Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The blurb:
With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.
Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body—though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring—and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.
Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha—or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

I came to this series recently and haven't read the first two books. Nonetheless, I found The Republic of Thieves to be an engrossing read and wonderful escape. The main characters are sympathetic and complex. The narrator in particular has a compelling story - orphan, surviving on the dangerous city streets with a group of thieves and he meets and falls in love with a slightly older and more accomplished child. He's smart, precocious and attempts all sorts of feats of daring to prove himself, get her attention, and rise through the ranks. He rises quickly and they develop a rivalry between them - as well as a complicated love affair.

Years later, after having lost his fortune and barely escaped with his life, he comes across her again and is pitted against her in a high stakes competition. She still has her hold on him and it makes things complicated, fascinating, and an even better read.

The Republic of Thieves is wonderfully long, complicated, and satisfying.
  • ISBN-10: 0553804693 - Hardcover $17.91
  • Publisher: Del Rey (October 8, 2013), 672 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
Scott Lynch was born in 1978 in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he still lives now. In addition to being a freelance writer for various role playing game companies he has done all the usual jobs writers put in their bios: dishwasher, waiter, web designer, marketing writer, office manager and short-order cook.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Tenth Circle by Jon Land

I first read Jon Land's Caitlin Strong series, so I expected strong characters and fast paced action but I enjoyed the historical backstory which complicated the story in The Tenth Circle.

Land takes us to Virginia in 1590, British settlers return to find the colony at Roanoke Island missing. There are no survivors, no trace of their bodies or what may have happened to them. Not only is the mystery of the colony at Roanoke is somehow linked to the disappearance of crew of the Mary Celeste in 1872, but the danger that was first recorded in the 1590s continues to exist and may harm us today.

Blaine McCracken and his old comrades are brought out of retirement to take on a strange alliance of dangerous characters. We find Vietnam and Korean war veterans pitted against power hungry military and paramilitary types. Shadow ops, religious fanatics, life long loyalties all make The Tenth Circle an engrossing read. Blaine McCracken's always been brought in to solve the unsolvable and he has the same sort of confidence and disregard of all rules even as he's gotten older. We have a hero in his 60's and he's had to face aging just like everyone else, but he fights against it and somehow he has the spirit and fight to overcome men in their prime. The aging heroes give the story a certain lightness and fun.

ISBN-10: 1480414794 - Paperback $12.49
Publisher: Open Road Media E-riginal (December 17, 2013), 536 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Since his first book was published in 1983, Jon Land has written twenty-eight novels, seventeen of which have appeared on national bestseller lists. He began writing technothrillers before Tom Clancy put them in vogue, and his strong prose, easy characterization, and commitment to technical accuracy have made him a pillar of the genre.

Land spent his college years at Brown University, where he convinced the faculty to let him attempt writing a thriller as his senior honors thesis. Four years later, his first novel, The Doomsday Spiral, appeared in print. In the last years of the Cold War, he found a place writing chilling portrayals of threats to the United States, and of the men and women who operated undercover and outside the law to maintain U.S. security. His most successful of those novels were the nine starring Blaine McCracken, a rogue CIA agent and former Green Beret with the skills of James Bond but none of the Englishman's tact.

In 1998 Land published the first novel in his Ben and Danielle series, comprised of fast-paced thrillers whose heroes, a Detroit cop and an Israeli detective, work together to protect the Holy Land, falling in love in the process. He has written seven of these so far. The most recent, The Last Prophecy, was released in 2004. 

Recently, RT Book Reviews gave Jon a special prize for pioneering genre fiction, and his short story "Killing Time" was shortlisted for the 2010 Dagger Award for best short fiction and included in 2010's The Best American Mystery Stories. Land is currently writing Blood Strong, his fourth novel to feature Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong--a female hero in a genre which, Land has said, has too few of them. The second book in the series, Strong Justice (2010), was named a Top Thriller of the Year by Library Journal and runner-up for Best Novel of the Year by the New England Book Festival. The third, Strong at the Break, will be released this year, and the fourth, Blood Strong, will follow in 2012. His first nonfiction book, Betrayal, written with Robert Fitzpatrick, tells the behind-the-scenes story of a deputy FBI chief attempting to bring down Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger, and will also be released in 2011.

Learn more about Jon Land on his website at http://www.jonlandbooks.com

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner

The blurb:
Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The killer was never found. Dani’s family never found peace. 

Thrust into an intense devastation that nearly destroys their marriage, Patty and Jim Lancing struggle to deal with their harrowing loss. Patty is fanatically obsessed with the cold case; consumed by every possible clue or suspect no matter how far-fetched, she goes to horrifying lengths to help clarify the past.  Meanwhile, Jim has become a shell of his former self, broken down and haunted—sometimes literally—by his young daughter’s death. Dani’s childhood sweetheart, Tom, handles his own grief every day on the job—he’s become a detective intent on solving murders of other young women, and hopes to one day close Dani’s case himself. 

Then everything changes when Tom finds a promising new lead. As lies and secrets are unearthed, the heartbreaking truth behind Dani’s murder is finally revealed.
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a shockingly disturbing and deeply powerful debut, and P.D. Viner immediately joins the ranks of Tana French, A. S. A. Harrison, and Gillian Flynn.

I love to lose myself in a good mystery and/or thriller and found a lovely, engrossing escape in P.D. Viner's The Last Winter of Dani Lancing.

We learn the details of Dani Lancing's life, disappearance, and brutal death from the point of view of the three people that knew her best and who have never recovered from her loss. Her parents have long since grown apart and divorced. Her father, Jim, is literally haunted by his daughter - and carries on conversations with Dani, whether real or imagined is uncertain. Her mother who had been a prize winning crime journalist has left her work and is obsessed with victim's rights and learning who hurt her daughter. Tom, her best friend and childhood companion, hasn't just become a cop, Tom leads a special elite group that concentrates on brutal crimes against women.

P.D. Viner shows us how each of these key persons knew Dani and what they knew of her life. The story of The Last Winter of Dani Lancing draws us in with the complicated plotting, memorable characters, and an engrossing story. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, AA Harrison's The Silent Wife, and Defending Jacob, you should pick up a copy of The Last Winter of Dani Lancing.

  • ISBN-10: 0804136823 - Hardcover $18.94
  • Publisher: Crown (October 8, 2013), 400 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
P. D. Viner is an award-winning filmaker and playwright who has studied and worked in the United States, New Zealand, Russia and his native UK. He created the range of best-selling audiobooks for Shakespeare and the classics: The SmartPass Guides.
He lives in Brighton, UK with his American wife (the academic linguist, blogger and commentator Lynne Murphy)and his five year old daughter.
His debut,The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, is his first murder. The novella The Sad Man, is his second. He will kill again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Will in Scarlet: The boy behind the Robin Hood legend by Matthew Cody

Matthew Cody's Will in Scarlet is a wonderfully done retelling of the story of Robin Hood. We're transported to England at the time of Richard the Lionhearted and the Crusades. Will's father accompanied King Richard to the Middle East and his wife, son, castle and lands under his brother's control. These are good times for young Will Shackley - he gets into all sorts of mischief, exploring, hunting, and growing up very slowly. But the nation's politics come even to the slower, quieter areas and Will's castle is not exempt.

The Shackley family is wealthy and strategically located, so their property catches the eye of the Regent, John, who rules in Richard's stead.  John sends his men to test where Will's family's loyalties lie.  Though Will helps his uncle evade one trap, eventually tragedy ensues.  

The Shackleys find themselves on the run.  Will comes across the Merry Men in Sherwood Forrest and somehow with his involvement the thieves become local heroes of sorts.  There's murder, mayhem, secrets, hidden identities, deep friendships and crazy adventures. 

Full of humor, adventure and unforgettable characters, Will in Scarlet is an engaging story. Highly recommended!

  • ISBN-10: 037586895X - Hardcover $13.53
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (October 8, 2013), 272 pages.
  • Age Range: 10 and up.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

About the Author, in his own words courtesy of Amazon:
I was born and raised just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. I was the baby of the family and when I wasn't dodging the tortures of three older siblings, I was making up stories to try and entertain whoever else would listen to me. 

After graduating high school a solidly average student, I studied theater and creative writing in college and went on to get a graduate degree where I focused on Shakespeare. I came to New York in 1999 and for several years worked in theaters there and around the country. When I wasn't working on plays, I tried my hand at short stories and even a few comic book scripts.

I began teaching English in 2004 and started work on my first novel, Powerless, around the same time. As a life-long fan of comic books and pulp stories, those influences began to pop up in my work more and more.

To this day I can be found in my local comic book shop every Wednesday (that's the day the new comics come out, for those of you not in-the-know!) and the bookshelves in our house are stuffed with the works of old-time adventure writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber and Clarke Ashton Smith. If you haven't already, I recommend you head over to the library and check them out. It's great stuff!

My wife Alisha and I are still here in New York, with our young son Willem. I'm currently hard at work on my next novel for Knopf, which is has yet to get a title (but for a hint as to what it's about, just take another peek at that list of writers in the above paragraph!) Most days I divide my time between writing and teaching and being a generally nice family man.

If you see me in the comic shop, say hi.

Learn more about Matthew Cody on his website at http://www.matthewcody.com

Monday, December 9, 2013

Kinslayer: The Lotus War Book Two by Jay Kristoff

Kinslayer is set in a complex world that combines feudal Japan with steampunk fantasy. I made the mistake of jumping into the novel without having read the earlier book or the description of characters and I was completely lost. I started over with the Lotus War Character Refresher and the maps, this grounded me in the story and completely changed the experience!

The second time around with knowledge of the first book in the series, I dove right into Kinslayer. Kristoff gives us a fascinating mix of ancient feudal Japan that is in the middle of a war with European countries and a power vacuum with the assassination of a despotic and unpopular Shogun. The heroine Yukiko has a rare ability to speak to other living creatures and as well as to harness surrounding energy as a dangerous power. Yukiko's new talents transform her into a folk hero and a symbol of resistance against a despotic government just as they bring her confusion and blinding headaches.

Yukiko searches for a guide or teacher to help her master her new powers taking with her the legendary thunder tiger. Their quest leaves her ally Kin, the Artificer engineer, in the middle of the rebel camp and vulnerable to the prejudices and anger of the less enlightened rebels. Kin had abandoned his old life, his family and everything that he knew when he helped Yukiko escape the Shogun's men by giving the thunder tiger mechanical wings. But because Kin is an Artificer, the Kage rebels view him with prejudice and distrust. The younger rebels continuously search him out and attack him. Kin's isolation and the Kage prejudice are recipe for disaster.

In the capital, there are young women fighting for the Kage rebellion as well. No Name is similar to an Untouchable; she collects the night soil throughout the Palace and passes on important information to the Lady Michi, a maidservant of Lady Aisha. Lady Aisha, the Shogun's sister, is held under house arrest for her part in the rebellion against her brother. Lord Hiro plans to marry the Lady Aisha and through this marriage rise to the position of Shogun. No Name is new to the rebellion but is determined to help Lady Michi and Lady Aisha during their imprisonment.

Kristoff gives us interesting and sympathetic characters in a complicated and difficult world and delivers an engrossing read!

  • ISBN-10: 1250001412 - Hardcover $18.08
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (September 17, 2013), 465 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Jay Kristoff is the author of of THE LOTUS WAR trilogy, a Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press & Tor UK. STORMDANCER and KINSLAYER are out now. Book 3 will be released in September 2014.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

James Dashner's The Eye of Minds

The blurb:
Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world.  The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it's addictive.  Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends.  And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun.  Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with.  And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he's holding players hostage inside the VirtNet.  The effects are horrific -- the hostages have all been declared brain0dead. Yet the gamer's motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker.

And they've been watching Michael. They want him on their team.

But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to get off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can't even fathom - and there's the possibility that the line between the game and reality will be blurred forever.

I really enjoyed James Dashner's Maze Runner and ordered The Eye of Minds looking forward to Dashner's latest adventure series. Set in a futuristic world where gaming is even more popular than it is in our time, we discover that gamers are able to undergo total mind and body immersion. Gamers like Michael, the lead character, spend most of their time in VirtNet where they experience fantasy worlds, risk their lives without any physical risk, and spend time with their friends without ever meeting them in person. It's a time and world where resources and VirtNet make nearly anything seem possible.

Michael leads a good life in his own way. His wealthy parents travel often, but they have left him a nanny that smooths nearly every problem away and provides amazing meals. School is uneventful. Michael has two close friends that he sees daily in VirtNet. Michael comes across an unnerving thing - a young girl intentionally kills herself by destroying her code in front of him in VirtNet. In the brief exchange before her suicide, she tells Michael about Kaine and how he's killing people on VirtNet. It's the first time Michael has seen someone intentionally destroy their own code, an act that leaves their human body a vegetable or can kill them altogether.

When Michael is approached by a government agency and asked to use his programming and coding skills to help catch a dangerous presence on the VirtNet, he reluctantly agrees and brings his close friends to help him. The kids wonder why the government has brought them in. It turns out that there are many groups like them; Skilled coders who spend most of their waking time on VirtNet asked to track down this dangerous presence and find out exactly what Kaine is doing. The three friends enter a highly developed, frightening and quickly evolving set of games/worlds in VirtNet. The only thing that is certain is that the danger has gone beyond their gaming identities and leached into their real worlds.

The VirtNet passages are well developed and someone immersed in the gaming world might find The Eye of Minds particularly entertaining. Like The Maze Runner, this new series gives us a strong young male lead character and the book is likely to go over well with young boys who enjoy adventure novels and gaming.

  • ISBN-10: 0385741391 - Hardcover $9.75
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (October 8, 2013), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

About the Author:
James Dashner is the New York Times bestselling author of The Maze Runner trilogy and The 13th Reality series. Learn more by checking out his website, www.jamesdashner.com.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The blurb:
Between 1854 and 1929 so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck.  Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away.  Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur.  But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayers knows at a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall.  But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear.  A Penobscet Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

I loved Orphan Train.  It's not the sort of book that I'd pick up for a quick escape,  I had put off reading it because I thought it might be a bit too depressing.  While Kline puts her main characters through challenging times, Vivian Daly (or Niamh pronounced "Neev") never comes across as a victim or weak and the story is never depressing.  Instead, the even the difficult moments are empowering as Niamh's personality comes through.

She travels across the Atlantic from Ireland to Ellis Island with her family. They find their way to a tenement in the Lower East Side but a disastrous fire leaves Niamh an orphan. Niamh's brave and uncomplaining when she joins the other orphans on the train and at each stop where the younger, better looking orphans are taken in.  Niamh eventually finds a place at a working home and her difficulties don't end.  Each development seems to make Niamh's situation worse but her attitude and determination kept me engrossed.   Orphan Train is encouraging and uplifting despite all the awful things that Niamh endures.

About the Author:
Christina Baker Kline was born in England and raised in Maine.  She is the author of five novels, including Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.  Writer in Residence at Fordham University from 2007 to 2011, Kline is also a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship and several research fellowships to Ireland and Minnesota.  She lives outside of New York City and spends as much time as possible in northern Minnesota and on the coast of Maine.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

King of Swords: Book One of the Starfolk by Dave Duncan

The blurb:
Rigel has always known he is not quite human, but the only clue to his origin is the otherworldly bracelet that he has worn since childhood.

His search for his parentage leads him to the Starlands where reality and fantasy have changed places.  There he learns that he is a human-starborn cross, and his bracelet is the legendary magical amulet Saiph, which makes its wear are an unbeatable swordsman.  Fighting off monsters, battling a gang of assassins seeking to kill him, Rigel finds honorable employment as a hero.  He knows that he must die very soon if he remains in the Starlands, but he has fallen hopelessly in love with a princess and cannot abandon her.

Through the imaginative landscape of the Starlands, Rigel's quest leads him to encounter minotaurs, sphinxes, cyclops, and more fearsome creatures in Dave Duncan's latest fantasy series.

I'm a big fan of Dave Duncan and was so excited to find King of Swords, his latest novel and the first book of his new series, Starfolk,  featured in the Amazon Vine Program.  This new series, The Starfolk, shows us a completely new world where star folk have built their world by imagining new places and destinations.  Many of the Starfolk have visited Earth at different times and have used these experiences to imagine unusual places in their world.  

In the Starfolk's world there are clear and distinct hierarchies with those with Royal blood and special magical gifts at the very top, the others of Royal blood and rank make up the next tier, then the different Starfolk based on their magical gifts (rank is shown by color), those of mixed blood are of significantly  lesser rank and must be sponsored by one of the Starfolk in order to live free and move in their world.  The humans in the Starfolk world are considered property, much like slaves.

The hero of the series grows up on Earth but knows himself to be an alien of sorts.  When he suddenly finds himself in the world of Starfolk, he discovers that he's been gifted with one of the most powerful amulets/swords in the universe.  This gift that he's had throughout his life is a clue to his parentage.  As he learns how to use his power, he searches for his parents and discovers a tie to some of the most dangerous beings in the Starfolk universe.  

Dave Duncan's King of Swords introduces a new hero in an unusual world.  I had hoped to care for the characters but while the mystery of the hero's family was particularly interesting, I wasn't invested in the other characters or their problems.

  • ISBN-10: 147780739X - Paperback $8.97
  • Publisher: 47North (September 17, 2013), 394 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Dave Duncan is a prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction whose books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.  He is best known for his fantasy series, particularly The Seventh Sword, A Man of His Word, The King's Blades, and Against the Light.  He and his wife Janet, his in-house editor and partner for over 50 years, live in Victoria, British Columbia.  They have three children and four grandchildren.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith focuses Trains and Lovers on four people journeying from Edinburgh to London. "This is the story of four people, all strangers to one another, who met on that train, and of how love touched their lives, in very different ways." The trip itself changes from ordinary to memorable when the passengers find themselves opening up to each other.

McCall Smith recounts the individual stories through dialogue, through narration and through interior thoughts. The stories themselves draw you in. Not all the love stories are happy, some are marked by regret and longing. I don't want to spoil anything and the bare details of the love stories don't do them justice. McCall Smith writes so beautifully here and though the book is short, I found myself slowing down to savor his writing.  Some stories are incredibly sad, but all of the stories stay with you long after you've finished the book. 

ISBN-10: 034580581X - Paperback $10.09
  • Publisher: Anchor (December 31, 2013), 256 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

About the Author:

Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is now Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He has written more than fifty books, including a number of specialist titles, but is best known for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which has achieved bestseller status on four continents. In 2004 he was awarded British Book Awards Author of the Year and Booksellers Association Author of the Year. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra).

Friday, November 8, 2013

NOLO Estate Planning Basics 7th Edition by Denis Clifford

NOLO publishes business and legal guides  that are consistently easy to comprehend and helpful to the layperson.  This 7th edition of Estate Planning Basics is straightforward in it's organization and in the advice that it offers.

If you've avoided dealing with estate planning, the book does give some steps that can be implemented as you're still deciding how best to allocate whatever assets you might have.  Here are a few of the things that I found particularly helpful:

(1) the description of different ways to transfer property (wills, living trusts, pay-on-death accounts for bank deposits and securities, transfer-on-death real estate deeds, transfer-on-death vehicle registration, joint tenancy, tenancy by entirety) some of which can be undertaken without necessarily hiring an attorney;
(2) Estate Planning Basics - doesn't cover all the different scenarios and instead suggests a variety of NOLO books for more specialized concerns such as blended families, families with young children, online living trusts, special needs trusts, trusts for pets, planning for long term care, etc.  
(3) shared gifts - raises questions re: partitioning, whether the beneficiaries should sell the property or share ongoing ownership of the property.
(4) "dead hand" controls -trying to impose conditions that control use or gifting of the property after you die - whether to keep property within the family or giving the gift only under some conditions, or control the property for a set period of time.
(5) suggesting couples use a survivorship clause or a simultaneous death clause in their wills
(6) legal challenges and lawsuits against your estate
(7) drafting an ethical will as a separate document.  An ethical will is a document through which someone expresses the beliefs and experiences that have mattered most in his/her life and while this can be valuable both to the person writing it and to his/her heirs, they recommend that you use a separate document for your ethical will so that it is not joined with the practical details of the will or trust and managing material assets.
(8) the importance of creating a UTMA (Uniform Trust for Minors Act) trust for minor children or a family pot trust and their benefits over assigning a "property guardian" to manage the minor children's property.
(9) the value of tax-saving educational investment plans (529 plans) and Coverdell accounts for families with young children.
(10) Spendthrift trusts for adult children
(11) Suggestions re: ways to leave gifts for other people's children depending on the value of the gift, etc.
(12) Planning for incapacity, medical care and finances: discusses and compares the living will, durable power of attorney, advance health care directive, health care agent, attorney in fact for finances, springing power of attorney, durable power of attorney for finances.  Also discussed are DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders and POLST Forms (Physician's Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment).
(13) the discussion on the types of legal wills such as the holographic (handwritten) wills (which the author does not recommend), pour over wills (also not recommended), statutory wills (only recommended for uncomplicated situations), electronic wills (only valid in Nevada), oral wills (also not recognized in most states), and video wills (not recognized).   
(14) discussion of how all property left by will must go through the expensive process of probate.  The author discusses the importance of having the will be part of one's larger estate plan. 
Overall, Estate Planning Basics, is good at what it does insofar as it gives the reader a broad perspective on estate planning. It's likely a good beginning book to help someone develop an understanding of the possible issues and find resources geared towards his/her specific needs.

The main reason that I only gave the book 3 stars is that more than other NOLO books, this Estate Planning Basics, focuses and is limited to an overview.  While Atty. Clifford discusses a variety of scenarios and fact patterns, the book doesn't have sample forms for the reader to use. Admittedly, sample forms may do more harm than good as it may encourage readers to undertake drafting these documents on their own without fully reflecting or comprehending the importance of certain choices.  Another negative is that the section on same-sex marriages hasn't been updated to reflect the changes in federal law. 

  • ISBN-10: 1413319254 - Paperback $16.86
  • Publisher: Nolo; Seventh Edition edition (August 30, 2013), 240 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Denise Clifford is a practicing estate planning attorney and the author of several bestselling books on estate planning, including Make Your Own Living Trust and Plan Your Estate (Nolo).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells: A Homage to P.G. Wodehouse by Sebastian Faulks

The blurb:
Bertie Wooster (a young man about town) and his butler Jeeves (the very model of the modern manservant) return in their first new novel in fifty years: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks.

P.G. Wodehouse documented the lives of the inimitable Jeeves and Wooster for nearly 60 years, from their first appearance in 1915 ("Extricating Young Gussie") to his final completed novel ("Aunts Aren't Gentlemen") in 1974.  These two were the finest creations of a novelist widely proclaimed to be the finest comic English writer by critics and fans alike.

With the approval of the Wodehouse estate, acclaimed novelist Sebastian Faulks brings Bertie and Jeeves back to life in a hilarious affair of mix-ups and mishaps.  Bertie, nursing a bit of heartbreak over the recent engagement of one Georgina Meadowes to someone not named Wooster, agrees to "help" his old friend Peregrine "Woody" Beeching, whose own romance is foundering. Almost immediately things start to go awry and the simple path quickly becomes complicated.  Jeeves ends up having to impersonate Lord Etringham, while Bertie plays the part of Jeeves' manservant "Wilberforce" - and all this happens under the same roof as the now affianced Ms. Meadowes.

I was raised in a family of staunch Wodehouse fans and have a deep affection for Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.  When I learned that a new Jeeves novel was coming out, authorized by the Wodehouse estate, I signed up to read it immediately.    I worried that it wouldn't have the same flavor as Wodehouse's earlier novels. 

In this new adventure, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, we have Sebastian Faulks' homage to the original.  We find the same level of absurd twists that characterize Bertie Wooster's adventures.  There is  the search for deep pockets to help bolster failing estates, references to old beloved characters such as Aunt Agatha and her tartars of friends as well as many of the women of Bertie's past and his fellow Drones men.  

Jeeves is called upon by Bertie's aristocratic friends to help them find a way out of their dilemmas.  Bertie gamely takes on all sorts of challenges and comes upon unexpected obstacles - all with good humor and all sorts of bad luck.  

I wish I could say that Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was just like coming across a hidden Wodehouse manuscript.  There were all sorts of obscure British expressions that while similar to Wodehouse's turns of phrase somehow didn't have the same humor or clarity. It may be that I'm sufficiently well versed in British witticisms and cricket, but these didn't bring out the chuckle that accompanies Bertie Wooster's strange expressions. 

Also, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells gives us a Jeeves that seems more flawed than the old Jeeves.   He comes across as less respected, less certain, a little pompous, and makes mistakes which I never remembered Jeeves doing in the past.  The depiction of a flawed Jeeves, however small the flaws, kept me from fully losing myself in Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.  If you're reading this review, you're likely a fan of Wodehouse and of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, I'm sure that you'll take the time to revisit these old friends.  I hope that you enjoy the escape - a Jeeves story is a rare treat.  Congratulations to Sebastian Faulks for bringing the old characters back, even if in slightly different form.

  • ISBN-10: 1250047595 - Hardcover $14.94
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 5, 2013), 256 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the Publisher.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Leaving Haven by Kathleen McCleary

The blurb:
Georgia Bing and Alice Kinnard have always been there for each other.  Eager to help her best friend have another baby after several miscarriages, Alice donates one of her eggs.  When Georgia learns she's going to have the baby boy she's always wanted, she's thrilled - until a devastating discovery destroys her dreams.

While Alice is happy to help her friend get pregnant, she also fees a twinge of disappointment that her own life is missing something. . .  something she desperately craves.  On the surface, Alice has everything - a busy social life, a great job, a faithful husband, an amazing teenage daughter.  But her well-ordered world is knocked off its axis when she's tempted by motherhood that sustained her.

As the safety of their past is shattered, Georgia and Alice must each embark on a journey of self discovery - an odyssey filled with surprising challenges that will test them and force them to confront the truth of their lives. . . and the choices that they make.

Leaving Haven struck me most as a story of the friendship between Georgia and Alice.  The women have a 13-year age gap but became mothers at the same time and have taken different professional paths. Georgia is the motherly, professional baker with her own cake company and is married to John, a sous chef at a top restaurant.  Alice is the practical, steady friend who works as an economics professor and is married to Duncan, a steady, quiet lawyer.

Georgia is longing for a second child and has spent seven years trying expensive fertility treatments with little success.  The years of trying for their second child causes much tension between Georgia and John.  As a supreme act of friendship, Alice offers to donate an egg to Georgia.  Georgia's problems don't end when she becomes pregnant.

While Georgia is carrying the biological child of Alice and John, things become crazy.  Their young daughters  had grown up together, almost like sisters, but hitting their early teens, the girls begin to fight.  Liza had always seemed a little more grown up but at thirteen the differences between the girls leads to darker things. Georgia's daughter  Liza has started to bully Wren,  Alice's daughter.

Alice doesn't want to trouble Georgia during her difficult pregnancy and reaches out to John for help resolving the issues affecting Liza and Wren.  In the past John and Alice had never paid each other much attention, but the problems between their daughters somehow brings them together - and endangers both marriages.

In Leaving Haven, McCleary introduces us to complicated, nuanced, and deeply sympathetic characters in impossible situations and makes the characters and their dilemmas relatable.  Somehow, it is possible to understand how and why the marriages and friendships are harmed and to hope for their repair.  Overall, if you are looking for an escape through women's fiction and a story of friendship I'd recommend Leaving Haven.

  • ISBN-10: 0062106260 - Paperback $10.98
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 1, 2013), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Kathleen McCleary teaches writing at American University.  A former columnist for HGTV.com, Kathleen's writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA WEEKEND, Good Housekeeping, More, Health, and Ladies' Home Journal.  She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two daughters.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I first came across The Rosie Project during BEA 2013 and was lucky enough to pick up a copy.   I've a big backlog of books to review, but after finishing The Rosie Project this morning, I wanted to spread the word.  If you've read and enjoyed "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,"  you must pick up The Rosie Project.

The blurb:
Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, has a brilliant scientific mind, but social situations confound him.  He's never had a second date.  And so, in the the evidence-based manner in which he approaches all things, he embarks upon the Wife Project: a sixteen-page questionnaire to find the perfect partner.  Then in walks Rosie Jarman.

Rosie is on a quest of her own.  She's looking for her biological father, a search that a certain genetics expert might just be able to help her with.  Soon Don puts the Wife Project on the back burner to help Rosie pursue the Father Project.  As their unlikely relationship blooms, Don realizes that love doesn't always add up on paper.

ISBN-10: 1476729085 - Hardcover $14.40
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 1, 2013), 304 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

It's hard to capture the charm of The Rosie Project.   We know that Don Tillman is beyond socially awkward, he seems to be high functioning with undiagnosed Asperger's, and the story is told from Don's point of view.  

It's one thing to say that Don had three friends and that one died.  It's another thing altogether to see how he lives his life, to understand the value of his close friends, and of his interactions with the people around him.  

The book opens with Don describing how he agreed to take his friend Gene's place and deliver a lecture on Asperger's syndrome.   As Don does research on Asperger's, he admits that the area is unfamiliar to him as it's outside his specialty.  Don concludes that most of the symptoms are variations in human brain function that had been medicalized because they did not fit constructed social norms.  His lecture focuses on the technical, DNA structures until the organizer attempts to sum up referring to Asperger's as something that people are born with and "nobody's fault."  Don then tries to explain that those with Asperger's are associated with organized, rational, innovative thinking not restricted by emotions which can cause major problems.  He proceeds to give a situation where emotional reactions may hinder a rational response - using danger, a baby and a firearm - and one of the funniest scenes that I've read in a long time. 

The Rosie Project tells Don's story with great humor and sympathy.  I had just started the book this morning and was laughing so loudly that my husband started to complain, "I don't laugh so loud when I'm reading!"  I thought that was more a testament to his recent book choices and the strength of The Rosie Project. 

About the Author:
Graeme Simsion,
PhD, was the owner of successful consulting business, who decided, at fifty, that he would become a writer.  The Rosie Project is his first book.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Friday's Harbor by Diane Hammond

The blurb:
It's been three years since Hannah the elephant departed the Max L. Biedelman Zoo and life is blissfully quiet for her friends in Bladenham; Sam has retired; Neva manages a doggie day are called Woof!; Harriet Saul has been fired; and newly-minted lawyer Truman Levy has been recruited to replace Harriet as the zoo's executive director.

Then Truman's aunt, an eccentric heiress looking for a pet project, finds just the thing: a killer whale stranded in Columbia who desperately needs a new home.  With the help of marine mammal expert Gabriel Jump, she strong-arms Truman into repurposing the zoo's never-used porpoise pool for Friday's rehabilitation.  Under Gabriel's watchful eye, and with a team of dedicated helpers, Friday begins to revive.

But not everyone believes Friday should remain in captivity.  And before Truman knows what to do about it, the Max L. Biedelman Zoo is under national scrutiny -- and controversy -- and Friday's Fate may no longer remain in their hands.

In Friday's Harbor, a killer whale in Bogota, Colombia is slowly wasting away in poorly maintained and inadequate facilities.  Known as "Viernes" the whale had been kept in captivity for years,  one of the most beloved inhabitants in the local marine park.  The years have taken their toll and Viernes  suffers with infections from a poor diet and the poor facilities until Ivy, a wealthy American visitor, decides to intervene.  The heiress works her magic,  reaches out to the new head of the Max L. Biedelman Zoo in Bladenham, Washington, and offers to pay the costs of relocation and subsidize Viernes's care if the zoo agrees to take him in.

The change is effected and Viernes is renamed Friday and is moved into the never used porpoise pool. The zoo hires marine mammal expert Gabriel Jump, and takes on as a volunteer Libertine, animal psychic with ties to radical animal rights groups.  The new head of the zoo, Truman, discovers that killer whales draw the public's imagination and attention.

Friday's arrival brings record numbers of visitors to the zoo.  Friday seems to connect with his many visitors on a visceral level.  Children, the elderly, even the sick seem to calm and communicate with Friday. But along with the affection of thousands of visitors, Friday's presence draws controversy to the zoo as activists petition for the whale's release.

We read about the day to day operations of the zoo and the unending labor involved in caring for a killer whale.  Though Friday's Harbor is a work of fiction, it addresses difficult issues regarding captivity and treatment of endangered animals with sensitivity and humor.  It's been years since I'd seen a killer whale but reading Friday's Harbor brought back my fascination with these awe inspiring creatures and a deeper appreciation of the complexity of the issues that accompany keeping animals healthy, both in captivity and in the wild.

  • ISBN-10: 0062124218 - Paperback $8.99
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 8, 2013), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

  • About the Author:
  • Dianne Hammond is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Seeing Stars, Hannah's Dream, Going to Bend, and Homesick Creek.  She has worked as both a writer and an editor, and is the recipient of an Oregon Arts Commission literary fellowship.  She serves as a spokesperson for the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and their three Pembroke Welsh corgis.