Friday, April 30, 2010

Winner of South of Broad

Book CoverThe winner of the giveaway for a copy of South of Broad is:


Congratulations, Suko, and thanks to all who entered this giveaway! Stay tuned as well, because there will be more great giveaways coming in the near future!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Glorious by Bernice McFadden - 240 pgs

Book CoverEaster Bartlett has just left her home in the South after a series of devastating events has struck her family. Traveling alone from town to town, Easter goes from working as a sideshow act in a traveling circus to becoming a schoolteacher in a one room school. Though she meets new acquaintances and falls in love, Easter is ever on the move whenever the difficulties of life threaten to trap her. When she meets up with an old friend from her home town, Easter decides to travel to New York and gets caught up in the Harlem Renaissance, becoming a contributor of short stories to various magazines. In New York, Easter runs into an old friend from the circus and meets a very rich white woman who will become her benefactor, never dreaming that one day this woman will betray her in the worst of ways and send her future spinning out of control. Though Easter has risen high, she ultimately falls to earth once again, her dreams and plans thrown by the wayside of her ever-changing life. Filled with heartache and wisdom, Bernice McFadden blends the tale of Easter Bartlett with the tale of the real life heroes of the Jim Crow south and the Harlem Renaissance.

Recently I had the distinct honor of meeting Bernice McFadden at a local book fair. She was an amazingly warm and friendly person and she was very enthusiastic about her praise for the blogging community. She took the time to answer some questions for me and really went out of her way to make me feel comfortable. It was such a pleasure to get the chance to talk to her and I am really pleased to have had the chance to review for her.

This book was a very quick read for me. The fact that the prose was so fluid, coupled with the fact that the story moved along with such a great clip made this a book that I was easily engrossed in and finished in one afternoon. Easter's story is one filled with frustration, heartbreak and pain. She made for a very likable protagonist and I relished the time spent with her. She had a great innocence about her and she saw the world in such an interesting way that it was impossible not to fall in love with her. Most of her reactions to her fate seemed genuine and well written but there were points that I felt that I would have loved to have read more about her internal thought process.

The story itself was very inspired. McFadden has a lot to say about the marginalization of the black community during the early century, and says it well. She brings to her reader the agonies and atrocities of lynching and the despicable aspects of segregation and prejudice in crystal clear prose, never overdoing it. Instead she paints a picture of the inequalities between the two races with intensity and a level of reality that I was really able to appreciate. Her characters, real and imagined, were truly a product of their times and they really opened my eyes to the vast gulf separating the races during that time period.

I think that one of the most interesting parts of the book revolved around the storyline of Easter's time at the circus. It was there that she met the flamboyantly sexual and intense dancer, Rain. Though the story alludes to the fact that Easter had bisexual leanings, it was never clearly picked as a subject to focus on in the narrative. Rain and Easter's relationship was interesting because it held the hallmarks of a mother/daughter relationship, as well as being a sisterly and lover-like relationship. When Easter flees the circus, it was easy to see that what she was really fleeing was the feelings that she had for Rain, feelings that were, unfortunately for her, not reciprocated. I was saddened that Easter had to leave with such sadness and bitterness in her heart but was very pleased when the two women's paths crossed again in New York. Though their relationship was very different the second time around, it was nice to see that their journey together would continue.

As the story winds towards its conclusion, Easter has been relegated to a sad fate. Many years have passed and due to the scandal that transpired after her betrayal, Easter is left living out her days far from the splendor in which she once lived. I liked the way McFadden chose to reveal those lost days of Easter's past through flashbacks and thought that it was fitting that she eventually was able to put the pain of her past to rest. Easter found a way to live with her lot after all, though the twists of her tale were full of the sadness of dreams left unfulfilled.

This book had an ever-winding and surprising story that I felt was written with genuine feeling and clarity. I think that those readers who have not yet tried any of McFadden's books would probably do well to start here, though I have also heard great things about another book of hers, called Sugar. If you are the type of reader who enjoys character driven dramas that deal with some of the darker parts of American history, I would definitely recommend this book to you. I think that although it's a shorter read, it carries an important message that should be passed down through the generations. A very thoughtful read. Recommended!

The very generous author of this book, Bernice McFadden has offered one signed copy of Glorious to my readers for a giveaway! If you would like the chance to win, please leave your e-mail address in the comments section of this post. A valid e-mail address must be left in order for you to be entered in this giveaway! I will draw a winner with the help of random,org on May 15th. Good luck to all entrants!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey - 400 pgs

Book Cover Holly Miller, a victim of dissociative disorder, has five separate personalities living inside her head. They are known as the committee, and from the maniacally egotistical Betty Jane to the Silent One who spends his days in prayer and meditation, Holly has learned to live with those populating her skull. Though Holly has very frayed family ties, she is managing to live on her own in New York and works as a waitress, supplementing her income with the emergency credit card her mother gave her when she went away to college. But Betty Jane has different plans for Holly and finagles a job as a voice-over artist for a cartoon. The only catch is that each of the committee must participate in the voice-over work for Holly to be successful. This proves to be a major problem, as Betty Jane's ego is growing out of control and she is quickly developing into a diva. Meanwhile, Holly is working with her therapist Milton to finally discover the hidden trauma that has caused her mind to fragment into the committee. Though Holly doggedly tries to ignore both her burgeoning memories and Betty Jane's behavior, the situations in her life are quickly becoming unmanageable. It will be up to Holly to finally integrate the five personalities in her head and uncover the memory that brought them all to her in the first place. Irreverent and at times very moving, Sounds Like Crazy is an unusual tale of one woman's quest to become whole.

I have to admit that for the first fifty pages of this book, I wondered if I would be able to finish it and write a review. I wasn't sure just what the author was doing with the story and I felt that creating a humorous novel whose main character had a serious mental disorder might be a touch offensive. I also thought that the way that the author chose to portray the illness (the personalities living inside Holly actually had an apartment inside her head) and the fact that they were all so flamboyant was going to totally ruin the book for me. I decided to read further and maybe suspend a little bit of my sense of disbelief, and I actually managed to enjoy the book and come understand what the author was trying to do.

Though I initially had some problems with the ways that the personalities were dealt with, they were very interesting to read about. As figments of Holly's imagination, each had a quality that she decidedly lacked and each was able to handle various parts of her life very well. I did get very tired of Betty Jane though, and almost groaned aloud every time she showed up on the page. I think the book would have benefited a bit by using less of her, and although I did understand that she was the main motivator of the novel, I would have liked to have seen a bit more exploration of the others personalities and a little less of Betty Jane. I wondered while I was reading this book just how accurate the author's interpretation of dissociative disorder was. Certain things seemed believable but there were things that seemed very far-fetched to me. It would be interesting to read up on the subject and try to figure out if the portrayal was on the mark.

During the later sections of the book, Holly begins to explore the traumas of her life. With her therapist's help, Holly is able to reflect back to her childhood and some of the things that have shaped her into the person she has become. I found these scenes to be incredibly sad and angering. Both her father and mother were very abusive to her. They called her names, beat her and ignored her. There were scenes where the confusion and terror of a young Holly just bounced off the page, and at times it was a bit too much for me to handle. I felt that both of her parents were terrible and demeaning to all of their children and it was clear to me why Holly's mind had splintered so viciously. The self-hate and despondency that Holly felt was what saddened me the most and made me really turn a lot of anger towards her parents. I can't imagine what it must have been like to live with those kinds of people and thought that they bore a lot of the responsibility for Holly's condition.

I did end up liking the sections dealing with the voice-over work. I always find it interesting to learn about a new subject in my reading, and the way that the author cleverly tucked her tutelage into the story was wonderful. I hadn't imagined the kind of time that goes into voice-over work or the cramped quarters where it takes place. I also thought that it was very clever to have a character with multiple personalities find a job doing cartoon voices. It seemed to be one of the plot points that I most admired and it clearly sweetened the narrative. The voice-over job was a catalyst for Holly in several scenes and really enabled the reader to see more of the other personalities that were stuck in her head.

Though I had my share of problems with this book, I do think that there were some things about it that were very thought provoking and moving. I think that had I been able to suspend my disbelief earlier on, it might have been a smoother read for me. The book drew a lot of curiosity from me because I tend to like stories that explore mental illness, but I do feel that there are some areas that I just couldn't connect to. I think that readers who enjoy unusual stories might like this book, as well as those who like a good mixture of plot and character. A very different kind of read, but ultimately enjoyable.

About Shana Mahaffey

Mahaffey lives in San Francisco, California, in part of an Edwardian compound that she shares with an informal cooperative of family, friends, and five cats. She’s a survivor of catechism and cat scratch fever, and is a member of the Sanchez Grotto Annex, a writers’ co-op. Her novel, Sounds Like Crazy was named a notable book for Fall 2009 by the San Francisco Chronicle; and her work has appeared in publications such as Sunset Magazine, SoMa Literary Review, Spectrum Literary Journal, Reflections Literary Journal, and assorted literary blogs. In addition to writing fiction, Shana has contributed articles, white papers, and product reviews to various technology publications. She welcomes all visitors to her website and is happy to meet with book groups in-person or in cyberspace (phone/webcam/the works). Her cat blogs for her at

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, April 5th: A Blog of Her Own
Tuesday, April 6th: The Scholastic Scribe
Thursday, April 8th: Chefdruck Musings
Tuesday, April 13th: Life in the Thumb
Thursday, April 15th: Heart 2 Heart
Wednesday, April 21st: Knowing the Difference
Monday, April 26th: Rundpinne
Tuesday, April 27th: Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, April 28th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, April 29th: Bibliofreak

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox -- Guest Post with Aarti

I just love it when I can talk about books and reading. That's why it's been such a pleasure to get to know Aarti. She has amazing taste in books, and every time I stop over her site my wish list expands to alarming proportions. We have found a few books that our libraries have in common and have decided to tackle them as joint reads. This is our second read together, and I can honestly say that reading alongside such an intelligent and well-rounded person as Aarti really lets me take reading to the next level. It's like uber-reading. She always has a distinct grip on plot, character and dialogue, and is always able to provide several interpretations of scenes that I sometimes only see spot on. It is with great pleasure that I present her review of The Vintner's Luck today. She really had a wonderful grasp of the story and its implications, and as you will soon see, her reviews are detailed, erudite and just wonderful to read. Hop on over to Booklust as well, to see what other books she is reading! Without further ado, let me welcome Aarti, and her thought provoking review!

Book CoverThe Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox, meanders over 55 years of life making wine in 19th century France. At the start of the book, Sobran is a rough young man who wants to marry his fickle sweetheart. He gets drunk on his way home one day and stumbles upon an angel, Xas. The two get to talking and decide to meet again the next year- and then every year going forward, on the same date. They don't always meet- Sobran goes to war with Napoleon a few years after they meet, and then later on, he and Xas get into a big fight. But somehow, they always come back together and slowly find out more about each other.
Sobran becomes less rough and more prosperous, achieving an upper-middle class status as a successful vintner. He becomes friends with the local landowner's niece. He has many, many children with the sweetheart who becomes his wife, Celeste. He, in turn, learns about Xas's life, asks him questions about God and Lucifer, Heaven and Hell. The two become close friends, but as their friendship grows, Xas takes more and more dangerous risks.

As Sobran ages, Xas remains immortally youthful and perfect. But still, he has a great deal of wisdom and love to share with Sobran, the man who has become his closest confidante. This unusual and beautiful love story is different than I expected, in some ways disappointing me and in some ways becoming more than I ever hoped.

Interestingly, I didn't even realize that some things about this book disappointed me until I discussed it with Heather! Like Heather, I noticed that Knox's writing style was similar to that of other New Zealand authors I've read, such as Keri Hulme and Patricia Grace. She requires a lot of concentration and a great ability to read between the lines (which, unfortunately, I am not very good at). But this effort is rewarded, as the reader becomes fully immersed in the novel and the main characters.

The secondary characters, though, I never felt invested in. Isn't it strange how sometimes secondary characters can make you fall in love with a book? And sometimes, they are such gray matter you barely notice them? For me, most of Sobran's very large family was all a blur, without distinct personalities. In fact, even some aspects of Sobran's personality were a blur to me. We seemed often to only get snapshots of his life- we'd know his thoughts and his actions, but we didn't always know what drove him to think or act as he did. This really made me struggle to understand him, and I fully gave up on really understanding his family or any of the side plots. In fact, there is an entire murder mystery that I didn't even mention in my plot summary because I admit that I didn't pay it much attention.

My reading of this book was dominated utterly and completely by Xas, and to a lesser extent by Aurora, the landlord's daughter. Xas is a fascinating creature. The descriptions of his wings, of his body, of the way he uses his body to fly or sit or move... they are magnificent. His life story, too, is heart-breaking to hear. Sharing any of it would probably constitute a spoiler, so I will just say that he is a wonderful character who went through a great deal for his beliefs, and it is impossible not to feel for him. He made this story for me- Sobran was there, and central, but for me, it was all about Xas.

Aurora, too, is a strong and generous woman. She has so much wit and class, and I think she was a great role model for any girl who knew her.

In some ways, though, this story is about so much more than the central characters. It tackles many more huge, fundamental questions of religion than I was expecting going into it. At the end, I was left wondering what the author's message really was. Does she believe in a benevolent God or in a manipulative one? Is Lucifer really evil, or just misunderstood? I don't know myself, and I don't think I know enough about faith and religion to grapple with the questions that she raises. It was great to discuss these scenes and questions with Heather, and I'm very glad I had someone to talk to about this book. There were many scenes that we interpreted differently, possibly based on our religious backgrounds, and it was fascinating to see each other's perspectives.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read, even though I'm not entirely sure I understood it. It was wonderful reading and discussing it with a friend, especially one with whom I comfortable voicing my opinion on some very sensitive issues. I highly recommend it!

Now, head on over to Booklust for the second half of our joint review and check out my review of The Vintner's Luck!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Vanitha Sankaran - 368 pgs

Book CoverFair-haired Auda has been mute since birth, and due to her strange looks and lack of speech, has been sequestered away from society for most of her life. Living as an assistant to her father, the paper maker, Auda dreams of one day penning her own work of art on her father's pages. Though Auda and her father lead a quiet existence, life in their bucolic French village is becoming increasingly fraught with unease, as some in the town are being accused of heresy against the Church. But Auda has more pressing problems, for her sister is contracting a marriage between the young girl and the town's unattractive miller, a situation that causes Auda no end of unease. In order to escape his attentions, she contracts herself to the vicomtesse as a scribe in the castle. As she spends her days copying poetry from the crumbling parchment of the past, Auda discovers that a group of inquisitors are bearing down on the village and that their intent is to burn those who they deem to be heretics. Soon Auda comes to realize that she and her father are in grave danger by the rumors of heresy swirling around the village, and that they may have to sacrifice everything to save themselves and the ones they love. Told with a bewitching style and voice, Watermark is a dark swirling tale of secrecy and fear, set in a time where being different can be deadly.

From the moment I plunged into this tale, I realized that it was going to be a dark and treacherous ride. The story opens with the very dramatic scene of Auda's troublesome entrance into the world, leaving her motherless and disfigured. I knew just by this passage that Auda's life would be one fraught with difficulty and pain, and though there were some very joyous moments in the story, the tale lived up to my expectations.

I liked Auda and felt a strange protectiveness throughout the story. She was, in essence, an intelligent innocent, unschooled in the ways of the world, yet still independent and brave. Though most of her life was spent hidden and isolated, she had the same dreams and wishes for herself that most young girls have: to find love, to be respected and valued in the community, and to practice her art. She was not the type of character to feel pity for because she never sunk into pity for herself, choosing instead to lead her life with wonder and acceptance. She had very strong family ties and I really liked the relationship between her father and herself. She was not only his apprentice but his friend and confidante, weathering the hardships of life right alongside of him. Their relationship was sharply contrasted with the relationship she had with her older sister, Poncia, who was always meddling and lecturing, trying to be the maternal force in Auda's life. I had a strong dislike for Poncia and felt her to be at times very cruel.

Towards the middle of the book, Auda gets the chance to form a romantic relationship with a fellow artist. This was a nice aspect of the plot and tended to drown out the darker elements of the story, giving a nice balance to the narrative. As she begins to blossom in new ways, she grows beyond her small world of isolation and forges her way into the world surrounding her. The relationship between the two lovers was unique because it was not only forged in seduction and attraction, but also in mutual respect and admiration for one another's craft. Though the lovers have a difficult time rising above their situations and dangers, they are steadfastly loyal to one another and in the end are rewarded for it. I do wish that there had been a bit more focus on their relationship in the book because I really enjoyed reading about their times together and thought that it would be interesting to watch their relationship grow a bit more.

There were also a lot of great inside details on the craft of papermaking in the book. It's a craft that I had been curious about but knew very little of. The details of paper making were imparted with a great deal of clarity and filled in the plot very nicely. So much about this type of artistry would probably be foreign to most readers, but it was all conveyed with enthusiasm by the author and made for very interesting reading and speculation. I had no idea that it was such a detail oriented craft and that it was not at all popular in its early days.

The sections that dealt with the town's harassment by the inquisitors was truly frightening. Most of the suspected heretics were nothing of the kind, yet they were made to stand trial and torture and were most always executed, no matter what their level of guilt. It was in these sections that the story became gritty and raw. The fear of the Inquisition was a palpable vein running through the characters' lives and it seemed no one was safe from being arrested and burned in this town that had previously been peaceful and sheltered. This aspect of the plot felt very authentically documented and was thoroughly realized within the narrative, and at times, it was the crux of the story. Even the nobles of the town did not escape suspicion, though they were more capable of bartering themselves out of harm's way than most of the other villagers. I think that the author was amazingly adept at creating tension and fear in these scenes, and for me, these were the parts of the story that really stood out with distinction.

This book had a great dark and foreboding atmosphere and some very moving and dramatic plot elements that gave the story an edge over most other historical fiction of this kind. At times though, I felt that the plot moved a bit slowly and in a more roundabout way than what I had been expecting, and I found at times that I had to be patient with the story. If you are the type who enjoys historical fiction that centers around lesser known times and events, I think this book might be of interest to you. Readers who enjoy courageous and independent female characters might also appreciate this book. Though the book was involving, it was not overly dense, and aside from the plot lagging at times, it was an entertaining read. There are also few surprises tucked into the narrative as well, which I think will draw its readers deep into the recesses of the story and give them something to ponder.

About Vanitha

Vanitha Sankaran holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. In addition, her short stories have been published in numerous journals, such as Mindprints, Futures, Prose Ax, and The Midnight Mind. She is at work on her second novel, which is about printmaking in Italy during the High Renaissance.

TLC Book Tours I read and reviewed this book as part of a TLC Book Tour. Please continue to follow the other tour stops for this engrossing novel!

Wednesday, April 21st:  Thoughts From an Evil Overlord
Thursday, April 22nd:  Devourer of Books
Monday, April 26th:  CafĂ© of Dreams
Tuesday, April 27th:  Starting Fresh
Wednesday, April 28th:  A Few More Pages
Thursday, April 29th:  Reading, Writing, and Retirement

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

South of Broad by Pat Conroy - 528 pgs -- *Giveaway*

Book CoverLeo King, known also as the Toad, is a young man who's seen his share of trouble. Years ago he was the one to find his brother Steve's lifeless body in the family's bathtub, a trauma that he has never been able to get over. Things didn't immediately get better for him, as he then had a run-in with the law and the parole board. Though Leo is a loyal and intelligent young man with an impeccable set of morals and a gift of putting people at ease, he is a lonely boy, seemingly on the outskirts of everything and everyone. As he approaches his senior year of high school, Leo's luck is about to turn around. Unexpectedly, Leo finds his way to the center of a mismatched group of teenagers, each more distinct than the last. There are the twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe, both strangely glamorous but haunted by a dark secret. There is Ike Jefferson, one of the first black students to grace the halls of Peninsula High, and the three mysterious residents of the local orphanage, Betty, Starla, and Niles. Lastly, there are Molly and Chad, the blue-blooded and aristocratic couple from the upper crust of Charleston society. The friendships that begin between the nine young men and women during the fall of 1969 winds it way through the years and becomes stronger and deeper as time crawls forward. Now, years later, news comes that one of the group is in serious trouble. Gathering the friends together, Sheba sets them on a search for her missing brother Trevor, who is rumored to be dying of AIDS in San Francisco. As the friends amass to locate Trevor, they discover that a dangerous man from the twins' past is also hunting them. Will the trials that the group face splinter their incredible friendship or only strengthen and refine it? Weaving backwards and forwards in time, Pat Conroy delivers his readers a tale of friendship and heartbreak set amidst the gorgeous backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina.

I have read quite a few of Pat Conroy's books. I think I even saved a few of them for my keeper shelf, so when I was offered the chance to review this book through TLC Book Tours, I immediately accepted, knowing that I was in for a great reading experience. What I found while reading was a surprise to me, for either I have become a very different kind of reader or Conroy has become a very different kind of writer.

From the outset, I felt that the story in this book was one that was completely engaging. Like all of Conroy's work, it was filled with a magical and wonderful sense of plot and I had no problem getting caught up in its coils very early on. I think that part of the reason for this is that Conroy's style is so disarming and conspiratorial. Reading his books is like being let in on a secret that no one else knows, and the technique really has a way of drawing the reader into the folds of the narrative. That being said, I had some difficulty with this book in other regards because at times the writing felt a bit overblown and sensationalized. I wasn't really expecting that. For the most part, his other books have never crossed the line into romanticized and sentimental language as this one did. It made me a little uncomfortable, and I was wondering if I was being too critical or if the prose in this book was slightly too dramatic.

Another thing that grated on me was the dialogue in the book. At times while reading, I felt like the nerd sitting on the sidelines of the cool kid's conversations. All the inside jokes and verbal familiarities between the characters left me feeling very detached from them. I got the fact that they were very close; in fact it was one of the best aspects of the book, but the way they talked to each other felt alienating to the reader and at times it was really off-putting. I had to repeatedly reread lines because I was so annoyed by this. It felt as if the group's friendship was trying to be sold by telling, not showing, and that is something that has always bothered me when I come across it.

On the other hand, there were some really remarkable twists of plot and language in the book that it would be silly to ignore. The book is almost a love letter to Charleston, and as such, it examines the microcosm of that society in a delicious and wonderful way. There is plenty of meat to sink your teeth into in this story, and as it twists itself into its various permutations, it's very hard not to get caught up in all that Conroy so wonderfully relates. The setting, characters and situations are top-notch, and though I had other problems with the book, I never felt that it wasn't a worthwhile reading experience. I especially liked Leo's connection to his hometown. As we are seeing thing through his eyes, Charleston takes on a colorful and wonderful shroud of life, filled with eccentrics and oddballs, both within Leo's family and in the wider city.

I also think that revolving this story around Leo was a brilliant touch. I really liked him and felt that he was the glue that held both the story and the characters together. He was modest and circumspect, emotional yet rational. I found that wherever he was and whatever he was doing, I followed along like a loyal dog, waiting to see what his next move was. It was very smart to tell this story from Leo's angle because he was the everyman and was very easy to relate to. At times he played the star and at times the audience, but I was glad that as readers, we were in his head, rather than any of the others. If this book had been narrated by, say, Sheba, the story would have been a completely different affair.

I had a hard time managing the emotion in this book. At times, the situations and the characters' reactions to them felt spot on. But other times it was like Conroy got carried away with the melodrama and sentimentalism. I never knew what was coming next and the circumstances of the plot gave me no insight as to how I should feel. For example, a character's death might bring subdued reaction from all the characters in the book, while a smaller and less intense incident would draw out a more prolonged suffering from the bunch. I think this might have been because the plot was very densely packed with shocking and emotional scenes, and it might have been difficult to transmute the characters emotions to fit the particular incidents that they were facing at the time.

Though I had some problems with this story and found it to be a tad over-dramatic, I still think it was a solid read. It's not my favorite Conroy book by far, and for first time readers of this author, I would recommend trying Beach Music. For those who are already fans of Conroy, I think this would make for an interesting read, even if only to compare to his earlier work. I would recommend this book to those who love books about deep friendships that mature through the years and for fans of the city of Charleston. Not a perfect book, but an interesting read nevertheless.


The publishers of this book have generously offered my readers one copy of this book for giveaway! If you would like to win, please leave a comment at the end of this post that includes your e-mail address. You must leave a valid e-mail address to be entered in this giveaway! I will draw a winner randomly with the help of and will announce the winner on April 30th 2010. Good luck to all entrants, and thanks for entering!

About Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy is the bestselling author of nine books: The Boo, The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, My Losing Season, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life and South of Broad. He lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina.

Visit Pat Conroy’s website for more info about his work.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Thursday, April 1st: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Monday, April 5th: Lit and Life
Tuesday, April 6th: Rundpinne
Wednesday, April 7th: Meanderings and Muses
Friday, April 9th: Luxury Reading
Monday, April 12th: Books and Cooks
Tuesday, April 13th: The Brain Lair
Wednesday, April 14th: Po(sey) Sessions
Thursday, April 15th: Raging Bibliomania
Monday, April 19th: Life in the Thumb
Tuesday, April 20th: Maggie Reads
Thursday, April 22nd: Stephanie’s Written Word
Friday, April 23rd: Sherri’s Jubilee
Monday, April 26th: The Literate Housewife
Tuesday, April 27th: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, April 28th: Library Queue
Thursday, April 29th: Lakeside Musing
Friday, April 30th: A Circle of Books

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings by Suzie Gilbert - 352 pgs

Book CoverThis is the story of Suzie Gilbert and her astounding love for wild birds. From childhood, Suzie has loved and cared for many wild creatures but has been attracted mainly to wild birds. After working as a volunteer at an animal hospital near her home, Suzie begins to come home with abused and unwanted birds that she happily adopts into her family. Deciding that this is not enough, she makes a decision to run a wild bird rehabilitation center from her house. Building space for the birds and setting up shop on the slope of her large yard are only the early steps, and for Suzie, the easiest. Soon she is receiving wounded birds from all over the area and her phone is ringing non-stop. The idyllic job she envisioned is soon wearing thin and she spends a good deal her time agonizing over the fates of even the smallest of her patients and the worries that the birds are eating most of the attention that should be going to her young children. As she relates miraculous stories of survival and terrible stories of loss, Suzie not only bonds with the birds that she has decided to give her life to, but bonds as well with a large network of animal rehabbers all over the world. But after five long years, the losses begin to outweigh the saves and Suzie is headed toward an emotionally harrowing cliff. She must decide if giving up the bird rescue will save her fragile emotional health, and that of her family, or if she should continue doing the work she loves. As she lovingly demonstrates in her attention to the sick and injured birds she deals with daily, sometimes you just have to "bring them back and let them go," a fate that she must also painfully adhere to. Both amazingly tender and heart-rendingly sad, the story of Suzie and her avian companions will bring its readers both joyous smiles and sorrowful tears.

I love reading real-life stories about animals and their caregivers. I usually learn a great deal about what it takes for these animals to survive and the impact they have on their human handler's lives. This story was no exception. By peeking into the life and psyche of Suzie Gilbert, I discovered an amazing plethora of bird facts and myths and was fully able to see the sacrifices that Suzie made in her life in order to help save these wondrous creatures.

This book was unique among the animal tales that I have read for several reasons. One of the first differences that I noticed was the strident attitude that Suzie had about the careless and negligent humans who put these beautiful animals at risk every day. As she explains, about 99 percent of the accidents that befall wild birds can be directly attributed to humans. From your basic garden variety cruelty to the attempts of developers to clear inhabited land for building projects to negligent cat owners who let their animals roam freely outdoors, Suzie explains it all. Far from being beseeching, her anger at these people and situations comes shooting off the page in her vitriolic sentiments. And as I was to discover while I was reading, her anger is completely justified. The birds that make their way into her refuge are scared, confused and sometimes gravely injured. Suzie does the best she can to provide care for the birds but often there is nothing she can do for them but let them die with dignity. Each death seems to take a piece of her soul.

The second way that this book was different than most was the very candid way that Suzie related her mental frailties and fears concerning the birds. When she first begins to have thoughts of running a bird rehab from her home, her heart is light and she harbors dreams and visions of a fulfilling and successful operation in which she will finally be able to do the work she was born to do. But as the rehab becomes a reality, Suzie becomes ever more nervous about the birds that she will be caring for. Is she giving them the right care? Has she made a mistake in taking all types and species of birds instead of specializing? Is she a horrible mother for spending more time with her birds than her children? Will her children grow up scarred from having to help their mother take care of the injured animals? These things weigh heavily on her mind, and although she does some amazing things with her facility, she can never outrun her demons and spends a lot of time being anxious, angry and afraid. These sections of the book were filled with pathos and pain, and it was like looking directly into the brain of someone who was torn to bits by the decisions that she had to make. While I championed the work she was doing, I felt very sorry that there was so much turmoil going on inside her heart.

The amount of information that Suzie supplied about the birds was one of my favorite aspects of the book. It was never overwhelming and always interesting, and I found myself not only learning about different species of bird, but also general facts that are common among all birds. I had no idea that baby birds had to eat every fifteen minutes from sunup to sundown, or that vultures regurgitate the contents of their stomachs when they are distressed. I also didn't know that most birds should not be socialized to accept humans and was surprised to learn that birds will not neglect a baby bird that has fallen from its nest and has been touched by human hands. Suzy is clear and informative with her facts about the birds, debunking myths and making these wild creatures and their habits seem astounding.

There is also a lot of humor in the book. These are the tales of a freezer full of frozen rats being accidentally discovered by her husband; stories of birds that seem almost human; and the parrot who resides in her house screaming out the word "WAR" when one of the wild birds gets loose in the house. She speaks about the baby duck that happily watches television with her children, and George, the raven who touched her heart and healed her aching spirit. Her birds do the unthinkable and their well-being is the reason she strives against the grain to provide them with a safe haven and a loving touch. They are creatures who amaze and startle. Suzie never loses respect for the birds she cares for, despite the long hours and inconvenience that they bring into her life.

This is definitely a book that is worth reading. If you are a lover of animal stories, the book is a must read. I think the book says a lot about the difference that even one dedicated person can make in the world surrounding them, and it is not only a love story about birds, but a story that will touch even the most hardened reader. The information that is imparted is not in the least overwhelming, but instead delightful and thought-provoking. In a world where people are usually only out for themselves, Suzy Gilbert does the unthinkable and transforms the lives of all the creatures she touches, and she is a very admirable woman. An amazingly worthwhile read. Recommended.

About Suzie Gilbert

I grew up in Oyster Bay, New York, on Long Island. I went to local elementary and middle schools, and then to boarding school in Connecticut. I attended a number of colleges (eventually graduating from Columbia University, School of General Studies, in 1983) and had many different jobs, but the only ones that ever really clicked for me were working with animals. After my husband and I were married, we moved from New York City to the Hudson Valley, where I found work at an animal hospital, began bringing home unwanted parrots, and started volunteering at a rehabilitation center for birds of prey. I had two children, Mac and Skye. I wrote a children’s book, Hawk Hill (Chronicle Books, 1996), and for two years wrote an environmental column for a small chain of upstate New York newspapers. After 11 years at the raptor center, I decided to rehab injured birds at home, and still do today.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, March 22nd: Seens from the backs of my eyelids
Wednesday, March 24th: A Little Piece of Me
Thursday, March 25th: The Road to Here
Tuesday, March 30th: A Gardener in Progress
Wednesday, March 31st: Bookfoolery and Babble
Wednesday, April 7th: Red and the Peanut
Thursday, April 8th: Rambling Woods ~ The Road Less Traveled
Wednesday, April 14th: Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, April 15th: Regular Rumination
Tuesday, April 20th: Farmgirl Fare
Wednesday, April 21st: Sycamore Canyon

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet: A Novel by Myrlin A. Hermes - 384 pgs

Book CoverIn this inventive prelude to Shakespeare's classic Hamlet, the reader is introduced to a young Horatio, an ever doubting divinity student at Wittenberg University. Horatio lives the life of an impoverished scholarship student, preferring to spend his days fashioning poetry rather than delving into his studies and is finding that his lifestyle is far outstripping his pocket. In order to replenish his finances, Horatio agrees to undertake a commission from a baron to translate a work of romance, but upon accepting the position finds that the baron's true desires are far more weighty than first suspected. What the man really wants is for Horatio to fashion an elaborate stage play from the paltry writings that his wife has been collecting. Though Horatio feels that he is being herded beyond his will and talent, he agrees to the commission and sets about writing the fanciful play. Caught up in his conundrum, Horatio one day happens upon Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, in a compromising situation. Smitten with the young prince's otherworldly beauty, Horatio makes friendly overtures towards the prince, who happily accepts Horatio's friendship and admiration. The two are soon inseparable, caught up in a strange and intense attraction that leaves little time for other concerns and acquaintances. Soon Horatio is lost in the dreams and schemes of a prince, never truly knowing if the love between the two men is reciprocal or one-sided. When Hamlet catches the eye of the baron's manipulative wife, Lady Adriane, she hatches a scheme to ensnare both Horatio and the prince, hoping to play each man's loyalty against one another, and aids her cause by enlisting the help of a rival poet named William "Shake-spear". This boldly imaginative tale takes its readers on a precarious journey through the passion, jealousy and intimacy of the ill-fated Prince Hamlet and his most constant companion, the loyal Horatio.

Sometimes when reading a book, it becomes apparent very early on that is going to be a tremendous reading experience. Such was the case with this book. I had a very hard time peeling myself away from it for even a moment and was very saddened to have to finally turn the last page. Although I have not read an abundance of Shakespeare's works, it was not hard for me to pick out a lot of of the threads of his plots, lines and witticisms that were woven into the narrative. The story that Hermes has created in this book defies imagination and is written with a style and artistry that I have seldom come across. It was funny and tender and sad, full of the recriminations and rejoicings of its characters. I got completely lost in the beauty of this book and often could scarcely believe the wit and effervescence that ran through the narrative. It was as close as I have come to reading perfection in a long, long time. The heady language used in the book was lush and rich, while the characters were cleverly full of mischief and passion; and the story told was one that defied all my expectations and made me giddy with excitement. A grander tale I could not imagine, and Hermes balanced it all with artistry and wit to spare.

Through the use of humor, bawdiness and lyricism, Hermes creates a tale full of life and passion that sucked me in with one great rush. In her elaborate imaginings of these well-loved characters, Hermes spins a deeply woven tale that that will delight even the most picky reader. Many of the characters from the well known play pop their heads up in the book, including the spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are portrayed here as sycophantic and lugubrious parasites to the young prince. They are a smarmy duo, obsessed with the prince, and spend most of their time flattering and cajoling Hamlet in a most irritating manner. Prince Hamlet, for his part, is ever trying to deceive and escape them, much preferring to spend his time with Horatio, which makes the two even more ruthless and obsequious. As the prince assiduously tries to avoid the two, he becomes increasingly dependent and enamored with Horatio, a fact that delights the young scholar.

Hamlet himself is an interesting invention: a man-child filled with warring emotions and an increasing fear of madness. His love for Horatio is very mercurial, a fact that Horatio can never understand, and that pains him greatly. Though at times Hamlet can be very foppish and foolish, he harbors some very deep-rooted passions, and these, at times, make him appear very careworn and aged. He never understands the spell he casts over people and the way others treat him often bothers and disheartens him. His desires to love and be loved outweigh all other concerns, a fact which lands him in spot after spot of trouble and keeps Horatio perpetually on his toes. It is interesting to see just how Hermes has fleshed out these characters, imbuing them with deep-seated fears, strange motivations and conflicting desires. They all seem full of breath and alive and I think that is one reason why it was so easy for me to become attached to them so quickly.

The strange relationship between Horatio and his patroness, the Lady Adriane, was one of the most compelling but mystifying sections of the book. Horatio's love for the prince is absolute and all-encompassing, but his unbidden desire for Adriane unnerves him and forces him into the fool's role often. The desires of his flesh are at war with the desires of his heart and soul, and though he wishes to remain true to his prince, he finds himself struggling mightily to do so. Lady Adriane does not help matters in this instance, for she is a great deceiver and finds ways to inveigle her way into the hearts and minds of both men, to their great consternation. She is not a beautiful woman but she is able to cast a spell on all those around her and makes the men she is conspiring with dance like puppets on her string. Despite her conniving behavior, I was strangely enamored of her and thought that her furtive actions were cleverly calculated. Although I did not understand the reasoning and basis of her actions, I knew that when she came on the scene that something unexpected was going to happen. I did feel saddened that she chose to make Horatio suffer so horribly, because he was by far the most winning character in the story, but I do admit that her sections in the narrative were the most gratifying and inventive.

This was a novel of frustration and obsession, and through its intricate swirls of plot and lyrically stylized writing it managed to tell a story that bordered on debauchery. The tale itself was filled with some very clever double entendres and there was a delicate balance of perversity vs. emotional purity throughout its pages. It was also raucously funny at times, in a very unexpected way. I think most of the humor came into play via Horatio's hilarious inner monologue, which was a constant backdrop in the story. When Will Shakespeare makes his entrance, the story delves further into a strange and wonderful direction that is sure to keep the reader guessing. There were also times that the narrative took a beautiful turn into poetry, and much of Horatio's reminiscences of the prince had a beautiful tension of language and emotion that made my heart swell with shared frustration and pain.

I can't recommend this book heartily enough. The mirth and jocularity of the writing, coupled with the surprisingly tender and poetic story it tells was a really beautiful thing to behold. This story stands wonderfully well on its own, so even if you haven't read Hamlet, there is much to discover and exclaim over in this book. Anyone who loves a well written story with clever dialogue would do tremendously well in picking this book up, and I think most would get a lot from the cleverly re-engineered ending that Hermes works into her tale. A witty, adept and beautiful read, highly recommended!

About Myrlin A. Hermes

Myrlin Ambrosia Hermes (yes, that is her real name) was born in 1975 to a pair of eccentric world-travellers who met in a ’60s San Francisco avant-garde theatre troupe and took their daughter to live for a year on a commune in India before landing on the island of Maui, Hawaii, where she was raised.

She has a degree in English Literature and Theatre from Reed College and studied Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.

She is the author of the novel Careful What You Wish For, and has received grants and awards from the Arch & Bruce Brown Foundation, the Institute for Humane Studies, and the Arts Council England. Her non-literary creative projects include an original collage-art Tarot deck, and she is a two-time challenge winner at

She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is working on a historical novel about 17th-century playwright, spy, and proto-feminist rabble-rouser Aphra Behn.

Check out Myrlin’s website and also her blog.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Wednesday, March 24th:  Regular Rumination
Thursday, March 25th:  Book Addiction
Monday, March 29th:  Life in the Thumb
Thursday, April 1st:  Steph and Tony Investigate
Monday, April 5th:  Raging Bibliomania
Tuesday, April 6th:  Wordsmithonia
Wednesday, April 7th:  BookNAround
Thursday, April 8th:  Laughing Stars
Monday, April 12th:  Eclectic/Eccentric
Tuesday, April 13th:  Books for Breakfast
Wednesday, April 14th:  Worducopia
Thursday, April 15th:  Write Meg

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
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