Now Silence by Tori Warner Shepard

Tori Warner Shepard’s Now Silence: A Novel of World War II takes place in the midst of WWII around the time Pearl Harbor is bombed, many U.S. military personnel are held in POW camps, and Japanese Americans are corralled in internment camps across the western United States, particularly in New Mexico.

“In the airless box of a room of the Kirtland BOQ in yet another officer’s guest quarters, Phyllis found herself disgusted with both Roddy and Albuquerque. She wasn’t even hungry for breakfast. Her goal was to win Anissa over by introducing herself as a worthy ally. She counted on its being quick and easy, considering that Anissa and her vulnerable cult appeared to be able to swallow almost anything. It should take no time at all.” (Page 130)

Readers are first introduced to a self-centered, superficial Phyllis soon after the death of her fiance, Russell. Russell’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Anissa, lives out west and had refused to sign the divorce papers, and Phyllis has hated her for many years and obsessed about this woman and the role she played in Russell’s life.

“Her lust was contagious. Not overly surprised by this, he sank into her kisses, eating and being eaten by her, weakened and unable to pull out.” (Page 191)

After a great deal of build up regarding these characters’ animosity toward one another, the confrontation nearly midway in the book is not as explosive as readers may expect. Phyllis is a complicated character, just like Anissa, and readers may find it difficult to wrap their arms around these characters’ actions, though Anissa is a bit easier to get a handle on than Phyllis, who makes her way across America from Florida to New Mexico by riding a bicycle to make herself seem worthy of awe, only to break down and “sleep” her way across the nation.

“Over the next few days the wind drifted in random streams across the bay as Nagasaki burned. The fires pushed by the coils of moving updrafts swallowed the breathable air. By the fourth day, cinders fell like snow and no more fighter planes cluttered the sky. They simply stopped coming.

A hollow silence.” (Page 211)

The pacing of this novel is slow and awkward in places, but the best sections of this novel are in the POW camps of Japan. Readers will be introduced to Melo and Senio, who rely on each other for survival, with the help of Doc Matson. The brutality and uncertainty of their lives is mirrored in the lives of Anissa’s neighbor Nicasia and her soon-to-be daughter-in-law LaBelle, who wait endlessly for word of their loved ones.

“Several thousand emaciated men continued to form a line outside and Melo looked up to see if they had moved forward even an inch. Hart to tell, by this time the men all looked alike–skin burnt, shaved heads, scrawny, bony, skinny, emaciated, lice-riddled stooped bodies with torn rags for clothes.” (Page 33)

In just a little over 300 pages, Shepard weaves in a number of storylines and illustrates the environment present at home and abroad. Readers should be cautioned that there are some graphic scenes and sexual content in Now Silence.

Overall, readers will enjoy what they learn about the Pacific front and the characters are well-developed, even if Phyllis is a bit tough to take most of the time. While readers may find there is too much detail about Phyllis’s earlier exploits and some of the sections about the WWII events are told rather than shown, Now Silence sheds light on the Pacific Front of World War II from Americans on both sides of the ocean.

This is my 4th book for the War Through the Generations: WWII Reading Challenge.

Green Bodies by Rosemary Winslow

Rosemary Winslow’s Green Bodies is divided into three parts, with the first section of poems steeped in deep grief and struggle for understanding following the death of a brother. From “To a Fish” (Page 14-15), “I see a knife/once put to me,/bone opened white to daylight,/red floor on concrete.” Many of these poems have an inner rhythm and musical quality, though the music is dark and somber.

The second section’s narrator begins with poems of cutting oneself off from the outer world and possibly the grief felt in the first section. From “The Gothic Truth” (Page 40), “not making a sound, she watches the grindstone/wobbling hung turning him spitting not stopping/” Throughout the second section, the poems examine the paralysis felt by the narrator by that oppressive grief. From “Carnal” (Page 37), “crumpled and blooded she curled/under a stairwell in hay”

In the final section of this volume, the narrator is rising from the darkness and turmoil of grief to find a way to move on, evolve, and become a stronger self. Readers will enjoy the complexity of these poems, their deep secrets, and highly emotional language.

5 a.m. (Page 54-55)

I rise from a wreckage of sleep
again the long blind scarf of grief

and yesterday and yesterday’s
gunmetal page

the porch lights hiss
at the shroud-hung sky

I go down the stairs to the garden
to be where the roses are leaning

heavy and sweet on the long fence
I lift my face from burial

into burial in the softness of flowers
that is like the skin under the necks of animals

tears shine
in the small white crosses

in their fire centers
the start clematis has made

and entered on
the dead espaliered pear

suddenly I am

wheep and again
wheep wheep I hear

hidden birds
coming alive

one by one
in the trees

thick pollen of light
undraping the roof lines

composing the sky

This is my 3rd book for the poetry review challenge.

Rubies in the Orchard by Lynda Resnick

“Take a hike with me. Follow your dreams.” (Page XX)

Lynda Resnick’s Rubies in the Orchard is one part marketing strategy, one part personal story, and one part how-to formula. Resnick is a woman of direct experience in the rough-and-tumble world of advertising and marketing, and her chops shine through in this nonfiction book. She and her husband have successfully resurrected Fiji Water, Teleflora, and The Franklin Mint, but one of their best successes—POM–blossomed from a group of pomegranate orchards her husband bought years before.

Rubies in the orchard are the intrinsic value of products, and these are the values that must be communicated to customers, says Resnick. Following each marketing anecdote–from her days as a small business owner amidst scandal to her very profitable empire of companies–Resnick offers sage marketing advice that can be used not only in the boardroom and executive offices, but at home too. For example, she says, “You get a lot further in life by showing what you don’t know and asking for help than you do pretending you know it all” (Page 24).

Throughout this delightful book, Resnick boxes out the main points she is trying to hit home with readers, and these little reminders keep her examples fresh in mind. Readers will be particularly astonished about how a set of fake pearls worth $34 at the time of purchase ended up being auctioned off for more than $200,000, and how those pearls became integral to Resnick’s success at The Franklin Mint.

Marketing and advertising could be viewed as boring by some readers, but Resnick’s wit shines through in this success story.

“He had a habit of making the financials look rosier than they actually were. . . . but the poor chap was so accustomed to manufacturing crooked numbers each quarter. . . If he had exhibited a drinking or substance abuse problem, we could have sent him to rehab, but where do you send a recidivist hooked on funny financials?” (Page 76)

While some aspects of Rubies in the Orchard may come off as preachy, particularly for conservatives not sold on the reality of global warming, she does make a viable points about why businesses should go green. Readers who are interested in an autobiography or learning more about the marketing world would be pleased with this fast read.

If you are interested in this book, I’m giving away my copy to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment below.

Deadline is July 24, 2009

Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Jeannine Hall Gailey‘s Becoming the Villainess is a unique volume of poetry housing poems steeped in Greek mythology, comic book characters, and more.

Gailey’s images are crisp and immediate with recurring uses of pomegranates, wolves, and other items. Alice in Wonderland, Wonder Woman, Persephone, and many more make appearances in Becoming the Villainess, which is separated into five parts. At the end of the book, Gailey includes brief descriptions of the myths inspiring the poems enclosed within its pages.

From “Female Comic Book Superheroes” (Page 5)

Impossible chests burst out of tight leather jackets,
from which they extract the hidden scroll, antidote, or dagger,
tousled hair covering one eye.

They return to their day jobs as forensic pathologists,
wearing their hair up and donning dainty glasses.
Of all the goddesses, these pneumatic heroines most

resemble Artemis, with her miniskirts and crossbow,
or Freya, with her giant gray cats.
Each has seen this apocalypse before.

Each section in Becoming the Villainess examines the evolution of female characters from innocent girls to darker, vengeful women, but these characters are deeper than stereotypical comic book characters, mothers, and goddesses. While some of these poems have a lighter, tongue-in-cheek quality to them, some of them drive home the deep dark horrors found in many legends, myths, and real-life events. One particularly jarring poem in the collection is “Remembering Philomel,” in which a professor is asking for grittier details of the narrator’s sexual assault.

Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a wonderfully insightful collection that looks beneath the surface of myths and sexy comic book characters to find their motivation, their desires, and spunk. If this is your kind of poetry, you should pick it up. I count this among the best of contemporary poetry that I’ve read this year. If you missed my interview with Jeannine Hall Gailey, go check it out.

About the Poet:

Jeannine Hall Gailey was born at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. in English from the University of Cincinnati, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Pacific University.

Her first book of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, was published by Steel Toe Books in 2006. Poems from the book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She recently taught with the Young Artist Project at Centrum. In 2007 she received a Washington State Artist Trust GAP Grant and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review, writes book reviews, and teaches at National University’s MFA Program.

Her inspirations often come from mythological sources, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses or The Tales of Genji, folk and fairy tale collections, and of course, comic books.

This is my second book for the poetry review challenge.

Run for Your Life by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge’s Run for Your Life is another in the Michael Bennett crime drama series. My mom, Pat, will be your guest reviewer today, please give her a warm welcome.

Run for Your Life chronicles another adventure of Michael Bennett, a detective in the New York Police Department who is a single father to 10 children. In this novel, a murderer who calls himself “the Teacher” takes New York City by storm, slaughtering the powerful and arrogant rich people of the city. “The Teacher” selects his victims from those he meets.

Michael Bennett races across the city to investigate these vicious crime scenes, and many of these are difficult to visit. While “the Teacher’s” rampage across the city continues, Det. Bennett’s children fall ill with the flu, making his job even more difficult.

Run for Your Life is another page turner that readers will be unable to put down. Another five-star crime drama from James Patterson, chock full of action.

Thanks, Mom, for another detailed review. Look forward to more from her later this week.

Bloody Good by Georgia Evans

Bloody Good by Georgia Evans is the second of my five books for the War Through the Generations: WWII Reading Challenge.

“This was not, he was convinced, some foppish, effete English vampire. This was one of his Aryan brothers. The brain rhythm was strong and reassuringly familiar. He’d sensed the same in his homeland in the Hartz Mountains. Only one other vampire hailed from that part of Germany. Could it truly be Gerhardt Eiche, or as he no doubt posed himself: Gabriel Oak?” (Page 18)

Georgia Evans’ portrayal of Germany’s invasion of surrounding European nations by the Nazi party as the backdrop for her novel set in the English countryside, Bloody Good, has a wide cast of characters, including vampires, witches, pixies, and dragons.

Alice Doyle is the village doctor and a pixie who has denied her heritage and her powers to rely upon science and medicine. Peter Watson is a conscientious objector to the war who underwent several years of veterinary training before the war began. Alice’s grandmother embraces her pixie heritage and is keenly aware of the “others” living in the town.

In an effort to gain an advantage in the war effort, the Nazi’s enlist vampires to blow up secret munitions plants across the English countryside. Evans does a great job of establishing a surreal world in which Nazi’s and vampires work together for the same cause, at least until the vampires deem themselves able to take over. Dr. Doyle, her grandmother, and friends work together to uncover the secret Nazi mission and stop the vampires from succeeding in destroying the munitions plant.

“The talk on rabbit-keeping was boring enough to let Peter’s mind wander onto more enthralling topics, notably Alice, Dr. Doyle, and the woman he was head over heels in love with. She beat out furry rodents, and even edible furry rodents, any day of the week.” (Page 182)

Readers will enjoy the vampire tales, the pixie legends, and other surreal elements of this story, but the real treat is watching Dr. Doyle come into her own powers and accepting her heritage. However, some readers may be put off by the graphic sex scenes in this novel, though there are not too many of them. Some of the depictions in the book were a bit odd, particularly when Peter Watson compares Dr. Doyle to furry rodents. Overall, Bloody Good is a light read for the beach or camping in the woods.

This is the first in a series of novels by Georgia Evans, and readers who enjoy this one, should check out the next installment, Bloody Awful. I know I’m looking forward to the next one.

The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein

“That the buyer, if she finds one, probably won’t be able to read it means little. Yuliang doesn’t sign it for him. She signs for herself, to bind her work to her. To tattoo it with a message: she has won.” (Page 20)

Jennifer Cody Epstein’s The Painter From Shanghai, a debut novel, is a fictional account of Pan Yuliang’s rise from the ashes of her life as Xiuqing, a young child sold into prostitution. Through careful brushstrokes of her own, Epstein deftly fills her canvas with the sights, sounds, and images of China–from the dark alleys and brothels to the crowded, chaotic streets of Shanghai–in the early 1920s. Yuliang is a complex character who numbly makes her way through the obstacles she faces as a new prostitute under the thumb of corrupted merchants and a harsh and battered old woman, known as Grandmother. Emerging from the dank and corrupted halls of the brothel, she jumps into her new life as the concubine/second wife to Pan Zanhua and embarks on her career as a student and painter at the height of the Communist uprising in China during the 1930s.

“‘My husband,’ she says, twisting her wedding band, ‘writes that even more conservative Republicans will ally with the CCP now. For the nation’s sake.’

‘If anything, it’s a marriage of convenience.’ Now he looks straight into her eyes. ‘And one I doubt will last.'” (Page 318)

Epstein has a style all her own in which she easily weaves in relevant historical information through character interaction and development, but she also captures even difficult emotions with deft description and poise.

In the brothel, readers will feel Yuliang’s degradation as each man leers at her, touches her skin, and makes her kowtow to their desires. The one solace she has is the poetry of Li Qingzhao, which she recites from memory. Readers will enjoy the verse woven into the narrative as Yuliang examines herself at life-changing moments and seeks solace in the beauty of language.

Yuliang is molded by her mentors, but only truly blossoms when she becomes Zanhua’s wife and starts painting. Through painting she learns to combat her demons, her past, and her future, coming into her own as a painter and individual. As China is pulled in two directions between the republic and the communists, Yuliang is caught between her rebellious nature and Chinese tradition.

“Tearing off the sheet, she tries again, this time with better results. Use each object as a road into the next. She proceeds to the easiest object on the table, the orange . . . And in the space of a moment that neither registers nor matters, she is no longer outside the still life but working within it, running her mind’s hand over nubbly fruit skin. Pressing her face against the smooth tang of the bottle glass. Exploring a vase’s crevices with both finger and pencil tip, each item part of a visual sentence she is translating.” (Page 220)

The Painter From Shanghai
has a lot to offer book clubs, readers interested in painting, historical fiction, the struggle of women in society, China, and political history, and is one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

Check out my interview with Jennifer about her novel and writing habits.

1. Some writers will listen to music while writing and have a particular playlist for their novel or other work. Did you listen to any specific music while writing The Painter From Shanghai, and if so, could you list some of the titles? Or if you were to create a playlist for this novel, what would be the top 5 songs on that list?

I am actually highly distractible, so music is not a good idea for me in general unless it’s very low-level classical. Lyrics are bad–I can’t write words when I’m listening to other words. In general, I really just need quiet.

As for playlist: Hmmmm. Tough one with this book, as I’m not all that familiar with Chinese music from the period. I suppose the Charlston (which was the rage in Paris when Pan Yuliang was there), Verdi’s Macbeth (her first painting tutor is listening to Verdi when Yuliang first meets him); the first Shanghai pop song “Drizzzles” (Maomao yu)–a tune in folk style accompanied by New Orleans jazz-style music, Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie Number 1 (just because it’s the right general time frame and mood). And then maybe Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

2. Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I loved Bird by Bird, actually. I also was a huge fan of Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life” (I learned a ton from that) and “A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” In terms of workshopping–I find it enormously helpful. I went to Columbia to get my MFA and was very happy to have done so. As my husband pointed out at the time It’s expensive, and the whole precept of “teaching” writing is somewhat dubious. But for me, having mentors, feedback, criticism and–perhaps most of all–other people who were trying to do the same insane things with their lives as was I was really reaffirming.

3. The Painter From Shanghai is written with sometimes very broad and very detailed brushstrokes to mete out Pan Yuliang’s past. Have you studying painting at any point, and if not, is it something you have considered?

I took a few oil painting classes for the book, sat in on a Student Arts League class for a day, and also worked with a friend who is a painter on dissecting and trying to re-paint one of Pan Yuliang’s paintings, just to get a sense of what it feels like. I think it’s safe to say the world is lucky I paint with words only!

4. Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Running. History. Good music. Frye boots. My Springer Spaniel Molly.

5. Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

I generally write at a writer’s space, and it is pretty much ideal except for that it’s not easy to get to. I’d like to have it down my street, instead of a good half-hour by foot.
6. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?
I’m currently working on a novel set in 1945, just before, during and after the Tokyo Firebombings. It’s quite different fromPainter” in that it will be told from a few different perspectives, and most of the characters aren’t as closely-based on real people. But like “Painter” it explores the intersection of different cultures, and the power of art (in this case, architecture) to both create and destroy.

Thanks, Jennifer, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.

About the Author:

Jennifer Cody Epstein has worked in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and the U.S. for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Mademoiselle, Self and Parents, as well as for the NBC and HBO networks. She has a Masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins SAIS and an MFA from Columbia. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, filmmaker Michael Epstein, and their two daughters.

Check out her Web site, here.

She also very interested in speaking with Book Clubs about her novel by telephone and email if not in the New York City area or in-person if you are in New York City.

For reading group guides for The Painter From Shanghai, go here.

Here’s another interview with Jennifer at WOW! Women on Writing.

Interested in the real artist’s work, go here or here.

Check out the rest of The Painter From Shanghai tour with TLC, here.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary, here and here and here.

The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris

The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris does not read like a debut novel, but like a well-engineered corkscrew ride through the African heat and the deep recesses of our humanity and morality.

In the early 1990s, civil war began in Sierra Leone–a former British colony ripe with diamond mines–as rebels recruited students and children to fight against the government for more than a decade. The brutality present in the nation at this time comes across vividly in the pages of The Secret Keeper, which readers can easily attribute to the author’s personal experience. It is apparent that those images stuck with Harris as he was writing his debut novel.

“Suddenly he thought of the unopened letter in his pocket. The thick air of the tube took on a tropical whiff. It was close and stifling, clinging to the skin like it had always done back in Freetown, impossible to escape its damp hug. Danny began to sweat.” (Page 9)

Danny Kellerman is a journalist in London whose first foreign assignment takes him to war-torn Sierra Leone. Once in Africa, he is immersed in the haphazard warfare between the Sierra Leone government, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and eventually the British government. Danny meets Maria Tirado, falls in love, and breaks the story of a lifetime about saving former child soldiers, but once the assignment ends he must return to his London life. His content existence is soon disrupted by a hand-written letter from his lost love, Maria, who begs him to return and help her. Along the way, he reconnects with some of his old acquaintances, including his driver Kam and Ali Alhoun.

“‘I’ve been all over Africa,’ he said. ‘And there’s one way to judge if a country is in trouble. Is the brewery closed? I’ve been in the deepest bits of the Congo and they always had beer. That Primus may be shit, it may kill you if you drink two bottles, but they make it. That country will be okay.'” (Page 48)

A synopsis cannot do justice to this well-crafted novel about a war-torn nation and the impact it has on its own inhabitants, the world, and the individuals caught in its web. Readers will find themselves biting their fingernails as Danny digs deeper into Maria’s secrets. But she is not the only character with secrets in this novel. Danny and the nation of Sierra Leone have a number of secrets for readers to unravel, stare at in astonishment, and almost wish they were left hidden.

“With little or no political ideology, the RUF became a vehicle for Sankoh’s personal goals. It took over Sierra Leone’s inland diamond mines and recruited members by brutalizing the children of its victims. Its calling card was the ‘long sleeves or short sleeves’ method of cutting off people’s arms: short sleeves were above the elbow; long sleeves were above the wrist. Young boys were forced to kill their own families and then join. Their crimes meant they could never go back to their villages. The RUF became their only way of survival.” (Page 43-44)

Harris’ The Secret Keeper will have readers reaching for the “oh-shit-bar” as they rapidly make their way through this drama. Danny’s moral compass is tested time and again, while Ali and others stick to strategies that ensure not only their survival but that they come out ahead of others. The Secret Keeper is one of the best novels I’ve read this year, and it will twist readers’ emotions, ring them out to dry, and soak up the remainder of their tears.

Is the old conundrum of “sacrificing one for the benefit of the many” the way in which societies should operate? Should we determine our best course of action from this starting point? Read The Secret Keeper to find out how Danny Kellerman and his compatriots resolve these questions.

Paul was kind enough to take time out of his busy journalistic schedule to answer a few interview questions. Please give Paul a warm welcome.

1. How would you describe yourself or your writing style to a crowded room of admirers who were hanging on your every word?

I would describe myself as ‘humbled’ and also ‘very surprised’ if I were ever to find myself in a room with such a large group of admiring people. 😉 Then, having recovered from the shock, I would I say that my writing style tries to be accessible in getting across the emotions of people in often extraordinary circumstances. I would hope that it conveys the fact that people are morally complex; even the best and the worst of us. That few things are ever black and white. That the best of intentions can lead to great wrongs and that sometimes a wrong can make a right. But, above all, I would say that I hope I can simply tell a good story.

2. As an author and journalist, which hat do you find most challenging to wear and why?

I would say being a journalist is more challenging. Writing fiction is actually tremendously liberating. You just sit in front of a laptop, create a blank document and let your imagination run riot. It is fun. It is hard work, for sure. But it is enjoyable, easy hard work (if that makes any sense). With journalism there is often such a huge amount of logistics to get through. The writing part of journalism is the easy bit. The tracking down of sources, the deadlines, the trips into strange places and the understanding of complex situations in compressed periods of time is the hard stuff. Even equipment failures play a role. There is nothing worse than having a great story but not being able to file it because of a computer collapse or the fact that you are in the back of beyond or because the deadline has gone by. That never happens with fiction.

3. Do you listen to music when you write or do you have other habits/routines that motivate you?

I cannot write very easily in a place of complete solitude. I need something to distract me a little. Usually that means I write in a café near my apartment or on a hotel balcony if I have squirreled myself away somewhere for a while. I tend to write in thirty minute bursts and then need to stare into space for ten minutes when it helps to be able to people watch as a way of rebooting. The Secret Keeper was mostly written on vacation where I would disappear for two weeks at a time and just blast away at it. I am trying to develop the habit of daily writing for my second book. It is hard.

4. What’s one of the best pieces of writing advice you’ve received and how did it help you?

Write what you know. But I think I gave that advice to myself. I had first tried to write a very ambitious, very literary, magical realism novel. Looking back, it was a bit of a shambles. I gradually realised this but, instead of giving up, I decided to follow this maxim. I just looked at what I had experienced myself in my life and what I cared about and then tried to craft a story from that. It felt like cracking the code and suddenly I could see how I could really write something that would work and I could be proud of.

5. Finally, what have you been reading lately, and do you prefer fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or other genres?

I prefer non-fiction. I think as a journalist you have just often have an insatiable appetite for knowledge about the world and so non-fiction books are my first choice. I also tend to avoid a lot of fiction out of a fear that subconsciously I will end up lifting scenes or ideas and styles. I want my fiction to be my own not my version of someone else’s. But I did recently read Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, which I enjoyed but did not love. I do, however, love Annie Proulx and I don’t fear stealing her style because it is so wonderfully unique.

Thanks, Paul, for your insightful answers about your writing process and your inspiration.

About the Author:

Paul Harris is currently the US Correspondent of the British weekly newspaper The Observer, the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper. He has held the post since 2003. Prior to that he reported from Africa for the Daily Telegraph, the Associated Press and Reuters. He has covered conflicts and trouble spots all around the world, including Iraq, Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. In 2003 he was embedded with British forces during the invasion of Iraq.

The Secret Keeper was inspired by his reporting on events in 2000 in Sierra Leone as that country’s long civil war came to an end.

Paul now lives in New York and is happy to have swapped the dangers of the front line for the less obvious perils of writing about American politics and culture.

For more information about Paul Harris, visit his website.

Click here to see the rest of Paul and The Secret Keeper‘s tour stops.

Also Reviewed By:

Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage

Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books

My Friend Amy

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Maw Books

Jen’s Book Thoughts

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary

Secrets to Happiness

Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn

Welcome to a Hachette Group Early Birds Blog Tour for Sarah Dunn’s Secrets to Happiness.

“A lot of life, it seemed to Holly, was turning out to be just like that. You keep walking, and you keep breathing, and then one day you notice, again, the feel of the wind on your cheek.” (Page 275)

Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn focuses on the life of Holly Frick and each of the people she effects with her decisions and how their decisions impact her life in a gigantic web. From Holly’s ex-boyfriend Spence Samuelson to Betsy Silverstein and her friends Amanda and Mark to her screenwriter/partner Leonard. Each of these characters is dissatisfied with their current lives and is seeking happiness and contentment in their lives.

“It was probably, primarily, mostly, the chemical hair straightening. Leonard had spent four hundred dollars to get his hair straightened with the new Brazilian hair-straightening chemical, and now it clung to his head like a wet washcloth and then spiked out at the ends down at the top of his neck, which was huge, due to the steroids he got from a pharmacist who ran an underground steroid ring out of his fourth-floor walk-up on Christopher Street.” (Page 25)

Dunn has a great talent for description and character development. Secrets to Happiness delves into the various situations, emotions, friends, careers, and other elements in people’s lives that they believe make them happy. Each of these characters experiences turns their preconceived notions upside down, leaving Holly, Spence, Betsy, and Amanda to make pivotal decisions.

“‘I don’t tell Betsy about my personal life.’

‘Good. You know what? Don’t tell anybody. Let’s just keep this our little secret,’ said Holly. ‘And now I even sound like a child molester.’

‘That’s straight out of the handbook.’

‘Page eleven,’ said Holly. ‘Right after the part where I lure you back into the back of my van with a box of kittens.'” (Page 21)

Overall, Secrets to Happiness reads well with a modicum of interruption from narratives that scope farther back into the lives of the characters. While some of these narratives, which mirror background checks for the characters, are well written, readers could find them distracting and unnecessary. Dunn is a talented women’s fiction writer with a flare for dramatic and unconventional characters, and her ability to dig beneath the surface of these professional New Yorkers is uncanny.

Also Reviewed by:
Everyday I Write the Book Blog

Hachette Group was kind enough to offer 3 copies of Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn to 3 of Savvy Verse & Wit’s U.S. and/or Canadian readers; no P.O. Boxes.

1. Leave a comment on this post about what makes you happiest about your life.

2. Become a follower of the blog or if you follow, let me know.

3. Blog, tweet, or spread the word about the giveaway and leave me a link here.

Deadline is June 18, 2009, at 11:59 PM EST

Don’t forget my 2-Year Blogiversary Giveaway, go here for details.

MAX by James Patterson

Welcome my mom’s (Pat) review of MAX by James Patterson; she was kind enough to read this one a month ago, and I’m just catching up on posting some of her reviews.

MAX, the fifth book in the series, features the bird kids–Gazzy, Angel, Fang, Nudge, Max and others–after they join forces with the coalition CSM to stop the “madness.” Off the Hawaii coast, ships, fish, and other creatures are being destroyed by something or someone. The bird kids always seem to be in danger, but they are keenly aware of the dangers they face.

Patterson’s young adult bird kid series really heats up in MAX. But will Max and her mother live through this ordeal? If you are eager for another page turner, this is the book for you. Action-packed up until the end, and you will want read it again just to see how the kids find their way out of trouble. Five stars, a must read.

Thanks, mom, for another review, and thanks to Hachette Group for sending this book along. Stay tuned for my review of MAX, which the hubby and I are listening to on audiobook.

Have a great weekend everyone; I’ll be offline spending time with the hubby and spring cleaning in June.

Check out this giveaway:

1 copy of Holly’s Inbox by Holly Denham, here; Deadline is June 10, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

Fodor’s New York City 2009 Guide

Fodor’s New York City 2009 came to me from Shelf Awareness in preparation for Book Expo America. I requested the guide to make plans for navigating the city, and it was a great resource for the trip this past weekend.

There are full-color pages throughout of various landmarks, monuments, and other places. There is a pull out map inside with clearly labeled streets and landmarks, as well as a subway system map in the back flap for Manhattan. The subway map helped during the trip to determine which line of the subway to take to our destinations, including to the hotel from Penn Station and from the hotel to the Greenhouse.

Anna and I did pick out a few things to see while in the city, but unfortunately, I revisited Times Square and not much else. Anna saw Times Square for the first time, though it was incredibly crowded. At one point during the day on Friday, we walked by and found Broadway closed off and lawn chairs spread out. According to my friend and photographer, Mike, the lawn chairs are part of a program to get people in office buildings out into the sun during the day, allowing them to breathe in the fresh air.

Fodor’s guide is chock full of information about the subway system, its costs, fare cards, and other transportation needs, including appropriate tip amounts for taxis, bellhops, and others. I would highly recommend this guide for those taking a trip to New York City; it provides a comprehensive resource for those looking to see as much as they can in the city that never sleeps. I know I’ll be using this guide again when I take my next trip to the city.

Don’t forget these great giveaways:

3 copies of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton, here; Deadline is June 3, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

1 copy of Reunion by Therese Fowler, here; Deadline is June 4, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

Reunion by Therese Fowler

Therese Fowler’s Reunion examines the secrets many of us carry and how they can direct our lives and decisions. While some could consider this a light read, it deals with a number of deep issues, including teen pregnancy.

Harmony Blue Kucharski/Reynolds is a young girl with a deep crush on a junior professor and son to her boss, Mitch Forrester. After a whirlwind romance, Mitch breaks her young heart, and she embarks on a destructive path that ultimately leads her to a decision that must be kept secret after her career begins to take off. Two decades later, fate brings them back together in Key West, Florida, and Blue helps Mitch with his pet video project about writer’s like Hemingway.

“In Chicago, the snow was falling so hard that, although quite a few pedestrians saw the woman standing on the fire escape nine stories up, none were sure they recognized her. At first the woman leaned against the railing and looked down, as if calculating the odds of death from such a height. After a minute or two, though, when she hadn’t climbed the rail but had instead stepped back from it, most people who’d noticed her continued on their ways. She didn’t look ready to jump, so why keep watching? And how about this snow, they said. What the hell? It wasn’t supposed to snow like this in spring!” (Page 13)

Blue is a complex character floundering in her decisions and striving to find true happiness, and Mitch has tried all kinds of happiness, but has been unable to patch things up with his only son. Blue’s mother, Nancy, is an aging hippie still looking for love, and her sister has found a family life she can be proud of, though she still seems to have a hard time dealing with her sister’s success as TV personality–much like Oprah in Chicago.

“Without the interruption of commercials or the finite images of someone else’s interpretation of a story, she could more easily fit herself into the romance or drama unfolding inside a book’s cover.” (Page 54)

Fowler’s writing is down-to-Earth and captivating. The characters pop from the page. While there are multiple story lines in this novel, Fowler weaves them well and transitions seamlessly between them. Although this book could be considered chicklit or women’s fiction, there is much more beneath the surface; all readers have to do is scratch the surface.

Thanks to Pump up Your Book Promotion for providing Savvy Verse & Wit with an opportunity to review this book and be part of the virtual blog tour. Check below to find out about the International giveaway.

About the Author:

Therese Fowler has believed in the magic of a good story since she learned to read at the age of four. At age thirty, as a newly single parent, she put herself into college, earning a degree in sociology (and finding her real Mr. Right) before deciding to scratch her longtime fiction-writing itch. That led to an MFA in creative writing, and the composition of stories that explore the nature of our families, our culture, our mistakes, and our desires.

The author of two novels, with a third scheduled for 2010, Therese lives in Wake Forest, NC, with her supportive husband and sons, and two largely indifferent cats. You can visit her website or her blog.

To Enter:

1. Leave a comment on this post about why you’d like to read this book.
2. Leave a comment on the guest post, here, for a second entry.
3. Follow this blog, and let me know; if you follow, let me know that too.
4. Tweet, Facebook, or blog about the giveaway and leave a comment here.

Deadline is June 4, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

Don’t Forget About These Great Giveaways!

1 Signed Copy of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo, here. Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59PM EST.

2 copies of The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa, here; Deadline is May 30, 2009, 11:59 PM EST

3 copies of Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton, here; Deadline is June 3, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.