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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Beggar's Opera by Peggy Blair (book review)

The Beggar's Opera
An Inspector Ramirez Novel
Author:  Peggy Blair
Published:  February 2012
Publisher:  Penguin Books
ISBN 9780143179979
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Visit The Beggar's Opera site
Shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award 2010

The first volume in the atmospheric and suspenseful Inspector Ramirez series

In beautiful, crumbling Old Havana, Canadian detective Mike Ellis hopes the sun and sand will help save his troubled marriage. He doesn’t yet know that it’s dead in the water—much like the little Cuban boy last seen begging the Canadian couple for a few pesos on the world famous Malecon. For Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, finding his prime suspect isn’t a problem—Cuban law is. He has only seventy-two hours to secure an indictment and prevent a vicious killer from leaving the island. But Ramirez also has his own troubles to worry about. He’s dying of the same dementia that killed his grandmother, an incurable disease that makes him see the ghosts of victims of unsolved murders. As he races against time, the dead haunt his every step …

My thoughts:

The Beggar's Opera is an opera written in three acts by John Gay in 1728.  It is about political corruption, well-mannered ladies of the evening, men in disguise as women, beggars and prisoners.  It is a story of revenge and violence, falsehoods and an impending possible execution.  (paraphrased from page 339)  It is an opera about love, friendship and loyalty.  And it was playing that week in Old Havana, Cuba.  Inspector Ramirez planned to take his wife after what had been a most trying of weeks, oddly very much like the opera.

When a young boy's body is spotted near the shore in Old Havana, it becomes obvious that the tourist town hides dirty secrets just out of site of the visitor.  Upon further investigation, it is obvious to Inspector Ricardo Ramirez that a most sinister person or persons is guilty of the crime and he stops at nothing to reveal the culprit.  He and his ghost friends, that is.  What he unveils surprises no one more than himself.

Peggy Blair has written a disturbing tale in this version of The Beggar's Opera.  Disturbing in the violent nature of the crimes against young boys in a tourist town in Cuba.  Using her vast knowledge of the criminal system, a passion for uncovering truths, and turning a tale 360 degrees; Blair has created a well-written modern version of the centuries old opera.  

There are so many twists and turns in this mystery that I wondered if the author couldn't have made another book or two from the sub-plot lines here.  The last few chapters left me reeling with the truths they revealed.   The Beggar's Opera is the first in the Inspector Ramirez novels, and I have to wonder, what does Blair have in store for her future Ramirez mysteries and what plot twists does this incredibly sharp author plan to pronounce upon her unsuspecting readers?  Whatever they are, they'll be sure to shock!

Thanks to Penguin, you can read Chapter One here: http://www.penguin.ca/static/pdf/previews/beggars-opera-ch1.pdf

Peggy Blair is a Canadian author, lawyer of over 30 years, and realtor living in Ontario, Canada.  She is a former crown prosecutor and a long-time criminal defence lawyer.  The Beggar's Opera is her debut crime novel, the first Inspector Ramirez novel in a new series.  The second in the series, The Poisoned Pawn, will be available in Canada February 2013.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Read More Books

Recently "Retreat by Random House" posted an article including tips on How to Read MORE Books (http://www.retreatbyrandomhouse.ca/2013/02/how-read-more-books) on which I posted a couple comments and had a laugh because I received an error message saying "You are posting comments too quickly.  Slow down."  Sorry, but I get a little enthusiastic when considering ways to fit more reading in my day.

Do you have some tips on fitting in more reading?  I keep a couple books here and there in the house to pick up as the mood and opportunity strikes.  I always take one to work to read during my breaks and usually have one in my purse or take one along should I be waiting for an appointment.  What more can I do?  What are your tips?  Do share.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bookshelf Porn

I just came across a site new to me that really turned up the heat!  Imagine, if you love books the way I do, claiming one of these as your own!

Look hon, I'll share my bookshelf with you!

The best of both worlds!
Oh, and be sure to check out Charles Dickens' Great Expectations photo.  There's a lot more than what I shared here.  Let me know which is your favourite.


(Photos from bookshelf porn.  The captions are my own.  If you knew my husband, you'd totally understand the second photo and caption!)

Dan Brown's Newest Novel. Inferno. Cover Reveal

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

A Land More Kind Than Home 
Author:  Wiley Cash
Published:  2012
Publisher:  William Morrow Paperbacks, a division of Harper Collins
Pages:  336
Category:  fiction
ISBN 9780062088239
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher and TLC book tours to facilitate this review.  The opinions expressed here are my own without prejudice.

In his phenomenal debut novel—a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small North Carolina town—author Wiley Cash displays a remarkable talent for lyrical, powerfully emotional storytelling.
For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when you get caught spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to—an act that will have repercussions. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. He now knows that a new understanding can bring not only danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance.
Told by resonant and evocative characters, A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all.

My Thoughts:
A Land More Kind Than Home has borne some comparisons to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird but I believe it stands on its own merits.  Wiley Cash's debut novel shares  a similar setting but where racial tension is the predominant issue in To Kill a Mockingbird, faith, genuine and false, are the issues on which A Land More Kind Than Home is plotted.

To read the author's notes at the back of the book, we find the inspiration for his novel.  True events, his own personal experiences growing up in the southern states, and inspiration from others including authors and mentors, are the cornerstones upon which Cash's story is created.  But, this is a work of fiction.  Cash does a supreme job of building the story and the resulting tension while creating "real" characters.

Cash uses three different characters to present the story:  Jess Hall, Adelaide Lyle, and Sheriff Clem Barefield.  Each character narrates a chapter or two at a time, telling the story from their perspective.  Jess is a child, Adelaide is a elderly lady who refuses to attend church meetings while the current pastor is in "control" (my words, not hers) and she even goes so far as to have the children join her for her Sunday School so they are not subjected to the wild teachings, demonstrations, and "healings" of the pastor.  Clem Barefield is the sheriff who is called upon when things at church go desperately wrong.  The three perspectives make a well-rounded telling of this gothic novel.

I enjoyed this novel.  I found it a bit slow going at first but once I sat down and was able to devote some undivided attention to it, it just flowed.  This southern gothic "thriller" will grab you by the heartstrings and open your eyes to a whole new world that you only hear about in snippets and in passing.  Situations similar to those  presented in A Land More Kind Than Home do exist and it's rather a frightening realization.  

A Land More Kind Than Home will create a great deal of discussion as a book club read and that is just what members love; a book they can sink their teeth into!  As a debut novel, Wiley Cash has written a winner and I look forward to future revelations from him.

Check out the author's official website, like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Question of Identity by Susan Hill (review)

A Question of Identity
Author:  Susan Hill
Published: January 2013
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Canada a division of Random House of Canada Limited
Pages: 336
Edition:  Hardcover
ISBN 9780307363022
Source:  This is my personal copy.
Also available as an e-book.


A Question of Identity is book 7 in the Simon Serrailier crime series.

Duchess of Cornwall Close: sheltered accommodation, a mix of bungalows and flats, newly built and not quite finished. Despite the bitterly cold weather, elderly residents are moving in. They don't notice the figure in the shadows. Someone who doesn't mind the cold.

Then, one snowy night, an old lady is murdered - dragged from her bed and strangled with a length of flex.

DCS Simon Serrailler and his team are aware of bizarre circumstances surrounding her death - but they keep some of these details secret, while they desperately search for a match. All they know is that the killer will strike again, and will once more leave the same tell-tale signature.

The break comes when Simon's former sergeant, the ever cheerful Nathan Coates, tracks down a name: Alan Keyes. But Alan Keyes has no birth certificate, no address, no job, no family, no passport, no dental records. Nothing.  Alan Keyes does not exist.

A Question of Identity introduces a new and chilling element into the Simon Serrailler series: it takes the reader inside the mind of a deranged killer. This is Susan Hill's most thrillingly imagined crime novel to date.

THE SIMON SERRAILLER CRIME NOVELS do not have to be read in order.  (but it might help.) Here is the list.
1.The Various Haunts of Men
2. The Pure in Heart
3. The Risk of Darkness
4. The Vows of Silence
5. The Shadows in the Street
6. The Betrayal of Trust
7. A Question of Identity.

My review:

Oh, how long has it been since I read a book that was riveting...that I couldn't bear to put down....whose suspense filled me with anticipation?  As I began to read Susan Hill's A Question of Identity, this was my thought process.  I was hooked!!

"It's like your brain's bursting.  It doesn't happen all at once, it builds up.  And then your brain's going to burst until you do something about it.  You do it. You have to do it.  Then it's all right again for a bit, 'til it starts again." (page 2)

Susan Hill reveals a bit of the killer's psyche, just enough to catch your attention and she continues this pattern, prefacing each chapter, revealing more, a brief nibble at a time, until it all culminates in the end.  

Just as Susan Hill introduces the madness of the killer, she makes the introduction of the cast of Simon Serrailer, his team, and his family.  We also meet the victims before they become such, which I haven't encountered much before reading Hill's crime fiction, creating empathy with the reader and hostility towards the murderer.  And yet, curiosity takes hold as we learn more and more of the perpetrator.  

We begin with a trial, an acquittal and a change of identity.  Span forward ten years to the current crime.  Two murders with the same m.o. have been committed in a town near London, England where DCS Simon Serrailer must lead the task team in search of the killer.   Without clues and significant evidence ... without criminal error.

A Question of Identity is more well-rounded than a typical crime thriller, as Simon's friends and family, and the complexities of their relationships,  thread another storyline.  Here is where we learn of past lives that were born and existed in the six previous books of this series and of another facet of Simon's life and personality.  I was lost a little as Molly, a friend of Simon's sister, added another angle to the story, so I believe one would benefit from reading the previous six books of the series to understand the complexities in her storyline, though they were alluded to in A Question of Identity.  It certainly piqued my desire to read the previous six, so I consider that an asset.  

A Question of Identity is a fine thriller that held my attention, obsessively so, though I would have liked to have learned more about the killer's background.   A psychological background was pondered but never corroborated. It left me wondering, what fuelled his passion?

Did you know... Susan Hill also wrote the The Woman in Black, a short story which played on stage in Britain before becoming the horror film starring Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame)?

"Susan Hill was born in North Yorkshire, England and educated at King's College London.  She is married to the Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, and they have two daughters.  She lives in Gloucestershire, where she runs her own small publishing firm, Long Barn Books." (from the dust cover)

Scholastic Reveals 15th Anniversary Editions of Harry Potter Novels

It's all over Twitter!  Scholastic Publishing will be releasing new covers on each of the Harry Potter novels to commemorate the 15th anniversary!

Each title will be bound in covers illustrated by artist Kazu Kabuishi, illustrator of the graphic novel series Amulet.  Each cover will depict a scene from that particular novel.  According to Ellie Berger of Scholastic Trade Publishing, the new covers will be found on trade paperback editions only.  For tweens who've grown up watching the Harry Potter movies, it is expected and hoped that the new covers will entice a new readership. Hard covers and mass market editions of the Harry Potter series will maintain the original art as illustrated by Mary GrandPre.

New editions of Harry Potter will be released in the states September 2013. Scholastic also announced that it will release the first ever box set of the complete Hogwarts Library (Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Tales of Beedle the Bard) in November 2013.  Proceeds from The Hogwarts Library Collection sales will support two charities dear to J.K. Rowling: Lumos, whose goal is to end the institutionalization of children (founded by Rowling), and Comic Relief, a charity with the goal of ending world poverty.  

Sad News for Nicholas Hoare Bookstore Fans

Though I've never had the privilege of visiting Nicholas Hoare's bookstores, I was saddened to read of the upcoming closure of the last of his fine stores.

Nicholas Hoare has become somewhat of a legend in the bookstore industry, known widely for his brilliant video reviews, see below, presented in a smoking jacket or suit with a bow tie.  There must be some British in him!

Indeed there is.  Nicholas Hoare comes from a family banking background in Britain and is the only one of his family members to settle in the "colonies," as his site states.  With the Toronto store, his flagship store, slated to close in early April 2013, Nicholas Hoare feels his time for retirement has arrived and he will retire in style on an expansive estate in the maritimes.  It's gorgeous folks, and I can't blame him.

During his "reign," Nicholas Hoare has brought to Canada a great deal of British literature in addition to the popular; always maintaining his ties to the UK, sharing its beauty of land and culture with our country.  His stores, three I believe in total, were refined destinations, with handcrafted wood fixtures and mouldings.  Facings of books greeted the customers, beckoning perusal.

Yes, Nicholas Hoare the bookstore will be missed by its many customers and staff and the man, himself, a wizened lover of literature who loved to share the same with all.  Take a moment now, won't you, and watch the video embedded below of one of his many video book reviews.  I love this man's style!!

And so it is with a fond advance farewell, customers and strangers bid adieu to the man in the bowtie and suit and to his legacy of Nicholas Hoare Bookstores.  Good night.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Library Hotel - now that's my idea of a vacation!!!

Welcome book lovers to an exciting concept right on Madison Avenue in New York City!!!  Have you heard of The Library Hotel?  If not, linger a while and check out the virtual tour too.

Each of the ten floors is dedicated to one of the categories of the Dewey Decimal System, while each of the 60 rooms has a mini library themed with a subcategory that ties in with the category of the floor the room is on.  Can you picture this?  Read on....


"Over 6,000 books organized throughout the hotel based on the Dewey Decimal System and a team of helpful "librarians" are just some of the reasons why the members of TripAdvisor have ranked the Library and all four Library Hotel Collection hotels among the best hotels in New York City. At the Library Hotel, guests are welcome to complimentary wifi and free refreshments 24 hours a day, including a lavish European style breakfast each morning, a complimentary wine and cheese reception each evening from 5pm - 8pm, and coffee, tea, cookies and fruit throughout the day. At the Library each floor is dedicated to one of the ten classifications of knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, and each room holds art and 25-100 books based on a unique topic within that floor. Room themes range from Mysteries to Fairytales, and from Music to Architecture." (from the website http://www.libraryhotel.com/virtual-tour.html)

Learn more here:


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Winner Announcement: The Expats Giveaway!!!

Thank you to all who entered the giveaway
 for the thriller
The Expats by Chris Pavone!  

The winner is:

Peppermint PhD (Peppermint PhD was on the tour as well 
and has declined her copy.)  
The new winner did not contact me leaving me with no choice but to cancel this contest.

If you don't like to see this happen, please enter the contests and provide a valid email address so I might contact you should you be the winner.  I love giveaways and I hope you do too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Social Media Just For Writers by (a TLC Book Tour)

Social Media Just for Writers
The Best Online Marketing Tips for Selling Your Books
Author:  Frances Caballo
Published: October 2012
Publisher: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform
Pages: 140
Includes a glossary, further resources, and a notes section.
ISBN  9781480030824
Category/Genre:  Non-fiction/reference/writing
Source: A complimentary copy was provided by the author and TLC book tours in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Social Media Just for Writers: The Best Online Marketing Tips for Selling Your Books is the first social media book specifically designed for authors who are beginning to intermediate level users. The book provides easy-to-follow steps to gently guide new users while providing advanced techniques, tips and a review of more than 100 applications for more experienced writers.
By the time you finish reading this book, you will know how to:
  • Use Facebook effectively and efficiently to market your book.
  • Tap into Twitter to create and expand your tribe.
  • Upload and pin photos on Pinterest and use this social media network to expand your brand.
  • Easily manage your blog and reach new readers.
  • Use LinkedIn and Google+ with confidence.
This is what writers and editors are saying about the book:
“It’s the best and most informative resource on how to use the web, social media, and blogs for writers that I’ve seen in the marketplace. If they are beginners, they have everything they need to understand, build and use the web to promote their books, writing, and blogs, and those who are experienced will still find tips and resources that they will not have known about. It’s all there –in one book.” ~~ Linda Joy Myers, Writing Coach/Teacher/Memoir Guru and Director of the National Association of Memoir Writers
“This is a stunningly-good resource by Frances Caballo. I recommend this highly if you’re trying to sell a new book, planning to sell a book some day, or just hoping to be able to reach more readers. Frances Caballo knows her stuff and explains it clearly. Despite having 4000 Facebook friends, I need to do everything she suggests! It’s so comprehensive and so useful I’m going to recommend it to everyone I know. Not just writers, but fabulous for other artists and small-business people. Good work! Thank you so much for making life easier for us all.” ~~ Molly Fisk, Poet, Writing Teacher, Radio Commentator
My Review:
Social Media Just for Writers is a hugely valuable guide for writers, especially for those who wish to self-publish as more and more authors are doing to start out.  Take Lisa Genova (Still Alice) and E.L. James (Fifty Shades of...- though E.L. James books began as fan fiction), as prime examples of authors who published themselves after one manner or another.  I read a few self-published authors and I know from blogging with them that there is a lot of work to do to self promote your work.  I also am a writer, not yet published and still working on my manuscript, and as such I find Social Media Just for Writers an irreplaceable resource.
Even today, in the mainstream publishing industry, authors are finding themselves in the position of doing their own promotions.  They arrange and appear for book signings and readings, i.e.. Diane Stringam Tolley (author of Carving Angels and Kris Kringle's Magic) and/or Laurie Hertzel, author News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist and of Three Dog Blog.
So, knowing this in advance, one must educate him/herself on methods and means of book promotion.  A book does not sell itself, let's face it.  Therefore, we need someone to guide us along the way to minimize the hurtles and maximize the effect.  
From Facebook to Twitter, Linked In to Google +, there's so much available to everyone, we just need to recognize the capabilities and the advantages of each.  This is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg though.  Frances Caballo touches on Gravatar, email, book clubs, online author hangouts like GoodReads (are you a member yet?), how to write a press release, making your business card, media kits and so much it makes my head spin just thinking about it but, in a good way!!!  I've learned so much about the capabilities of Facebook and Twitter that I feel I was a novice before and I've been Facebooking for years!  
Learn about SEO - Search Engine Optimization.  Think of the keywords one would type in a search engine that would lead them to your book.  SEO is also a combination of actions that will bring your book to page one of the search results.  Using social media networks can help accomplish this as well as using keywords on your Facebook description and website pages and blog.  I have learned that repetition of a book title and/or author in a blog post will move that post up in the search rankings.  The more often it appears in the post, the higher the post ranks, the easier it is for readers to find the post.
Moving on to Twitter, did you know there are hashtags just for writers?  On pages 50/51 of Social Media Just for Writers, author Frances Caballo lists 13 hashtags and variations thereof just for writers!  She includes tips on getting started with Twitter and how to optimize its ability to promote your work. Then there are Twitter apps such as Buffer, HootSuite and MarketMeSuite, to name just a few, with descriptions on what their purpose is in relation to writing and which can help you schedule your tweets to reach your target audience.
"I don't think necessity is the mother of invention - invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness.  To save oneself trouble." (from An Autobiography, 1977 Agatha Christie).  
LinkedIn is the professional Facebook, so to speak.  It requires precise thought and detail.  Plotting is essential, thus the Agatha Christie quote above which is found on page 64.  As thorough as Agatha Christie was in plotting her mysteries, you must be in providing information with LinkedIn.  Thank goodness Chapter 6 is dedicated to assisting one in understanding the ins and outs of LinkedIn.
Social Media Just for Writers includes so much more and is not a light read, though only 140 pages!  It is an essential ingredient in the promotion plans for any writer, written by a social media trainer and, as such, will remain ready at hand as I write my own novel and contemplate how I will enable the promotions process.  I expect it to be fully dog-eared by the time I am ready to focus on promotions.  Social Media can be baffling but once you have a guide to lead you through the htmls and SEOs and hashtags, you will be well on your way with Social Media Just for Writers as your trusty guide.

Meet the Author:
Frances Caballo is a social media trainer and strategist with more than 23 years of communications experience. Presently, she is the Social Media Editor for the Women’s National Book Association-Francisco Chapter; Redwood Writers, the largest branch of the California Writers Club; and the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association.
Frances specializes in social media training for users of all levels; sets up and manages social media marketing accounts for clients; provides coaching on clients’ social media marketing platforms; and blogs for clients. Her newest book is Social Media Just for Writers: The Best Online Marketing Tips for Selling Your Books.
Visit Frances at her website, connect with her on FacebookLinkedIn, and Google+, follow her on Twitter, see what she’s pinning on Pinterest.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell (a TLC Book Tour Review)


The Death of Bees
Author:  Lisa O'Donnell
Published:  January 2013
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Pages: 320

Today is Christmas Eve.

Today is my birthday.

Today I am fifteen.

Today I buried my parents in the backyard.

Neither of them were beloved.

Marnie and her little sister, Nelly, are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Maryhill housing estate isn’t grand, the girls do have each other. Besides, it’s only a year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.

As the New Year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? Lennie takes them in—feeds them, clothes them, protects them—and something like a family forms. But soon enough, the sisters’ friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for one another.

My Review:
The Death of Bees is a shocking coming of age story of two young impoverished, neglected and abused girls growing up in Glasgow, Scotland.  In any other story, this information would leave the reader reeling and possibly put off but in The Death of Bees, author Lisa O'Donnell writes with heart, conveying the thoughts and feelings of three main protagonists in brief chapters; each chapter dedicated to and narrated by a character, and as she does so, she lights a fire within the reader that champions the proverbial underdog.

Secrets are the underlying current in this novel and as each individual's secrets are revealed, their fears and their hopes; the three protagonists, Nelly, Marnie and Lennie, provoke feelings of empathy from the reader.  Despite life circumstances, each is trying to make their own way in a difficult world and the greatest blessings are revealed when the three lost souls find eachother.

The Death of Bees is a story of sisterly sacrifice, of enduring love, the need to protect another, and the scorn of a society.  But it's not all grim, in fact Ms. O'Donnell has a way with a tale that offers hope in even the most dismal situation by revealing the very hope her characters cling to.  It's a hope we all know as we travel this lifetime through.  It's humanitarian hope for a better world.  The Death of Bees is a relatively quick read that, no matter your station in life nor your prejudices, opens your eyes and your heart.

Meet the author:

Lisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. A native of Scotland, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Los Angeles with her two children. The Death of Bees is her first novel.


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