Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Author Q&A and Book Giveaway: THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA by Adrienne McDonnell

CLOSED.
Rules for entering this giveaway
are at the bottom of this post.



Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Category: Historical Fiction
Publication date: 10/25/2011
ISBN-13:
Pages: 432

Description (from the publisher):
"Some novels just naturally enslave you, and this is one of them...Serious and gripping...[a] brilliant debut novel." -The Washington Post

It is 1903, and Erika von Kessler has struggled for years to become pregnant. Resigned to childlessness, Erika-a talented opera singer and the wife of a prominent Bostonian-secretly plans to move to Italy to pursue her musical career. When the charismatic Doctor Ravell takes Erika on as a patient, he is mesmerized by her. Impetuously, he takes a shocking risk that could ruin them both.

Inspired by the author's family history, the novel moves from snowy Boston to the gilded balconies of Florence in a stunning tale of opera, longing, and the indomitable power of romantic obsession.

About the author (from the publisher):
Adrienne McDonnell has taught literature and fiction writing at the University of California, Berkeley. She based The Doctor and the Diva, her first novel, on the true story of an ancestor-a woman who deserted her wealthy husband and child to further her operatic career. The author relied on a trove of family letters and memories of elderly relatives who have long been haunted by the tale. She lives near San Francisco.


A Conversation with Adrienne McDonnell, author of THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA.
(Interview provided by the publisher.)

What moved you to write about them? I can remember the moment I first heard about the great-great grandmother, the woman whom I call "Erika" in the novel. I was nineteen years old, living in Santa Barbara. A friend had gone away for the weekend, and she’d loaned me her beachfront apartment. It was around midnight, and I was lying there in the arms of a young man I barely knew. He later became my husband, but at that moment we were just beginning to know one another. He talked about his grandfather, who had recently died. Suddenly he said, "When my grandfather was a little boy, his mother deserted him and her husband and moved to Italy to develop her career as an opera singer." The idea of a privileged woman in early twentieth century Boston who abandoned her husband and small child for the sake of her art … the thought of it amazed me. Then I couldn’t decide: did I admire her and want to applaud her courage? Or was it heartbreaking that she’d deserted her little boy? The tension of all those conflicting feelings drew my imagination to her.

How did you manage to learn more about her life? Early in our marriage, my husband and I moved to Boston. Every day on my way to work, I walked through the Back Bay neighborhood where these ancestors had once lived. Erika’s childhood home stood on Commonwealth Avenue. Her father was a famous physician, and they lived in a rather grand house with two archways. When I went up to the front entrance and cupped my hands against the glass pane to peer inside, I saw that much remained the same as it had been in the late nineteenth century. The wide staircase was still paneled in black walnut, and I imagined her fiancé Peter mounting the steps, and her voice echoing down to him while she sang from the parlor upstairs.

Why did their story seem so haunting to you? When I stood across the street from "Erika’s" house, I could almost see a young girl’s face—her face—staring back at me from an oval window on the third story. I had a strange sense of god-like omniscience, because I knew things about her life that she couldn’t foresee—how her husband would one day be forced to divorce her and take custody of their small son; how she would sing in I Puritani from Montepulciano, Italy; how her little boy would write her letters that were never delivered to her.

What about her husband? How was he unusual? Her husband was a fascinating person as well. He was British, a highly successful international businessman – an importer of Egyptian cotton, among other things. "Peter" was a man of voracious curiosity, a naturalist, a lover of flora and fauna. He imported the first chimpanzees to the London Zoo, where he later became a Director. He traveled across four continents, and ventured into remote places, keen on seeing and experiencing everything. And he wrote prolific, richly detailed letters. He was the sort of man who’d ride a camel through the Egyptian desert to visit a tribe of Bishareen nomads, where he’d move from tent to tent, tasting their dried bread and goat’s milk. Or he’d head to a friend’s lush Caribbean coconut plantation, where they’d ride at midnight in a buggy along a beach, with vampire bats flying overhead…. He’d slash a path through a rainforest with his machete, or he’d travel upriver in South America toward a waterfall that few Europeans had ever seen. A third character in the novel—the fertility doctor Erika and Peter consult—becomes a crucial figure in their lives. Many readers may be surprised to learn that fertility specialists existed in 1903.

Were their treatments effective? Certain procedures that many people might regard as "modern"—such as artificial insemination—were actually being practiced more than a century ago, but doctors had to conduct such work surreptitiously. They risked grave moral condemnation. THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA takes place at a real turning point in medical history. Prior to that era, if a couple were unable to have children, the fault was always placed on the woman. The problem was always thought to be due to a "barren" wife. In the latter half of the 19th century, physicians began to discover a startling truth: a man could be virile—he could be sexually potent—and yet he might also be infertile.

What led to that discovery? As far back as 1677, a man in Holland named Leeuwenhoek looked through a microscope and saw sperm. By the mid-nineteenth century, physicians had begun to study human sperm with real scientific scrutiny. An American physician named Dr. Sims became known as "the father of modern gynecology." Dr. Sims would follow married couples into their homes. He’d wait behind a bedroom wall while a couple had intercourse, and then he’d rush in and probe and take measure of things under the microscope. He invented an instrument known as the "impregnating syringe."

During the Victorian era, how was he allowed to do that kind of research? Dr. Sims shocked and appalled many people. But the majority of patients who filled gynecologists’ consulting rooms during the nineteenth century came there because of infertility. Some were so desperate to conceive a child that they were motivated and willing to cooperate. There’s some statistical evidence that infertility was more prevalent during the nineteenth century than it is today. One cause was gonorrhea, which was epidemic and incurable then. During the 1870s, there was one rather sad and touching case that convinced a professor of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania that husbands—as well as wives—were part of the equation. A female patient came to him, begging for an operation to help her conceive. While the doctor was trying to decide if he ought to perform the procedure, the woman’s husband presented himself, feeling very guilty about all his wife’s anguish and distress. He told the doctor that he believed his gonorrhea—from which he’d been suffering for many years—must be the root cause. So, after an examination of the husband’s semen under the microscope, it became evident that the man was sterile. This proved a revelation for the professor of obstetrics. Afterward, he told his colleagues: I beg of you, be sure to examine the husband, as well as the wife.

A century ago when doctors performed artificial insemination, did they use a husband’s sperm, or a donor’s? At first, during the mid-nineteenth century, they relied on the husband’s sperm. But by the 1880s and 1890s, certain gynecologists did begin to use donor sperm—although they rarely revealed what they’d done until decades later. Older women in the family shared their memories with you, and rumors they’d overheard.

What else did they say about the real Erika? One elderly cousin, born in England in 1898, came to visit the U.S. As a child, she’d heard a lot of whispering about her American aunt. She’d heard that "Erika" had a baby daughter fathered by a man who was not her husband…. She’d heard that long after Erika had deserted her son, she’d appeared one day, unannounced, at her son’s boarding school. The novel draws upon hundreds of pages of family letters.

Where did you find those letters? After my husband and I had lived in Boston for nine years, we decided to move back to the West Coast. We drove cross-country and stopped at his aunt’s ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Like me, she had a passion for genealogy. From the moment you stepped into her house, you felt the presence of the ancestors…. Huge family portraits stared down at you from her living room walls. She had a little gallery of framed butterflies -- a dozen exquisite butterflies that her grandfather "Peter" had meticulously painted with hair-thin brushes. "Where are the letters I’ve heard so much about?" I asked her. The aunt brought out hundreds of pages of correspondence. Reading them just amazed me. I realized that these ancestors had led far bigger lives than I’d imagined. Their voices could be heard in those pages. There was so much detail and adventure—nights spent exploring winding streets in Tangier, or visits to a coconut plantation in the Caribbean where the guests told ghost stories after dinner….

If Erika were alive today, do you think her career vs. motherhood conflicts would be any different? Her guilt and anguish would probably be very similar to that described in the novel. But I think that today, the courts and society would have allowed her more flexibility with respect to staying in contact with her child. In those times, transatlantic airplane travel wasn’t an option. She couldn’t fly back and forth to visit her son for a few days. In that era, if a mother moved across an ocean and settled in another country, that was it —she was gone. And from a legal standpoint, she surrendered her rights to custody. It’s interesting to think about her husband "Peter" and his mode of parenting. In real life, "Peter" was often an ocean and a continent away from his young son, and he did a lot of his parenting by letter. At the age of seven, the boy was placed in boarding school, and during vacations, his father arranged for him to live with a family like the "Talcotts" (as described in the novel). The boy was basically "mothered" by a colleague’s wife. But despite his father’s long absences, the real-life Quentin always regarded his father as a towering, loving figure—and as an extraordinary man. And long after Erika’s death in 1918, her son remembered his mother with a certain pride and respect. His daughters told me that as they were growing up, "Quentin" always kept a framed photograph of his mother on top the Steinway piano—a picture of Erika dressed in her operatic regalia.

 What did you enjoy most about writing THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA? Apart from the joy of composing the fictionalized story, I loved doing the research. It was deeply pleasurable to steep myself in another era, and revel in all those exotic lands described in century-old family letters. Learning about the history of medicine and the working life of a 1903 obstetrician like Dr. Ravell—that was also fascinating. And the music! I cannot tell you how it nourished my soul and my senses, to listen to the gorgeous arias that Erika sang. Had it not been for my son’s ancestor, I might have missed out on a whole domain of thrilling and lovely music.

How long did it take you to write THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA? About six years. I wrote a first draft of the novel in the mid-1980s, but the result was lifeless and stale. I packed up those pages and stored them in a box for twenty years. Then, after a couple of decades passed, I envisioned an entirely new way to frame the novel. This time I would begin Erika’s story not through her own perspective, but instead through the eyes of the young doctor who was becoming obsessed with her, a man who would take a terrible risk and jeopardize his career because of her.

How did you research the novel, and balance factual information with storytelling? First, I read the family letters with great scrutiny, always on the lookout for material that might be transformed into a scene. I imagined the exotic locales as stage sets where dramas might unfold. Like any good student, I brought home musty books and old recordings from University and public libraries, and while I pulled out my pen and took careful notes, my conscious and unconscious mind were both at work. I was constantly on the hunt for just the right, historically apt detail. For example, when Erika is confined to her bed during childbirth, Doctor Ravell puts a ball of cotton soaked in chloroform into a tumbler, and he tells Erika to place the glass over her nose. After she breathes its vapors, the tumbler slides from her hand and rolls along the carpeted floor. That’s all you need to evoke pain relief during childbirth in 1904—one detail like that, just a whiff.

What was the creative process like? I researched for a couple of years before the formal, serious writing of the novel began. While I was gathering the historical facts, an entire scene would often come to me. Whenever I "overheard" conversations between the characters and I’d grab scrap paper and capture their dialogue quickly. I jotted down whatever the characters were saying, even when I had no idea where in the novel that exchange might occur. I tossed the wildly scribbled scenes into a box and saved them. As I researched, the dramatic scenes accumulated, and the story line began to take shape. (Later I found that the dialogue I’d "overheard" barely needed revision. It came out clean, and sounded natural.) For many months I refrained from doing any "real" writing. Instead, I kept listening to ravishing arias and consuming a feast of fascinating information—about the history of medicine and opera, about the training of vocal artists, or about apartment hunting in Florence a century ago. When I finally sat down to begin the newly envisioned novel in earnest, I pulled out that box of spontaneously scribbled, random scenes and saw very quickly how they ought to be sequenced. Even before I began to compose the first page, my unconscious had already done much of the work. A new draft erupted from me with great speed and excitement.

On a deeper, thematic level, what is THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA about? The themes are too many to count, but I will say this. Several characters in the novel commit unthinkable acts. I’ve always been interested in the challenge of seeing a character’s situation with empathy, so that even the most shocking choice or appalling actions might become understandable.
Click here to visit the author's website.

RULES FOR ENTERING THE GIVEAWAY:

Two (2) copies up for grabs!

Leave an original comment on this post telling me you would like to win. Include an email address with your comment so that I can contact you if you do win. Use a spam-thwarting format such as geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com or geebee.reads [at] gmail [dot] com

You must leave an email address in order to qualify. If I can't contact you, you can't win!

• You can earn an extra entry by being or becoming a Follower or Subscriber of this blog and telling me about it in a separate comment.

• Blog about this contest and provide me with the link to the post in a separate comment, and I'll give you yet another entry.

• Tweeting about this contest and providing me the link in a separate comment will get you one more entry. I've added a Retweet button at the bottom of every post.

• Stumble this blog, Digg it, or Technorati Fave it, whatever, and leave a separate comment for another entry.

• Winners must provide a U.S. or Canadian street address. The publisher is unable to deliver to P.O. Boxes.

• PLEASE NOTE: One win per household. If you win this title in another contest hosted at another blog, the publisher will only send one copy per household address.

Deadline for entry is 11:59 p.m. EST on Saturday, December 17, 2011.

• Winners will have 48 hours to respond to my email announcing that they have won; if I don't hear from a winner, I will draw another name.

• Winners are determined using the sequence generator at Random.org.

Thank you to Rebecca
at Penguin USA
for making this giveaway possible.

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.

Waiting on Wednesday: THAT WOMAN - The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba


"WAITING ON WEDNESDAY"
is hosted by Jill from

Join in and tell us . . .

What are you waiting for?

My pick for this week is . . .



Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Category: Biography 
Publication date: 3/13/2012
ISBN-13: 9781250002969
Pages: 352

Description (from the publisher):
The first full scale biography of Wallis Simpson to be written by a woman, exploring the mind of one of the most glamorous and reviled figures of the Twentieth Century, a character who played prominently in the blockbuster film The King’s Speech.

This is the story of the American divorcee notorious for allegedly seducing a British king off his throne.  “That woman,” so called by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, was born Bessie Wallis Warfield in 1896 in Baltimore.  Neither beautiful nor brilliant, she endured an impoverished childhood, which fostered in her a burning desire to rise above her circumstances.

Acclaimed biographer Anne Sebba offers an eye-opening account of one of the most talked about women of her generation.  It explores the obsessive nature of Simpson’s relationship with Prince Edward, the suggestion that she may have had a Disorder of Sexual Development, and new evidence showing she may never have wanted to marry Edward at all.

Since her death, Simpson has become a symbol of female empowerment as well as a style icon.  But her psychology remains an enigma.  Drawing from interviews and newly discovered letters, That Woman shines a light on this captivating and complex woman, an object of fascination that has only grown with the years.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Spotlight and Book Giveaway: DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY: A Basic Manual by Henry Horenstein

This contest is now CLOSED.
Thanks to the generous folks at
Hachette Book Group,
I have been authorized to
 give away two (2) copies of
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY
by Henry Horenstein.

Rules for entering this giveaway
are at the bottom of this post.

with Allison Carroll

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Category: Photography
Format: Trade Paperback

Publish Date: 11/2/2011
Price: $29.99/$32.99
ISBN: 9780316020749
Pages: 240 


Discription (from the publisher):
This thorough, concise, and easy-to-use guide to capturing digital photographs provides an entire step-by-step course for budding digital photographers. All concepts are fully illustrated with sample work by internationally renowned professionals, representing editorial work, photojournalism, and everything in between. Topics covered include essential information for both film and digital photography, such as exposure controls and shutter speed, as well as digital-specific information on image editing, printing methods, and even file storage. The first digital textbook by legendary photography teacher Henry Horenstein, Digital Photography is the best guide yet for aspiring digital photographers, essential both for photographers transitioning from film to digital and those learning the art of photography for the first time.



About the author (from the publisher):
Henry Horenstein is a widely published and exhibited professional photographer and the author of more than two dozen books, including the classic texts Black & White Photography, Beyond Basic Photography, and Color Photography, and monographs such as Creatures, Canine, and Racing Days. His work has appeared in Life, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and Town & Country. Horenstein has taught photography at the Rhode Island School of Design for more than twenty years and is currently a professor there. He lives in Massachusetts.

RULES FOR ENTERING THE GIVEAWAY:

• Leave an original comment on this post telling me you would like to win. Include an email address with your comment so that I can contact you if you do win. Use a spam-thwarting format such as geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com or geebee.reads [at] gmail [dot] com

You must leave an email address in order to qualify. If I can't contact you, you can't win!

• You can earn an extra entry by being or becoming a Follower or Subscriber of this blog and telling me about it in a separate comment.

• Blog about this contest and provide me with the link to the post in a separate comment, and I'll give you yet another entry.

• Tweeting about this contest and providing me the link in a separate comment will get you one more entry. I've added a Retweet button at the bottom of every post.

• Stumble this blog, Digg it, or Technorati Fave it, whatever, and leave a separate comment for another entry.

• Winners must provide a U.S. or Canadian street address. Hachette is unable to deliver to P.O. Boxes.

• PLEASE NOTE: One win per household. If you win this title in another contest hosted at another blog, Hachette will only send one copy per household address.

Deadline for entry is 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, December 16, 2011.

• Winners will have 48 hours to respond to my email announcing that they have won; if I don't hear from a winner, I will draw another name.

• Winners are determined using the sequence generator at Random.org.

Thank you to Anna
at Hachette Book Group
for making this giveaway possible.

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!
This contest is now CLOSED.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Spotlight and Book Giveaway: QUEEN OF AMERICA by Luis Alberto Urrea

This contest is now CLOSED.
Thanks to the generous folks at
Hachette Book Group,
I have been authorized to
 give away three (3) copies of
QUEEN OF AMERICA
by Luis Alberto Urrea.

Rules for entering this giveaway
are at the bottom of this post.



Publisher: Little Brown, and Company
Category: Fiction
Format: Hardcover Book
Publish Date: 11/28/2011
Price: $25.99/$28.99
ISBN: 9780316154864
Pages: 496

Book Description (from the publisher):
After the bloody Tomochic rebellion, Teresita Urrea, beloved healer and "Saint of Cabora," flees with her father to Arizona. But their plans are derailed when she once again is claimed as the spiritual leader of the Mexican Revolution. Besieged by pilgrims and pursued by assassins, Teresita embarks on a journey through turn-of-the-century industrial America-New York, San Francisco, St. Louis. She meets immigrants and tycoons, European royalty and Cuban poets, all waking to the new American century. And as she decides what her own role in this modern future will be, she must ask herself: can a saint fall in love?

At turns heartbreaking, uplifting, and riotously funny,
QUEEN OF AMERICA reconfirms Luis Alberto Urrea's status as a writer of the first rank.


About the author (from the publisher):
Luis Alberto Urrea is the author of, among other books, The Devil's Highway, The Hummingbird's Daughter, and Into the Beautiful North. Winner of a Lannan Literary Award and Christopher Award, he is also the recipient of an American Book Award, the Kiriyama Prize, the National Hispanic Cultural Center's Literary Award, a Western States Book Award, a Colorado Book Award, an Edgar Award and a citation of excellence from the American Library Association. He is a member of the Latino Literary Hall of Fame.

Click here to visit the author's website.

RULES FOR ENTERING THE GIVEAWAY:

• Leave an original comment on this post telling me you would like to win. Include an email address with your comment so that I can contact you if you do win. Use a spam-thwarting format such as geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com or geebee.reads [at] gmail [dot] com

You must leave an email address in order to qualify. If I can't contact you, you can't win!

• You can earn an extra entry by being or becoming a Follower or Subscriber of this blog and telling me about it in a separate comment.

• Blog about this contest and provide me with the link to the post in a separate comment, and I'll give you yet another entry.

• Tweeting about this contest and providing me the link in a separate comment will get you one more entry. I've added a Retweet button at the bottom of every post.

• Stumble this blog, Digg it, or Technorati Fave it, whatever, and leave a separate comment for another entry.

• Winners must provide a U.S. or Canadian street address. Hachette is unable to deliver to P.O. Boxes.

• PLEASE NOTE: One win per household. If you win this title in another contest hosted at another blog, Hachette will only send one copy per household address.

Deadline for entry is 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, December 16, 2011.

• Winners will have 48 hours to respond to my email announcing that they have won; if I don't hear from a winner, I will draw another name.

• Winners are determined using the sequence generator at Random.org.

Thank you to Anna
at Hachette Book Group
for making this giveaway possible.

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!
This contest is now CLOSED.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by P.D. James


"WAITING ON WEDNESDAY"
is hosted by Jill from

Join in and tell us . . .

What are you waiting for?

My pick for this week is . . .



Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/6/2011
ISBN-13: 9780307959850
Pages: 304

Description (from the publisher):
A rare meeting of literary genius: P. D. James, long among the most admired mystery writers of our time, draws the characters of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice into a tale of murder and emotional mayhem.

It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball.

Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.

Inspired by a lifelong passion for Austen, P. D. James masterfully re-creates the world of
Pride and Prejudice, electrifying it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted crime story, as only she can write it.

Click here to read an excerpt.


 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE by Gabrielle Zevin



Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B. of Should Be Reading.

Want to play along?  Here's what to do:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"People go crazy, not because they are crazy, but because it's the best available option at the time. In a way, it would have been easier to lose my mind because then I wouldn't have had to be there anymore."

-- page 132 (advanced readers copy)


ALL THESE THINGS I'VE DONE
Birthright (Volume 1)
by Gabrielle Zevin

Click here to read an excerpt.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2011: The Wrap Up



Well, I wrapped up my Thankfully Reading Weekend in the middle of night as I completed ONE HUNDRED AND ONE NIGHTS by Benjamin Buchholz. What an intense story!

I'm really happy with my overall reading for this past weekend. I read a total of 3 books, which was my goal. I just ended up substituting SPONTANEOUS HAPPINESS by Andrew Weil, MD for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin. That's because I had wanted to read some of the Grace Lin book with my niece and nephew and that didn't work out; and also because I picked up SPONTANEOUS HAPPINESS because the other two books I was reading were not the cheeriest of reads and I needed a break. I liked it so much, I raced through it on Saturday.

Here's the breakdown for my weekend of reading:

Completed:

THE INVISIBLE ONES by Stef Penney; 416 pages
SPONTANEOUS HAPPINESS by Andrew Weil, MD; 288 pages
ONE HUNDRED AND ONE NIGHTS by Benjamin Buccholz; 368 pages

Wasn't able to get to:

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin

I wasn't able to visit too many other blogs -- well, I was reading! But I know I'm not the only one who had a great time with this challenge. Thank you, Jenn, for organizing it. Can't wait to do it again next year!

Hopefully, I'll get all three reviews posted this week (and a couple of giveaways, too!)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

TBR Pile Challenge 2012 Hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader


I'm joining the 2012 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader.  This challenge really appeals to me because I've been thinking a lot about all the unread books on my shelves (and nightstand) (and desk) (and floor) (and the way back of my car!). Most of us can't get to all the books we'd like because there are just too many books and not enough time. I have another problem, and I wonder if any of you might suffer from this affliction, too. Sometimes I "save" books. I really want to read them and feel confident that I'm going to love them, but I let them sit and save them for some future time. What am I thinking? That there will be a book drought and I have to hold some in reserve? Am I afraid that as much as I think I'll love a book that I'll be disappointed? Why am I denying myself these books? I don't know, and it's easy to get distracted by all the new and wonderful books that come my way.

Recently I heard about Susan Hill's book, HOWARD'S END IN ON THE LANDING in which she chronicles the year she spent reading only her own books. I'm not ready to go to that extreme, but I do intend to make reading through my own TBR pile a priority for 2012. Adam's challenge specifies that you can only read books that you have owned for at least one year - so they must have been published prior to January 1, 2011. This requirement will force me to pick some books that have been languishing for far too long. Also, I only have to read 12 books - but I must specify which ones (along with 2 alternates in case something turns into a dreaded DNF). I also like the idea of signing up with Adam's challenge because he is a new-to-me blogger and it's fun to connect with new, like-minded people. I'm not discounting the possibility of signing up for other challenges that encourage me to read my own books, but this one is for sure.

Click here to get more information about the 2012 TBR Pile Challenge or to sign up.

Here's my "official" list. Books can be read in any order. I'll link each title to my review as I post them.

1,   THE SPIRITUALIST by Megan Chance
2.   THE LAST DICKENS by Matthew Pearl
3.   THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery
4.   DOWN THE NILE by Rosemary Mahoney
5.   KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD by Sandi Kahn Shelton
6.   THE GOOD THIEF by Hannah Tinti
7.   THE ROSE OF YORK: LOVE & WAR by Sandra Worth
8.   THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES’ CLUB by Joanne Rendall
9.   PEONY IN LOVE by Lisa See
10. SERENDIPITY by Louise Shaffer
11. CLEAR SPRINGS by Bobbie Ann Mason
12. FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES by Min Jin Lee

Alternates:

1. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF IRENE DOS SANTOS by Margaret Mascarenhas
2. SEA OF POPPIES by Amitav Ghosh

Now that I've done this, I can hardly wait to get started!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2011: What Book Are You Thankful For?


I'm participating in Thankfully Reading Weekend 2011 hosted by Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves. Click here to join in or check it out.

This post is my response to the challenge What Book Are You Thankful For?

THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE
A Flavia de Luce Mystery
by Alan Bradley

Ooooooo! I love this book! I LOVE this series!! To answer the question, What Book Are You Thankful For?, I thought for only a short time before I hit on my favorite little detective, Flavia de Luce. I thought, what book would I be happy to read and re-read a few times if I was stranded somewhere for awhile. This PIE has a slice of everything I enjoy most in a book: an historical setting with rich detail (1950's); British locale; mystery and detection; intelligence and wit; and a wonderful main character. Particularly, I love that 11-year-old Flavia is so unaware of her genius. Though brilliant, she never talks down to anyone - she seems to take it for granted that everyone else has the same capacities and capabilities as she. But on that point, she's mistaken - she's in a class by herself!

I'm particularly thankful that so far I have only read the first two books in this series and that there are two more available in the U.S. and another two waiting in the wings! Oh, Joy! Thank you, Mr. Bradley! Thank you! Thank you!

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2011 - Day Two Update


I'm participating in Thankfully Reading Weekend hosted by Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves. This is my first update. Click here if you'd like to join in or just catch up with the rest of us.


Well, I've just completed a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers as well as my first book: THE INVISIBLE ONES by Stef Penney; 401 pages. I found it compelling despite its dreariness. I'll definitely be recommending it when I write my review. There was one passage that sung to me from the page and, though my reading copy is an arc and might differ from the final version, I'm sharing it with you here: 

"On impulse, before she comes back, I pick up her glass, with its delicate red wax print, and drain it of the sweet ice-melt. The scent of rum vanishingly faint. Just so I can press my mouth to the ghost of hers." -- page 316

Wow, huh?!

To sort of clear my palate before I resume reading ONE HUNDRED AND ONE NIGHTS by Benjamin Buchholz, I've picked up SPONTANEOUS HAPPINESS by Andrew Weil, M.D. This will be a quick initial read, but I'm already planning on taking it with me for my morning trip to CVS - there are some supplements I want to try based on Dr. Weil's recommendation. This is the sort of book that you read through and then work with over a period of time. I really like Dr. Weil, so I'm excited to have the chance to read (and review) (and host a giveaway) (soon!) his latest book.

Next I'm going to pull together a quick post for the What Book Are You Thankful For? Challenge.

So, what have you been reading this weekend?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2011: Kickoff!



Hello, Everyone! Happy Day After Thanksgiving! Hope all my Americans friends had a wonderful holiday yesterday and that all my other friends simply had a wonderful day! Since I've been away from my blog for a few weeks, I thought joining in on Jenn's Thankfully Reading Weekend would be a great way to reconnect. If you'd like to join in or just "tune in" to the posts, hop on over to Jenn's Bookshelves to say hello and see who else is participating.

Jenn's listed a few blog starter questions for those who need or want suggestions, and they look good to me, especially since I feel a bit rusty! So first off, HOW DID YOU SPEND THANKSGIVING? We really didn't know for sure where we'd be for dinner until a few days before, and that turned out to be at home! My mom had hip replacement surgery a few weeks ago (one of the reasons A Sea of Books has been idle lately), but she's getting around pretty well now, so we picked her up and brought her over -- literally, Grandmother's house is over the bridge and through the woods. Fortunately, she brought a turkey with her! My sister and I managed all the trimmings. So, it was a kind of low key day, just my sister and her kids, E-Girl-8 and J-Boy-11, my mom, and me. We kept things simple so there was no stress - except E-Girl-8 was very upset when she realized there would be no chocolate cream pie (can't say as I blame her!) but of course we had pumpkin (umm!).

WHAT BOOKS DID YOU DISCUSS AT THANKSGIVING? Only one, actually, but it was quite appropriate. J-Boy-11 is reading HACHETTE by Gary Paulsen with his sixth grade class. For those of you who aren't familiar with this book, it's about a 14-year-old boy, Brian, who is stranded alone in the Canadian wilderness after the pilot of the small plane he's riding in dies of a heart attack and Brian is forced to crash land the plane in a lake. Needless to say, how Brian coped with his situation - finding food, building a shelter, trying to create a fire, his loneliness and fear - gave us plenty to talk about, especially along the lines of being grateful and appreciative of our own cozy little house, dinner, and family.

WHAT'S IN YOUR TBR PILE FOR THIS WEEKEND? It's a little pile, but a quality one! I started reading ONE HUNDRED AND ONE NIGHTS by Benjamin Buchholz earlier in the week. I think it's going to be an emotional read, so I'm going to take it slowly but, at some point when I have the house to myself, I want to read some more of it over the next few days.  Last night I began reading THE INVISIBLE ONES by Stef Penney, author of THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES. This is a mysterious story about modern-day Gypsies, or Travellers, in England. I'm totally intrigued. And, finally, a week or so ago I bought a copy of WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin.  I've wanted to read this for ages, so I'm really excited to finally have a copy. I hope to read some to the kids tonight.

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU THINK YOU'LL HAVE FOR READING? Not enough. Never enough! As soon as I post this, I'm going to go stretch out on our sunny couch and read for a bit. But, one of my other sisters is here visiting with another one of my young nieces, and when everyone gets back from feed the llamas, I'll be putting my book away. Tomorrow and Sunday the kids will be at their' dad's house, so it'll  be pretty quiet around here. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that no surprise disasters keep me reading and blogging to my heart's content!

How about you? How was your Thanksgiving and how are you spending this weekend? What books are on your reading lists?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: THE CONFESSION OF KATHERINE HOWARD by Suzannah Dunn


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B. of Should Be Reading.







"The king alone had chosen her -- liking what he saw and not looking any closer -- and he'd championed her: she was only here on his whim. She had no friends with influence."

 -- Page 41


THE CONFESSION OF KATHERINE HOWARD
by Suzannah Dunn

Pub. Date: April 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback , 320pp
ISBN-13: 9780062011473
ISBN: 0062011472


Want to play along?  Here's what to do:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mailbox Monday: October 24, 2011


Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at The Printed Page, is being hosted this month by Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit. If you'd like to join in, stop by Serena's and leave a link - or just browse through the comments to see what new books have been showing up.

What's in your mailbox?

I was extraordinarily lucky this past week -- I received several books which I won over the summer, a few more for review, and a "happy accident" bundle.  Thank you to all the bloggers, authors, publishers and publicists who had a hand in feeding my mailbox last week.

THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE de MEDICI
by C.W. Gortner

a win from Johanna of Mom's Tree House











a win from Audra at Unabridged Chick









I won the following set of four books by Ariana Franklin from Rita of Chi-TownCheapskate


MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH
(Book 1)






(Book 2)






GRAVE GOODS
(Book 3)







(Book 4)




THE TIN TICKET
by Deborah J. Swiss














by Adam Johnson













Then I received the following five ARCs which were intended for another blogger. Lucky for me, when I contacted Penguin, I was allowed to keep them -- O.K., so, I shamelessly begged. Wouldn't you?


THE GODS OF GOTHAM
by Lyndsay Faye
























A GOOD AMERICAN
by Alex George






















Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: TWO FOR SORROW by Nicola Upson


(Josephine Tey Series #3)

Pub. Date: August 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback , 496pp
Sales Rank: 63,564
ISBN-13: 9780061451584
ISBN: 0061451584

Description (from the publisher):
They were the most horrific crimes of a new century: the murders of newborn innocents for which two British women were hanged at Holloway Prison in 1903. Decades later, mystery writer Josephine Tey has decided to write a novel based on Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the notorious “Finchley baby farmers,” unaware that her research will entangle her in the desperate hunt for a modern-day killer.

A young seamstress—an ex-convict determined to reform—has been found brutally slain in the studio of Tey’s friends, the Motley sisters, amid preparations for a star-studded charity gala. Despite initial appearances, Inspector Archie Penrose is not convinced this murder is the result of a long-standing domestic feud—and a horrific accident involving a second young woman soon after supports his convictions. Now he and his friend Josephine must unmask a sadistic killer before more blood flows—as the repercussions of unthinkable crimes of the past reach out to destroy those left behind long after justice has been served.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars -- a truly fine historical novel and a complex mystery

My Thoughts:  In the past, I've shied away from novels centered around characters from another author's work or even that other author. Something about one author expanding upon another's creations or casting another author as a fictional character just didn't sit well with me. However, when I read about the series of books from Nicola Upson depicting Josephine Tey dealing with murders occurring within her circle of friends and acquaintances, I took a closer look. First of all, Josephine Tey is itself a psuedonym which Elizabeth Mackintosh used to publish her mystery novels. Secondly, Upson's series is set during the mid 1930's, a period when the British were not only still reeling from the devastating losses of World War I but also facing a growing awareness that another war was looming on the future's horizon. This setting fascinates me. But the element that really lured me onto the hook of this book is that Upson constructed her novel around the fictional Tey penning a novel about a real life event -- the 1903 executions of Amelia Sachs and Annie Waters for crimes related to baby farming. Wow! I just had to see how Upson pulled this off.

TWO FOR SORROW is the third book in the Josephine Tey series and, since I  hadn't read the first two books, that gave me pause. One of the difficulties of reading a mystery series out of order is that sometimes the resolution of a previous case is discussed, thus spoiling some of the pleasure of going back and reading that particular book. I was so intrigued by the premise of TWO FOR SORROW that I threw caution to the wind and was not disappointed. Though events in previous novels are referenced, it was done in such a way that I became more curious about them, not less. Another aspect that appealed to me is that Upson does not portray Tey as an amateur sleuth. Rather, Tey's close friend, Archie Penrose is a Scotland Yard Inspector. Josephine doesn't assist him in an active way but, because of the nature of their friendship and her proximity to those involved in the case, she does make contributions and is privy to more information than the press or the public. This perspective leant an authenticity to the story which might not have existed had Upson dressed Tey in Nancy Drew's sleuth suit.

The upshot is that I loved this book! Upson delivers a complex mystery in a richly drawn setting. Actually, two settings. I love when a piece of fiction offers me the opportunity to learn about actual historical events. In this case, I learned a lot about late 19th century attitudes toward unwed mothers and unwanted children as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the collective conciousness of England between World Wars I and II. TWO FOR SORROW has my highest recommendation for anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Before I even completed it, I purchased a copy of the first book in the series, AN EXPERT IN MURDER. Kudos to Nicola Upson.

*I will offer two caveats:  First, the murderer's treatment of the victim is quite gruesome and, though it fits the story and is not at all gratuitous, I found it difficult to read. Secondly, in this novel Josephine wrestles with the question of her sexuality. It wasn't clear if this was an ongoing issue from the previous two novels or a new development. It is handled with sophistication and is not at all salacious. Both the violence perpetrated on the victim and the question of Josephine's sexuality are in keeping with the storyline but not difficult to skim over if you so desire.



About the author (from the publisher):
Nicola Upson has written for a variety of publications, including the New Statesman, where she was a crime fiction critic. She also regularly contributes to BBC radio and has worked in the theater for ten years. She divides her time between Cambridge and Cornwall.

Disclaimer:  I won a copy of this book in a giveaway at Reviews from the Heart. I have not been compensated in any way whatsoever from the beginning of time to the end of days for my honest opinion of this book.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: THE WHITE PEARL by Kate Furnivall


"WAITING ON WEDNESDAY"
is hosted by Jill from

Join in and tell us . . .

What are you waiting for?

My pick for this week is . . .



Pub. Date: March 2012
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Paperback , 496pp
ISBN-13: 9780425241004
ISBN: 0425241009

Description (from the publisher):
National bestselling author of The Russian Concubine, Kate Furnivall spins a tale of war, desperation, and the discovery of love off the coast of Malaya.

Malaya, 1941. Connie Thornton plays her role as a dutiful wife and mother without complaint. She is among the fortunate after all-the British rubber plantation owners reaping the benefits of the colonial life. But Connie feels as though she is oppressed, crippled by boredom, sweltering heat, a loveless marriage. . .

Then, in December, the Japanese invade. Connie and her family flee, sailing south on their yacht toward Singapore, where the British are certain to stand firm against the Japanese. En route, in the company of friends, they learn that Singapore is already under siege. Tensions mount, tempers flare, and the yacht's inhabitants are driven by fear.

Increasingly desperate and short of food, they are taken over by a pirate craft and its Malayan crew making their perilous way from island to island. When a fighter plane crashes into the sea, they rescue its Japanese pilot. For Connie, that's when everything changes. In the suffocating confines of the boat with her life upended, Connie discovers a new kind of freedom and a new, dangerous, exhilarating love.

About the author (from the publisher):
Kate Furnivall was born in Wales and currently lives in Devon, England. Married and the mother of two sons, she has working in publishing and television advertising. She drew inspiration for The Russian Concubine from her mother’s experiences as a White Russian refugee in China.