Monday, July 31, 2006

NonFiction - Game of Shadows

When I first picked up Game of Shadows I thought the focus was solely on Barry Bonds and his relationship with BALCO. The two authors (San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams) not only take you into the history of BALCO, its owners and Barry Bonds but also deep into the world of Olympic athletes and coaches/trainers who aid athletes in obtaining steroids. The book itself is very easy to read as it follows a chronological timeline and reads like a true crime story. The authors do an excellent job of presenting evidence and documents of steroid abuse and illustrate how the science of steroid use has evolved beyond the ability to detect is so that athletes who take it can and do pass doping tests. The evidence also clearly points out that Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, and other baseball, football, and track & field stars certainly did take forms of illegal steroids. The upsetting part to me is that fans and athletes put so much pressure on themselves to win and make money that they feel the need to cheat. Or, they cheat because everybody else around them is. I found it very startling when a track & field sprinter said that it was likely that in the 100m and 200m dash 9 out of the 10 competitors were likely doping and getting away with it. In the end I felt disappointed at what in my view where light sentences for athletes, coaches, trainers and BALCO executives. I also think that from now on when somebody breaks an athletic record I will wonder in the back of my mind if they used an illegal performance enhancing drug. I appreciate the work that these two reporters did to bring the world of sports doping to light. I only wish governing sports bodies would do more to prevent cheaters (especially MLB).

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert

In honor of Beatrix Potter’s birthday today, the famed author and illustrator of the popular Peter Rabbit books, I finished reading The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert. The first in a cozy mystery series featuring Beatrix Potter on her trip to visit the small farm she had just purchased to escape from her domineering parents. The death of Miss Tolliver has the residents of the small village of Near Sawrey speculating as to the cause. First taken as a natural death, more sinister implications are discussed as odd things keep occurring in the village. The parish register has gone missing, the school roof fund disappears and lastly, Beatrix notices that a very valuable painting has disappeared from Miss Tolliver’s empty house. As the residents of the town try to figure out what is going on, the town animals do their best as well. Incorporating the animals thinking and conversing to themselves are just another delightful aspect to the series.

This is definitely a very gentle cozy mystery and more on the cozy part than on the mystery. Not too much investigating goes on but lots of gossip amongst the townspeople. Beatrix, trying to get away from her parents and recover from the death of her fiancĂ©, does not get the peaceful life she had expected. I wasn’t too sure about the animals but it fit very well with the storyline. Beatrix brought her two rabbits, hedgehog and mouse with her from London and they do have a small outing into the wilderness but the stars of the book are the village pets. Rascal, a Jack Russell terrier and the cats, Tabitha Twitchit, Crumpet, and Miss Felicia Frummety do their part in solving the mysteries around town. It was a cute story and definitely for those days when you want something low key to read. If you want to get some coloring pages from Beatrix Potter’s books, visit or to visit Susan Wittig Albert’s site for more on The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter or her other series, China Bayles Herbal Mysteries (the character China Bayles just started her own herbal based blog).

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I recently went to Greenbrier, Arkansas where there is of all things, an elephant sanctuary. One of the elephants that found a home at Riddle’s Elephant Sanctuary is Amy. Come to find out, there is a sweet, light-hearted book about her early life in captivity. The Cowboy and His Elephant by Malcolm MacPherson gives a refreshing look at a cowboy and the special pet he raises. Bob Norris, a former Marlboro Man, takes in Amy when he realizes she is unhealthy away from her mother, and could use some individual care. Amy does more than survive, but thrives and even later becomes a part of the Big Apple Circus. The story is very quick, and has some interesting facts about elephants and their life in captivity. This story focuses too much on the connection Bob feels for Amy, and also has some parts that don’t seem too factual. Otherwise, this book was just a very simple look into the life of Amy and her movement through Bob’s ranch, to the circus, and the hope of being sent to the wild. The funny stories about Amy, her pet goat, and the trouble she got into were the best. A Cowboy and His Elephant doesn’t finish Amy’s story so I will tell you what I know. Amy did not go back to Africa; she ended up at the elephant sanctuary. A couple of months ago, the sanctuary found out she was pregnant, and should have a baby in the Fall of 2008. This is a picture of her when I saw her in May.
Category: Non-Fiction

Movie news...continued

Whoops, I spoke too soon. They stopped the shoot for Brick Lane (based on Monica Ali's novel, see previous post) and are looking for alternate places. See BBC online article.

Movie news...

Latest news on the books-into-movies front… BBC news reports that the filming of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane is causing troubles in primarily Bangladeshi community of Shoreditch, London’s east end where the real Brick Lane is located. Monica Ali’s debut novel shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize (in addition to winning more, ie. Orange Prize for Fiction, British Books Awards, NY Times Editors Choice among others) much to the consternation of the community leaders with objections to the unrealistic views of the community and people the book portrayed. Brick Lane’s basic plot is of a Bangladeshi girl sent to London for an arranged marriage and having to learn and adapt in her new environment. I wonder if the production company picked the book just for the controversial attention it would get, free advertising you know. But it looks like the production company is going to go ahead with the filming regardless of the complaints. See the BBC article for more info.

Category : Pages to Pictures

Borrowed Time by Robert Goddard

Robin Timariot, walking a hiker’s trail meets a lovely woman one summer’s eve. After chatting briefly, they part ways, Robin to finish his trail and the woman, to her murder. Causing a national scandal, the woman, Louise Paxton, wife to a royal physician, was found dead along with the body of a semi-famous artist Oscar Bantock and the man convicted of killing her might be wrongfully imprisoned. As one of the last people to see her alive, Robin finds himself reluctantly dragged into a hotbed of intrigue. The story line does move slowly and not quite a thriller in the sense that action takes place not within days but moves over the course of several years. Robin helplessly watches as the Paxton family, father Keith and daughters, Sarah and Rowena, slowly deteriorates until a tragic event blows the family apart. British crime author Robert Goddard creates a taut suspense and those readers patient enough to take the journey with Robin will be well rewarded.

This is the eighth Robert Goddard novel but only the second one I’ve read and in comparison, Borrowed Time was paced much slower than Sight Unseen…actually it is super slow and you don’t get that thrilling rush as the character rushes one fraught danger to another. I’ll think I’ll try one more just to see what the norm is…fast or slow?

Category : Crime Fiction

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman

Sally Beauman gives us the haunting tragic gothic story of the Mortland sisters, Julia, Finn and little Maisie in The Sisters Mortland. Told in three different perspectives, Beauman’s adept story telling first draws us into thirteen year old Maisie’s world at the ramshackle medieval Wyken Abbey in the country fields of Suffolk. Living life with her loving frail grandfather, scatterbrained mother and much older sisters, the vainglorious Julia and intelligent Finn, odd little Maisie has ghostly nuns as friends and makes lists upon lists of topics including the saints and martyrs and horticulture. Although seemingly highly intelligent, she still worries her family and friends. Lucas, an aspiring artist from Julia’s university, is commissioned to paint the sisters and is there through childhood friend and neighbor Dan, a Roma gypsy boy who eschews his family gifts and strives to be something more. Twenty years later, Dan, suffering a breakdown from the high stress life of an extremely successful advertising career, looks back on the life at Wyken Abbey and the tragic accident that occurred at the end of the summer of 1967, filling in the gaps left by Maisie’s account. The final account by Julia, although short, brings the tale into the present day. Beauman is a master of timing as she gradually reveals all that happened. Compelling and addictive, The Sisters Mortland is a tale of the many forms of passion, love, and grief.
Personal notes: Okay, I think that after the “formal” review, I’ll just add some thoughts about the book. Beauman did a spectacular job of raising the suspense and after I got through reading Maisie’s account and then Dan’s account started with little references to “the accident,” I felt almost like I was eavesdropping (I know, bad habit) and dying to find out what exactly happened. Beauman also did a great job with the characters, especially with Julia. I hated her in the beginning but actually ended up sympathizing (or at least understanding her) by the end. I almost didn’t read this book because a couple of years ago I started Beauman’s Rebecca’s Tale, a companion book of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and I don’t even think I finished the first chapter which is an almost unheard of event…I am nothing if not an obssesive reader.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

All in One Piece by Cecelia Tishy

Cecelia Tishy’s All in One Piece, second in a mystery series featuring Reggie Cutler, Boston’s middle aged medium extraordinaire, again brings suspense to the streets of Boston and beyond. Reggie is just trying to recover from her bad day when blood dripping from her ceiling brings even more bad news. Stephen Damelin, her tenant has been found nail gunned to the floor and a threat marked in blood posted on her front door. As Reggie, one not to sit back and wait for fate takes to investigating his family background. Stephen’s poverty stricken background in the industrial town of Lawrence, MA and his rise to a more privileged life through the good will of his best friend’s parents is only the start to the strange and possibly crooked dealings of Stephen and the powerful Boston Vogler family. As escalating problems occur, Reggie relies on her R. K. Stark, co-owner of her dog Biscuit, for protection. Not too many medium sessions this time around, just small premonitions to prevent her from harm. Reggie’s amateur detective style requires a little bit of suspension of belief as she flits in and out of danger but this is an improvement from Tishy’s first novel, Now You See Her.

Category : Crime Fiction

Monday, July 24, 2006

NonFiction - Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth

This particular book by Tim Flannery is one of many books about Climate Change. However, unlike many other books in this area Tim does an excellent job of engaging the reader to think critically about this topic while at the same time allowing the reader to form his/her own conclusions. In other words this book is not one full of blame, anger, and who did what. Instead Tim (a paleontologist by trade) takes the hard science and explains it in a way that the average reader can understand. He spends about the 3/4 of the book discussing the impact of human activity (both good and bad) and explains what substantial changes have occurred over a very short period of time. He does an excellent job of illustrating how our frame of reference regarding time must be reevaluated in order to understand the full impact of climate change. Most of the impact to climate has occurred since the 1850s with many of the negative affects already beginning to take form now and continuing during the next 100 years or so. That is a time frame of about 250 years, which seems long to us but within the context of earth's age is extremely fast. In the latter half of the book Tim presents compelling solutions that can be done by individual people and government's world wide that are realistic and attainable without very much sacrifice.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The 13 1/2 Lives Of Captain Bluebear

This charmingly illustrated novel (by the author Walter Moers no less) is narrated by Captain Bluebear, who has 27 lives. However, this tale will only cover 13 1/2 of his lives, because "...a bear's got to have his secrets." Each chapter is devoted to one of his lives. He is first found floating in the vast ocean in a tiny nutshell and hauled aboard a ship by the Minipirates (pirates who excel in sailing the seas, even though most have never seen them). They regretfully have to maroon him on an island once his speedy growth threatens to sink their ship. Captain Bluebear must then continue to navigate through many adventures; learning speech from the "Babbling Billows" (what appear to be waves in a vast ocean), acting as the eyes to an aging dinosaur, and attending the Nocturnal academy. Upon his graduation, he is given a mental copy of an encyclopedia, written by Professor Nightingale. This encyclopedia will come to aid him plenty of times in his further adventures.

A cult classic across Europe, this fantasy novel predates the Harry Potter series. One wonders if J.K. Rowling was inspired by one of the last chapters which spoke about the philosopher's stone (The U.K. title for the first Harry Potter was Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone). This was a great fantasy novel with many subtle themes that made it unlike any other fantasy novel I have ever read. It comes highly recommended. Enjoy!

Calder Storm, The Silver Rose and Eligible Bachelor

My recent spate of romance reading came from all different sides of the genre spectrum. For my contemporary romance, the recently released Calder Storm takes us back to the Triple C ranch where the whirlwind courtship of Chase Benteen Calder, III (aka Trey) and professional photographer Sloan Davis leads to a fast marriage and with most fast marriages, there are items of great import left untold and later revealed at the most inopportune times. Much confusion and misunderstandings, helped along with a certain evil nemesis, Max Rutledge, who determined to seek revenge on the Calder clan for the death of his son. Without giving anything away, let’s just say… Big Romance, Big Trouble and Big Action in Big Sky Country.

Miri Cheney, the youngest of the magically talented Cheney sisters returns to their beloved island in the last of Susan Carroll’s historical romance trilogy, The Silver Rose. Returning from exile is hard, but even more so when Simon Aristide, the witch hunter who drove out your family in the first place, comes back to ask for help. Simon, an older and much wiser man than the arrogant boy he once was, sees the value in Miri, not to mention the physical attraction he encounters whenever they are close. The Silver Rose, a new and even more evil villain than Catherine de Medici, is threatening France and Simon and must stop her before she takes control. Carroll wraps up her trilogy nicely and although a couple of her plotlines were really evident (and I’m one to try and not guess the plot in any book) it still was a pleasing read. I especially enjoyed the tension between Simon and Miri.

Eligible Bachelor by the U.K.’s Veronica Henry was more of a contemporary women’s fiction with romance throughout. Back from touring the world, Guy Portias is helping his mother out trying to keep Eversleigh Manor financially afloat after the death of his father. After hosting a movie shoot utilizing their house, Guy finds himself engaged to Richenda Fox, movie star. Ex-hotel manager, Honor McLean, gave up her high power life to care for her son and is now running a small catering business out of her home. When Honor takes on cooking for the Portias, Guy and Honor find their easy friendship turning into a stronger bond. Interspersed are the stories of Honor’s best friend and her travails with her family and Richenda’s own back story of her rise to stardom. Veronica Henry has penned an easy to read, relaxing story, perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea on your favorite couch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

2006 Christy Award Winners

The Christy Awards for best inspirational fiction was awarded July 8 and their website was down… then up… and down again but thanks to “Kathy from FL” who got the list from a Christy Award staffer we have the winners list! And YAY, the one book I read, A Bride Most Begrudging, won!!

Contemporary : Levi’s Will by Dale Cramer
Contemporary (Series, Sequels and Novellas) The Road Home by Vanessa Del Fabbro
Historical: Whence Came a Prince by Liz Curtis Higgs
Romance: A Bride Most Begrudging by Deanne Gist
Suspense: River Rising by Athol Dickson
Visionary: Shadow Over Kiriath by Karen Hancock
First Novel: This Heavy Silence by Nicole Mazzarella

Category: Inspirational

Monday, July 10, 2006

NonFiction - The Spirit Catches You & You Fall Down

This particular title by Anne Fadiman had been sitting on my to be read pile for quite sometime. This stiring story of a Hmong family living in California helps to bring into light how different cultures view and solve problems. In this paticular case a infant suffers from eplipsy and is taken to a local hospital in Merced California for treatment. Both the family and the hospital want what is best for the child but what each views as the "best" is very different. Anne goes into great detail about the history of the Hmong peoples (from Laos) and the hardships they have suffered, which from an American standpoint is almost inconceivable, especially during the time of the Vietnam war. This book certainly makes you feel for and think about the unfortunate and gruesome aspects of war and how civilians and poor people can become caught in the middle. The book reminds of us the importance of heritage and culture and the importance of respecting different peoples. Unfortunately there is not a "happy" ending to the story but it certainly does make you think. Anne also does an exceptional job of not taking sides as she tells us the story, rather she presents her ideas and thoughts in such a way that it makes the reader decide, which is probably why it was a winner of the National Book Critics Cricle Award. If you are interested in learning about different cultures here in America I highly recommend this title.


The fairly newly formed International Thriller Writers association had their first awards ceremony on July 1st in Phoenix, AZ. For best novel, Christopher Reich won for The Patriot's Club and for best first novel, Adam Fawer won for Improbable. Be sure to visit the ITW website for more info and award winners.