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The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

C.W. Gortner‘s third book, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, has all the best elements of historical, royal fiction from political strife to women sold in marriage to keep the peace.  Like his previous book, The Last Queen which I reviewed, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is chock full of drama as Catherine is taken from her home shortly after surviving an angry mob in Florence and betrothed to Henri, one of the sons in line for the throne of France.

“How little they know me.  How little anyone knows me.  Perhaps it was ever my fate to dwell alone in the myth of my own life, to bear witness to the legend that has sprung around me like some venomous bloom.  I have been called murderess and opportunist, savior and victim.  And along the way, become far more than was ever expected of me, even if loneliness was always present, like a faithful hound at my heels.

The truth is, not one of us is innocent.

We all have sins to confess.”  (Page 3)

Catherine learns of her gift at a very young age but is frightened by what her visions mean for her and her future.  Despite her misgivings about her gift, she relies on seers and fortunetellers to guide her path and that of her blossoming family.  Her marriage is in name only as her husband favors his mistress blatantly in court, and she is forced to endure the shame of it.  Catherine is a strong woman determined to maintain her pride and courtly manner even though it is constantly tested by Henri’s mistress Diane de Poitiers and the thorny politics of her new nation.

Enter, Nostradamus — yes, THE Nostradamus — to issue cryptic predictions and advice to Catherine as she and her adopted nation of France teeter on the brink of religious war.  His advice is invaluable to her as she navigates the political and religious turmoil of France, though his appearances are brief, almost as if he were an apparition.

“As I passed the alcove, I sensed a presence.  I whirled about.  I couldn’t contain my gasp when I saw Nostradamus materialize as if from nowhere.  ‘You scared me to death! How did you get in here?’

‘Through the door,’ he said, ‘No one noticed.'”  (Page 182)

The novel reads like a set of confessions from Catherine herself as she analyzes her past, her faults, and her passions.  Gortner crafts very strong, royal women that draw from historical fact and weaves in a captivating narrative that will leave readers struggling to adjust to their own lives once they’ve finished the last page.  The Confessions of Catherine de Medici will round out the character of the woman thought to be one of the most ruthless leaders of France as she acted as regent for her young sons, highlighting the motivations of her decisions at a time when there were no right answers.  One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Check out the Q&A about Confessions of Catherine de Medici.

About the Author:

C.W. Gortner‘s fascination with history is a lifetime pursuit. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and often travels to research his books. He has experienced life in a medieval Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall; dug through library archives all over Europe; and tried to see and touch — or, at least, gaze at through impenetrable museum glass — as many artifacts of the era as he can find.

The Giveaway:

I have 1 reader’s copy up for grabs.  The giveaway is international.

***added bonus for the winner, a Catherine de Medici medallion***

1.  Leave a comment about what confession you hope to read about in Gortner’s book.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a link in the comments.

Deadline is July 4, 2010 at 11:59PM EST

The Journey Home by Michael Baron

Michael Baron’s The Journey Home is a very personal work of fiction based upon the author’s parents’ marriage and love for one another.

Joseph awakens with no memory of who he is and embarks on a road trip to jog his memory with the help of a young teen, Will.  Meanwhile, Antoinette is an elderly woman living in an assisted living facility who is slowly losing her grip on reality and living in her past.

“He recognized some of the cities, not enough to identify with any of them, but enough to know that he’d heard of them before.  He had a feeling that he’d been an avid baseball fan, but at gunpoint, he wouldn’t have been able to name the team that played in Chicago.  It was as though his memory were playing an elaborate game of peek-a-boo with him, revealing part of itself for an instant before hiding away again.”  (Page 44)

Baron’s prose lulls readers into an alternate universe as they watch the struggles of these characters to find their way home.  More than the journey home, this novel deals with the harsh realities of old age and Alzheimer’s disease and the toll that takes on not only caregivers, but also family members.  Another enjoyable aspect of the novel is the detailed cooking descriptions as Warren, Antoinette’s son, tries to discover a new path after losing his wife and his corporate job.

The Journey Home is part love story and part mystery that will leave readers guessing.  Baron creates characters that tease and please and who struggle with discovering themselves and where their true home lies.  The journey home is long and full of bumps in the road, but it is one of self-discovery and the call of one’s soul mate.

Thanks to The Story Plant for sending me a copy for review.

Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

While I attend some great panels and meet some authors and publishers in New York City this week, I didn’t want to leave my readers high and dry for reviews. My mom, Pat, has supplied me with enough reviews to get you through until my return. Please give her a warm welcome. If you want, check out my thoughts on Alex Cross’s Trial.

Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo begins with Alex Cross transcribing the story of his great uncle Abraham to make sure his children know there is more than one hero in the family.  The story takes place in Eudora, Mississippi, in the 1900s.  Ben Corbett has been asked by President Roosevelt to investigate ruors of the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings of Black folk in the south.

In this story, attorney Ben Corbett heads back to his hometown in the south to investigate the rumors.  Dealing with slavery, racism, and more, Alex Cross’s Trial is an action packed, suspenseful story.  It will have readers on pins and needles at all times, keeping you interested until its conclusion.  Another five-star read from Patterson.

Thanks to Hachette for sending a free copy of this book for review.

True Blue by David Baldacci

While I attend some great panels and meet some authors and publishers in New York City this week, I didn’t want to leave my readers high and dry for reviews. My mom, Pat, has supplied me with enough reviews to get you through until my return. Please give her a warm welcome.

True Blue by David Baldacci follows former Washington, D.C., cop Mace Perry and her sister Beth, who is the police chief.  Mace was kidnapped and framed for a crime, which she did not commit, and was sent to prison.  Mace spent two years in prison, lost her job, badge, and freedom.

Once released from prison, Mace sets off to right the wrong that had been done to her and find the true criminal who set her up and sent her to prison.  Beth introduces her sister to Roy Kingman, an attorney.  Together, Mace and Roy work to clear her name.  The bulk of the novel focuses on the nasty people they encounter and the people set in their path to derail the process of clearing Mace’s name.

Baldacci has written a fast-paced novel that will entice readers to keep turning the pages until the very end.  This is my first Baldacci book and would recommend this author to others.  Very enjoyable and suspenseful read.  Five stars.

Thanks to Hachette for sending along a free copy of True Blue for review.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip with Vienna, Va., author David Baldacci and his Washington, D.C., cops.

The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

While I attend some great panels and meet some authors and publishers in New York City this week, I didn’t want to leave my readers high and dry for reviews. My mom, Pat, has supplied me with enough reviews to get you through until my return. Please give her a warm welcome.

Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song tells the story of Ronnie Miller, a sullen 17 year old.  She and her little brother come to visit their estranged father in North Carolina.  Her father, Steve, is a musical composer and has been on the outs with his family ever since he left them years ago.  Ronnie has musical talent like her father, and she has a criminal record for shoplifting.

This coming of age story is about redemption in the light of tragedy as a father reaches out to his estranged children during their summer vacation.  How does his daughter view him? Will their shared talents unite them once again? The Last Song is appropriately titled and is a five-star read.

Thanks to Hachette for sending along a free copy for review.

Worst Case by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

While I attend some great panels and meet some authors and publishers in New York City this week, I didn’t want to leave my readers high and dry for reviews. My mom, Pat, has supplied me with enough reviews to get you through until my return. Please give her a warm welcome.

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge’s Worst Case is another in the Michael Bennett detective series set in New York.  In this novel, a son of one of New York’s wealthy elite is kidnapped off the street and held hostage.  The twist is that the parents do not have a ransom demand to meet and the prospects of saving their son appear grim.

The killer seems to like playing games with his victims and their families, quizzing the kidnapped victim and killing them if the answers they give are incorrect.  Bennett must follow the clues left for him to solve the case.

However, one kidnap victim was smarter than the others and she answers all the questions correctly.  Surprisingly, she is freed.  Patterson does a great job leaving the killer a mystery; the last person readers would suspect is the killer.

Another fast read with spell-binding action.  Five stars.

Thanks to Hachette for sending along a free copy of Worst Case for review.

Swimsuit by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Mailbox Monday will be postponed until my return.

While I attend some great panels and meet some authors and publishers in New York City this week, I didn’t want to leave my readers high and dry for reviews.  My mom, Pat, has supplied me with enough reviews to get you through until my return.  Please give her a warm welcome.

James Patterson and Maxine Paetro‘s Swimsuit takes place in Hawaii, the perfect place to wear a swimsuit and get some sun.  It is also a perfect place to conduct a photo shoot, but that’s when the fun begins because a breathtaking model Kim McDaniels disappears.

After her disappearance, her parents, who live in Grand Rapids, Mich., receive an anonymous phone call about her disappearance, which causes them to quickly get on a plane to find out the real scoop.  Ben Hawkins, a former cop and now reporter for the Los Angeles Times, is assigned the disapearance story.  However, McDaniels’ disappearance soon spirals into an investigation of a serial killer who kidnaps and brutally murders models while taping the crimes.

Another action filled novel from James Patterson that takes you to new locations in Hawaii and Europe and keeps you reading until the very end.  Another five star read.

Thanks to Hachette for sending a free copy of Swimsuit for review.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Beth Hoffman‘s debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, has become a New York Times bestseller, and what a debut it is.  Her novel is a prime example of what’s great about southern fiction from the enveloping summer heat of Georgia to the fragrant aroma of orchids and other flowers.  CeeCee Honeycutt is a young girl living in Ohio mainly with her mother as her father travels weekly for his job, but she’s got more worries than just school and peer pressure — her mother is slowly losing her grip.

“‘Oysters are a lot like women.  It’s how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty.’  She fell silent for a moment and gazed out the window.  ‘They say there’s no such thing as a perfect pearl — that nothing from nature can ever be truly perfect.'”  (page 255)

Eventually, CeeCee comes to live with her great aunt Tallulah “Tootie” Caldwell, who is a busy society woman interested in preserving the historical structures in Savannah.  In many ways the restoration of these homes resembles the rebuilding CeeCee must accomplish after her life is irrevocably altered.  At the young age of 12, CeeCee must contend with tragedy, being an outcast, the confusing emotions about her parents, and fitting in with a society that is foreign to her.

“Momma left her red satin shoes in the middle of the road.  That’s what three eyewitnesses told the police.”  (Page 1)

Hoffman creates dynamic characters in CeeCee, Mrs. Odell, Oletta, and Tootie, but she also has crafted a supporting cast of eccentric older women who are neighbors and have their own problems and tensions with one another.  Picture large hats, garden parties, and soirees, and you’ll be transported in CeeCee’s Georgia, away from her hometown in Ohio.

“The bedsheets were damp with humidity and sleep, and from the pillowcase I detected a familiar scent:  it was just like the lavender sachets Mrs. Odell made every year as Christmas gifts.  I rubbed my eyes and tried to sit up, but I was nestled deep in the feather bed, like a baby bird in a nest.”  (page 57)

“Though she’d long since passed the zenith of youth, unmistakable remnants of a mysterious beauty oozed from the pores of her porcelain-white skin.  Swirling around her ankles, as light as smoke and the color of midnight, was a silk caftan splashed with bits of silver glitter.”  (page 81)

Readers will be absorbed in CeeCee’s evolution from young, responsible woman caring for her mother to a mischievous child lashing out and back to a young lady becoming content in her own skin.  Hoffman does an excellent job of painting Georgia and its traditional society in a nostalgic hue that enables readers to grasp that CeeCee is remembering this period of her life fondly and with greater clarity than she probably did as a child.  Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is captivating debut novel and coming-of-age story about a young lady who has lost her way, only to find a new chapter has begun.

About the Author:

Beth Hoffman was the president and owner of a major interior design studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, before turning to writing full time. She lives with her husband and two cats in a quaint historic district in Newport, Kentucky. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is her first novel.

Thanks to Penguin and Inkwell Management for sending me a free copy of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt for review.

Check out the other tour stops:

5/17 & 5/18 – Devourer of Books

5/19 & 5/20 – Diary of an Eccentric

5/21 – Savvy Verse & Wit

5/22 – Medieval Bookworm

5/23 – lit*chick

5/24 – A Novel Menagerie

5/25 – The Tome Traveller’s Weblog

5/26 – Peeking Between the Pages

5/27 – Steph Su Reads

5/28 – Galleysmith

5/29 – The Literate Housewife Review

Giveaway details — three copies for US/Canada readers and one copy for an international reader:

1.  Leave a comment about why you want to read this book; don’t forget to let me know if you are living outside the United States or Canada.

2.  Leave a comment on the guest post.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a comment on this post.

4.  Become a Facebook fan of the blog and leave a comment.

Deadline is June 2, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST.

This is my 33rd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

On Folly Beach by Karen White

Karen White‘s On Folly Beach shifts between two time periods — 2009 and 1942 — and between two women’s lives — Emmy Hamilton and Lulu.  Emmy lost her husband six months ago to the war in Afghanistan and loves solving mysteries with old documents and books, and Lulu is a complicated older woman with a lot of secrets and a penchant for bottle tree artistry.

“The shirt was a poor substitute for his arms, and wearing it in Ben’s absence was something her mother had told her was like swimming with a raincoat.”  (page 2)

Emmy is empty in her grief and unwilling to move on, but her mother convinces her to move from Indiana to South Carolina and buy a bookstore, Folly’s Finds, which served as the model for her mother’s bookstore.  Once in her newly rented house, she meets Lulu, her grandson Heath, Heath’s mother Abigail, and the rest of the family.  But her journey begins with a box of old books, and she strives to unravel the mystery of two star-crossed lovers.  Emmy has a journey back to the living to embark upon as well.

“‘Like right now? Don’t you need a bathing suit?’

He smiled and the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes reminded Emmy of his mother.  ‘Don’t need one.’  He walked past her, then stopped when he realized she wasn’t following him.

‘I’ll wait here.’

“I’ll keep my shorts on, promise.'”  (page 129)

White’s characters have their own personalities and evolve carefully over the alternating chapters.  The WWII chapters transport readers back in time, making the fear of war as vivid as the dances on the ocean pier.  But with the prevalence of chapters in the present, it is clear that this is Emmy and Lulu’s story. Emmy becomes the amateur detective that Lulu played when she was a young girl living with her sister, Maggie and cousin Cat.

On Folly Beach by Karen White uses a variety of water and wind imagery to mimic the foolish choices made by the main characters and mirror the dramatic choices that they make out of loyalty and love.  White creates dynamic characters who are deeply flawed and who are in search of peace and love, like many of us.  Bibliophiles will enjoy the literary references, the characters named for Elizabeth Bennet and Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, and the quotes in the margins.  Another Karen White novel that engages, mystifies, and satisfies readers as they unwind the puzzles of On Folly Beach.

Please check out the rest of the stops on the tour. And check back tomorrow for a guest post on Karen White’s writing space.

About the Author:

Karen’s novel The Memory of Water was a WXIA-TV Atlanta & Company Book Club Selection. Her work has been reviewed in Southern Living, Atlanta Magazine, the Atlanta  Journal-Constitution, and by Fresh Fiction, among many others, and has been adopted by numerous independent booksellers for book club recommendations. Last year her 2007 novel Learning to Breathe received several honors, notably the National Readers’ Choice Award and the Booksellers’ Best Award, which in 2009 was again presented to Karen, this time for The Memory of Water.

US/Canada Giveaway for 2 copies of On Folly Beach by Karen White:

1.  Leave a comment about what historical period fascinates you and why.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline May 20, 2010, at 11:59PM EST.

College in a Nutskull by Professor Anders Henriksson

Professor Anders Henriksson has compiled a list of mistakes made by students in higher education in College in a Nutskull.  The spiral bound notebook with lined pages with doodles in the margin is filled with mistakes, misinformation, wrong facts, and spelling errors.  These answers are taken from essay tests all over the world, which were sent to Henriksson.

“Cast aside all worry and savor this text as an opportunity to visit a world remarkably different from the reality we think we inhabit.” (page viii)

The blunders, malapropisms, spoonerisms, and poor facts are arranged by subject, ranging from religious studies to all kinds of history and science and technology.  Many of these examples could be attributed to test-taking jitters as students rush to finish their timed essays, but it makes them no less amusing.  However, some of these lines read more like a “smart ass” spouting off “witty” comments, such as “Descartes began this by stating, ‘I think, therefore I’m Sam.'” (page 11) and “Some of these ideas are unfortunately too long for my attention spam.” (page 69)

Here are a couple malapropisms and spoonerisms:

“A vassal was a kind of servant, only rounder.” (page 63)

“Slavery was the big issue in the Anti-Bedlam South.” (page 76)

Beyond the unintentional word usage, there are just some major factual errors, from “The executive branch exists because Congress allows it to exist” to “Laws are invented by the courts.” (page 90-1)  What is likely to trouble readers, including me, is that the mistakes made are a sad commentary on the state of public education and its ability to prepare students for college.  Terrible grammar, improper word usage, Freudian slips, and other factual mistakes merely demonstrate how ill-prepared students are for college or a career, especially since they cannot communicate clearly.

Overall, College in a Nutskull by Professor Anders Henriksson is a humorous compilation of mistakes by college students that may make an unintentional commentary on public education and student preparedness.  For those who find student errors amusing or for those that enjoy malapropisms, this collection will have you chuckling, shaking your head, and spitting out your coffee.

Check out this article on Henriksson.

FTC Disclosure:  Thanks to Workman Publishing for sending me a free review copy of College in a Nutskull for review.

About the Author:

Photo credit: Kevin G. Gilbert

Dr. Henriksson is a professor at Shepherd University is located in historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and the author of Vassals and Citizens: The Baltic Germans in Constitutional Russia, 1905-1914, and The Tsar’s Loyal Germans. The Riga German Community: Social Change and the Nationality Question, 1855-1905. He is co-author of The City in Late Imperial Russia and has published articles in Russian Review, Canadian Slavonic Papers, the Wilson Quarterly, the Journal of Baltic Studies, and the Modern Encyclopedia of Russian, Soviet, and Eurasian History. His research interests focus on the role of class, ethnicity, and gender in the development of civil society in Russia and Eastern Europe. He is currently at work translating and editing the memoir of a Russian nurse in the Russo-Japanese War. Also a chronicler of the humorous side of campus life, Dr. Henriksson is compiler of Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students. A second humor book, College in a Nutskull, is due to appear in 2010.

This is my 32nd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

What do you do when your world spins out of control and changes so drastically that you begin to feel adrift?  Colum McCann‘s Let the Great World Spin examines these issues, while at the same time demonstrating how individuals can be connected to one another without even realizing it.

“But it struck me, as I sketched, that all I wanted to do was to walk out into a clean elsewhere.” (page 153)

“No newspapers big enough to paste him back together in Saigon.” (page 81)

McCann focuses his story in 1974, mostly in New York City, where a tenuous thread is stretched between a series of characters from an Irish monk and a grieving mother who lost her son in the Vietnam War to a young artistic couple and a black prostitute. That thread is the a tightrope walker, Philippe Petit who traversed the still under construction World Trade Center towers.

“It was the dilemma of the watchers:  they didn’t want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn’t want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched.” (page 3)

In a way, the tightrope walker is all of us, teetering on the edge of every decision we make, but what we often do not have is the courage to enjoy the moment or revel in the thrill of each step we take in our lives.  McCann is a gifted storyteller, but some readers may find the shifts between story lines hamper their ability to become emotionally tethered to the characters.  There are some moments where the prose takes on a list making quality, which is a bit overdone and jambs up the narrative.

The Vietnam War plays a significant role in the novel, touching lives in immediate ways and peripherally.   In many ways the tightrope walker symbolizes the perceived precariousness of the world at large in the 1970s, with the threat of communism and the deteriorating situation in Vietnam.  Overall, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is a satisfying examination of the 1970s, the Vietnam War, and modern society, and would be a good selection for book club discussions.

About the Author:

Colum McCann, a Dublin born writer, is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty languages. He has been a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was the inaugural winner of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire’s “Best and Brightest,” and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Check out the other tour stops.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Random House for sending me a free copy of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann for review.


This is my 5th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge

This is my 31st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd and final book for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.

I, Alex Cross by James Patterson (Joint Review With Mom)

James Patterson’s I, Alex Cross is the latest book in the Alex Cross series, and it will shock readers.  Cross must face a death in the family, a health crisis with another family member, and a horrific series of murders that involve call girls, an exclusive gentleman’s club, and a wood chipper.

“I brought home the files I’d gathered and took them to my office in the attic after dinner.  I cleared off one entire wall and started tacking up everything — pictures of the missing, index cards with case vitals that I’d written up, plus  a DC street map, flagged everywhere that victims had last been seen.”  (Page 48)

Each book in the Alex Cross series can be read alone, though readers will miss the evolution of his character if they don’t read them in order.  Patterson is skilled at building tension and suspense in these novels through short chapters, changing points of view, and clipped sentences.  Readers will be running alongside Cross as he uncovers the true identity of the killer, known only as Zeus.

“This was the kind of homicide that used to make me wonder why I keep coming back for more, year after year.  I knew that on some level I was addicted to the chase, but I used to think that if I figured out why, then I’d stop needing it so much, maybe even turn in my badge.  That hadn’t happened.  Just the opposite.”  (Page 48-9)

Cross is a deeper character than most main characters in crime novels, with his psychology degrees, his intense organization during cases, his family, the loss of his wife, and the face offs he has with a variety of criminal masterminds.  Patterson has kept this character fresh even after 16 books, and he still has room to grow.  I, Alex Cross is a welcome addition to the series.

I’m going to turn over the reins to my mom, Pat, for her review of I, Alex Cross.

One of the best books written by James Patterson.  All of his books are exciting and suspenseful and make fast reads.  In I, Alex Cross, Detective Alex Cross is at his birthday party when he gets the phone call about a brutal murder.  He finds out that his niece Carolyn isn’t who she pretends to be and has a life that nobody knows about.  Cross is called in to work on the case.  A five-star read!

Thanks to Hachette Group for sending myself and my mom a free review copy of I, Alex Cross for review.

Don’t forget about the Alex Cross giveaway going on now through April 24th at 11:59PM EST.

***

Please stop by the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Everything Distils Into Reading and In Bed With Books.


This is my 8th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.