Friday, July 23, 2010

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.

I've been writing book reviews for Town & Country magazine (Philippines) and have to select a book for the upcoming holiday issue.  I'm having a difficult time figuring out what sort of book to suggest.  Cookbook?  A book on conversation?  Dieting?  The Power of Pause?  I have a stack of books to look at -- and this one is on the top!

If anyone has suggestions for a book that would work well for an issue devoted to entertaining -- please comment or email me at gaby317nyc at  All help is appreciated!!

A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation
Here's mine from A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation by Daniel Menaker.   I just received the book this week and am very excited to start reading!
Here's the blurb:
Conversation doesn't always come easily, that's why there's A Good Talk.

The person you're sitting next to at dinner is explaining photosynthesis.  Or you notice that she is holding her eyelids open with her thumbs as you discuss soil-moisture ratios.  Or he says that Swedish people are dumb, and your mother's name is Inger Svensson. Or you're not sure whether to admit that you are old enough to appreciate banisters.  What do you do?

In A Good Talk, Daniel Menasker, one of America's most accomplished and personable literary figures, helps you navigate the shallows, reefs, and open seas of conversation.  After discussing the origins of language and social talk, this concise and often hilarious take on the most exclusively human of all activities (along with calculus) explains how good conversations work.  Focusing on first encounters and a single recorded exchange, the author shows that such talks have four stages: Survey, Discovery, Risk, and Roles.  He then addresses the deeper concerns that underlie conversations and their common social dilemmas and opportunities, from insults to instant messaging, from dating to dinner-ordering from the value of humor to the handling of hubris.

Finally, A Good Talk -- which is above all a really good read -- considers the physical benefits of conversation and its indispensable place in our social, moral, and political lives.  It's a book to enjoy, learn from, and -- yes -- talk about.

Here's my Friday 56:
Fred: [And I can't exactly remember why.] I think it's probably because you gave me a compliment. It was probably a self-aggrandizing reason, but also it was fun, so I thought I would try this. It's working.
Ginger: Oh, it's working? Has it been recording us already?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Blog Tour of 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan & Contest

Welcome to the TLC Book Tour of 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan.  If you're fond of detective novels set in historical periods or novels of "Old New York" I recommend  31 Bond Street.
31 Bond Street

The blurb:
Who killed Dr. Harvey Burdell?

Though there are no witnesses and no clues, fingers point to Emma Cunningham, the refined pale-skinned widow who managed Burdell's house and his servants.  Rumored to be a black-hearted gold digger with designs on the doctor's name and fortune, Emma is immediately put under house arrest during a murder investigation.  A swift conviction is sure to catapult flamboyant district attorney Abraham Oakley Hill into the mayor's seat.  But one formidable obstacle stands in his way: the defense attorney Henry Clinton.  Committed to justice and the law, Clinton will aid the vulnerable widow in her desperate fight to save herself from the gallows.

Set in 1857 New York, this gripping mystery is also a richly detailed excavation of a lost age.  Horan vividly re-creates a tumultuous era characterized by a sensationalist press, aggressive new wealth, a booming real-estate market, corruption, racial conflict, economic inequality between men and women, and the erosion of old codes of behavior.  A tale of murder, sex, greed and politics, this spellbinding narrative transports readers to a time that eerily echoes our own.

31 Bond Street succeeds as a mystery and as unique glimpse into Old New York.  Ellen Horan has carefully researched the period, the trial, and the characters that make up this book and this comes across from the very start.   She weaves in details about daily life in the 1850s and makes it come alive.

Henry Clinton who defends Emma Cunningham is a talented defense lawyer who goes on to become the highest paid attorney of his time -- and it is this case that changed his career.  Clinton goes up against Abraham Oakey Hall is another historical figure who is later elected mayor of New York in 1868.  Clinton is aided by his wife, Elizabeth Clinton, who is a paragon of a wife and would have made a formidable attorney, had women been allowed to practice law during that time.  Horan created the character of Elizabeth Clinton and this woman is a foil to the accused, Emma Cunningham.  Cunningham's story shows us how difficult it was to be a woman then.

The book stood out for me because of the attention that Horan placed on capturing the historical details of the period.  I enjoyed being able to imagine New York of that time -- what the different neighborhoods and peoples were like.  I loved learning just how trials were run at that time.  Would you have expected that newspapermen attended trial and wrote the trial transcripts for free?  In exchange, the newspaper was given the exclusive right to print the trial transcripts.   Horan reveals what it would have been like to be in court then.

The book itself captures the period because of its slower pace, vivid descriptions, and the dialogue.  It is easy to imagine New York after the Civil War, the sort of life available to a young widow with dwindling resources and the trouble that Emma Cunningham found herself in.  Just as the book is about Emma Cunningham, it is equally the story of the Clintons, their legal skill, and the trial that changed their lives.   If you enjoy historical fiction, stories of New York, or mysteries and legal thrillers,  31 Bond Street will prove a riveting read.

ISBN-10: 0061773964 - Hardcover $25.99
Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (March 30, 2010), 352 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

About the Author:
A book and magazine photo editor, Ellen Horan has worked on staff and freelance for many publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, House & Garden, Forbes, and ARTnews, as well as for a number of book publishers.  Learn more at

Book Review of Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family -- and a Whole Town -- About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder

I was fortunate to receive Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family--and a Whole Town--About Hope and Happy Endings around Mother's Day. Since the story is family friendly and heartwarming, the publisher sent copies out just as people were celebrating Mother's Day.  

The blurb:
The story begins with a little boy's dream.  Janet Elder's son, Michael, for years begged for a dog.  At one point, when he was about seven years old, there was even a PowerPoint plea entitled "My Dog."  Janet almost caved, but then she thought about their tiny apartment, her and her husband's demanding jobs, and their need to get away.  As much as she hated having a heartbroken boy on her hands, she remained steadfast: no dog.  What does make her reconsider her long-standing position on a family dog is a breast cancer diagnosis. 

Worried about the toll the illness would take on eleven-year-old Michael and her husband, Rich, Janet decides the anticipation and excitement over the arrival of a new puppy would be the perfect antidote to the strain on the family of months of treatments.

A few months later, the family ventures south to attend the Yankee's spring training and enjoy a much-needed vacation, leaving Huck for the first time with Janet's sister in Ramsey, New Jersey.  Barely twenty-four hours into their trip, Janet gets a phone call that Huck has slipped through the backyard fence and run away.  Brokenhearted and frantic, the family races home to begin a search for little Huck, who faces the threat of coyotes, raccoons, swamps, rain, freezing temperatures, and fast cars.  Moved by the family's plight, strangers -- from schoolchildren to the police lieutenant -- join the search.  But, as the days pass, finding a small puppy in a densely wooded area porves to be an incredible test of faith and determination.

Touching and warmhearted, Huck is a page-turning story about resilience, the kindness of strangers, and hope.

Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family--and a Whole Town--About Hope and Happy Endings
Even though the plot is clear from the start, Huck is worth reading to get to know Janet and her family, to learn the details of the story from Janet directly.   The Elders are a very New York family -- well-educated and hardworking journalists forgo a large house and life in the suburbs and instead opt for the excitement and opportunities in Manhattan.  They raise their son in the City and spend on travel and entertainment, and like most New Yorkers adjust to living with very limited space.  While a dog is a burden that they're not willing to take on, when circumstances lead Janet to bring home Huck, the dog becomes a central part of their life. 

Janet tells a good story and I found that I liked her son very much.  How could you not warm to Michael when he so clearly loves his dog?  The hunt for Huck is full of tense moments, near misses, and heartwarming moments.   Huck is the sort of book that doglovers and mothers are likely to appreciate. 

ISBN-10: 0767931343 - Hardcover $23.99
Publisher: Broadway (September 28, 2010), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher. 

About the Author:
Janet Elder is a senior editor at The New York Times.

Book Review of Masked: An Awe-inspiring Anthology of All-Original Superhero Fiction edited by Lou Anders

My brothers were much more into comic books than I was growing up, but they introduced me to fantasy and science fiction in books, television and movies. I was eager to check out the Masked anthology that was recently released by Gallery Books.

Masked: An Awe-inspiring Anthology of All-Original Superhero Fiction edited by Lou Anders.  Anders carefully selected short stories that convey the "strength of the superhero genre in prose form; not as a pastiche or a parody, or a bunch of writers slumming it and having a lark at the genre's expense; but an honest exploration, with the integrity and level of storytelling that contemporary readers of comic books and graphic novels, as well as fans of films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, appreciate and demand."

Lou Anders's intro got my attention and the short stories don't disappoint.  I particularly liked Thug by Gail Simone which is told from the point of view of a developmentally disabled young boy named Alvin Becker.  He tells us what it was like when he was younger and was larger, stronger, and mentally slower than everyone else.  The boys and girls in his class picked on him ruthlessly and he only had two people that he trusted and cared about.   His mother teaches him early on not to hit back because with his strength he can easily hurt the other children.  So, as he suffers constant abuse, he learns to ignore the taunts and cruelty -- until his closest friend suffers.  Alvin steps in and the consequences change his life.  Alvin's personality comes across so clearly -- and somehow, he reminded me of Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  It's a wonderful short story and the superhero aspect is woven in masterfully.

James Maxey's Where Their Worm Dieth Not is another powerful piece that makes full use of the short story structure.  The superheroes, Atomahawk and Retaliator, are in a dark world where they are constantly battling evildoers but the opponents are growing in strength.  Each victory seems hollow because their vanquished enemies somehow reappear even after death.  Retaliator himself has been killed and reborn three times.    Maxey introduces complex and unusual characters, throws them into difficult situations and makes them suffer -- all for a good story with an unexpected twist.

The stories are not related, so that it's easy enough to flip through the anthology to find a story that draws you in.  There's a broad range of styles, worlds, and characters -- which makes Masked a fine compilation.   Here's the complete list of author contributors and their works:
  • Cleansed and Set in Gold by Matthew Sturges
  • Where Their Worm Dieth Not by James Maxey
  • Secret Identity by Paul Cornell
  • The Non-Event by Mike Carey
  • Avatar by Mike Baron
  • Message from the Bubblegum Factory by Daryl Gregory
  • Thug by Gail Simone
  • Vacuum Lad by Stephen Baxter
  • A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Chris Roberson
  • Head Cases by Peter David and Kathleen David
  • Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi
  • By My Works You Shall Know Me by Mark Chadbourn
  • Call Her Savage by Marjorie Liu
  • Tonight We Fly by Ian McDonald
  • A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe (Villians Too) by Bill Willingham
I recommend Masked for fans of fantasy, science fiction, and superheroes -- young or old, male or female.  It's a book that I intend to share with my brothers!

ISBN-10: 1439168822 - Trade Paperback $15.00
Publisher: Gallery; Original edition (July 20, 2010), 416 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher. 

    Book Review of The King's Mistress by Emma Campion

    Emma Campion's The King's Mistress: A Novel is a historical novel with romance and intrigue set during the reign of Edward III.   It tells the story of his mistress Alice Perrers.

    The King's Mistress: A Novel

    The blurb:
    History has not been kind to Alice Perrers.  The notorious mistress of King Edward III.  Scholars and contemporaries alike have deemed her a manipulative woman who used her great beauty and sensuality to take advantage of an aging and increasingly senile king.  But who is the woman behind the scandal?  A coldhearted opportunist or someone who was fighting for her very survival?

    Like most girls of her era, Alice is taught obedience in all things.  At the age of fourteen, she marries the man her father chooses for her, dutifully accepting the cost of being torn from the family she holds so dear and losing the love of her mother forever.  Despite these heartbreaks Alice finds that merchant Janyn Perrers is a good and loving husband and the two settle into a happy life together.  Their bliss is shortlived, however, unraveled the dark day a messenger appears at Alice's door and notifies her of Janyn's sudden disappearance.

    In the wake of this tragedy, Alice learns that her husband kept many dangerous secrets -- secrets that have resulted in a price on her head and that of her beloved daugther.  Her only chance to survive lies in the protection of King Edward and Queen Phillipa, but she therefore must live in court as a virtual prisoner.  When she is singled out by the king for more than just royal patronage, the stakes are raised. 

    Emma Campion paints a colorful and thrilling portrait of the court of Edward III -- with all of its extravagance, scandalous love affairs, political machinations, and murder -- and the devastating results of being singled out by the royal family.   At the center of the storm is Alice, surviving by her wits in this dangerous world where the choices are not always of her own making.  Emma Campion's dazzling novel shows that there is always an other side to the story.

    Told from the point of view of  Alice Perrers,  The King's Mistress gives us a glimpse into the court of Edward III.  I wasn't familiar with the players or the period,  so I found the details and the story particularly interesting.

    Alice is surrounded by intrigue and politics on all fronts: first, in her own family as she grows in beauty and catches the eye of a prosperous and goodlooking widower.  Her mother is emotionally unstable and is filled with jealousy and bitterness at her daughter's beauty and good fortune.  Alice is too young to fully understand what is going on, but her relatives step in.  Hearing the story of the courtship and marriage to Janyn, I felt for Alice and hoped that she would land on her feet.

    Events at court and international politics lead Alice to seek the protection of King Edward III and Queen Phillipa. Alice becomes mistress to King Edward III and learns to use the corresponding influence to her advantage.  Emma Campion portrays Alice Perrers as a sympathetic character that is often a pawn in a larger game.  The King's Mistress is a fun, absorbing read and sure to delight fans of historical fiction and historical romance.

    ISBN-10: 0307589250 - Hardcover $26.00
    Publisher: Crown (July 6, 2010), 464 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

    About the Author:
    Emma Campion
    did her graduate work in medieval and Ango-Saxon literature and is the world's foremost scholar on Alice Perrers.  She lives in Seattle.

    Book Review of Forget You by Jennifer Echols

    Jennifer Echols writes teen romantic dramas and teen romantic comedies.  Though I'm far from the target YA demographic, a good love story gets me every time.  Isn't this a gorgeous cover?

    Keke put on the first clothes she found on the bedroom floor, whether they were hers or Lila's, dirty or clean.  I had seen her do it.  Lila handled the personal upkeep better, though she obsessed about it until she looked like a parody of a girl.  Tonight her hair was hot-rolled and pinned and overfixed for a windy beach party.  I had told them they both looked so extreme because they were trying to differentiate themselves from each other.  If they'd relaxed and settled for the happy medium, even if that meant looking alike, boys would have asked them out more.  They did not listen to me.  If there had been one of them they might have been taken seriously, but it was hard to give unsolicited advice to two people at once, because they could drown you out with protests.  They told me they could never be as pretty as me, so my advice meant nothing.  I started to explain that looking like I did took work, and my mother taught me this in turn -- but they shut me down.  - Forget You by Jennifer Echols
    Forget You
    The blurb:
    Why can't you choose what you forget. . . and what you remember?

    There's a lot Zoey would like to forget.  Like how her father and knocked up his twenty-four-year old girl friend.  Like Zoey's fear that the whole town will foind out about her mom's nervous breakdown.  Like darkly handsome bad boy Doug taunting her at school.  Feeling like her life is about to become a complete mess, Zoey fights back the only way she knows how, using her famous attention to detail to make sure she's the perfect daughter, the perfect student, and the perfect girlfriend to ultra-popular football player Brandon.

    But then Zoey is in a car crash, and the next day there's one thing she can't remember at all -- the entire night before.  Did she go parking with Brandon, like she planned?  And if so, why does it seem like Brandon is avoiding her?   And why is Doug -- of all people -- suddenly acting as if something significant happened between the two of them?  Zoey dimly remembers Doug pulling her from the wreck, but he keeps referring to what happened that night as if it was more, and it terrifies Zoey to admit how much is a blank to her.  Controlled, meticulous Zoey is quickly losing her grip on the all-important details of her life -- a life that seems strangely empty of Brandon, and strangely full of Doug.

    Forget You is the sort of book that I set aside for my nieces because it's much more than the usual YA romance novel.  The characters might seem typical, but Jennifer Echols gives them complexity, depth and humor.  

    We meet:

    • Zoey - captain of the swim team, wealthy (sometimes described as a "spoiled brat"), popular, and high school senior.  Her parents are separating and she's chosen to live with her mother, but her mother's had a nervous breakdown and Zoey's trying hard to prevent this from becoming news in their small town;
    • Keke and Lila - twins and on the varsity swim team.  They're Zoey's closest friends and they sometimes drive her nuts. They think alike, act alike but try hard to differentiate themselves from each other. They're flaky, kind, and funny high school seniors;
    • Brandon - blond, wealthy, popular, captain of the football team, and high school senior.  He's a major flirt and seems to flit from one relationship to another. He's one of Zoey's best friends and she's a constant confidant for his romantic escapades; and
    • Doug - the one person on the swim team that Zoey doesn't get along with.  There's some history and some antagonism. We don't know exactly what happened, but Zoey comes down hard on Doug.  He has a juvie record and though the record is sealed, Zoey points out his past to keep him from getting summer jobs, etc.  With his juvie record, Zoey's persistence, and high school being what it is, Doug hasn't ever had a girl friend even though he's one of the best looking and athletic high school seniors.

    Forget You is about how things are never quite what they seem from the outside. It's about misunderstandings and prejudices, loyalty and friendship.   It reminds us of what life is like as a teenager -- when parents have so much power over your life and your identity and how we each learn to break free.  Carefully crafted, fun, and sympathetic, Forget You is a story of love and friendship.  If you're looking for a YA romance for the summer -- whether for yourself or a friend, I highly recommend Forget You.  I really loved it!

    ISBN-10: 1439178232 - Trade Paperback $11.00 (Young Adult)
    Publisher: MTV: Original edition (July 20, 2010), 304 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

    About the Author:
    Jennifer Echols is the author of teen romantic dramas for MTV Books and teen romantic comedies for Simon Pulse.  She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her family.  To read an excerpt of the book or find out more, visit Jennifer Echol's website at

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Book Review of The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen

    Shana Galen set The Making of a Duchess during the time of the French Revolution and the story skillfully combines the tragedy, loss, and romance.
    The Making of a Duchess

    The Making of a Duchess grabbed me from the start.  It opens in France during the time of the French Revolution.  Julien is the eldest of the Duke's three sons and he wakes up to the sound of peasants attacking their home.  He runs to help his brothers and his mother but is surrounded by angry peasants -- some of which he's known all his life.  Although Julien is able to escape, the violence and hatred of that night marks him forever.

    He and his mother are able to rebuild their lives in England, but Julien cannot forget his brothers who might still be in France.  Despite the danger, Julien plans visits to France to search for his brothers and help them escape.  Julien is deeply committed to fighting the Revolutionaries who have taken so much from him and his family.  When a young French aristocrat -- whose family barely survived the Revolution -- writes his mother, he is willing to marry the young woman.  The mingling of noble French blood will be one more victory against the thousands of people that have tried to eradicate his family.

    The young woman, Sarah Smith, is actually a governess who has been manipulated by her employer into acting as an amateur spy. Her mission is to pretend to be an escaped aristo and to find proof that Julien Harcourt is spying for France and against England.  Her "handler" is brutal and mean -- and clearly dangerous. 

    As Sarah tries to fulfill her mission, she can't find proof of Julien's disloyalty.  Instead, she is drawn to his sense of honor and kindness.  But if they work together, they must still find a way to overcome the hostility and accusations from the spymaster that is Sarah's employer and handler.

    The book is such a fun read.  Each part develops the characters of Julien and Sarah so that I found myself cheering for them and hoping that they'd quickly find a way out of their dilemma.  The plot twists, drama, and suspense all come together and make the most of the drama of the French Revolution.  The Making of a Duchess is a thoroughly fun historical romance!

    ISBN-10: 1402238657 - Mass Market Paperback $6.99
    Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (June 1, 2010), 384 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

    About the Author:
    Shana Galen is the author of five Regency historicals, including the Rita-nominated Blackthorne's Bride. Her books have been sold in Brazil, Russia, and the Netherlands and featured in the Rhapsody and Doubleday Book Clubs. She taught English at the middle and high school level off and on for eleven years. Most of those years were spent working in Houston's inner city.

    She now writes full time.  She's happily married to an incredibly supportive man who she likes to call Ultimate Sportsfan, and they have a beautiful daughter and two spoiled cats.  Visit Shana Galen's website at to learn more about her, her writing, and to join the contest for a free copy of The Making of a Duchess.

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