"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favourite Books of 2011

I have read over 100 new books this year and a few stand out amongst the rest as memorable.  As I recall, from the top of my head, I think of The Help by Kathryn Stockett (thought provoking and humorous), The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (dreamy fantasy world of the circus), Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (creative suspense), Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (true genius), Little Princes by Conor Grennan (touched my soul), Huber Hill and the Dead Man's Treasure by BK Bostick (can't wait for the next in the series), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (true friendship under occupation), Still Alice by Lisa Genova (loyalty, support, knowledge and humor), Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer (remarkable, 1st in a series), A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison (eye-opening and suspenseful), Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (a languid visit to romantic Tuscany), Hot Water by Erin Brockovich and CJ Lyons (suspense!), Don't Let Your Mechanic Pick Your Pocket by George A. Moyer (an honest informative book for all car owners), Reflections of a Successful Wallflower by Andrea Michaels (funny and entertaining), Hunting for Hemingway by Diane Gilbert Madsen (who knew Hemingway was so intriguing?), Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (a warm read recommended for every mother/daughter), Engage Commit Grow by Larry Smith (should be required reading for every business student, manager, and owner), Sudden Moves by Kelli Sue Landon (a best-seller in the making!), The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (fantasy meets mythology).  But if I have to categorize them, by genres, it narrows the field somewhat.  

Fiction: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, The Help by Kathryn Stockett,

Fantasy/Fiction:  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Legal Thrillers:  A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison, Hot Water by Erin Brockovich and CJ Lyons

Historical Fiction/Classics: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Non-fiction: Engage, Commit, Grow by Larry Smith; Don't Let Your Mechanic Pick Your Pocket by George A. Moyer, and Reflections of a Successful Wallflower by Andrea Michaels

Biography: Little Princes by Conor Grennan, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Travel/Memoirs:  Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Teen/YA: Sudden Moves by Kelli Sue Landon

Children's: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, The Wizard Who Saved the World by Jeffrey Bennett

Mystery:  The Cat Who Turned On and Off by Lillian Jackson Braun, Hunting for Hemingway by Diane Gilbert Madsen, Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie

I am looking forward to a new year of remarkable new reads, debuting authors, book previews, advance reader's copies.  To curl up with a good book, a throw over your lap, and a favourite drink in hand and perhaps a little chocolate is pure delight.  Imagine a fire crackling in the hearth and, perhaps, some Michael Buble playing softly in the background.  Is there anything better when you are enjoying some time to yourself?

Here's to a new year of remarkable reads!  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry

Coming Up For Air
Author:  Patti Callahan Henry
Published: August 16, 2011
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 272

  • ISBN-10: 0312610394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312610395

Available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and local bookstores.

My copy of Coming Up For Air has not yet arrived, so in lieu of a review I am writing a "mention".  The plot attracted me right away.  I love stories about old houses, and one cloaked in mystery is right up there for me.

The following description is taken from the author's site:

On the coast of Alabama, there is a house cloaked in mystery, a place that reveals the truth and changes lives...

Ellie Calvin is caught in a dying marriage, and she knows this. With her beloved daughter away at college and a growing gap between her and her husband – between her reality and the woman she wants to be – she doesn’t quite seem to fit into her own life. 

But everything changes after her controlling mother, Lillian, passes away. Ellie’s world turns upside down when she sees her ex-boyfriend, Hutch, at her mother’s funeral and learns that he is in charge of a documentary that involved Lillian before her death. He wants answers to questions that Ellie’s not sure she can face, until, in the painful midst of going through her mother’s things, she discovers a hidden diary – and a window into stories buried long ago. 

As Ellie and Hutch start speaking for the first time in years, Ellie’s closed heart slowly begins to open. Fighting their feelings, they set out together to dig into Lillian’s history. Using both the diary and a trip to the Summer House, a mysterious and seductive bayside home, they gamble that they can work together and not fall in love again. But in piecing together a decades-old unrequited-love story, they just might uncover the secrets in their own hearts…
Coming up for Air is the story of one woman’s search for truth – and what happens when love steps in along the way.  

There's something here for lovers of a few different styles of writing:  mystery, suspense, romance, women's fiction.  It truly appeals to me and I hope my copy arrives soon!  Check it out!

Christmas House in Utah (lights in sync with music)

Merry Christmas to all from My Bookshelf.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

War Horse Opens in Theatres Christmas Day

You may take the interactive journey, War Horse Experience, at movies.msn.com/warhorse/map.

The War Horse Journey follows the extraordinary adventure of a horse named Joey as he moves through the war, inspiring and connecting the lives of all he meets. Follow his path to explore War Horse content, travel the landscape of the film through time, and interact with exclusive materials including content from the British Imperial War Museum.

George Whitman of Shakespeare and Company Parts Company With His Earthly Friends and Family

George Whitman, proprietor of Shakespeare and Company, the famous Parisian bookstore, has passed away December 14, 2011, two days after he celebrated his 98th birthday.  George founded the bookstore Le Mistral in 1951 on rue de la Bûcherie which he later renamed Shakespeare and Company in honour of Sylvia Beach, the original owner of Shakespeare and Company which was founded November 17, 1919.  Shakespeare and Company is currently located at 8 rue Dupuytren (as of 1964, when the current Le Mistral was renamed).  

Sylvia Beach opened the doors of Shakespeare and Company to budding writers as well as to the bibliophiles of the area.  During the war, Germany invaded the area, Sylvia was arrested, and her store closed December 1941.  Hemingway rescued it from the German forces in 1944 but it remained closed.  In Sylvia's honour, George Whitman named his bookstore, carrying on her traditions and adding his own including workshops, lodging for struggling and/or travelling writers.

Last month's issue of "France" magazine featured Shakespeare and Company, namely Sylvia Beach, who founded the original bookstore in Paris.  I read this article just a few days ago and then came across a newspaper article announcing the passing of its current proprietor, George Whitman.  He sounds like a fabulous supporter of the arts, following and enlarging the footsteps made by Sylvia.  May he rest in peace.  FYI, his daughter is now running Shakespeare and Company.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Walk Across the Sun Exposes Modern Day Slavery in This New Fictional Thriller

A Walk Across the Sun
Author:  Corban Addison
Publisher:  Harper Collins Canada and Sterling Publishing in USA
Publication date:  2012
On Sale 13/01/2012
Pages: 448
Available as an ebook, trade paperback, hardcover (384 pages)
Genre:  legal thriller 
ISBN-13: 978-1402792809

Source:  an ARC was provided by the publisher for staff at the bookstore which in no way influences this review nor my opinion.

"An unforgettable journey into the underworld of modern-day slavery, A Walk Across the Sun begins on December 26, 2004, as seventeen-year-old Ahalya Ghai and her younger sister, Sita, are walking on the beach outside their home in Chennai, India. Suddenly, the unimaginable happens: a devastating tsunami hits the shore, tearing their family apart instantly and leaving them orphaned and alone. As they attempt to travel toward safety inland, they are kidnapped and delivered to a Mumbai brothel, to begin new lives as 
captive prostitutes.

In Washington, DC, a young lawyer, Thomas Clarke, is forced to take a sabbatical from his prestigious law firm. He chooses to serve his time with a non-profit group working in the red-light areas of Mumbai, where his wife, Priya, has returned to live with her family following the tragic loss of their child. Little does he know that his reluctant penance will soon turn into an international quest for the woman he has lost and a child he has never met.

Though separated by half a world, the destinies of Thomas and the Ghai sisters become intertwined as Sita is trafficked to Paris and then New York. Before long, Thomas is navigating the brutal system of international human trafficking in an effort to reunite the sisters and save Sita’s life. Unflinchingly gritty yet ultimately hopeful, A Walk Across the Sun is an eye-opening tale of family and survival." (from Harper Collins)

''We’re taught in history class that slavery ended with the Civil War,” says author Corban Addison, “when in reality there are more slaves alive in the world today than ever before.” In fact, today there are 27 million slaves in the world. 2 million children are exploited in the global sex trade. Trafficking in persons touches every nation on the globe and reaps $32 billion in profits worldwide each year."

Shocked?  Horrified?  I was stunned by the statistics!  

A Walk Across the Sun is the story of two sisters, Ahalya and Sita, enjoying their teenage years growing up in a loving family in a coastal town in India.  The day of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami is the day their lives change forever.  Lost to the forces of nature, their parents are dead and the girls orphaned.  As they find a ride to take them to a city where an aunt will meet them, they are abducted and sold into a brothel.  

The days ahead will see them sold again and separated.  Sita finds herself in a restaurant in Paris, working as a slave and her sister Ahalya is confined to the prison of a brothel.  

In another land, across the ocean, lawyer Thomas Clarke finds himself a scapegoat in his firm and takes a sabbatical in India, working pro bono with a team, CASE, whose cause it is to break up the human trafficking rings.  When Thomas becomes involved in an operation that frees Ahalia, the cause takes on a human component, one that touches him deeply, and he vows to do all in his power to reunite the sisters.  His promise takes him to three countries, emphasizing the magnitude of the nature of human trafficking, both into slavitude and prostitution.

A Walk Across the Sun is a compelling thriller that will open your eyes to the horrors of modern day slavitude.  It is a story of hope, of love and loyalty.  You will find it beseeching you to not turn a blind eye, but to feel a desire to make a difference yourself, and you can.  In the acknowledgements, author Corban Addison offers links to organizations that make it their lives' work to fight the underground system of human slavery and trafficking.

I have to admit that the endorsement by John Grisham, one of my all-time favourite legal thriller writers, enticed me to read this book.  As Mr. Grisham states he has been approached by others to endorse their novels, never before has he done so.  This is the first time Mr. Grisham has endorsed a novel, and that, in and of itself, made it impossible to resist.  The story and writing of Corban Addison made it impossible to put down!  

If there is one new author in the field of legal thrillers you read in the coming year, make it Corban Addison.  Great things are expected of this writer!

About the Author
Corban Addison holds degrees in law and engineering from the University of Virginia and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. After completing a federal clerkship, Addison began his career specializing in corporate law and litigation. He has an abiding interest in international human rights, and is a supporter of numerous causes, including the abolition of modern slavery.

In researching A Walk Across the Sun, Addison traveled to India and spent a month with a team of investigators, attorneys and social workers from the International Justice Mission. During his visit, he went undercover into the brothels of Mumbai and met trafficking victims face to face. In addition, he spent time with activists in Paris and with a senior official from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Addison lives with his wife and two children in Virginia. This is his first novel. (from the press release)

Rated 4.5/5 (mature themes but no graphic details)

Trailer: The Litigators by John Grisham

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Books to Movies: The Help (review)


Released August 10, 2011:  The Help

"Change begins with a whisper."

Starring:  Emma Stone as Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan, Viola Davis as Abileen Clark, Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Ron Howard) as Hilly Holbrook, Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson, Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote, Ahna O'Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt, Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan, Anna Camp as Jolene French, Eleanor Henry as Mae Mobley, Emma Henry as Mae Mobley, Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth, Cicely Tyson as Constantine Jefferson, Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote, Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters.

Nate Berkus was one of eight executive producers and Chris Columbus (of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the first two Harry Potter films) was one of four producers/co-producers.  

Eye-opening and potentially life altering....both could describe The Help.  First I read the book and found myself glued to the page.  It was riveting, entertaining, and delightful while provoking feelings of disgust, dismay and disappointment with regard to the circumstances of the help.  It's a mixed bag, but in a good way.  The movie is much the same and I highly recommend it!  The script closely follows the story line and for that I am glad!  The story is one that is sure to stay with you.  Even my 23 year old son enjoyed it immensely, proving that the audience is not limited by age nor gender.  Having said that, I would recommend a PG13 rating due to the nature of the story.  Watch this with your children, if you allow them to do so, so you can explain the atmosphere in Jackson and much of the states during the 1960s and previous.  The Help is definitely an ideal girl's night out, date night, or curl up with your loved one kind of 

The casting is superb!  Bryce Dallas Howard is a perfect Hilly!!!  Sissy Spacek is a wonderful cheeky mother to Hilly, Emma Stone passionately portrays Skeeter to a "t" and the maids.... spectacular!  The casting director should receive accolades!

I love this movie!!!

For the sensitive viewer:  It is good to note that the language is toned down in comparison with the book and the scene involving the man in Celia's garden was not included in the film.

original book cover

"You is kind.

              You is smart.

You is important."

                   "...I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe."

"She didn't pick her life.  It pick her."

"Two-slice Hilly" (when you see the movie and/or read the book you will totally understand this one!)

movie tie-in book cover


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Book Review: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Under the Tuscan Sun
Author:  Frances Mayes
Published:  1996
Publisher:  Broadway Books, a Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Pages:  292
Genre:  Travel Memoir
Source:  I own this book


(from the back cover)  Frances Mayes--widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer--opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside.  In sensuous and evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy.  An accomplished cook and food writer, Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book.  Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.  A celebration of the extraordinary quality of life in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun is a feast for all the senses.

My Thoughts:

Under the Tuscan Sun is not a book to be greedily read, speeding through to be done.  It is like a fine dessert or a hot drink on a cold day. The heated mug warming your hands and the steam your face, as you hold it near and the drink, enjoyed in small slow sips, heating your insides slowly. That is Under the Tuscan Sun.  One must linger over the poetic descriptive flow, the picturesque countryside coming to life on each page.  Take it slow and immerse yourself in the words, the country, the way of life.  Under the Tuscan Sun is akin to a holiday abroad wherein you are at liberty to meander the streets, visit the shops, taste the delicacies therein and watch the people.  The countryside of rolling hills, vineyards and chestnut forests fill your mind. You are there with Frances as she explores the vast beauty of Italy.  

Not only is this a travel memoir, Frances shares the joys of acquiring Bramasole, her home in Italy, and, with her partner Ed, taking on the renovation of all renovations, gutting rooms, taking down walls, laying brick floors, revamping the landscape, finding scorpions.  There are conundrums, the revealed frescoes, the pain and the joy of restoring and developing Bramasole to a traditional Italian villa -- the house and land it takes two oxen two days to plow.  Amidst it all, Frances and Ed tour the countryside, exploring the towns and shops and bringing home new exciting foods to prepare.  Frances, after all, is a gourmet cook and it seems that Ed is no slouch either.  Shared within Under the Tuscan Sun are summer and winter recipes, favourites of hers, some traditional and some her own variations on Italian foods.  It is all mouthwatering goodness!!

I encourage you, when you are in the mood for a languid, feel-good book, to pick up a copy of Under the Tuscan Sun, sit back and enjoy the visit to Cortona through the senses and words of a gifted writer.  You'll relish the experience!

Rated 5.5/5

Also by Frances Mayes, continuing her story, is Bella Tuscany: the Sweet Life in Italy (2000) and Everyday in Tuscany:  Seasons of an Italian Life (2010).  See Frances' website for more:  http://www.francesmayesbooks.com

Favourite quotes from Under the Tuscan Sun:

“Life offers you a thousand chances... all you have to do is take one.”
― Frances MayesUnder the Tuscan Sun

“Splendid to arrive alone in a foreign country and feel the assault of difference. Here they are all along, busy with living; they don't talk or look like me. The rhythm of their day is entirely different; I am foreign. ”
― Frances MayesUnder the Tuscan Sun

“Like fanning through a deck of cards, my mind flashes on the thousand chances, trivial to profound, that converged to re-create this place. Any arbitrary turning along the way and I would be elsewhere; I would be different. Where did the expression "a place in the sun" first come from? My rational thought process cling always to the idea of free will, random event; my blood, however, streams easily along a current of fate. ”
― Frances MayesUnder the Tuscan Sun

In 2003 a film version of Under the Tuscan Sun was released starring Diane Lane as Frances Mayes.  

Under the Tuscan Sun, the film, is the reason for my reading the book of the same title.  Though the circumstances and story are altered (ie. wherein Frances acquires Bramasole), this movie is worth watching.... repeatedly. It is one of my favourites!

Frances, recently divorced, travels to Tuscany as a gift from one of her best friends.  She is at a cross-roads, heart-broken, and at a loss.  The trip to Tuscany sets in place a life-changing series of events which help Frances realize that it is never too late to pursue dreams, to find "home", and to love again.  Set in the beautiful countryside of Cortona, Italy, Under the Tuscan Sun beckons the viewer, much as the book did, to come, to languish, to immerse yourself in the culture, to eat a grape that "even tastes like purple" while the bells toll.  A chick-flick with substance, humour, and delectable food and environment; won't you take the journey?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fond Christmas Memories: Rich Little's Christmas Carol

I still remember this from when I was a child.  Of course, I was too young to understand all the nuances but I do remember it being a less frightening version of the classic Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Now I watch it with a new appreciation for the great talent of Rich Little and his humour.  It's a light twist but the message remains as important today as it was when Charles Dickens wrote it years ago.

What are your favourite Christmas memories?

Book Review: Merry Christmas Stories by Jeff R. Spalsbury

Merry Christmas Stories
Author:  Jeff R. Spalsbury
Published:  2010
Publisher:  Black Rose Writing
Pages:  211
# Short Stories:  25
ISBN 9781935605676
Note:  This copy was autographed by the author

Source:  This book was provided by the author, as part of the TLC virtual book tour, in exchange for an honest review.


Bound together in one volume are 25 short stories of Christmas.  Within these stories you will find heartwarming tales of love, life, lost Santas and found, new loves and old, an alien or two and a family of ghosts.  Mr. Spalsbury pens them all and even includes one of his mother's poems, Think of Me, in the story "Loneliness is My Mistress".  There is something for everyone.  You need only a few minutes to select and enjoy any one of the twenty-five stories.  You will laugh, smile and you may even shed a tear, but one thing is for sure, you will feel of the spirit of Christmas within these pages. Three of my favourites are Santa's Missing, Santa's Found and Willie Putt-Putt which made me laugh. Merry Christmas stories is available in the US at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and in Canada at Amazon.ca

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nicholas Sparks' The Lucky One Movie Trailer

Thanks to The Book Vixen who posted the following trailer for the soon to be released The Lucky One.  I just had to share it here as well since I reviewed Nicholas Sparks' The Lucky One back in January.

An excerpt from my review:

"Nicholas Sparks weaves a story of love, of mystery, of intrigue and suspense in this novel. ..... " 

"The Lucky One is the story of a young marine who, after returning from war, pursues his destiny, whatever that may mean.  His friend Victor, a strong believer in such things, is persuaded that the photo Logan found has preserved his life in-so-much that Victor deemed it possible to remain alive during the war by being in close proximity to Logan.  Logan is not convinced. However, he and Victor come home from war while many of their brigade aren't so lucky.  Still in possession of the photo of a young woman, Logan decides to follow Victor's advice when he tells him he must repay the debt.  He must find the woman in the photo."

"Sparks introduces us and seduces us so we are right there with the characters cheering them on, chastising at times, and eager to see justice.  The sudden plot turn near the end leaves the readers hanging until the epilogue.  A remarkable tool the author has developed to keep you guessing, until the last moment, if all will end happily ever after." (copyright My Bookshelf)

Now that you have seen the trailer, will you read the book?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Taking Green to a Whole New Level (books and Christmas trees)

Here's another take on "green" for Christmas.  The staff at Gleeson Library in San Francisco used books from their shelves, covered in varying shades of green, to form this creative Christmas tree.  Clean up is easy.  Just re-shelve the books!  Clever!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Bought a Zoo - books to movies

From real life  comes the book/memoir We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee and now the new release of the film by the same name.  This is a book I have to read!

Giller winner 'Half-Blood Blues' tops Indigo best fiction of 2011 list - Brandon Sun

Indigo Books has compiled its list of best fiction of 2011. Click on the following link to read the entire article: Giller winner 'Half-Blood Blues' tops Indigo best fiction of 2011 list - Brandon Sun

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Breaking Dawn Part 1

Books to movies.  As far as the transition from book to movie, this one is a hit!  Possibly the best in the series thus far, Breaking Dawn part 1 has left an impression on me... I have to see it again!  Don't you love it when that happens?  You have just seen the movie, but you have the strongest desire to view it once more?  This is one of those!

"You are cordially invited to the event that will change everything...."

Beginning with the wedding invitation, Breaking Dawn scintillatingly continues the saga of Edward, Bella and Jacob.  Opening scenes include a variance of emotions from worry, joy, and anger in response to the wedding invitation.  Bella (Kristin Stewart) walks arm in arm with her father down the aisle in the forest clearing.  She wears a gorgeous white gown with a solid bodice and cutwork lace revealingly open in the back just beyond her waist and fitted perfectly to her figure with a small train skimming the ground behind.  In her hair, the veil is held in place with a comb of vintage nature adorned with blue jewels.  Something old, something new, something blue.....  The groom, Edward (Robert Pattinson) waits in a black tux with the priest at the head of the aisle.  Former classmates and family are seated on willow benches adorned with white blossoms, an extensive vampire representation abides.

"No measure of time with you will be long enough....but we'll start with forever."

Marrying a vampire is deadly enough but what about having his baby?  (Sorry if you haven't read the book or seen the movie yet.)

"That's impossible..."

Did Kristen Stewart really lose all that weight or is this the trick/magic of photo editing?  From emancipation during pregnancy to death, Bella endures to bring forth precious life but not without the rising threat of the wolf clan.  Will Jacob carry out the sentence of death?  Can Edward save Bella?

The dramatic effects are getting better with each movie.  However, the wolf scene wherein the clan communicates via telepathy is a bit corny.  It just doesn't come off as authentic.  If you have seen the movie, do you agree?  Makeup on some of the actors still is too heavy.  Alice's and Bella's looks fine now but Dr. Cullen and his sons look far too pasty.  I keep hoping the makeup artists will find a solution for that while still projecting the vampire bloodless face image.

While others in the audience maneuvered to the exits, during the credits, my companions and I stayed to watch.  If you didn't stay, let me tell you, you missed an additional scene.  Span to Italy, to the Volturi as they receive the wedding announcement.  So, is the trouble with the Cullen clan then over?  Or has it just begun?  Dun dun dun dun.......  When is part II scheduled to be released anyway?  November 16, 2012! The waiting is far too prolonged for the conclusion of one of the most dramatic books-to-movies series, don't you agree?  Looking for the Christmas audience, I'm sure, but why not May or June?  Hype, hype, hype!

Holiday Movie Season Begins Today

Holiday Movie Season Begins Today There are a few movies premiering for the holiday season and many are based on books. Click on Holiday Movie Season Begins Today to read more. Have you read any of these books this year?

Top Twenty Gift Suggestions for the Book Lover by thesavvyreader.ca

  1. Click on the post title to go to the Savvy Reader site where you may read the Top Twenty Gift Suggestions for the Book Lover!  It's time for Christmas ideas and the Savvy Reader gives you a good start!

Top Ten Books of 2011 From Amazon.ca

Sisters Brothers
by Patrick Dewitt

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.  (Amazon.com)

In the Garden of Beasts
by Erik Larson

A mild-mannered professor from Chicago, Dodd brings along his wife, son, and flamboyant daughter, Martha. At first Martha is entranced by the parties and pomp, and the handsome young men of the Third Reich with their infectious enthusiasm for restoring Germany to a position of world prominence. Enamored of the “New Germany,” she has one affair after another, including with the suprisingly honorable first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, confirmed by chilling first-person testimony, her father telegraphs his concerns to a largely indifferent State Department back home. Dodd watches with alarm as Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and drafts of frightening new laws begin to circulate. As that first year unfolds and the shadows deepen, the Dodds experience days full of excitement, intrigue, romance--and ultimately, horror, when a climactic spasm of violence and murder reveals Hitler’s true character and ruthless ambition. (Amazon.com)

The Art of Fielding:  A Novel
by Chad Harbach

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry's fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry's gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners' team captain and Henry's best friend, realizes he has guided Henry's career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert's daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others. (Amazon.com)

by Haruki Murakami and Jay Rubin

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers. (Amazon.com)

What It's Like to to Go to War
by Karl Marlantes

In 1968, at the age of twenty-three, Karl Marlantes was dropped into the highland jungle of Vietnam, an inexperienced lieutenant in command of a platoon of forty Marines who would live or die by his decisions. Marlantes survived, but like many of his brothers in arms, he has spent the last forty years dealing with his war experience. In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes takes a deeply personal and candid look at what it is like to experience the ordeal of combat, critically examining how we might better prepare our soldiers for war. Marlantes weaves riveting accounts of his combat experiences with thoughtful analysis, self-examination, and his readings—from Homer to The Mahabharata to Jung. He makes it clear just how poorly prepared our nineteen-year-old warriors are for the psychological and spiritual aspects of the journey.
Just as Matterhorn is already being acclaimed as acclaimed as a classic of war literature, What It Is Like to Go to War is set to become required reading for anyone—soldier or civilian—interested in this visceral and all too essential part of the human experience. (Amazon.com)

Half Blood Blues
by Esi Edugyan

Berlin, 1939. The Hot Time Swingers, a popular jazz band, has been forbidden to play by the Nazis. Their young trumpet-player Hieronymus Falk, declared a musical genius by none other than Louis Armstrong, is arrested in a Paris café. He is never heard from again. He was twenty years old, a German citizen. And he was black.

Berlin, 1952. Falk is a jazz legend. Hot Time Swingers band members Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, both African Americans from Baltimore, have appeared in a documentary about Falk. When they are invited to attend the film’s premier, Sid’s role in Falk’s fate will be questioned and the two old musicians set off on a surprising and strange journey.

From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the reader through a fascinating, little-known world as he describes the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that led to Falk’s incarceration in Sachsenhausen. Half-Blood Blues is a story about music and race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art. (Amazon.com)


The Marriage Plot
by Jeffrey Eugenides

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives. (Amazon.com)

The Cat's Table
by Michael Ondaatje

In the early 1950s, an 11-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table”—as far from the Captain’s Table as can be—with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: One man talks with them about jazz and women, another opens the door to the world of literature. The narrator’s elusive, beautiful cousin Emily becomes his confidante, allowing him to see himself “with a distant eye” for the first time, and to feel the first stirring of desire. Another cat’s table denizen, the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, is perhaps more than what she seems. And very late every night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and his fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.

As the narrative moves between the decks and holds of the ship and the boy’s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story—by turns poignant and electrifying—about the magical, often forbidden discoveries of childhood and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.  (Amazon.com)

Steve Jobs
by Walter Isaacson

Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values. (Simon & Schuster)

Steve Jobs admitted that "everything he did correctly had required a moment when he hit the rewind button.  In each case he had to rework something that he discovered was not perfect.  "If something isn't right, you can't just ignore it and say you'll fix it later," he said.  "That's what other companies do." And that way of thinking is what helped differentiate him from others, and Apple from other companies.  

Regardless of your opinion of the man, the product, or the company, Steve Jobs, the biography, is a book you really should read.  It is enlightening and will make you think, contemplate, and appreciate the great minds of our time. 

Hot Art
by Joshua Knelman

The Thomas Crown Affair meets The Devil in the White City in this fast-paced, character-driven story that breaks open the secrets of international art theft

A major work of investigative journalism, Hot Art is also Joshua Knelman's tale of the young reporter chasing a story idea that turns out to be a globe-trotting mystery, filled with cunning and eccentric characters: art thieves who threaten and then befriend him, gallery owners who avoid him, FBI agents and senior detectives who tolerate him, and art lawyers who embrace him in their ongoing fight to sound the alarm about the disturbing secrets of art dealership vis a vis the black market and how it is exploding around the world, unchecked and unregulated.

Knelman befriends the slippery Paul, a skilled art thief, and Donald Hrycyk, who works on a shoestring budget in downtown L.A. to recover stolen art. Through alternating chapters focusing on Paul and Don, the story of a thief and a detective unfolds, in the process revealing the dramatic rise of international art theft. And in a surprise ending, Knelman learns that corruption can appear in the unlikeliest places. (Amazon.com)

----Are any of these on your reading list?----

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: Hot Water by Erin Brockovich with CJ Lyons

Hot Water
Author:  Erin Brockovich with CJ Lyons
Publisher: Vanguard Press
Published:  November 2011
Pages: 288
Genre:  Thriller
ISBN 978-1593156848

Source:  I was provided a copy of Hot Water by Leyane Jerejian of FSB Associates for review on this blog.  This does not influence my opinion nor this review.

From the publicity company:  No stranger to balancing an intensely demanding work schedule with the stresses of keeping her family together, AJ Palladino now faces another challenge: she is leaving her young son home with her ailing parents so that she can travel to the site of a new case involving a nuclear power plant in peril. And it will take all her skills to keep her cool while the action and tension build to a fever pitch.

Colleton River, a new, one-of-a-kind nuclear facility designed to create medical isotopes with the potential to save millions of lives, has recently been plagued by a series of unexplained mishaps. The accidents have caused the locals to protest the plant, drawing the attention of an anti-nuclear protest group as well as several home-grown terrorists who sense an opportunity to sow fear and chaos. The plant’s owner, Owen Grandel, has traveled from South Carolina to West Virginia to personally ask AJ for help. AJ knows she’s going to have her hands full investigating the accidents and calming the situation at the plant. What she doesn’t foresee is her simple business trip turning into disaster, with her family coming apart at the seams in her absence—and her young son disappearing. While AJ tries to find her missing child, she also discovers what caused the “accidents.” Soon the plant begins hurtling towards nuclear catastrophe, with AJ stranded at ground zero. But can she save her son, herself, and the community—and prevent a nuclear meltdown before it’s too late?

As you can tell when you read my preview post, Hot Water moves quickly, capturing the reader's attention from the very beginning.  Erin Brockovich is a master at writing a quick paced thriller.  

The author's attention to detail in research is evident as, in Hot Water, Colletin River, a nuclear facility, is in dispute with the people of the area and a religious group.  AJ is hired to quiet the storm (pun intended, see further into the book), so the owners might attract investors from Japan and abroad.  But they cannot court these investors with the protestors so visible in the news and around the facility.  Though this isn't typical work for AJ and her business partner Elizabeth, the proceeds from success would be sufficient to supply financial stability for AJ and her son David and for the business she and Elizabeth run.  Feeling like she is selling out, AJ reluctantly accepts the job which, in a short period of time, not only endangers her but could be the death of several thousands of people, a modern day apocalypse.  

I couldn't put this book down!  As the hours of the night drew late, I reluctantly had to set it aside so I could function the next day at work but the moment I was able to I delved in again.  The only complaint I have is that the author writes in the first person, in AJ's voice, and then in the third person as well.  It is not always a smooth transition as at one point in the novel, the narrator speaks of AJ while just before AJ was narrating.  Though there is a break in the chapter, signified by a symbol, I found it rather odd to read it that way.  Other than that, I absolutely loved it!  Hopefully Erin and CJ are fast at work on the next AJ Palladino novel, so their avid fans, me included, will have their thirst for adventure satisfied soon!

Rated 4.5/5

Preview: Hot Water by Erin Brockovich with C.J. Lyons

Hot Water by Erin Brockovich: Chapter 1
By Erin Brockovich with CJ Lyons,
Author of Hot Water
Summer in the mountains of West Virginia has a magic of its own, like a fairy tale come true. For me, it was a fairy tale paid for with blood.
It was August. After five months back home in Scotia (population 864) I'd just about gotten used to folks looking away from me and mumbling about how I'd gotten the man I loved killed and almost got my dad and son killed and just about drowned the entire valley in toxic sludge.
"That's AJ Palladino," they'd say, crossing to the other side of the street as I passed, in case I rubbed off on them. "Yeah, that AJ Palladino."
I ignored them. Didn't much care what people said about me as long as they didn't take it out on my nine-year-old, David. And, I have to admit, Scotia did treat David like the hero his dad had once been. They embraced him despite his two disabilities (or abilities, depending on your point of view): having cerebral palsy, which left him mostly wheelchair-bound, and being a genius.
Despite the town's acceptance of him, David still wasn't so sure about Scotia. He was hit hard by the death of his dad. I tried everything, even enrolled him in some online courses. Stuff I didn't understand but he was interested in, like the Phonology of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Einstein, Oppenheimer, Feynman: Physics in the 20th Century. He'd bury himself in them, working like a fever, finishing a semester's worth of material in a few weeks, and then would promptly slide back into boredom and despair.
Given my family's tendency for obsessions -- addictions, really, holding on too hard, too long -- I was more than a bit worried.
My friend Ty Stillwater, a sheriff's deputy K-9 officer, and his partner, Nikki, a beautiful Belgium Malinois, finally broke David free from his mourning.
Ty somehow found a way to make wheelchair accessible every mountain adventure that a boy could love. He and David would leave at first light and show up again for dinner at my gram's kitchen cov­ered in battle scars. Once, Ty took David rafting down the New River, and they came back half-drowned, sunburned, and sporting matching black eyes that they refused to tell us how they got. They would burst into laughter every time they caught sight of each other.
I loved hearing David laugh but couldn't help but worry each time he left. For too many years I'd raised David alone, and it was difficult getting used to sharing him with others who loved him as much as I did. Not to mention the fact that I was and am a total control freak, especially about David. But I suffered in silence­ -- David hates it when I try to rein in his independence.
Besides, I was busy enough with work to take my mind mostly off David's scrapes and bruises and poison ivy. My new business partner, Elizabeth Hardy, the legal half of our consumer advocacy firm, turned out to have a gift for negotiation, so our first few cases ended quickly and happily for our clients and were profitable for us. All in all, summer felt enchanted, magical.
Even the weather cooperated. The storm clouds that gathered every afternoon remained empty threats. They'd scowl down at Scotia, then scurry away to dump their rain elsewhere.
But sooner or later, the storm has to break and you're going to get soaked.
Which was how I came to be yelling at the man in the Armani suit.
I knew it was an Armani suit because I'd dealt with enough of them when I'd worked in D.C. Not sure how they did it, but it seemed as if every suit jacket had an attitude sewn into the lining: money can buy anything.
Well, it wasn't buying me.
Elizabeth and I hadn't risked everything -- including our lives­ -- to start this advocacy firm just to be dictated to by a guy who happened to have enough money to indulge his taste in designer suits.
Armani guy's name was Owen Grandel, and he'd flown all the way up from South Carolina to consult with Elizabeth and me. He was in his late thirties, trim in that personal-trainer executive way, with a shaved head that focused your attention on his dark eyes and spray-tan complexion.
He had not come to Scotia to be abused. Or so his expression informed me without bothering with words.
"We aren't in the business of whitewashing a corporation's dirty laundry," I continued, in the mood for a fight and quite happy that Grandel was obliging.
He said nothing. Simply crossed his arms over his chest, leaned his shoulders back, and smiled. The kind of smile you give a preco­cious kid who's acting out and you're tolerating his behavior just because you know how wrong he is.
David hates it when I smile at him that way.
Thankfully Elizabeth stepped between us before I tried to wipe that smile off Grandel's face. We were in the living room of her house -- which doubled as our office space -- and she had just brought coffee on a tray. "I'm sorry, Mr. Grandel, we're out of cream. Will milk do?"
I rolled my eyes as she almost curtsied. Then, while Grandel busied himself mixing and stirring his coffee, finally taking a seat in the Queen Anne chair beside the fireplace, Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder at me with a glare that could have sparked tinder.
Play nice, she mouthed at me, as if! were the one making trouble. She sat down across from Grandel, smoothing her skirt and crossing her ankles like a lady before reaching for her own cup of coffee.
This is why I usually let Elizabeth handle the suits. I'm more of a field person -- get me out there with the regular folks and I'll get to the truth of what's what and who's who and figure out a way to fix things. Then it's up to Elizabeth to cross the legal "t's," negotiate a workable solution for all parties, and collect our paycheck.
So far it's been a pretty good system. Until today.
"I'm not sure that you understand exactly what we do, Mr. Grandel." Elizabeth leaned across the table to snag a sugar cube, her sleeve brushing against his knee.
I barely contained my snort. It was very obvious Grandel didn't understand anything except what his money could buy.
"Oh, but I do, Ms. Hardy." He leaned back and crossed his legs, watching her through half-shut eyes.
When I worked in D.C., I knew men like him. Smooth, charming. Sociopaths. Women would fall all over themselves to do whatever they wanted. Poor sad, he had no idea who he was up against. Elizabeth wasn't like that.
"Which is why I'm willing to pay extra. Above your customary fee schedule."With an elegant flourish of his manicured fingers, he slid a check from his pocket and placed it in front of her.
Elizabeth has a pretty good poker face, but I could tell the amount on the check rocked her. She took a sip of coffee and set her cup down beside the check, ignoring it.
"That's half," he persisted when she didn't leap at his offer. "You get the same when you finish."
''And who decides when the job is finished?"
I stepped forward, unwilling to believe she was even considering.
She glared at me and I froze.
"You do, of course." His voice was a low bedroom purr.
Her mouth twisted as she considered. Then she stood in one graceful movement, taking the check with her. "We need to consult about this."
"Of course," he said with a gracious wave of his hand, as if it were his house, not hers. "Take all the time you need."
I know my mouth dropped open because I felt it snap shut again when she took my arm and dragged me out of the room and across the hall to our shared office in what used to be the dining room. She closed the door behind us, then sagged back against it.
"Holy shit, AJ."
The check dropped from her fingers, flitting through the air on the sultry August breeze wafting in through the open windows, and curled up on the hardwood floor, face down. I picked it up, turned it over.
My face went cold as I read the amount. Counted the zeroes. Five of them. My mind did a back flip -- no, that figure couldn't be right -- then sloshed right side up as I looked again.
Half a million dollars. Which meant a million for the entire job if we took it.
Enough to send David to any college he wanted, to bankroll our company for the next decade, to be able to work on projects that really mattered. Freedom, security, opportunity.
All I'd have to do was betray everything I believed in and let myself be bought.
The above is an excerpt from the book Hot Water by  Erin Brockovich with CJ Lyons. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2011 By Erin Brockovich with CJ Lyons, author of Hot Water
Author Bios
Erin Brockovich, author of Hot Water, is the real life inspiration behind the Oscar-winning movie that bears her name. Today she continues to perform legal work as a director of environmental research and is involved in consulting on numerous toxic waster investigations. She is active on the motivational speaking circuit, with a thriving lecture series and a television talk show in development. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
CJ Lyons, co-author of Hot Water, is an award-winning medical suspense author of such books as Lifelines, Warning Signs, and Urgent Care. Trained in pediatric emergency medicine, she has assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, homicide, and more. She has also worked as a crisis counselor and victim advocate.
For more information please visit http://www.brockovich.com and http://cjlyons.net and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

This preview was provided by and with the permission of Leyane Jerejian | Publicity Manager for Erin Brockovich, Hot Water.

My review will follow soon.  Hot Water was released for sale November 8, 2011.


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