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City of Refuge by Tom Piazza

I first heard about the City of Refuge by Tom Piazza from Jen at Devourer of Books and Wendy of Caribousmom. I recently received my copy from Jen at Devourer of Books when she was slated to be on That’s How I Blog! hosted by Nicole at Linus’s Blanket.  Unfortunately, it has taken me a while longer to finish this book than I expected, though the book club discussion for Nicole’s show with Jen was an enlightening experience.  OK, enough of all that . . . let’s get to the review.

“New Orleanians knew how to turn deprivation into an asset; they had the best gallows humor going, they danced at funerals, they insisted on prevailing.  They had heard it all before, and most of the time it turned out to be a false alarm.  The regular challenge made them defiant.”  (Page 28)

Tom Piazza’s own experience of being evacuated from New Orleans must have played a significant role in his writing of this novel.  The horror, the grief, the devastation, the hollowness, and a range of other emotions following the 2005 disaster, known as Hurricane Katrina, rips through readers’ hearts and puts them through the wringer alongside SJ, Craig, and their families.

“A block away water bubbling and churning from a submerged, ruptured gas line.  Below him, amid a cataract of smashed weatherboard, face-down in the water, a man, unmoving; his white T-shirt had ridden up his back almost all the way to his shoulder.  A black dog swam by.  Not twenty feet away, the sole of a sneaker stuck out of the water, held up by an ankle attached to an invisible leg, waving slightly, probably snagged on something below the surface. . .”  (Page 139)

SJ and his family live in the Lower Ninth Ward, which was the hardest hit by the hurricane’s storm surge, while Craig and his family live in a different section of New Orleans.  On the surface, both of these families are different from their skin color to where they live and from their education to their jobs, but what they have in common is a deep connection to the city, its culture, and their homes.  Beyond the moral outrage of New Orleanians against the government, insurance companies, and others, which readers will surely have seen on the news or in the papers and magazines, Piazza’s novel weaves a tale of surprising resilience — a common trait in humanity — a will to survive.

“One day he saw something he had seen every day for a month and a half, a loose hinge on the closet door.  He went downstairs to Aaron’s utility room, rummaged around and found a Phillips head screwdriver and an assortment of screws and simply replaced the screw that was in the hinge with a larger one.  That would hold it until he could really fix the hinge.  

That was how you came back, if you came back.”  (Page 285)

Each of these families has their own personal struggles and dynamics, which Piazza deftly navigates in alternating story lines weaving a tense atmosphere before, during, and after the hurricane.  Piazza’s characters are deep with their own backgrounds, personalities, and demons, and SJ is a prime example.  As a Vietnam War veteran, he’s already had enough to deal with before Hurricane Katrina.  In a way — like so many other veterans — he never made it back from the war completely and has been going through the motions of life.

“Aaron would get him to go out for walks.  Aaron, who had also been in Vietnam, knew a fair amount about the traumatic syndrome that SJ was struggling with, and exercise and talking through things could be important.  Some days they would walk and SJ was silent, some days he would talk for a while, and then get silent.  Often he had violent fantasies that would crumble apart into debilitating grief.  ‘I don’t want to be angry like this A,’ SJ said.  ‘I spent long enough dealing with it.  I never thought I’d have to be back in this.'”  (Page 273)

Piazza’s comparisons of PTSD among Vietnam War veterans and the PTSD of New Orleanians is a valid comparison, and City of Refuge brings with it an emotional tsunami that readers cannot ignore.  One of the best books I’ve read this year, and an excellent selection for book clubs because of the range of social and political issues it illuminates.

About the Author:

Tom Piazza is the author of the post-Katrina classic Why New Orleans Matters, the Faulkner Society Award-winning novel My Cold War, and the short-story collection Blues And Trouble, winner of the James Michener Award for Fiction. He lives in New Orleans.

This book is my 17th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

 FTC Disclosure: Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Bo Obama: The White House Tails by Paul Salamof and Keith Tucker

Bo Obama:  The White House Tails is written by Paul J. Salamoff and drawn by Emmy Award-winning Disney and Warner Brothers artist Keith Tucker for Bluewater Productions‘ line of graphic novels for young readers.  The 40-page graphic novel reads more like a comic book, with Bo Obama taking kids back in time to visit previous White House pets and to witness some of the history of the presidential residence.

Bo is a Portuguese Water Dog, who is the perfect dog for those with allergies.  Not only does Bo know a lot about himself and his breed, but he also knows a great deal about the White House’s former residents.  The illustrations of Bo are clear and vivid, making the Obama’s dog leap to life in this graphic novel.

“People in Portugal speak Portuguese, but I can only bark in English.” (Page 10)
From elephants in the White House to the origin of the presidential residence’s name, Bo takes readers on a journey through the present and the past.  Kids, probably between ages 8 and 12, will enjoy this book the most because the words will be easier for them to grasp with little help from parents.  In some instances, readers may want to learn more about the animals or historical figures they meet.  Learning history through the eyes of a dog has never been more entertaining. Bo Obama:  The White House Tails is moderately priced at $6.99.

This book is my 16th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Bluewater Productions for sending me a free copy for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Johanna Moran’s The Wives of Henry Oades begins with the journey of a young family to New Zealand from England, but once on foreign soil, the family is met with tragedy.  Henry Oades leaves New Zealand for a new life in America where he becomes a farmer and rebuilds his life.  The story is based upon a 19th century court case involving a man with two wives, according to Moran’s Website.

“Henry introduced the children, clapping a proud hand to John’s shoulder, prying six-year-old Josephine from Margaret’s leg.  Margaret turned back to the watery haze that was her parents, spreading her feet for balance, her pretty going-away shoes pinching.  She’d been told the river was calm.”  (Page 5)

Moran’s story is unique and even more intriguing because it has a basis in fact, but in many ways the writing is stilted and it is difficult for readers to picture the settings in detail.  Additionally, there are some details that could be excluded in favor of speeding up the plot, which drags for the first 75 pages.

Margaret is a prim woman from a proper English family, who is thrown into a colony where not everyone is as well-bred as she is.  There’s a period of adjustment for the Oades family, but even that adjustment is just the beginning.  With much of the point of view focused on Margaret, the sudden shift to Henry’s viewpoint once Margaret and the kids disappear from his life is a bit jarring.  Readers could find that they are not as well connected with Henry and that he is not as developed as Margaret’s character.  This stumbling block can take a while to overcome, but then readers are thrust into another story, that of Nancy Foreland, a recently windowed, pregnant woman.

Despite these drawbacks, the struggle of Margaret and Nancy to adapt to a new situation in which they both find themselves as the wives of Henry Oades will keep readers turning the pages.  Overall, The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran is a detailed account of one family’s immigration journey and an exploration of what it truly means to be a family.


To win a copy of The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran (US/Canada):

1.  Leave a comment on this post about what court case you’ve found fascinating.
2.  Blog, tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link in the comments.

Deadline March 18, 2010, at 11:59PM EST

About the Author:

Johanna Moran comes from a long line of writers and lawyers. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her husband, John. The Wives of Henry Oades is her first novel.

Check out her Website.

This book is my 15th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge, and thus signifies my completion of the challenge, though I could be reading more new-to-me authors throughout the year.

If you are interested in the rest of the TLC Book Tour for The Wives of Henry Oades, check them out.

The Writing on my Forehead by Nafisa Haji

Nafisa Haji‘s The Writing on my Forehead transports readers into another culture and the struggles that members find themselves in as the world around them evolves, causing clashes between modernity and the past.  Told from the point of view of Saira, readers are taken on a very personal journey into the past, uncovering the deep secrets of Saira’s grandmother and grandfather as well as her own parents.  The dynamic between Saira and her sister is only partially shown, with the point of view of Ameena silent.  From fate to choices, each character must follow their path to the end — no matter what it holds for them.

“I close my eyes and imagine the touch of my mother’s hand on my forehead, smoothing away the residue of childhood nightmares.  Her finger moves across my forehead, tracing letters and words of prayer that I never understood, never wanted to understand, her mouth whispering in nearly silent accompaniment.  Now, waking from the nightmare that has become routine — bathed in sweat, breathing hard, resigned to the sleeplessness that will follow — I remember her soothing touch and appreciate it with an intensity that I never felt when she was alive.”  (Page 1)

Saira grows into an independent woman who is running from her culture and tradition to find herself grasping for it in the darkest moments of her life.  As an American with a strong Pakistani-Indian heritage and a mother reminiscent of Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, it is no wonder that she rebels against tradition and culture to become a traveling journalist.

“I shudder, now, to think of how my mother, trying hard and failing to be subtle, got the word of my availability — accompanied, I learned later, by a full-size, glossy headshot — out on the proverbial ‘street’ where desi families gathered and speculated, assessed and collated young people into the ‘happily ever after’ that getting married was supposed to promise.”  (Page 191)

Haji’s prose is eloquent and engages not only the readers’ sensibilities and emotions, but their inquisitive nature as family secrets are unraveled.  Saira is a complex character who searches for a center, an axis on which she can revolve and become grounded.  While she is connected to family, like Mohsin and Big Nanima, throughout her life because they are in effect the outsiders of a culture she rejects, she continues to struggle with her other relations — her sister, Ameena, her mother and her father — because they represent to her a culture she finds limiting.  The Writing on my Forehead provides a variety of topics for discussion from political imperialism and its consequences to the tension between the modern world and tradition and the modern dilemmas facing adolescents striking out on their own to the loss of family — making this an excellent book club selection that will inspire debate and introspection.

About the Author: (From her Website; Photo Credit: Robert Stewart)

Nafisa Haji was born and mostly raised in Los Angeles—mostly, because there were years also spent in Chicago, Karachi, Manila, and London. Her family migrated from Bombay to Karachi in 1947 during Partition, when the Indian Subcontinent was divided into two states.  Nafisa studied American history at the University of California at Berkeley, taught elementary school in downtown Los Angeles for seven years in a bilingual Spanish program (she speaks Spanish fluently), and earned a doctorate in education from the University of California at Los Angeles.   She started writing short stories at first, which then developed into an idea for a novel. She now lives in northern California with her husband and son and is currently working on her second novel. Nafisa maintains close ties in Pakistan, traveling there regularly to visit family.

This is my 2nd book for the 2010 South Asian Author Challenge.

This is my 14th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

If you are interested in the rest of The Writing on my Forehead blog tour, please check out TLC Book Tours.

Almost Home by Pam Jenoff

Almost Home by Pam Jenoff is a novel of international intrigue, significant struggle, and humiliating heartbreak.  Jordan Weiss is a Foreign Service Officer working in Washington, D.C., who receives a letter from her college friend Sarah asking her to return to London as Sarah struggles with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).  Once in London, a place Jordan never expected to see again after her tragic last semester, she takes a job as a investigative diplomat working to uncover financial connections between companies and the Albanian mob.

“Chris pulls out my chair and I sit down awkwardly, conscious of his presence, the way he hovers a second too long behind me as though afraid I will flee.”  (Page 64)

Jenoff really knows how to set the mood.  Almost Home is full of dark imagery, fast-paced chases, and tension as thick as butter.  Readers will be kept guessing as to who is on the wrong side of the equation.  Jordan is likable and draws readers into the story, sweeping readers into her grief over the decades ago loss of her college sweetheart, Jared, and the mystery surrounding his death.  There is tension between Jared and Jordan when they first meet as part of a rowing team, but eventually their mutual love of the river and the team gives way to their own passions.

“Trafalgar Square on a Monday morning is a swarming mass of activity.  Cars and buses move along the roadway in fits and starts, jamming up at the traffic lights, filling the air with thick exhaust.  Swarms of commuters, invisible beneath a sea of black umbrellas, jostle as they make their way from the buses to the city, from Charing Cross Tube station to Whitehall.”  (Page 131)

Tension and suspense are dominant atmospheres in Almost Home, but the novel is more than just a political thriller, it deals with deep grief and healing.  There also are lighter moments between Jordan and Sarah that illustrate a part of Jordan that has been dormant since the tragic loss of Jared.  The dynamic between the two is strong and full of sisterly love, which can transcend any situation.

Jenoff’s experience as a diplomat is clearly present in the novel as Jordan deals with bureaucracy and cloak-and-dagger tactics.  There are some points in the novel where Jordan appears to be out of her element and a novice diplomat, but given the recent debacle in Liberia and the death of a colleague; her flight to London to be with her sick friend; and all that is uncovered about the death of Jared, her mistakes and bad judgment should be expected.  The pressures she feels and the memories that haunt her are too much for any one person to deal with a high-stress position with government.  Jordan is a complex character dealing with new grief, renewed old grief, and a demanding job in a city she once abandoned.  Overall, Almost Home is a fast-paced, highly emotional, well-written novel.

This is my 13th new-to-me author for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

I’m considering this for my 3rd book, a mix of the political and mob thriller , for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Almost Home by Pam Jenoff from the author.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Sonnets for Sinners by John Wareham

John Wareham‘s Sonnets for Sinners is a book of poems I would recommend to those who enjoy reading sonnets, who love poetry, and those who are just starting to read poetry.  Wareham includes the classic sonnets of William Shakespeare and William Yeats, but he also crafts new sonnets from the words (available in the public domain) of famous figures, like Tiger Woods (click to read the poem Wareham created from Woods’ words), Elizabeth and John Edwards, and Princess Diana.

What’s most unique about this volume is the insight provided by Wareham.  He analyzes each poem, offers up lines that illustrate his examinations, and even poses questions that illicit laughter.

Discussing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129:  “To begin with, says the poet, sinners bypass rationality — past reason hunted — then, the moment the lusty act is completed they unreasonably despise themselves — past reason hated — for succumbing to a swallowed bait on purpose laid to make the taker mad.  The devil made me do it!”  (Page 11)

Sonnets for Sinners is broken down, categorizing sonnets into attractions, fevers, lamentations, farewells, endings, and epiphanies.  For anyone interested in reading more poetry, particularly classic sonnets and classic poets, readers would enjoy the commentary from Wareham.  It is not only informative, but witty.

Kind Cuts by Chandler Haste (page 66)

“I don’t want to hurt or abandon you
— so what to do?” you ask.  Well maybe first
drop me into a pot of boiling glue
then have a witch doctor apply a curse.
Or when that fails and I rise in pursuit
of you, have a firebug set me aflame.
Or cut out my tongue and render me mute
then poke out my eyes and publish my shame.
Or, here’s aptly felicitious fate
for this hopelessly addicted lover:
Bobbitting! — that could be the kindest bite
to slice me out from under your thumb of.
Off the top of my head that’s my advice,
Bow to it gently, and in love, rejoice.

Despite the mix of contemporary and classic sonnets, I think there is enough in here to count for the contemporary poetry challenge, and this makes book #13.
This is my 1st book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.
This is my 12th new-to-me author for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Sonnets for Sinners by John Wareham from publicist Sara Hausman at Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show by Frank Delaney

Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show by Frank Delaney is a coming of age novel set during a tumultuous time in Ireland’s history.  Set in the early 1930s, Ireland and Britain were in the midst of an economic battle in which farmers refused to keep paying back the loans that enabled them to buy farmland.  And Britain consequently began placing tariffs on all Irish goods — all the while the political system in Ireland was tenuous.

“Of course it was all still being run by politicians.  We have an old saying here:  ‘No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.'”  (Page 15)

The narration is conversational in tone as Ben MacCarthy tells his family history, with tales on the side about the political climate of the time.  Although he digresses from the main story of his father’s disappearance and reappearance with the Venetia Kelly Traveling Show, MacCarthy warns you ahead of time that he often falls off topic, but that most of his stories have some relevance to the main narration.  A quirky technique, but enjoyable given that the digressions are entertaining.

“So, throughout this story you can expect three kinds of sidesteps:  Important Digression, which will usually be something to do with factual history; Important Digression, where a clarification needs facts and I will ferry them in from a side road; and — my favorite — Unimportant Digression, which can be about anything.”  (Page 10)

Delaney has created a multitude of characters with their own depth and meaning in the story, and there are references throughout to other classic works.  He has created an energized menagerie through which readers will see and experience through Ben’s eyes as a young man in search of his father and himself.  In many ways Ben is like his father, especially as the narration progresses.  Readers will find that he is unwinding his story slowly and deliberately, mirroring how his father contains his emotions and his true passions from his family.

“Beside me, my father reacted so hard that he made the bones of his chair creak.  He pulled back his hands, tightened them into fists, and held them in front of him like a man containing himself.”  (Page 79)

The deliberate way in which the story unfolds enables readers to learn more about the MacCarthy family, the Kelly’s, and the climate of Ireland at the time.  A nation and families stuck between the old traditions and the modern ways of the world, seeking the best path through to the other side.  What propels Ben on this journey and what does he learn?  Readers will want to pick up a copy of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show to find out.

To enter for 1 signed copy of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show or 1 audiobook narrated by Frank Delaney (US/Canada only):

1.  Leave a comment on this post of what you would like to see in Ireland.
2.  Leave a comment on my interview with Frank Delaney.
3.  Blog, Facebook, Tweet, or spread the word about the giveaway.

Deadline March 1, 2010, at 11:59PM EST.

About the Author: (Photo Credit: Jerry Bauer)

Frank Delaney was born in Tipperary, Ireland. A career in broadcasting earned him fame across the United Kingdom. A judge for the Booker Prize, several of his nonfiction books were bestsellers in the UK, and he writes frequently for American and British publications. He now lives with his wife, Diane Meier, in New York and Connecticut. Ireland is his first novel to be published in the United States.

 This is my 11th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

My 1st book for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show by Frank Delaney from publicist Leah Paulos and Random House.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben Winters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben Winters is another mash-up of classic fiction and fantasy.  The basic story is the same as the Marianne and Elinor deal with abject poverty, searching for love and affection, and relatives who are less than pleasant, while at the same time navigating their sisterly relationship. The twist is that sea monsters have taken control of the water and attack humans daring to cross the sea or live below it in Sub-Station Beta.

“Colonel Brandon, the friend of Sir John, suffered from a cruel affliction, the likes of which the Dashwood sisters had heard of, but never seen firsthand.  He bore a set of long, squishy tentacles protruding grotesquely from his face, writhing this way and that, like hideous living facial hair of slime green.”  (Page 37)

Readers will either enjoy reading a mash-up of Jane Austen’s work with its fantastical and historically inaccurate elements (i.e. the existence of wet suits, submarines, and underwater domes where people live and work) or they will throw the book aside as ridiculous.  The trouble with these genre benders is that they often polarize readers in one camp or another.  Unlike Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which merely inserts new sentences to achieve the goal of making the Bennets zombie slayers, Winters creates a story nearly all his own, but using Austen’s Dashwood sisters.

“‘It is impossible that she did not know,’ Sir John answered, ‘For a sister to a sea witch is certain to be a sea witch herself.’  . . .  ‘As I said, the witches take the physical form of human women,’ explained Sir John.  ‘There is nothing they can do about their personalities.'”  (Page 320)

By remaking Austen’s world and threatening the characters in it with deranged sea monsters, Winters takes a number of liberties with the text, although he does maintain Austen’s style for the most part.  However, unlike Grahame-Smith’s mash-up where readers discover how the Bennets became skillful zombie slayers, the mysterious Sub-Station Beta and its “experiments” are not revealed or even hinted at for most of the book.  This flaw can make it difficult for readers to continue reading this adventure because so much is unknown and the readers are scrambling in the dark as characters run from monsters, play games, chat while being attacked by monsters, bring up mysterious smoking mountains and five-pointed stars, and generally seem to shrug off the danger.

Overall, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters resembles the dangers of other sea-faring novels — even 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — and mixes it with ramped up social commentary a la Jane Austen.  The latter half of the novel is the most action packed and is almost hurried along.  But by the end, readers get swept up in adventure, myth, and outrageous challenges and have nothing to do but enjoy the ride. 

To Enter to win 1 copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith and 1 copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben Winters:  (This giveaway is global)

1.  Leave a comment on this post about what Austen novel mash-up you want to see next.
2.  Leave a comment on my review of Pride & Prejudice and Zombies.
3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. and leave a comment with a link on this post.

Deadline is Feb. 19, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

About the Author:

Ben Allen H. Winters is a writer who lives in Brooklyn with all the other writers.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters from the FSB Associates and the publisher for review.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.




This is my 3rd book for the 2010 Jane Austen Challenge.

This is my 10th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

Thrity Umrigar’s The Weight of Heaven is a heavy with grief, emptiness, and struggle.  The Bentons (Ellie and Frank) lose their son, Benny, at age seven from meningococcus.  Ellie has liberal leanings politically and is a therapist to clients in Ann Arbor, Mich., while Frank is a proud, American business executive with residual issues of abandonment.  The loss of a child can be daunting for any family, and it is clear how grief of this magnitude can slowly rip a family apart.

“And now they were two.  Benny was gone.  What was left behind was mockery — objects and memories that mocked their earlier, smug happiness.  Benny was gone, an airplane lost behind the clouds, but he left behind a trail of smoke a mile long:”  (Page 2)

As this American couple struggles with the loss of their son, Ellie and Frank embark on a new life in India when Frank is transferred to a new HerbalSolutions factory.  The distance between them had gaped wide by this point, and both hope that the experience will help them repair their relationship and bring them closer to one another.  However, in rural India with its impoverished population, Frank and Ellie find that their values change and their current circumstances and grief dictate their reactions to one another, their servants, the local community, and other expatriates.

“Now she was trying to control the sway of her hips, trying hard to resist the tug of the pounding drums that were making her lose her inhibitions, making her want to dance manically, the way she used to in nightclubs when she was in her teens.  But that was the beauty of the dandiya dance — it celebrated the paradoxical joy of movement and restraint, of delirium within a structure.  This was not about individual expression but about community.”  (Page 220)

Readers will be absorbed by the local community and its traditions, the struggles of the Benton’s servants, and the stark beauty of India.  But what really makes this novel shine is the characters and their evolution from idealistic college students and young parents to a grief-stricken and dejected married couple in a foreign nation.  The tension between Frank and Ellie is personified in the dichotomous views each character reveals to the reader about the Indian community from the lax work environment and labor disputes at Frank’s factory to the deep-rooted sense of community and communion with nature shown through Ellie’s interactions with individuals at a local clinic.

The Weight of Heaven is more than a novel about grief; it is about how grief can distort perception and push people to make life-changing decisions that can broaden their horizons and transform them forever.  Umrigar’s prose is poetic and full of imagery that paints a vivid picture of India and its rural community and its city life in Mumbai/Bombay.  Class differences, the struggles of American expatriates, grief, death, and marital woes are explored deftly in this novel, and it is clearly one of the best novels of 2010.

To win 1 copy of The Weight of Heaven; this giveaway is international:

1.  Leave a comment about what nation you would move to or have moved to.
2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. about the giveaway.

Deadline Feb. 19, 2010, 11:59PM EST

About the Author:

Thrity Umrigar is the author of three other novels—The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time—and the memoir First Darling of the Morning. A journalist for 17 years, she is the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University and a 2006 finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award. An associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, Umrigar lives in Cleveland.

This is my 9th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 1st book for the 2010 South Asian Authors Challenge.

If you are interested in The Weight of Heaven, please check out the rest of the blog tour.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The Weight of Heaven from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review.  Clicking on title and image links will go to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated to fund international giveaways.

Simon’s Cat by Simon Tofield

Simon Tofield’s Simon’s Cat is a collection of cartoons that speak volumes about cat ownership and cat psyches. The cat has a one track mind — food. The cat finds a variety of ways to get his owner’s attention, including hitting him over the head with a baseball bat, like in this video. The cat has not only become a YouTube sensation, but this book is likely to become equally successful.

Some of the best cartoons in the book involve Simon’s cat acting like a bird feeder or bird bath hoping to catch birds. Through simple lines, shapes, and caricatures, Tofield creates an instantly recognizable and lovable cat.  There are subtle changes to each image that make the laughs even bigger.  Readers should check out Simon Tofield as he discusses how Simon’s Cat developed and how he came up with the name. Readers may find that the cartoon reminds them of other cartoon characters like Garfield, though Simon’s cat doesn’t have a dog to worry about or make look ridiculous.

Simon’s Cat by Simon Tofield can provide readers with hours of entertainment, laughs, and fun.  Through self-deprecating actions, Simon’s cat gets into all kinds of trouble and makes a lot of messes, but he’s still adorable.  A cartoon book for any cat lover, those that need a good chuckle, and it would make a good gift for any occasion.

FTC Disclosure:  I receive my copy of Simon’s Cat from A Circle of Books in a giveaway win.  Clicking on title and image links will go to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated to fund international giveaways.

I’m also counting this as my 8th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

Government Girl by Stacy Parker Aab

Stacy Parker Aab’s Government Girl chronicles her time in the White House during the Clinton Administration from the age of 18 to her early 20s.  Expecting the bulk of the memoir to be about the Monica Lewinsky scandal or the like would be a mistake, although Monica’s fall from grace could have just as well been Stacy’s story if she did not have the personal drive to achieve more, live within the confines of her duties and principles, and focus on self-satisfaction.

“You want acknowledgment — all that comes when you’ve done a good job, when you’re so deserving.  You want that light.  That hand on your shoulder.  At least if you’re like me and this sort of loving affirmation from authority figures still feeds you, even if you wish it would not.”  (Page 13 of ARC)

Being young and in politics, Stacy had a daunting task of navigating an adult world when she was not quite secure in her self-identity and still evolving as a woman.  She’s a product of a single mother, an alcoholic father, and her mixed heritage as an African-American with a mostly unknown-to-her German ancestry.  All of these elements come into play as she navigates the White House media and policy web and the knotted ropes of her possible career ladder.

“Maybe it was like going to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and seeing a rubber version of yourself blown up and ‘walking’ with the help of a dozen attendants, this version of you more than ten stories tall, knowing that your celebrity was just that, something outside you, something as big and as vulnerable as giant balloons”  (Page 87 of ARC)

The narrative of this memoir is smooth in its transitions between her intern days and her past in Troy, Michigan.  The struggles of family life and the dedication of her mother to help her out with schooling expenses and other costs clearly influenced Stacy’s drive for financial independence, even if the job opportunities at the time were not the most fun.  Politics is at the forefront of her work in the White House, but it often takes a backseat to her internal struggle to become a strong, independent woman with a clear idea of where she wishes to be and what she wishes to achieve.

“Working, I wanted that feeling of rowing on the Potomac River, that feeling in the eight with all of us pulling our oars.  Sixteen arms and sixteen legs powering that slim boat forward, as we were lead by our coxswain, as our coach called out to us from his motorized boat nearby.”  (Page 39 of ARC)

In many ways, what drives Stacy is the hole inside her — an absence of fatherly love — as she falls into transient relationships with co-workers, fellow students, and others.  While this desire to fill this emptiness does little to improve her romantic life, it does often push her to perfection in her work life.  In terms of memoir, readers will find Government Girl is deliberate, vivid, and eye-opening — especially in terms of behind-the-scenes politics.  Readers will find Stacy’s prose frank and honest, almost like a friend telling a portion of her life story to another friend.

Please stay tuned for a guest post from Stacy Parker Aab on Feb. 2, 2010.

Interested in winning 1 of 3 copies of her book (US/Canada only, sorry), please visit this giveaway link.

About the Author:  (Photo credit: David Wentworth)

Writer, blogger, and former political aide, Stacy Parker Aab served for five years in the Clinton White House, first as a long-time intern in George Stephanopoulos’s office, and later as an assistant to Paul Begala. She traveled as a presidential advance person, preparing and staffing trips abroad for the president and Mrs. Clinton. She also served as a special assistant for Gov. David Paterson in New York.  Please check out her Website.

Also check out this video where she talks about her memoir:

If you are interested in Government Girl, please check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour.

I’m also counting this as my 7th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Government Girl from the publisher for a TLC Book Tour and review.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary. 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

First, I want to apologize to the author, TLC Book Tours, and the publisher for failing to meet my deadline for this review.  I think this is one of the only times I’ve missed a deadline, and in my defense, I erroneously wrote today as my tour date and not yesterday.  Clearly, my mind was not focused!  I apologize.  OK, on with my review.

Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a pot of water on the stove that takes a long time to boil.  Henry Lee is the main protagonist, but really his story happens nearly 45 years in the past, and those are the chapters that breathe and live.  Much of the present day (1986) life of Henry Lee is somber and lifeless.

“He’d meant to finish it when his son, Marty, went away to college, but Ethel’s condition had worsened and what money they’d saved for a rainy day was spent in a downpour of medical bills, a torrent that lasted nearly a decade.”  (Page 8)

The death of his wife, Ethel, from cancer six months before happens early on in the book.  Readers are left with a drifting character who really doesn’t find his way into his own story for about 100 or more pages.  When we finally delve into his young love with Keiko, the story blossoms into an emotional torrent, especially when they are ripped apart from each other.

Discrimination is on every page given that in 1942 the United States was drawn into World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  For Henry’s father, the war began many years before when Japan invaded his homeland.  Henry and his father have a tenuous relationship — a relationship that is mirrored in the present between Henry and his own son, Marty. 

“‘He was vehemently against all things Japanese.  Even before Pearl Harbor, the war in China had been going on for almost ten years.  For his son to be frequenting that other part of town — Japantown — would have been bad form.  Shameful to him . . . ‘”  (Page 105)

Readers will appreciate the immersion into war-time America with its simmering angst against Asians — not just the Japanese — and the plight of those second generation Asians who try to maintain their livelihoods and tout their American loyalties in a nation that increasingly wanted to get rid of any reminder of war.  Overall, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a meandering novel about love, growing up, dealing with discrimination, and more, but in a way readers may find that the sequencing of events and alternating chapters between present day Henry and his younger persona could have been executed better.  In many cases the present day chapters take away from those during the war years, halting the narrative and adding little to the story’s arc.

About the Author:

Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. Ford is an award-winning short-story writer, an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. Having grown up near Seattle’s Chinatown, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.  Check out his Website or the BitterSweet Blog.

To Enter the Giveaway for 1 copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Sorry, US/Canada only):

1.  Leave a comment on this post about one moment in your past you’d like to revisit or change.
2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. the giveaway and leave a link in the comments.

Deadline is Feb. 5, 2010 at 11:59PM EST

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!!

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet from the publisher for a TLC Book Tour and review.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

This is my 6th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

If you are interested in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, please check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour.