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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.’

‘Feed-Us-Flavorless-Food-Courtyard.’

‘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.

http://www.literaryescapism.com/new-author-challenge10

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.

The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher

The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher uses tongue twisting phrases and juxtaposition to shed light on and deal with the expectations of family and society.  Wrong miracles occur everyday in Gallagher’s world from the cat that drags in a poem it found to a breeze that cracks the narrator open.  Gallagher’s playful phrases will have readers smiling in amusement, and she enjoys turning cliches upside down.

“I still have not

bought the doghouse — a real one, not

the metaphorical one where husbands some

times hang out while wives are belt loosening

or just simply giving things a twirl.”  (From “Prelude to Getting One’s Act Together,” Page 15)

In many cases, Gallagher is whimsical with her imagery even when her poems deal with serious events, such as paying for the best and getting something unexpected and disappointing.  In “Woman in a Redhead,” she seeks a new look, cappuccino hair that ends up being red and having to deal with the result.

“On my way home, I fake a swagger and ants

in my pants.  I am singularly impressed by the rife

humour that is making its way down the broad of my

back.  I will be back to get my cappuccino-chocolate hair,

I think.  Sometimes we don’t get what we pay for and blood

does curdle.”  (Page 3)

But beneath the whimsy of her verse lies a dark anger and disappointment that simmers and bursts forth. Can you talk yourself into doing anything?  Can you justify waterboarding like you can justify jumping out of an airplane with a parachute as a hobby?  Is the unthinkable a norm that we haven’t gotten used to yet?  Gallagher asks these questions and more, but she also examines fatherly love and forgiveness.

A Poem That Thinks It Has Joined a Circus (Page 10)

A handkerchief is not an emotional holdall.

A cup of tea does not eradicate all-smothering sensations.

A hands-on approach is not the same as a hand-on-a-shoulder

willing a chin to lift and an upper lip to stiffen.

A forehead resting on fingers does not imply that the grains

of sand in an hourglass have filtered through.

A set of eyes staring into space is not an indictment that the sun

came crashing down in the middle of the night.

A sigh that causes trembling and wobbly knees should be

henceforth and without warning trapped in a bell jar and retrained

to come out tinkling ivories with every gasp.

A poem trying to turn a sad feeling on its head does not constitute

a real poem, it is a cancan poem, dancing on a pinhead

and walking a tightrope with arms pressed tightly by its sides.

Readers just starting out with poetry will find this collection needs to be read aloud and more than once because some of the lines are dense with imagery, double-speak, and juxtapositions.  However, the poems do exude a song-like quality as tongue-twisters roll off the tongue, which will have readers repeating Gallagher’s lines over and over again.  The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher is a buzz worthy collection.

***Please check out my previous two-part interview with Liz Gallagher.  Also, proceeds from the sale of her book, The Wrong Miracle, will go to support Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death society.***

Thanks to Liz for sending me a copy of her book for review.

About the Poet: (Photo Credit: Vladi Valido)

Liz Gallagher was born and brought up in Donegal, Ireland. She has been living in Gran Canary Island for the past 14 years. She has an Education degree where she specialised in Irish language. She also has a Computer Science degree. She is at present doing research into online debating for her PhD. She began writing about 5 years ago and has won a variety of awards in both Ireland and the US: Best New Poet 2007 (Meridian Press, Virginia University) First Prize in The Listowel Writers’ Single Poem Competition 2009 and she was selected by Poetry Ireland for their 2009 Introductions Series in recognition of her status as an emerging poet.

This is my 6th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 35th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni‘s One Amazing Thing is brilliant in its ability to capture reader’s attention and hold it throughout the narrative as the points of view change and characters share a life-changing moment.  Divakaruni’s writing places readers in the room with her characters and traps them there, making the terror of their impending doom real.  Each character is at the visa office seeking papers to travel back to India when something happens and causes the building to partially collapse upon them.

“I am Cameron, he said to himself.  With the words, the world as it was formed around him:  piles of rubble, shapes that might be broken furniture.  Some of the shapes moaned.  The voices — no, it was only one voice — fell into an inexorable rhythm, repeating a name over and over.”  (Page 11)

Uma is among the first of the characters introduced and she’s a college student who enjoys observing others and creating stories for them, which is why she suggests that each of the survivors — in an unknown disaster — tells the group about one amazing moment that changed their lives.  Many of the stories are heartbreaking, but all of them serve as a basis of understanding.  They create a place from which these different people, with their various prejudices and perspectives brought together by circumstances beyond their control, can begin to accept one another.

“Farah.  She had entered Tariq’s life innocuously, the way a letter opener slides under the flap of an envelope, cutting through things that had been glued shut, spilling secret contents.  Her name was like a yearning poet”s sigh, but even Tariq was forced to admit that it didn’t match the rest of her.”  (Page 30)

Book clubs will have a lot to discuss, including what makes life worthwhile to what moments in life would you revisit if you were trapped.  Imagine seeing one amazing thing before you die.  Then recall your memories.  Yes, you have seen one amazing thing though it may have seemed ordinary at the time, but it becomes extraordinary to you.  Divakaruni’s prose is frank and her characters are dynamic and flawed.  One Amazing Thing is just that.

Thanks to Divakaruni for sending me a review copy of her novel.

***I also appreciated that One Amazing Thing is printed on Certified Fiber Sourcing as part of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.***

About the Author:

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include women, immigration, the South Asian experience, history, myth, magic and celebrating diversity.

She writes both for adults and children. Her books have been translated into 20 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Russian and Japanese. Two novels, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into films. Her short stories, Arranged Marriage, won an American Book Award. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 South Asian Author Reading Challenge.

This is my 34th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 9th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

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.