The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel is a narrative mostly written in emails and letters, shifting from a budding friendship between young girls and blossoming into adulthood.  Beyond the emails and letters, the novel also includes recipes, which mesh well with the story as each of the girls deals with lost loves and problems with family, including Lovelorn Lasagna.

The novel begins after Valerie and Lilly have endured a 26-year silence in their friendship.  After an attempt to regain their lost companionship, the narrative shifts to letters written as children and the start of their recipe club.  Recipes are garnered from their parents, family, and friends and often coincide with events in the girls’ lives.  Many of the letters are ripe with adolescent angst and childlike retorts as they quarrel over ideals and perspectives.

“It was so awful.  I was standing in a crowd of other girls I know, and the boys came up to inspect us like we were fruit to be picked.  I only got asked to slow-dance once, by a kid who looks like Ichabod Crane with zits.  We stepped on each other’s feet so hard that I was actually relieved to sit by myself for the rest of the night.”  (page 136 of hardcover)

Valerie is a straight-laced student and highly moral girl who doesn’t understand her friend Lilly as she begins to emulate her free-spirited, actress mother more and more and rebel further against her straight-laced father.  Val spends a great deal of time wondering whether her friendship with Lilly is solid and kowtowing to her friend’s desires and opinions.  In many ways these letters get a bit trying, but eventually Val evolves into a stronger woman.  Lilly’s letters are very self-centered, which also can be exhausting, but eventually Lilly is reformed.

Overall, The Recipe Club is an interesting collection of letters, emails, and recipes that illustrate the frustrations women find in relationships with one another.  The time passes quickly with these women, but in the end, the women reach a satisfying place in their relationship.

This is my 47th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa

Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa is broken into two distinct narratives; one for Manuel Rebelo and one for his son, Antonio.  The first portion follows Manuel from his boyhood into his adulthood as he struggles with the expectations of his mother for greatness on the island of Sao Miguel, Acores, and his dream of seeing the wider world and eventually settling in Canada.  Unlike his brothers and sisters, Manuel’s light hair and blue eyes reminded his mother of her husband, who was lost at sea.  Effectively, he becomes her substitute companion and weighs him down with her expectations until he finally breaks free to live his dreams.  Unfortunately, he finds that his dreams are not so easily realized.

“Manuel used his forearms to part the stalks of corn.  His blood coursed through him.  He forged ahead, swiping at the brittle stems, nursing the anger that had pressed on him ever since he had arrived back home and Silvia had said no.”  (page 97)

De Sa uses a fast-paced narrative intertwined with folklore, tradition, and imagery to paint a picture of Manuel’s life, his homeland, and his new home in a way that they become almost surreal.  Is this man truly living his life here or is this his dream/nightmare made real.  Once Antonio takes over the narrative, the nightmare grows more surreal as family members become more like caricatures rather than people.

At times the narrative is disjointed and jostles readers from one point in time to another, making them wonder what happened in the intervening years.  However, the story does not lose its edge.  It demonstrates that love, even between father and son, mother and son, and even siblings is not always smooth and without obstacles.  Can forgiveness and love triumph over the wrongs each feels the other has done and will their dreams become reality?

“‘My husband used to say that men are all barnacles.  A barnacle starts out lie swimming freely in the ocean.  But, when it matures, it must settle down and choose a home.  My dear husband used to say that it chooses to live with other barnacles of the same kind so that they can mate.'”  (page 108)

Barnacle Love relies heavily on ocean imagery and the surreal-ness of its characters to illustrate the hurt that comes with family, but also the great love that stirs beneath its bristling core.  Anthony De Sa has created a memorable journey of Portuguese-Canadian immigrants that will leave readers wanting more and spending additional time trying to figure out the characters’ motivations.

This is my 46th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning is the first in the MacKayla Lane fantasy/paranormal series and is a wild ride into the unseen aspects of our own world where the Fae live among us behind masks. Mackayla has a pretty carefree life in Georgia as a bartender and part-time college student living at home with her parents.  Her sister Alina lives in Ireland where she attends college full-time, but the sisters remain close and talk on the phone almost daily.

Unfortunately, this charmed life comes to an end when her sister is murdered in a foreign country, and it seems like the police simply give up on the case.  Haunted by the images of her sister’s mangled body and the deterioration of her family, Mac decides its time to go to Ireland and track down a killer.  Once there, she’s faced with startling images and a realization that she’s not as normal as she thought she was.

“It was gray and leprous from head to toe, covered with oozing open sores.  It was sort of human, by that I mean it had the basic parts:  arms, legs, head.  But that was where the resemblance ended.  It’s face was twice as tall as a human head and squished thin, no wider than my palm.  Its eyes were black with no irises or whites.”  (Page 94)

Moning’s writing is vivid, and MacKayla is a strong female lead in this suspenseful book that incorporates the paranormal.  Once in Ireland, Mac’s world is flung in many different directions and she has to determine which end is up and what the best route to take is.  She’s feisty — even when she’s in denial — particularly when faced with beings more powerful than herself and one’s that attempt to impose their will on her.  With additional characters, including some Fae and the imposing Jericho Barrons, there are plenty of twists and turns in this novel.

Readers will enjoy their introduction to the Fae world and to Mac.  Moning is a wonderful writer.  As a first introduction to this paranormal world, readers will find they can still be grounded in reality.  Darkfever provides just a taste of Mac’s new world and will leave readers wanting more.

About the Author:

Karen Marie Moning was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, one of four children. She graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Society and Law. After a decade of working with insurance litigation and arbitration, she quit her job to pursue her dream of a writing career. Four manuscripts and countless part-time jobs later, Beyond the Highland Mist was published by Bantam Dell and nominated for two prestigious RITA awards. Author of the beloved HIGHLANDER series and the thrilling new FEVER series, featuring MacKayla Lane, a sidhe seer. Her novels have appeared on The New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestsellers lists, and have received many industry awards, including the RITA.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Random House, and Karen Marie Moning for sending me a copy of Darkfever for review.

Giveaway for US/Canada only:

1 copy of Shadowfever, the newest book in the series that hits stores in December.

1.  Leave a comment about if you’ve read about the Fae or what you would like to know about the Fae.

2.  Tweet, Blog, Facebook, etc. and leave a link for a second entry.

Deadline:  Sept. 10, 2010, 11:59PM EST

Giveaway for International (outside US/Canada only):

1 copy of Darkfever, the first book in the series, gently used.

1.  Leave a comment about what part of my review intrigues you most.

2.  Tweet, Blog, Facebook, Etc. the giveaway and leave a link for a second entry.

Deadline is Sept. 10, 2010, 11:59PM EST


See the rest of the MacKayla Lane tour stops.

This is my 42nd book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 14th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Because All Is Not Lost by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Sweta Srivastava Vikram‘s Because All Is Not Lost is a new chapbook of poems about grief and recovery.  While recovering from grief is never the same for everyone, these poems speak to the void that death can leave.

“One day she will stop/digging up maggots of loss/breeding in her memory.//” (From Convalescence, page 18)

Vikram uses simple imagery and encapsulated stories to illustrate grief and the possible reactions to loss.  In the introduction, the poets explains her inspiration for the collection, the deaths of her grandfather and her mother’s sister.  The collection is sad and weighs heavily on the reader, and readers should consider taking each poem in separately to absorb their meaning.  However, there are rays of hope within the poems.

From A permanent address, “Flood of affection is what I get from her -/jasmine flowers mixed with olive and a soft kiss// of assurance.  She whispers/that it was a recurring nightmare./That I was safe” (page 20)

Because All Is Not Lost is a chapbook that will affect readers like no other poetry collection. Readers will be absorbed by the grief and the glimmers of light as the narrators deal with emptiness and blame.

***Thanks to the poet Sweta Srivastava Vikram for sending me a copy for review***

Now for the global giveaway; 2 copies up for grabs:

1.  Leave a comment about a moment of loss you’ve felt and how you dealt with it.

2.  Blog, Facebook, or Tweet this giveaway and leave a link here.

Deadline Aug. 27, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

This is my 10th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 41st book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway‘s How to Be an American Housewife is reminiscent of Amy Tan and Lisa See’s fiction in that the main characters are of Asian descent and struggle with cultural differences and generational gaps that hamper their ability to relate with one another smoothly.

“After the first hour watching scratchy TV in the blood lab, I wished I had a book with me.  Charlie and I weren’t big readers.  Books were too expensive and library books were full of germs from all the people who had checked them out.”  (page 123 of ARC)

Shoko is a Japanese woman who marries an American soldier, Charlie, shortly after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  She tells her story of how she moved from a happy childhood to a tumultuous adolescence at a time when her nation was occupied by a foreign invader and her family had lost its position in the caste society.  She’s an independent woman still beholden to Japanese traditions, though she takes time out to find true love.

“I understood then that my skills in school or in sports would not make my life come about in the way I wished.  I took my bows at that recital, vowing I would learn what I needed and make the best marriage possible.”  (page 6 of ARC)

Her trip down memory lane, unfortunately, is a bit stilted with little emotion, which could make it harder for readers to connect with Shoko.  However, once readers are engaged with Shoko’s struggles as an American housewife as she adapts to different cultural norms and strives to raise her children properly.  Mike and Suiko, her children, are as different as night and day, with Mike floating through life and Suiko taking her responsibilities to heart even to the detriment of her own dreams.  Shoko’s relationship with her children is strained, but she must soon learn to rely on them when she tries to reunite with her estranged brother, Taro.

Dilloway’s novel is captivating as Shoko continues to tell her story and when her daughter, Sue takes over the narration when she heads to Japan to learn about her family’s past and reconcile her family after many decades of silence.  As a debut, it is solid in drawing dynamic characters and creating fun dialogue between Shoko and Charlie and between Sue and Helena, Shoko’s granddaughter.  Three generations populate these pages, but really How to Be an American Housewife is a story about the strong, independent women in this family.

About the Author:

Margaret Dilloway was inspired by her Japanese mother’s experiences when she wrote this novel, and especially by a book her father had given to her mother called The American Way of Housekeeping. She lives in Hawaii with her husband and three young children.

Please follow her on Twitter, check out her blog, and view the reading group guide for her debut novel.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Penguin, and Margaret Dilloway for sending me a copy of How to Be an American Housewife for review.

This is my 40th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose is the third book in the Reincarnationist series and FBI Lucian Glass remains on the trail of Dr. Malachai Samuels.

Reincarnation and the use of memory tools to reach deep into past lives reappears in this novel, alongside the use of hypnosis.  Glass is recovering from injuries sustained in The Memorist (If you missed my review of book 2, The Memorist, please check it out.), but he’s not eager to sit out the investigation on the sidelines.  In Vienna, he’s accosted while looking at the only translation of a list of memory tools, which would surely entice Samuels.

But there are other mysteries to be solved beyond who steals the list.  The Iranian government is eager to get its hands on a sculpture of Hypnos, even if it means court battles and other underhanded means.  Lucian’s past also resurfaces when a painting stolen from a framing shop where his girlfriend worked reappears more than 20 years later slashed to bits.

“Young and handsome, with sensitive eyes, sensuous lips and a finely wrought nose, his bone structure was elegant and the expression on his face was both sultry and serene . . . as if he was slipping into a dream himself.” (Page 105)

M.J. Rose carefully crafts a variety of characters and weaves in several story lines, while maintaining suspense and drama.  Not only are their mysteries to solve and memory tools to find, but Lucian must find himself and reconcile his past lives in order to move beyond the 20-year ball of pain he’s carried in his chest.  Overall, The Hypnotist is a fast-paced, absorbing read that will keep you on the edge of your seat this summer, but this thriller is a thinking-person’s game.  Can you solve the mysteries before FBI agent Glass?  The only way to find out is to pick up your copy or enter this giveaway!

About the Author:

M.J. Rose is the internationally bestselling author of several novels and two non-fiction books on marketing.  Check out her website, follow her on Twitter, and on Facebook. Check out a 100-page sampler from the Reincarnationist series.

The television series Past Life was based on Rose’s Reincarnationist series. The real stories about how she was inspired to write each book in this series as well as the knowledge she has about reincarnation and the art world make Rose an interesting and compelling blog guest. She’d love to visit.

Giveaway Details:  1 copy of The Hypnotist and a phoenix pin (US/Canada)

1.  Leave a comment on this post about whether you believe in reincarnation or not and why?

2.  Don’t forget to leave a way for me to contact you.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. and leave me a link for an additional entry.

Deadline is August 13, 2010, 11:59 PM EST

This is my 13th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Thanks to M.J. Rose, Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc., and TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of The Hypnotist for review.

A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper

Jim Hooper‘s A Hundred Feet Over Hell is a true account of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company, with which his brother Bill served as one of the Myth Makers flying single-engine Cessnas that were extremely vulnerable to artillery and other ground fire.  These men were charged with flying over hot zones and locating the enemy for bombers, giving precise coordinates for dropping bombs and napalm.

“Rather than sharing our joy at his return, Bill was angry.  Not because of the crippling wound received in an unpopular war — he accepted that as part of what he had signed on for.  The anger came from being here.  In a demonstration of uncompromising loyalty over logic, it was, he believed, a betrayal of the warrior family he’d left behind.”  (Page xi)

Hooper has captured the essence of these men and their time in Vietnam from their crazy stunts to the moments when they feared for their lives.  Through alternating points of view the stories unfold quickly as one man feeds off and expands on the story being told by their friend and colleague.  Readers will meet characters like Doc Clement and Charlie Finch, but these men are not characters, but real human beings who lived through the harsh realities of war.

“Bill Hooper:  . . . I can’t remember more of that day, save weeping in the privacy of my room.  Perhaps the saddest thing of all was that I would learn to be unemotional about killing, eventually joining others who were very good at it.”  (Page 23)

Hooper pulls no punches in the organization of this book and doesn’t seem to modify the military language these men used on a regular basis; some examples include VC for Viet Cong and DMZ for demilitarized zone, which is clearly a misnomer, to the lesser known terms DASC for Direct Air Support Control Center and Kit Carson scout for those former Viet Cong recruited to assist with counterintelligence.  Readers of military history and fiction are likely to understand many of these acronyms and terms easily, but others may have to refer to the provided glossary.  However, once they get a grip on the terminology, readers will plunge into the narrative easily, getting to know each of the soldiers and how they coped with the war.

A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper will remind readers of those in-the-field journalistic interviews with soldiers and those documentaries where one soldier begins a story only to be continued by another soldier, providing a deeper impact.  Each man shares their fears, their triumphs, and their more embarrassing moments.  One of the best books about the Vietnam War, not about infantry.

Please check out this book trailer to see what these men flew over enemy territory without armor or weapons.

A Hundred Feet Over Hell

Please also check out these great photos.

About the Author:

After graduating with a degree in Slavic Studies from the University of South Florida, Jim Hooper worked as a documentary research-writer for WFLA-TV in Tampa, with weekends set aside as a skydiving instructor and team captain. He gave up television after three years to devote himself full time to jumping out of airplanes, logging over 3000 freefalls and building the world’s premier skydiving center in Zephyrhills, Florida. His thirst for adventure unfulfilled, he sold the business in 1984 to realize a long-held dream of being a war correspondent and author, making his home in England and setting off for Africa.

I want to thank Lisa Roe at Online Publicist and the author Jim Hooper for sending me a copy of A Hundred Feet Over Hell for review.

This is my 39th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 7th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland

As part of the Graywolf Press — one of my favorite small presses that publishes poetry and fiction — Spotlight on Small Presses (click on the badge at the bottom of the post for the tour stops), I chose a poetry book to review, which I picked up at the 2010 Book Expo America.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland is his first collection of poems in 10 years, according to the Graywolf representative at the expo.  The collection features poems that call into question the realities of the modern world from our dating rituals to our trips to the mall food court.

In “Big Grab,” Hoagland suggests language is taking on meanings that are less than they are.  “The Big Grab,/so the concept of Big is quietly modified/to mean More Or Less Large, or Only Slightly/Less Big than Before.// Confucius said this would happen –/that language would be hijacked and twisted/”  (page 5).  This collection not only tackles the language changes our society faces and what those changes mean, but it also looks carefully at the world of celebrity in “Poor Britney Spears.”

Expensive Hotel (page 24)

When the middle-class black family in the carpeted hall
passes the immigrant housekeeper from Belize, oh
that is an interesting moment.  One pair of eyes is lowered.

That’s how you know you are part
of a master race — where someone
humbles themselves without even having to be asked.

And in the moment trembling
from the stress of its creation,
we feel the illness underneath our skin —

the unquenchable wish to be thought well of
wilting and dying a little
while trying to squeeze by

the cart piled high with fresh towels and sheets,
small bars of soap and bottles
of bright green shampoo,

which are provided for guests to steal.

Hoagland’s crisp language and vivid imagery is deftly weaved with philosophical and societal questions we all should be answering or at least asking.  Has modern society twisted our culture into something worthwhile or is it something that should be tossed in the trash as a bad experiment.  However, there are moments of humor and deep sarcasm throughout the volume that offset one another to make readers ponder what the poet really desires from the modern world.  Readers will come away from the collection with a new focus on examining society and their part in it –whether they decide to continue assimilating is up to them.  Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty is a thought-provoking collection that urges readers to be unique and to think outside the box.

This is my 9th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 38th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Free to a Good Home by Eve Marie Mont

Eve Marie Mont‘s Free to a Good Home is a delightful read about Noelle Ryan whose husband, Jay, has finally told her his deepest secret — he’s gay — effectively obliterating her dream and forcing her to reassess her life.  Noelle has a successful, if stressful, career as a veterinary technician, but she occupies most of her time with her family and the dogs at the shelter, rather than coping with her own problems.  She’d rather solve everyone else’s problems and be the good person that everyone leans on when they need consoling or help.

“‘Sure,’ I say, handing him my cup.  He’s cute.  Messy brown hair, crinkly eyes, and that sexy clenched jaw thing.  Too cute.  A turn-your-brain-to-clotted-cream cute.”  (page 32)

Noelle is passionate about saving animals and finding them homes, but she’s also passionate about helping people, including her WASP ex-mother-in-law, Margaret, who made her marriage miserable. However, what will get to readers is how much of a doormat Noelle is when it comes to Jay; he asks her to do many unthinkable favors including taking care of his mother.  Many readers will want to scream at this character and beat her back to her senses.  While Jay is not a bad guy per se, he crosses the line in his relationship with Noelle, which effectively prevents her from moving on with her life even after she meets a gorgeous musician named Jasper.

“‘Luxwood Victorian Gardens.’

‘They make it sound so pleasant.  Like you’re staying in some luxurious estate, Blithewold Mansion for the physically impaired.’

‘Well, they have to do that to get people in the door.  They can’t very well call the place Let-Us-Steal-Your Independence Gardens.’


‘Watch-Jeopardy-Until-You-Die-Village.'”  (page 193)

However, Mont’s writing is engaging and dramatic and even humorous.  If you love animals and a bit of romance in your summer reading with a good dose of drama, Free to a Good Home will fit your needs.

About the Author:

Eve Mont lives with her husband, Ken, and her shelter dog, Maggie, in suburban Philadelphia, where she teaches high school English and creative writing. Free to a Good Home is her first novel, which was released on  July 6, 2010. She is currently working on her second novel.


This is my 37th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri

Heather Barbieri‘s The Lace Makers of Glenmara is set in Ireland as the main character, Kate Robinson, leaves her life in the United States to take the journey to her ancestral lands that she was supposed to take with her mother.   She leaves her home after failing to make it with her own clothing line and the break-up of her relationship with Ethan.  After a rough journey in the rainy countryside, Kate happens upon the small village of Glenmara and its quirky residents from motherly widow Bernice to abrasive Aileen.

“Everyone had been so sure she and Ethan would get married, that she would catch the bouquet at the medieval wedding they attended that March (the couple being devoted not only to each other but to the Society for Creative Anachronism), the event at which he left her, if not at the altar, just southwest of it, next to an ice sculpture of a knight in shining armor that had begun to melt, a moat of water at his feet, his sword soon no more than a toothpick.”  (Page 6)

Switching between points of view, Kate’s perspective is rounded out by the narration of William the traveler, Aileen, and Bernie.  Readers will be drawn into the stories of Kate and her friends as they search for peace and acceptance among themselves and others. Each of these women deals with not only sorrow and loss, but also shaken confidence.

“‘Like Colleen said, mistakes aren’t necessarily a problem,’ Bernie told her.  ‘Sometimes they lead you in a different direction.  Who says you always need to follow the rules?  Breaking the pattern can be the very best thing, even though it can be scary at first.'”  (Page 91)

Barbieri creates a cast of characters as tumultuous as the weather and diverse as the scenery of Ireland.  Kate is broken, and many of the other characters are broken as well.  It takes lace making and camaraderie to heal.  Glenmara, unfortunately, is a town in the middle of nowhere where religion is more than a passing moment on Sundays.  Can these women overcome their own fears and rekindle the beauty within themselves?

The prologue to the novel, however, that outlines what you need to sew and draws parallels between sewing and life changes is a bit overwrought, especially when Kate becomes part of the lace making guild.  Readers are likely to draw those parallels on their own without shining a bright light on it.

Meanwhile, the evolution of these characters and what they cultivate through their friendships is an amazing transformation for these women that will leave readers wondering what relationships in their lives have transformed them.  Barbieri’s writing is captivating and will pull readers into the Irish countryside.  An emotional evolution for the characters and readers set against the backdrop of beautiful Irish hills and cliffs.  Be ready to jump off and join them.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour stops.

About the Author

Heather Barbieri is half-Irish. Her paternal ancestors left counties Donegal and Tipperary  after The Great Famine and worked in the coal mines of Eastern Pennsylvania before settling in Butte, Montana. Her impeccably dressed maternal grandmother was a descendant of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and instilled an avid interest in fashion in her granddaughters. Barbieri’s first novel, Snow in July (Soho Press), was selected as a Book Sense Pick, a Glamour magazine “Riveting Read,” and a Library Journal Notable First Novel. Before turning to writing fiction full-time, she was a magazine editor, journalist, and film critic. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and three children, and is currently working on her third novel.

Also check her out on Facebook.

This is my 3rd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

This is my 36th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Guilt Gene by Diana M. Raab

Diana M. Raab‘s The Guilt Gene is a collection steeped in nostalgia that fails to glorify the past.  The collection is broken down into six sections:  “Cherry Blossoms, Book Tour, Two Evils, The Devil Wears a Poem, Yad Vashem, and California Roll.”  Additionally, “guilt” is defined in the pages preceding the table of contents, although most readers are aware of its definition and uses.

In “Cherry Blossoms,” Raab revisits the bloom of her youth when she was just beginning to discover boys and realize that she wasn’t popular with her classmates.  Hindsight is 20-20 in these poems as she examines how the behavior of her mother impacted her adolescence, particularly in “Moth Balls.”

The “Book Tour” section of the book is amazing in its raw honesty about never taking advantage of friendships because they are incredibly loyal and the emotional toll writing books, publishing them, and marketing them to the general public.  Raab discusses how writing is a reflection of who authors and poets actually are, the depression that follows the completion of a book, and many other scenarios.

Author Blues (page 26)

If women after delivering a baby

suffer post-partum,

why can’t writers

after delivering a book

suffer post-ISBN?

Raab’s frank perspective is like a hammer hitting readers with a deep sense of loss in “Two Evils.”  Her personal struggle with breast cancer is vivid and pulsates with anger, but also with confusion and a child-like wonder about the world around her.  Like her previous collection, Dear Anais (my review), some of the poems take on the tone of a diarist, an observer of life.  The Guilt Gene covers a range of events and emotions, and Raab will draw in readers through her casual tone, witty turn of phrase, and images that anchor readers to a time and place.  One of the best collections I’ve read this year. 

Thanks to Bostick Communications and Shirley at Newman Communications for sending along The Guilt Gene by Diana M. Raab for review.

This is my 7th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein

Garth Stein’s Raven Stole the Moon was originally printed in 1998, but was recently republished by Harper following Stein’s success with The Art of Racing in the Rain (my review). The Tlingit legend — including that of Raven — that becomes Jenna Rosen’s life is absorbing, blurring the lines of reality and folklore.  Jenna’s life fell apart upon the death of her son in an accident, and she spirals out of control, seeing psychiatrists and taking addictive pharmacological substances.  After emerging from a drug haze, she and her husband Robert go through the motions until Jenna makes a definitive move to change her life.

“The two options were mutually exclusive.  There was no middle ground.  Maybe I’m a little crazy and there are some spirits.  No.  It was either/or.  And Jenna was determined to find out which.”  (Page 199)

Set in the 1990s in Alaska and Washington State where it’s about “recapturing the glory of the eighties at a discount,” Stein crafts a surreal tale where reality blends with the past, the present, and folklore turning men into beasts and soul robbers and generating three dimensional characters ready to deal with the unknown and irreparable grief.

“Digging deep down into the crust of the earth, pumping black goo up to the surface, cooking it in aluminum containers so it can be used in a BMW.  The evolution of Man smells like gasoline.”  (Page 35)

Despite the tragedy in these pages, readers are on the edge of their seats as they ride with Jenna through the Alaskan wilderness to unravel the mystery behind her son’s death and uncover her heritage as a descendant of the Tlingit tribe.  Along the way, Jenna is joined by a lonely young man and a wild dog, while being pursued by a private investigator hired by her husband to find her.  Just as Jenna relaxes, the unknown creeps up on her alongside the harsh reality of the life she left behind, which all threatens to impinge on her life suspended in limbo.

Stein not only create dynamic characters; Dr. David Livingstone, the shaman who is consulted during the construction of Thunder Bay, resembles the original from Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness who was based upon a real missionary and explorer of Africa.  Stein’s Livingstone undergoes a transformation to take on the visage of evil, but he is also a presence that hovers over the story, like Conrad’s character.

Readers will be surprised by how much is packed into Raven Stole the Moon and by how quickly the story unravels and carries them along down river with Jenna and her compatriots.  The only possible nit-picky thing to point out is that the time line gets a bit muddled when jumping between the story of how Thunder Bay came to be and Jenna’s current journey, which could have been rectified by revealing the story of Thunder Bay as Jenna makes her way through the wilderness.  However, that is a minor complaint in an otherwise captivating, suspenseful story that readers will be hard pressed to forget when the final page is turned.

This is my 10th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.