Friday, June 15, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is one of the rare debut novels that leads people to dream of becoming writers.  Karen Thompson Walker's story has all the elements of a writer's dream come true from a bidding war between publishers, an advance in the millions of dollars (or pounds) to glowing advance reviews.  In fact, the Guardian mentions these successes as an introduction to its review of The Age of Miracles.  (You can read the Guardian's review here.)     The book comes out on June 26 and tt's already on Amazon's list of books for June 2012. 

I'd like to add my voice to those praising The Age of Miracles because of Walker's main character, eleven-year-old Julia.  Julia opens up to us about the details of her life: friendships, crushes, uncertainties.  While these basic topics could easily seem trivial, Julia's voice and innocence draw us in.  We sympathize with Julia as she faces the loss of her best friend Hanna, as her world slowly comes apart both physically and socially.  One of the saddest scenes is when Julia realizes that the slowing has affected schoolyard dynamics:

What I understod so far about this life was that there were the bullies and the bullied, the hunters and the hunted, the strong and the stronger and the weak, and so far I'd never fallen into any group--I was one of the rest, a quiet girl with an average face, one in the harmless and unharmed crowd. But it seemed all at once that this balance had shifted. With so many kids missing from the bus stop, all the hierarchies were changing.  A mean thought passed through my mind:  I didn't belong in this position; it should have been one of the uglier girls, Diane or Teresa or Jill.  Or Rachel. Where was Rachel? She was the nerdiest among us.  But she'd been kept home by her mother to prepare and to pray -- they were Jehovah's Witnesses, convinced that this was the end of days. 
The siding away of safety when Julia realizes that she's no longer in the "middle" comes around the time that Julia notices that her parents' marriage, her father's failures, her mother's sickness, her friend's mother's slow decline, the disappearance of people, increasing alienation and demonization of those who opted for "real time" instead of the government recommended 24 hour days. 

Beautifully written with sensitivity and clear vision, The Age of Miracles is nuanced and deeply engrossing.  It's a story of a strange world with the Earth slowing down, and our environment causing deadly and irreversible changes and a story of young love in the middle of uncertainty.

ISBN-10: 0812992970  $26.00
Publisher: Random House (June 26, 2012), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where The Age of Miracles is set. She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin. After college, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the San Diego area before moving to New York City to attend the Columbia University MFA program.
A former book editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work—sometimes while riding the subway.
She is the recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb Magazine fiction prize. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Hunt for KSMM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Hohammed by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer & Giveaway

The blurb:
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the most significant terrorist in captivity. On March 1, 2003, American and Pakistani intelligence agents captured KSM, bringing to a close one of the greatest manhunts in history.

Drawing on unprecedented access to key sources, many of whom have never spoken publicly -- as well as jihadis and members of KSM's family and support network -- Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer give the first comprehensive account of the search for KSM and what happened after he was captured, including how his torture propted false confessions that sent U.S. agents on a wild goose chase across four continents.

The Hunt for KSM is a tour de force of investigative journalism and a vivid portrayal of the epic struggle to capture the most significant terrorist behind bars.

The Hunt for KSM gives us a chronological, detailed, and carefully researched account of the investigation into the characters that planned, financed, and executed the 9/11 attacks. McDermott and Meyer give us anecdotes, conversations, and small details that must have come from extensive interviews.  The authors are quick to give credit to individual investigators and are not afraid to mention mistakes and lost opportunities when discussing earlier attempts to pinpoint the planners and actors in the terrorist attacks.

For those of us who are not familiar with the main characters, geography or the politics of the region, the details can be confusing.  Fortunately, the writers are careful to repeat the names and to make the story accessible and comprehensible to the lay person.

The discussion differentiating the CIA and the FBI was particularly interesting as the authors explained why and how the CIA became the prime mover in the fight against terror.  In the detailed description of the investigations, I learned that so many seemingly disparate events that were going on around me, whether in the Philippines or in the US, were significant.  There are detailed accounts of KSM and his colleagues escapades in the Philippines - and the investigators' reconstruction of KSM's trail - that involve bar girls, an apartment in Greenhills, pretty dentists, and visits into the slums of Manila - that I personally found fascinating.

Overall, The Hunt for KSM is an engrossing read.  It teaches us about geopolitics and current events and gives us greater insight into the debate about torture, civil rights versus emergency measures and national security.  Not all the US characters are heroes, but we certainly appreciate the dedication and sacrifices of the American and Pakistani investigators.

ISBN-10: 0316186597 - Hardcover $27.99
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (March 26, 2012), 368 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Authors:
Terry McDermott's work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Wilson Quarterly, the Columbia Journalism Review; the Los Angeles Times Magazine and Pacific Magazine.

Josh Meyer is the chief terrorism reporter for the Los Angeles Times and has reported on international terrorism for more than a decade.  He lives in Washington DC.

Little, Brown & Company is sponsoring this giveaway of 3 copies of The Hunt for KSM. To enter, please recommend a book that you loved lately and tell us a little bit about it.

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.
3.  One winner per household.
The contest is limited to US and Canada only. No P.O. boxes. The contest ends at noon on June 30, 2012.

A Fatal Debt by John Gapper

The blurb:
When Ben Cowper, a young psychiatrist, first meets Harry Shapiro, the former chief executive of a failed Wall Street bank, he diagnoses him as suicidally depressed and admits him to hospital for observation. Then pressure is brought by his superiors to discharge Harry, and Ben is slowly drawn into Shapiro’s gilded world in Manhattan and East Hampton where nothing is what it first seems. After a colleague of Harry's takes his own life and revelations of fraud follow, Ben realizes he has made a terrible error that threatens both his career and his life.

I couldn't put down  A Fatal Debt Fortunately, I started the book while traveling to Boston so I had nearly 4 hours of uninterrupted reading.

John Gapper gives us a smart, ambitious and sympathetic lead character/amateur sleuth in Dr. Ben Cowper.  Ben is on duty when Harry Shapiro, the man donated the funds and for whom a hospital wing at New York-Episcopal is named, arrives at the hospital.  Ben's initial treatment of Harry makes and impression but it is still a surprise when billionaire Harry Shapiro bypasses the department head and specifically requests for Ben.   The novel captures the nuances of hospital and departmental politics from the point of view of a promising but junior member of staff.  These passages particularly resonated with me.

A Fatal Debt is a thriller where the action comes from complex financial transactions in the world of investment banking and Wall Street.  The drama comes from divided loyalties, upended friendships, and the upheaval of ordinary lives.  John Gapper takes us to these new landscapes and private worlds full of white collar crime - and on a complex and engrossing read

ISBN-10: 0345527895 Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 26, 2012), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

About the Author:
John Gapper is chief business commentator and an associate editor of the Financial Times. He writes a weekly column on business and finance, focusing on the media and technology industries and innovation. He also writes editorial and features on a range of business topics. He has written extensively on Wall Street and the financial crisis; the troubles of the US auto industry; the future of digital media  and entertainment; innovation and venture capital; PR crises such as the BP oil spill; and software and open source.
John is based in the New York, where he helps to lead the FT's  expansion in the US. He was formerly comment page editor of the FT, and was in charge of introducing and editing the paper’s award-winning op-ed page.
John lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, Rosie Dastgir, the writer and author of A Small Fortune (Penguin) and their two daughters.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Tour: Michael A. Rothman's Heirs of Prophecy

The blurb:
Through a fluke of nature, the Riverton family is transported to the strange, new world of Trimoria, where two young brothers gain unusual powers.

An ancient prophecy foretells that they must lead armies of men, dwarves, and elves against a demon horde.

One thing stands in their way: the evil wizard Azazel, whose brutal warriors are sworn to seek and destroy them.
I'm happy to announce that wo have the author, Michael A. Rothman, join us for a brief Q & A.  Welcome, Michael and congratulations!

Gaby: What books or ideas inspired you to write "Heirs of Prophecy"?

Michael:  I'd always had bouncing around an idea about writing an Epic Fantasy tale for my boys when they were old enough to appreciate it. In my mind, I'd always liked the "Fish out of water" type of story, similar to Alice in Wonderland - but I wanted a modern setting that illustrated what it would be like to have an entire family suddenly find themselves in a new world, and try to make it as "realistic" as possible regarding their reactions, how they adapted, and eventually triumphed in a world that was "out to get them".

Being that I buck the trends of novels highlighting dystopian family environments, orphans, or otherwise troubled main characters - I wanted to maintain a strong family dynamic within the story, and promote that without smothering the main characters, which are the kids. 

As to the books that truly influenced me as I grew up, the one classic that stands head and shoulders above them all was J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the rings series. 
  • The Hobbit – my first Fantasy book, and by far the one that set me on the road I’ve walked in this genre.  It established a variety of archetypes that I believe many authors since have followed whether purposefully or accidentally.  The concepts and behaviors introduced with the character races as stereotypes are certainly things that have influenced my view on writing. For instance a reader might find my elves somewhat stoic and serious and the dwarves a touch boisterous and hard-working. As it was the first book in the genre I read, it was the measuring stick by which all future books were compared against.
There also were two other books that I would highlight as formative in some of my approaches or sensitivities.
  • The Sum of All Men – This is a book that I read soon after it was released, and it made me think about “how” magic works. For those who haven’t read this first book of the RuneLords series, it introduces a somewhat unique system of magic that I won’t belabor explaining here, but suffice it to say that it allowed me to start thinking about magic in a different way. Unlike Tolkien, where there were many elements of deus ex machina (it happens just miraculously), Dave Farland introduced me to the concept that magic has a “cost”. It got me thinking about how one constructs a system that shows the limits and the effects that the use of magic has.
  • Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson’s fine book really hits a homerun on the establishment of a complex but cohesive lexicon of magic rules and limitations. I think Brandon’s novel was one that made me really start to think about applying rules to my novels, and when it came right down to it, a reader of HEIRS OF PROPHECY might see something that others have coined, “Rothman’s Law of Magic” – which is derived from what folks in our world might call Ohm’s law.
Gaby:  I particularly liked how the different threads came together in the novel.  For instance, the father's hobby of metalwork serves him well when he must earn his living as a blacksmith.  You wove in considerable detail on the history and development of swords.  Did you have a longstanding interest in swords and their development?

Michael:  Even though I might say I relate most intimately with the character Jared, the aforementioned blacksmith, I personally don't have a smithy in my garage. Though I did lots of metalwork in high school, and have always been fascinated with metallurgy and the physics of nature. I am science guy, and formally trained in such - so it stands to reason that over the years, I'd learned quite a bit about smelting and refining of ore. I am pleased that others might enjoy some of the fruits of that knowledge. Oddly enough, when my wife read the scene where Aubrey stated that she was bored with the whole "smithing thing", she laughed out loud because as she put it, "I struggled through that part of the chapter thinking, 'this smithing thing is boring to me'".  As an author, you sometimes risk turning off an audience when you go too "deep" into a subject, but I felt that from a creative viewpoint, the data was necessary for Jared's character.

Gaby: What can we look forward to in the next in the novel in the series?
Michael: The next novel, TOOLS OF PROPHECY is being released this summer. It will certainly pick up where the first story left off. 

I believe that the readers of the first book would be delighted to learn that we dive much deeper into the evolution of the primary characters (they are now a couple years older), and a myriad of new members are added to the cast. I believe the action/adventure aspect of the story will certainly be raised to a much higher level, yet there will be elements that will have readers rooting for their favorite characters as a school is created for those who are found with magical talents.  (Yes, a school of magic. And there will be some very unexpected students in that school of various ages and demographics.)

I would also say that the emotional aspects of the story are increased. I won't give it away, but I recall when my youngest son was reading that chapter and I asked him a question, he waved me away and told me to wait… (I had to overlook that and remain amused to this day about that)

I sincerely hope the readers enjoy the second book, but if they enjoyed Book 1, I have little doubt they will enjoy the second book.

Gaby:  Do you have any advice for young readers?

Michael: Yes, read everything you can get your hands on. I am a huge believer that young readers benefit from stretching their exposure to words and turns of phrase that they might not otherwise encounter in our colloquialism-filled world. Phrases that highlight vocabulary like, "Dude, that rad game totally rocked" doesn't help the typical youngster in life.

I will in-fact be talking to a collection of sixth grade classes at a local school today and one of my opening questions to them will be, "What is the difference between the words 'push' and 'shove'?"  As you read more, the words chosen by the author are usually intended to place the seed of emotion or visual queues in your mind. It is the difference between describing a location as a 'swamp' or describing a location as 'a sweltering expanse of mangroves, with buzzing flies and stagnant pools that reeked of rotting vegetation'. Reading is supposed to put the author's view of a scene in your head, and if you can appreciate the written word, your world will be richer for it.

Keep Reading.  :-)

Gaby: Thank you, Michael! Very much appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.  If you'd like to learn more about Michael Rothman, you head over to or follow him on twitter at @michaelarothman or on Facebook at

My Review:
Heirs of Prophecy is a  well developed quest novel for middle grade and young adult readers.  Rothman introduces us to the Riverton family with sons Ryan and Aaron.  Their father Jared has a love for the simple (rough!) outdoor life.  He takes the family to the wilderness of southern Arizona to camp, canoe, fish, and forage.  The two boys share their father's fondness for survival skills, which proves useful when through some freak accident the Rivertons suddenly find themselves in a strange and different world.

As the family makes sense of their surroundings, the boys discover that they have new abilities.   Ryan discovers that he can channel magic while his younger brother Aaron has incredible physical strength.  While thrilled with these developments,  the Rivertons are careful not to show their new abilities.  The new world is less technologically advanced and their survival skills serve them in good stead. 

The family chances upon a powerful stranger named Throll who serves as a ranger and mayor of sorts for the district.  Somehow Throll senses their difference but is willing to help the Rivertons adapt to the new world, find their bearings, and hide their "otherness".  We learn that despite living in very different worlds,  Throll's family and the Rivertons share much in common - such as a sense of fairness, a desire for individual freedom, and a willingness to risk everything for the chance of a better place.

Ryan and Aaron seem to have a special place in Trimoria - their arrival and future are foretold in prophecies and in dreams.  It's with humor, excitement, and grace that they accept their unique strengths, the allies that they make, and the responsibilities that fall to them. 

Michael Rothman is careful to explore the points of view of the two brothers as they learn about their new powers and explore the strange world of Trimoria.   Reading Heirs of Prophecy, I was acutely aware of the wholesomeness of the story and the language.  This didn't detract from the power of the story or likability of the characters.  I would recommend Heirs of Prophecy to younger readers that are developing a taste for fantasy novels and stories of quests and knights.

ISBN-10: 0985169702 - Paperback $9.99
Publisher: M & S Publishing, L.L.C. (April 3, 2012), 380 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

About the Author, in his own words:
"I am an Army brat and the first person in my family to be born in the United States.  This heavily influenced my youth by installing a love of reading and a burning curiosity about the world and all of the things within it.  As an adult, my love of travel allowed me to explore many unimaginable locations.  I participated in many adventures and documented them in what will be a series of books, the first of which you have just read.

Some might put these books in the Fantasy genre, and I never had issues with this label.  After all, the adventures were, without any doubt in my mind, fantastic.  I simply quibble with the label of "Fiction" that some might put on these tales. These tales should be viewed as historical records, more along the lines of a documentary.

I've learned one thing over the years. Magic is real.  Keep exploring, and you too wil find your magic."

Learn more about Michael Rothman at or follow him on twitter at @michaelarothman or on Facebook at

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book Expo America 2012 - Part One

Book Expo America gives booksellers, librarians, media, bloggers and book lovers a chance to meet publishers and writers, to learn about new releases, and to gather copies of upcoming books.  The week was crazy, hectic, and fun. 

Aside from the actual BEA, there are book events to celebrate the occasion and a chance to meet other blogger and booklovers.  This is Teen and Scholastic opened the week with a sneak peek into the latest works by James Dashner (Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time), Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys)Eliot Schrefer (Endangered), Sharon Cameron (The Dark Unwinding), Donna Cooner (Skinny), Jeff Hirsch (Magisterium), Raina Telgemeir (Drama) and Kate Messner (Capture the Flag). 

Here are snaps of the authors performing excerpts of the upcoming releases.

I'll post about actual BEA events next.