record-breaking feat he’s accomplished every year since 2005. To date, James Patterson has had nineteen consecutive #1 New York Times Bestselling Novels, and holds the New York Times record for most bestselling titles by a single author (40 total).

Patterson is a champion of reading and the founder of the PageTurner awards, which seek to spread the excitement and joy of books and reading in the United States. James's first foray into family fiction, the critically acclaimed Maximum Ride series, debuted on the New York Times list at #1 and remained there for 12 straight weeks. The series has so far made appearances on The New York Times bestsellers lists 87 times, proving that kids of all ages love page turners.

Patterson is the creator of the #1 new detective series of the past dozen years, featuring "Alex Cross" and including the Hollywood-adapted "Along Came a Spider" and "Kiss the Girls," starring Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. He is also the creator of the #1 new detective series of the past five years, featuring Lindsay Boxer and the other members of the Women's Murder Club, from which the ABC television drama series is adapted. He has authored books behind six films on the Hollywood fast-track, including the upcoming Maximum Ride movie from Avi Arad, the producer of X-Men and Spiderman. Most recently, New Regency Pictures has optioned The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, James’s newest family Pageturner due out in July of 2008.

He is the author of novels — from The Thomas Berryman Number (1976) to Honeymoon (2005) — that have won awards including the Edgar, the BCA Mystery Guild's Thriller of the Year, the International Thriller of the Year award, and the Reader’s Digest Reader’s Choice Award.

One of Forbes magazine's Celebrity 100, James appeared as a guest star on the popular FOX TV show "The Simpsons" in March, 2007.

About co-author:

Maxine Paetro is a novelist and a journalist. She lives with her husband in New York.

Listen to an excerpt.


To enter leave a comment below.

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 June 1, 2010.

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

Audio Book Giveaway: David Baldacci's Deliver Us From Evil

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are sponsoring this audio book giveaway!

About the Book:
In South America a 96-year-old man of great wealth reads a book late one night and an hour later he lies dead in his bed, the secrets of his past starkly revealed. Six months later another mystery man lies dead at the bottom of his pool in a villa in Provence. This time, however, there's a witness at the scene: Shaw, the shadowy operative from The Whole Truth, who barely escapes with his life. Meanwhile, a half a world away, photojournalist Katie James is working on a story of international importance.

About the Author:
David Baldacci lives with his family in Virginia. He and his wife have founded the Wish You Well Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across America. He invites you to visit him at and his foundation at, and to look into its program to spread books across America at

Listen to an excerpt.


To enter, please recommend a thriller or detective mystery that you enjoyed lately. Or tell us about a book that you're looking forward to reading.

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 June 1, 2010.

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

Audio Book Giveaway: The War Lovers by Evan Thomas

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are sponsoring this audio book giveaway!

About the Book:
On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in the Havana Harbor. Although there was no evidence that the Spanish were responsible, yellow newspapers such as William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal whipped Americans into frenzy by claiming that Spain's "secret infernal machine" had destroyed the battleship. Soon after, the blandly handsome and easily influenced President McKinley declared war, sending troops not only to Cuba but also to the Philippines, Spain's sprawling colony on the other side of the world.

As Evan Thomas reveals in his rip-roaring history of those times, the hunger for war had begun years earlier. Depressed by the "closing" of the Western frontier and embracing theories of social Darwinism, a group of warmongers that included a young Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge agitated loudly and incessantly that the United States exert its influence across the seas. These hawks would transform American foreign policy and, when Teddy ascended to the presidency, commence with a devastating war without reason, concocted within the White House--a bloody conflict that would come at tremendous cost.

Thrillingly written and brilliantly researched, THE WAR LOVERS is the story of six men at the center of a transforming event in U.S. history: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, McKinley, William James, and Thomas Reed, and confirms once more than Evan Thomas is a popular historian of the first rank.

About the Author:
Evan Thomas has been the Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek since 1991. He is the bestselling author of six works of nonfiction: Sea of Thunder, John Paul Jones, Robert Kennedy, The Very Best Men, The Man to See, and The Wise Men. He lives with his wife and children in Washington, D.C.

Listen to an excerpt.


To enter, recommend a book on history that you particularly enjoyed. Name the author, title, and tell us a bit about the book.

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 June 1, 2010.

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

Audio Book Giveaway: Men and Dogs by Katie Crouch

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are generously sponsoring this audio book giveaway!

About the Book:
In April of 1985, Buzz Legare went fishing. The next day all that was found was his boat and his waiting, faithful dog.

Twenty years later, his daughter Hannah still finds hope in believing, alone among her family, that he's still alive somewhere. She has a smart husband, a thriving business, a beautiful home in San Francisco-and a huge hole in her troubled heart. True to her trademark talent for self-sabotage, she finds herself one starry night climbing up the fire escape in a desperate (and drunken) attempt to win back her own husband--and failing disastrously.

Slightly worse for the wear, Hannah returns to Charleston to salve her wounds. There, old loves, unrepented crimes, and family legends are stirred up from the dust. Hannah's brother Palmer, the stoic with a secret of his own, cannot dissuade her from a manic search to uncover clues to the past, and they will both face shocking discoveries that lead them to reconcile their very different notions of loyalty and blind faith.

As she did so memorably in her bestselling debut, Girls in Trucks, Katie Crouch has created another great voice--spiky, tender, and hilarious--in the screwball heroine Hannah Legare. Much like Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding, Hannah follows the misguided impulses of a heart that's in the right place.

Author's Bio, in her own words:

I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, but now I live in San Francisco as a Southerner-in-exile. I've always wanted to be a writer, but was too scared to fully commit to it until my late twenties, when I stopped working in advertising and went to Columbia University to get my MFA. It took me five years to write Girls in Trucks. I wrote each chapter ten to twenty times. There are about eight chapters that ended up on the cutting room floor.

I mine my own life for material. My fiction is not totally autobiographical, because that would make for a pretty messy story, but emotionally I've lived almost everywhere my characters have been.

I learned an enormous amount about writing in college and graduate school, but mostly I learned how to express myself by reading the work of other great writers. I love the British Literature of the early twentieth century, particularly Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh, and E.M. Forster's Howard's End. I guess I'm a sucker for English manor life, or my fantasy of it, anyway.

Marguerite Duras's The Lover is my favorite love story. I admire many contemporary Southern writers, my favorite being Josephine Humphreys, the author of Rich in Love and Nowhere Else on Earth. I was fortunate enough to get to know her when I was in high school, because her son was my high school sweetheart. I've always admired her intelligence and grace, both on the page and off.

The last book that absolutely blew me away was James Coetze's Disgrace. I've read Susan Minot's novel Evening three times and each time have found some new beautiful nugget I missed before. Same goes for The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer. I was just given Uwem Akpan's debut book of stories about Africa, Say You're One Of Them. It's really not to be missed.

Finally, I read Joan Didion's essay, Goodbye to All That about once a month. It's my favorite piece of writing. She breaks my heart every time.

The excerpt is hilarious - check it out!


To enter leave a comment below.

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 June 1, 2010.

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

Audio Book Giveaway: God Never Blinks by Regina Brett

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are sponsoring this audiobook giveaway!

About the Book:
Already an internet phenomenon, these wise and insightful lessons by popular newspaper columnist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Regina Brett will make you see the possibilities in your life in a whole new way.

When Regina Brett turned 50, she wrote a column on the 50 lessons life had taught her. She reflected on all she had learned through becoming a single parent, looking for love in all the wrong places, working on her relationship with God, battling cancer and making peace with a difficult childhood. It became one of the most popular columns ever published in the newspaper, and since then the 50 lessons have been emailed to hundreds of thousands of people.
Brett now takes the 50 lessons and expounds on them in essays that are deeply personal. From "Don't take yourself too seriously-Nobody else does" to "Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift," these lessons will strike a chord with anyone who has ever gone through tough times--and haven't we all?

About the Author:
Regina Brett has been a newspaper columnist for fourteen years, eight of them for Cleveland's Plain Dealer, where she was a finalist in 2008 and 2009 for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary. She also hosts a call-in talk show once a week on WCPN, the Cleveland NPR affiliate, and speaks regularly to companies and not-for-profit organizations. Find out more about the book and Regina Brett on

Listen to an excerpt


To enter please tell us about one new release book that you're looking forward to reading.

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 June 1, 2010.

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

Days of Prey Blog Tour: Sudden Prey by John Sanford

To celebrate the release of John Sanford's 20th Prey novel, Storm Prey, on May 18, 2010, TLC Book Tours organized this special book tour that covers all of the earlier Prey novels starring Detective Lucas Davenport.

From May 3 until May 18, bloggers answer a few questions about each of the earlier Lucas Davenport novels for leading up to Storm Prey's release. To celebrate Storm Prey's release, the publisher is sponsoring a giveaway of the book that I'm focusing on today, Sudden Prey, & an advanced reader's copy of the soon to be released Storm Prey! Every blog participating in this tour will be giving away one of the earlier Prey novels and an ARC of the latest Storm Prey. So head over to Penguin's Days of Prey site at where you can learn more about John Sanford, Detective Lucas Davenport, read excerpt of the 19 Prey novels, and link to the participating blogs to read reviews and join book contests.

Today, at Starting Fresh, we're focusing on Sudden Prey, the 8th book in the Lucas Davenport series.

Sudden Prey (Lucas Davenport, #8)
Title and series number of the book:
Sudden Prey, #8 in the Lucas Davenport series
ISBN-10: 0425157539

Year published: 1997
genre: detective mystery/thriller

About Lucas Davenport

What is Lucas doing when he first appears in the book? Set up the scene.
We hear about Lucas Davenport before he appears on the scene. In downtown Minneapolis, men are shadowing a 30-something blond woman who seems to be aimlessly window shopping during the Christmas rush. The woman's movements have the men on alert and man suddenly says that it's time to call in Lucas Davenport. Davenport arrives, dons a bulletproof vest, makes small talk as he scopes out the area.

Give us a sense of time and place.
The story opens in Minneapolis, during the holiday season, in the 1990s.

What is Lucas's occupation or professional role?
A deputy chief and political appointee.
His sideline software business makes him independently wealthy.

Lucas's personal status (single, dating, married)
In a serious relationship with Weather Karkinnen.

Lucas Davenport is a known clothes horse - did you notice any special fashion references?
"He was wearing a blue wool suit, a white shirt with a long soft collar and what looked like an Hermes necktie -- one of the anal numbers with eight million little horses prancing around."

Let's talk about the mystery. Avoiding spoilers, what was the crime/case being solved?
Lucas Davenport and his colleagues are desperately trying to find the escapee and his companions to prevent the spread of violence. The gang are specifically trying to kill policemen -- they're heavily armed, unhinged, and unafraid of the consequences.

Does the title of your book relate to the crime?
Sudden Prey refers to how the tables turn in this book. Several cops stopped violent criminals in a shootout. The cops involved in the shootout are now being hunted by the criminals' associates. The police have become the prey in this novel and the hunters are well versed in violence.

Who was your favorite supporting character, good or evil?

Two characters stood out for me:

Sloan, a detective who works closely with Lucas Davenport. Sloan comes across as a nice guy, normal, easy to talk to - but his mind is sharp. He has the gift of eliciting important information from people by getting them to feel at ease.


Sandy Darling - sister-in-law to LaChaise, Sandy had taken a different path from her sister. Sandy has a small horse ranch that she worked hard to set up, she works hard and stays out of trouble. Her sister and brother-in-law call on her for help and she's somehow dragged into their mess. Sandy has a strong bullshit meter, is smart, and usually isn't afraid to call people on their lies.

What was your favorite scene or quote?
There are two again:

First: The trail of illegal cigarette smoke followed Marie Roux down the darkened marble halls from the chief's office to Homicide. The chief was a large woman, getting larger, her face going hound-dog with the pressure of the job and the passing of the years. She stopped outside of homicide, took a drag on the cigarette, and blew smoke.

"Hey, I just showed up with a gun. What happened after that, that was their choice. Not mine."

Finally, how do you envision Lucas Davenport? If he were to be portrayed in a movie, which celebrity would play him?

Josh Charles (who plays Will Gardner in The Good Wife) OR Kevin McKidd (from Rome & Grey's Anatomy). Both actors combine smart, good looks, and physicality.

Final thoughts -
I'm glad to have discovered the Prey novels -- the characters and plot are carefully crafted and don't follow predictable lines. Sudden Prey is very much a detective thriller but it gives you a little something more, something extra. I'm looking forward to reading the others in this series.

Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher.


To enter, please (1) visit Penguin's Days of Prey website and choose which Prey novel you'd like to read most.

CLARIFICATION: Although the contest task is to choose which Prey novel you'd like to read most, I'm only authorized to give away a copy of Sudden Prey (book 8) and an ARC of the upcoming release Storm Prey.

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 Lisa, TLC Book Tours and Penguin for this review opportunity!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Contest Winners

Get Rid of Performance Review by Samuel A. Culbert and Lawrence Rout

chirth7 - confirmed
Bingo- confirmed
womackcm - confirmed
enyl - confirmed

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville

rsgrandinetti - confirmed
hrbeck_98 - confirmed
familyhistree - confirmed

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

beatrice - confirmed
zenrei57 - confirmed
bratdownstairs - confirmed

Thank you to Valerie, Anna, and Hatchette Books Group for sponsoring these giveaways & to everyone for participating! I've emailed the winners and they have until noon on Saturday to send me their contact details.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review of Dianne Dixon's The Language of Secrets

The Language of Secrets
The blurb:
As he turned toward the third headstone, Justin's eyes were blurred with tears. The stone was smaller and far more weathered than the other two. It took him a moment before he could clearly see its inscription:

Thomas Justin Fisher
August 5, 1972 - February 20, 1976

Justin had come in search of his father's grave. And found his own.

Justin Fisher has a successful career as the manager of a luxury hotel, a lovely wife, and a charming young son. While all signs point to a bright future, Justin can no longer ignore the hole in his life left by his estranged family. When he finally gathers the courage to reconnect with his troubled past, Justin is devastated to learn his parents have passed away. And a visit to the cemetery brings the greatest shock of all -- next to the graves of his father and mother sits a smaller tombstone for a three-year-old boy: a boy named Thomas Justin Fisher.

What follows is an extraordinary journey as Justin struggles to piece together the heartbreaking truth about his family. With great skill and care, Dianne Dixon explores the toll that misunderstandings, blame and resentment can take on a family. But it is the intimate details of family life -- a mother's lullaby for her son, a father's tragic error in judgment -- that make this an exceptional and deeply emotional novel from a new storyteller.

When I first started The Language of Secrets, I wasn't sure what to expect. The book opens with Justin Fisher pulling up to a beautiful old wooden house 20 minutes from Los Angeles. Justin is so nervous that he's trembling and he hides this from his young wife. It is clear that Justin doesn't know what to expect and is somewhat disoriented, we don't know why his memory appears spotty - whether there is something wrong with Justin's mental state or if some event has caused these "missing pieces -- blank spaces where important parts of his past should have been". It is clear that there's a mystery and that it began over a decade ago.

Justin discovers that the dreaded family reunion has been postponed. It has taken him so long to return to the house on Lima Street, that it is too late to see his parents. When he discovers his grave next to theirs, Justin begins to wonder about his grip on reality. To be h0nest, I did too -- Dianne Dixon keeps us guessing about the mystery of Justin's gravestone and who Justin Fisher really is.

This uncertainty, coupled with the stresses of a new job and relocation from England, and the growing pains of his recent marriage put additional pressure on Justin just as he appears fragile. Dixon is careful not tip her hand - and the details and the writing draw us into the mystery and keep us wondering.

As Justin slowly comes across clues to his past and Dixon reveals what happened during those "missing years", she weaves in the story of Justin's different parents. Once Dixon introduced Caroline and told her story, The Language of Secrets transformed from a good read to an amazing story. As the book will affect each reader in a unique way, to me The Language of Secrets was a book about motherhood - the sacrifices, pains, joy, and misunderstood moments. The Language of Secrets is a unique book, beautifully crafted and powerful.

It strikes me as a book perfect for book clubs. I would love to find out how other people felt about Justin, his family and what they went through.

ISBN-10: 0385530633 - Hardcover $24.95
Publisher: Doubleday (March 23, 2010), 272 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author: Dianne Dixon is a screenwriter living in California who has twice been nominated for an Emmy, has won a Humanities Award for work done in television, and has been Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont College. Learn more about Dianne Dixon at

Interested in this book for your reading group? Head to to access the reading group guide for The Language of Secrets.

Thank you so much to Judy and Doubleday for this review opportunity!

Barnes & Noble's First Look Book Club is open for registration

Barnes & Noble is distributing e-books for this First Look Book Club. The new selection is The Writing Circle by Corrine Demas which is coming out in July 2010.

About the Book:

When Nancy, whose most recently published work is a medical newsletter, is asked to join a writing group made up of the local literati, she accepts, warily. She’s not at all certain that her novel is good enough for the company she’ll be keeping. But Nancy soon finds herself as caught up in the group’s personal lives as she is with their writing.

They call themselves The Leopardi Circle. There’s Gillian, a beautiful, scheming, world-famous poet; Bernard, a pompous but lovable biographer; Virginia, a respected historian and the peacemaker of the group, who is also Bernard’s ex-wife; Chris, a divorced father and successful thriller writer; and Adam, the youngest of the group, an aspiring novelist who is infatuated with Gillian.

Through their complicated relationships, these eccentric characters share their families, their beds, and their histories.

About the Author:
Corinne Demas is the author of Eleven Stories High, a memoir of growing up in Stuyvesant Town, and the short story collection What We Save For Last. Corinne has also written many books for children, including Saying Goodbye To Lulu. She has been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship as well as the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, and has won The Lawrence Foundation Prize for best story to appear in the Michigan Quarterly Review. In addition to writing, she is a Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and is the Fiction Editor of the Massachusetts Review. She lives in MA and spends her summers on Cape Cod.

Registration began yesterday and is currently ongoing. It's the first time Barnes & Noble sending e-books instead of regular books.

Book Giveaway of Stay A Little Longer by Dorothy Garlock

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are generously sponsoring a giveaway of Dorothy Garlock's Stay A Little Longer!

The blurb:
Louise Watkins has her hands full. Her mother had been the town midwife, but when her daughter Alice died under her care, she refused to assist in a childbirth ever again. Since then Louise has assumed the work. She also takes care of Alice's six-year old, Charlotte, because the child's father was lost in World War I. But Louise's principal job is running the boardinghouse that is the family's main source of income.

One day, Charlotte befriends a stranger ill with influenza, a man who has taken refuge in an old cabin in the woods nearby. Although badly scarred by wounds suffered in the War, he is strong and slowly recovers. When he gradually takes on odd jobs around the house, Louise accepts his help. She is drawn to him despite his disfigurement, and his voice is comforting, vaguely familiar...

About the Author:
National bestselling and award-winning author of thirty-five romances that often feature the exciting backdrop of the Old West, Dorothy Garlock is one of America's-and the world's-favorite novelists. Her books, all enthusiastically reviewed, now total more than eight million copies in print with translations in 15 languages. She lives in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Dorothy writes and tells us....

"It was after I retired from working as a newspaper columnist/reporter that I wrote my first book. I live in a small town in Iowa and didn't know anyone in publishing. Now I wonder where I got the nerve to plunge into this business.

"I've always been interested in pioneer men and women. For years I've collected old diaries and letters written by those who braved the hardships of the wild frontier to make a new beginning. In 1976, I finished my first historical novel. I entered it in a contest for unpublished writers. I didn't win the contest, but I met an agent who sold my book.

"Thirty-eight books later, I am still enthralled by Early American History. Although I write to entertain, not to teach a history lesson, I try to place at least one real life character in my books, preferably a little-known historical figure. Aaron Burr and Colonel J.M. Chivington of the Sand Creek Massacre, are real life villians. Zachary Taylor and Tecumseh, Chief of the Shawnee, are real life heros.

"I have been asked how my career had changed my lifestyle. I can honestly say it hasn't changed my daily life all that much, except that I can don't have to dress up to go to work. I can work in my nightgown if I want to.

"It is gratifying to know that I have given someone a few hours of enjoyment while reading my books and were able, for a while, to forget and problems troubling them.

"In case you haven't guessed--I'm enjoying my career."

A proud mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, she has long resided in Clear Lake, Iowa.


To enter please just share why you'd like to win this book.

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 31, 2010.

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

Book Giveaway of Rita Herron's Forbidden Passion

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are generously sponsoring a giveaway of Rita Herron's Forbidden Passion.

The blurb:

Fueled by her family's murder years ago, Dr. Marlena Bender has devoted her life to understanding violent criminals. But when a serial killer in this small Southern town starts taking the lives of women in diabolical ways--leaving trophies of his kills on Marlena's doorstep--it all hits too close to home. Terrified, Marlena turns to the only man she can trust...the man who saved her life.


Sheriff Dante Valtrez would move heaven and earth to keep Marlena safe, but he's not the savior she thinks he is. A dark legacy runs through his blood and a dangerous secret lies within him. Now a fierce, hot, ruthless desire draws Dante and Marlena together--as a demonic force from his past threatens to rip them apart, destroying everything they hold dear.

About the Author:
Rita Herron is an award-winning author of more than 30 romantic suspense novels for Harlequin and Dorchester. In 2007 alone, she was nominated for two Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Awards, including a Career Achievement Award.


To enter please recommend a romance novel that you particularly enjoyed. Share the title, author and what you liked about the book.

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 31, 2010.

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

Book Giveaway of A Touch of Scandal by Jennifer Haymore

Anna and Hatchette Book Group are generously sponsoring a giveaway of Jennifer Haymore's A Touch of Scandal. I'm a little late putting up this contest so it'll run until May 31. I'd read Jennifer Haymore's A Hint of Wicked and thoroughly enjoyed it! So, I'm very excited about this giveaway.

About the Book:
The last thing Garrett, Duke of Calton, expects to find while tracking his sworn enemy is the delectable, mysterious Kate. This beautiful servant girl rouses a longing the battle-scarred ex-soldier had never hoped to feel again. But when she turns out to be the sister of the man he seeks, he's convinced he's been betrayed.

Kate knows her duty to her family, yet how can she ignore Garrett's powerful pull on her heart? Or the heady temptation of his stolen-and sizzling-kisses? Scandal has followed the duke since the war. Now the greatest shock of all is on its way-the one that can separate Garrett and Kate forever.

About the Author:
Jennifer Haymore grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she surfed, learned how to fly airplanes, raced bicycles, and developed a love for sailing. She was an avid reader and completely destroyed her eyesight by sneaking a flashlight under her covers and reading far into the nights — making her mother wonder why on earth she couldn’t get up for school in the mornings…

Jennifer holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in Education from UCLA. Before she became a full-time writer she held various jobs from bookselling to teaching inner-city children to playing bit roles in soap operas.

You can find Jennifer in Southern California trying to talk her husband into yet another trip to England, helping her three children with homework while brainstorming a new five-minute dinner menu, or crouched in a corner of the local bookstore writing her next novel.

Learn more on Jennifer Haymore's website at


To enter please tell us about a book that you're looking forward to reading. Please share the title, author and a little something about the book.

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 31, 2010.

Forever Romance celebrates Mother's Day with the Mother's Day Romance Giveaway!

To celebrate Mother's Day, Anna and Forever Romance have organized this great pack of romance novels! Many of these books are coming out in May & June 2010!

By R.C. Ryan
ISBN 9780446548632, Mass Market, US$6.99/CAN$8.99

The blurb:
They're the McCords...three rugged, sexy cowboy cousins who'll inherit the family range--if they seek the treasure hidden on it. But even more precious are the women who can tame their wild hearts...

Emergency medic Marilee Trainor likes her freedom and lives for trouble. But when she stumbles upon a clue to the legendary McCord gold, she 's suddenly in a mysterious killer's sights--and the arms of irresistible playboy Wyatt McCord. This McCord cousin has been everywhere, yet the ranch is the only place he feels at home. Now Marilee's courage and independence make him want to protect her, win her heart, and finally settle down. But trust is the one thing Wyatt and Marilee can't easily give. And their survival and everything they cherish depends on whether they can surrender to each other--to fight for their...


By Paula Quinn
ISBN 9780446552387, Mass Market, US$6.99/CAN$8.99

The blurb:

Davina Montgomery is no ordinary English lady. For her own protection, she's been locked away from society, her true identity the Crown's most closely guarded secret. Until a shocking betrayal--and a bold rescue--land her in the arms of a fierce Highlander, a powerful warrior whose searing gaze and tantalizing touch awaken her body and soul.


As the firstborn son of a powerful Scottish laird, Robert MacGregor has no loyalty to the English throne, but he's not the kind of man to leave a woman in distress, even if she is English. He vows to deliver Davina to safety, unharmed and untouched. Yet one stolen kiss leaves them both smoldering with desire...and desperate for more. With Davina's secret threatening to destroy his clan, Rob must choose between everything he holds dear and the one woman he can't live without.


By Robin Wells
ISBN 9780446555982, Mass Market, US$6.99/CAN$8.99

The blurb:
Robin Wells takes us back to Chartreuse, Louisiana, for a deeply moving story of forgiveness and second chances.


After Katie Charmaine's husband is killed in Iraq, all she has left is a closet full of his clothes, a few pictures, and fond memories. She not only lost her love, but her last chance to have the children she's always wanted. Until Zack Ferguson shows up in town . . . with the daughter Katie gave up for adoption nearly seventeen years ago.

Zack Ferguson has never forgotten Katie, or the one magical night they spent together. Seeing her again brings up a tidal wave of emotions: regret over the way he left her, anger at the secret she kept, and desire he hasn't felt in years. But he's in town for Gracie. Their daughter is sixteen, angry at the world, and-worst of all-pregnant. She needs the love of her two parents now more than ever. Can these three forgive the hurts of the past and open their hearts to each other?

By Robyn DeHart
ISBN 9780446541978, Mass Market, US$6.99/CAN$8.99

The blurb:
The Men of Solomon's meet in secret, their very existence only a rumor among the best of Victorian society. They are treasure hunters, men of wealth and title, seekers of myths and legends. And no legend is as mystifying as the lost city of Atlantis . . .


Years ago, Maxwell Barrett found a map to Atlantis and dedicated his life to the search for the mystical lost continent. But when an alluring woman makes a wager for the priceless artifact, he may have discovered an even greater treasure.

A descendant of Atlantis, Sabine Tobias needs the map to decipher an ancient prophecy. What she doesn't need are the sparks flying between her and Max. He's too devilishly charming to be trusted: The fate of her people is at stake as well as her heart. Yet a ruthless killer also covets the map. Now Max and Sabine must race to decode the prophecy's riddle before this criminal fulfills his deadly mission.

By Margaret Mallory
ISBN 9780446559867, Mass Market, US$6.99/CAN$8.99

The blurb:
Renowned beauty Lady Linnet is torn between two desires: revenge on those who destroyed her family or marriage to her childhood sweetheart Sir James Rayburn. One fateful night, she makes a misguided choice: she sacrifices Jamie's love for a chance at vengeance.

Jamie Rayburn returns to England in search of a virtuous wife-only to find the lovely Linnet as bewitching as ever. Their reckless affair ignites anew, even hotter than before, although Jamie vows to never again trust her with his heart. Then just as Linnet begins to make amends, she's tempted by one last opportunity to settle old scores. But a final retribution could cost her Jamie's love - this time forever.

By Cara Elliott
ISBN 9780446541312, Mass Market, US$6.99/CAN$8.99

The blurb:
An expert in antiquities, Lady Alessandra della Giamatti arrives in Bath to excavate newly discovered Roman ruins-only to find herself caught in a web of evil intrigue by a blackmailer threatening to expose her scandalous past. The one man who can help her is Lord James "Black Jack" Pierson, a fellow member of the expedition and a sinfully handsome rogue whose tempting presence ignites a different sort of danger.

Jack has clashed with Alessandra in the past, so when she suddenly surrenders her body he can't help being suspicious. Is she a scheming temptress? Or is she truly a lady in trouble? As desire and deceptions swirl around them, Alessandra and Jack must find a way to win each other's trust. For if they don't work together to uncover a shocking truth, their enemy-and their own simmering passions-may destroy them and everything they cherish.

Don't these books look good?

The giveaway will continue through Mother's Day. Find out how to enter on Forever Romance's Facebook page or head over to any of these 25 participating sites:







7. - @



















I've listed some of the Mother's Day contest pages on the sidebar, too. Good luck!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Review of Within The Hollow Crown: A Valiant King's Struggle to Save His Country, His Dynasty, and His Love by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Within the Hollow Crown: A Valiant King's Struggle to Save His Country, His Dynasty, and His Love
The blurb:
A reluctant king, a desperate nation, and the most misunderstood reign in history....

Unlike his father the Black Prince, or his namesake King Richard the Lionheart, Richard II never really wanted to be king. But the mantle of royalty is thrust upon his shoulders at age eleven, in a time when England is racked by unrest and class warfare. A leader unexpected as he is inexperienced, Richard must find a way to triumph over a fierce conflict more destructive than any foreign enemy Blessed with the ability to take the pulse of the common people, Richard proves himself a true Plantagenet in standing down a peasant revolt.

In the midst of a tender, exquisite love with Anne of Bohemia, Richard finds the strength to outwit the schemes of his uncles and cousin Henry Bolingbroke and stay on the throne, holding the country in the palm of his hand. But as Richard slowly begins to lose the common touch by which he had ruled so brilliantly, he needs to find the courage to consider England.

Widely acclaimed historical fiction master Margaret Campbell Barnes showcases the true spirit of a much-maligned king whose imaginative and intelligent spirit broke hard against the war-mongering world, and who wanted nothing more than the love of England.

Within The Hollow Crown was my first exposure to Margaret Campbell Barnes. In the novel, Margaret Campbell Barnes tells the story of King Richard II with sympathy. She shows us what life was like for the young king who was not as athletic and as martial as his friends and cousins. His royal uncles and their friends viewed his sensitivity, fondness for art and literature as signs of weakness and an almost feminine nature. Richard II's close friendships were sometimes looked at suspiciously and as grounds for questioning his sexuality.

Richard II's father was Edward, the Black Prince, who led successful military campaigns against the French. His father's popularity was an advantage, but Richard II felt that he always compared with his father and found wanting. We see this early in the novel:

"Yes, sir," agreed Richard again. It always saved argument to agree with the uncles. But he wasn't so sure. Without being able to put the matter into words, he was beginning to find out that being the son of some public hero like his father or his grandfather precluded the possibility of being liked without comparison.

I hadn't been familiar with Richard II's story, but the book made me want to learn more about him, to see which version of history is more accurate. Regardless of the truth, Margaret Campbell Barnes gives us insight into the moments that shaped Richard II as a person and as a monarch. For those who enjoy historical fiction, Within The Hollow Crown will be a fascinating read.

ISBN-10: 1402239211 - Paperback
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark; Reprint edition (April 1, 2010), 368 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Margaret Campbell Barnes grew up in London. Her historical novels include Brief Baudy Hour, My Lady of Cleves, With All My Heart, Isabel the Fair, The Tudor Rose, King's Fool, and The King's Bed. More than 2 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide.

Thank you to Danielle and SourceBooks for this review opportunity!

Book Review of The Girl She Used To Be by David Cristofano

The Girl She Used to Be
The blurb:
When Melody Grace McCartney was six years old, she and her parents witnessed a brutal act of violence -- and then were lured into the Witness Protection Program. And so Melody lost her identity, her home, her family, and ultimately her innocence. She's been May Adams, Karen Smith, and countless others. But the one person she has always longed to be is Melody Grace McCartney.

Now, twenty years later and still on the run, she's stunned when a man calls her by her real name. Jonathan Bovaro, the mafioso sent to find her, knows her, the real her. It's a thrill Melody can't resist, and she goes with him willingly, defying the feds. To the Justice Department, she's just a pawn in their war against the Bovaro family. But as dangerous as Jonathan is, he gives Melody the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to embrace her past and present, and choose a future all her own.

The Girl She Used To Be is hard to categorize - it has suspenseful, humorous, romantic and touching moments, but the book doesn't fall under those general categories. It's a book that grabs you from the beginning. Here's how it starts:

"Name me. Gaze into my eyes, study my smile and my dimples and tell me who you see. I look like an Emma. I look like an Amy. I look like a Katherine. I look like a Katheryn. I look like your best friend's sister, your sister's best friend. Introduce me. Yell for me. Let me run away and call me back. Run your fingers through my hair and whisper my name.

Call me whatever you want; it's just a name, after all.

When I was born, my parents assembled a string of vowels and consonants so magical, so rhythmic and haunting, that the human form had yet to be married to such beauty.

When I was six, it was taken away.
And because of my ineptitude and innocent inability to keep a secret, they took it away again when I was eight.
And at nine. At eleven. Twice at thirteen."

When the book begins, Melody Grace McCartney is 26 years old, a veteran of the Federal Witness Protection Program, and teaches math at a public high school. Since she entered Witness Protection so young, its rules have shaped her life. As we read about what Melody does to create a sense of connection and family while staying safe, we sense how isolated she feels. (Spoiler alert!) She buys baby monitors to eavesdrop on the everyday sounds that her neighbors and their families make. There is a scene at a mall's Hallmark store where Melody vicariously shares in an important moments of another person's life. I'm trying not to give this away but the baby monitors and the Hallmark store ritual really got to me. I see a perfectly quiet moment at home as a treat, so Melody's desire for the ambient noise of a real family and the way that she described it really made her character come alive for me.

As the story progresses, Melody interacts with her students, the US Marshall assigned to her case, and Jonathan Bovaro. As I read more about Melody and Jonathan, I became invested in their success.

The Girl She Used To Be is an unusual treat - the characters are unusual and nuanced, the plot is complicated and unpredictable, and the writing is so well done.

ISBN-10: 0446582212 - Paperback
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (March 10, 2010), 272 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
David Cristofano has earned degrees in government and politics, and computer science from the University of Maryland at College Park and has worked for different branches of the federal government for over a decade. His short works have been published by Like Water Burning and McSweeney's. He currently works in the Washington, D.C. area, where he lives with his wife, son, and daughter. The Girl She Used To Be is his first novel. You can contact him or learn more about David Cristofano at

Thank you to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group for this review opportunity.