Sunday, October 31, 2010

No past, no future only now

Title: The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists and and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life by Barry Boyce, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hahn, Daniel Siegel, Jack Kornfield
Publisher: Shambhala
288 Pages
Genre: Self-help, Psychology

This book was received as an advanced electronic galley from the publisher via netgalley.  This title will be released in March 2011.


Synopsis: In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in the art and science of mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is a means for developing greater awareness of our moment-to-moment experience—for fully experiencing what is happening within us and around us. It has been scientifically shown to reduce stress and improve health. Recent studies also indicate that mindfulness can alleviate depression and anxiety, improve attention and performance, and increase an individual’s overall levels of happiness.

Mindfulness is being applied in a wide variety of fields, including health care, education, leadership development, the law, and the military.The Mindfulness Revolution is a collection of the best writing on mindfulness from leading figures in the field.

Review:  If you are new to the theory of meditation and mindfulness this is a great book.  Some of the top writers on the topic explain it in simple terms and help guide you on your way to learning this simple yet not so simple technique.  I've been doing yoga for years and am a certified yoga teacher so some of this information was redundant for me but I think it would be great for people just looking into this practice.  Focused breathing can help reduce stress, help sleep, and generally improve your overall health and outlook on life.  Its  so simple its amazing more people aren't doing it.  But here is the catch, just because it seems simple and the method is simple doesn't mean that it doesn't take work to achieve.  It takes discipline, patience and time to actually master it.  We often judge ourselves too harshly and thus drop things because we feel we just cant do it or think its too difficult or we don't give it enough time.  Those people who think that mindfulness "doesn't work" might need to come back to it or maybe just aren't ready to experience life in the now and life in the future or past is serving them in some way.

Each author of the different chapters of this book have their own way of explaining things, some are easier to understand than others and I think that different teachers speak to different types of people.  I love that this is just not another book on meditation and mindfulness but it is also a way for those who write and teach this every day to share their knowledge.  If this was written by one teacher you may find that you don't understand them and move but with so many different voices explaining it there is something for everyone.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hoppy Halloween Weekend...

Its that time again...The Friday book blog hop...

This weeks question is, What is the one bookish thing you would love to have no matter the cost?  


Hmm...this is a tough one.  I'm not really sure.  I mean I have a kindle, I have a ton of books, the only thing I really need is more time to read!

But if money were no object I guess I would have to say that I would want a bigger house where I could have a library with shelves all around and one of those rolling ladders...a big fireplace and a really comfy chair just like in the movies.

Happy Halloween everyone...have a ghoulishly good time!

Secrets, Ghosts, and Hidden Agenda's

Title: The Lovers by John Connolly
Publisher: Atria
344 pages
Genre: Mystery, fiction

Synopsis: Parker is working in a bar in Portland, having been deprived of his P.I.'s license. He uses his enforced retirement to begin a different kind of investigation: an examination of his own past and an inquiry into the death of his father, who took his own life after apparently shooting dead two unarmed teenagers, a search that will eventually lead to revelations about Parker's own parentage.

Meanwhile, a troubled young woman is running from an unseen threat, one that already seems to have taken the life of her boyfriend, and a journalist-turned-writer named Mickey Wallace is conducting an investigation of his own into Charlie Parker in the hope of writing a non-fiction book about his exploits.

And haunting the shadows, as they have done throughout Parker's life, are two figures: a man and a woman, the lovers of the title, who appear to have only one purpose, and that is to bring an end to his existence . . . 

Review: This is the 8th Charlie Parker novel and I really believe you have to read these in order.  Each one seems to build on the next and if you jump in somewhere in the middle I think you will lose too much.  Charlie was an NYPD cop like his father but the brutal slaying of his wife and daughter (which is dealt with in the first book, Every Dead Thing) lead him down a different path.  With the help of his notorious criminal friends Luis and Angel, Charlie often finds himself involved in cases that lead to people dying.  But those people always seem to deserve it.

I love this series but it is very dark, and sometimes downright scary.  Connolly's writing is fabulous and his characters are fascinating.  They definitely don't live in a world where things are black and white but rather are always viewed in shades of grey.  Charlie's life seems to attract darkness, darkness that he seems to vanquish but always seems to lead him to trouble.

Charlie is now working in a bar, hoping to get his permit to carry a weapon back, but not sure if he wants his PI license back.  He likes not having a choice when it comes to taking a case, he doesn't want to be drawn back into the darkness again right now.  He wants a break, he also wants to learn about his past.  One of the darker characters from a past book revealed secrets about Charlies past which have haunted him and now its time to look into them.

As Charlie digs into his past, the death of his father, the two unarmed kids his father killed and who are his true parents might be, he once again starts a chain of events that seems to take on a life of its own and of course people start dying.  His investigation leads to the revelation of a hidden group that seem to know everything about Charlie and the lovers that keep popping up through his life that seem to want him dead.  They may even know who they are.

Biblical, creepy and absolutely absorbing I still can't figure out if Charlie is on the side of good or evil.  I guess its all in how you look at it.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Serial Killers and Closets...

Title: The Killing Room by Gerri Hill
Publisher: Bella Books
385 pages
Genre: Lesbian Romantic fiction

Synopsis: Denver Detective Jake McCoy is trying to recover- both physically and emotionally- from the shooting death of a young boy that also left her injured.   She soon finds herself rehabbing at her cabin in the mountains, soaking in the remote natural springs - which is exactly where psychologist Nicole Westbrook vacations and soon stumbles across her...

When Nicole leaves the next day , the two women know little more about the other than her first name - yet they are now lovers instead of strangers.

When Jake returns to Denver, a serial murder investigation soon leads her to Nicole. As the investigation develops, their physical attraction threatens to compromise the case.  Nicole finds herself struggling to remain in the professional closet that she's been hiding in for so long - a place where an out cop like Jake McCoy simply does not belong.

Review: As far as lesbian fiction goes Gerri Hill is one of my favorites.  Her writing is exciting and keeps you engaged.  There is always much more to the story than just the relationship between the two main characters.

When Jake returns to work following an injury she catches a case that points to a serial killer targeting female abuse victims who are all clients of the woman she met while convalescing  at her cabin in the woods. No matter how hard they dig Jake and her partner Ricky can't seem to catch a break.

Nicole is trying not to take the death of her clients personally but the coincidences are piling up and the target may not be her clients but Nicole herself. Relying on Jake to help keep her safe isn't so easy for Nicole who is deeply closeted but finds herself drawn to Jake despite all of her friends warnings about having a relationship with someone so open not to mention "beneath" her in status.

This story has many layers...the murder mystery, the lure of new romance, the psychological aspects of abuse victims, the ending of relationships, the bond between friends, fear of being out ruining a promising career, and the pain and loss involved in not living an authentic life.

All of the characters have a story and personality that make them feel real, not like stiff chess pieces moving around a board.  The play between Jake and her partner Ricky is completely amusing, they are like a married couple bickering and sniping at each other in a playful and fun way. I think thats what I like about Hill's writing her characters come to life and you become invested in their lives.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Afghanistan before and after the Taliban

Title: The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
Publisher: Back Bay Books
288 pages
Genre: non-fiction - Islamic Culture

Synopsis: This mesmerizing portrait of a proud man who, through three decades and successive repressive regimes, heroically braved persecution to bring books to the people of Kabul has elicited extraordinary praise throughout the world and become a phenomenal international bestseller.  The Bookseller of Kabul is startling in its intimacy and its details - a revelation of the plight of Afghan women and a window into the surprising realities of daily life in today's Afghanistan.

Review: This book has generated a lot of talk from critics and from the people involved.  Apparently even though the author attempted to keep the bookseller and his family anonymous he was too well known so even with the use of alias's he was identified.  Now he is seeking asylum in Sweden or Norway with his family.  He is also suing the author for defamation of character, family and country in a Norway.

This book is written as a story which makes it easier to read.  It was very interesting and gave an interesting look into Afghani life and the differences between the lives of women and men.  At first I didn't understand why the bookseller was suing the author but as the book progressed I could see why he might take offense.  Its not that he did anything particularly bad, but some of his actions to a western mind were harsh and offensive.

Seierstad also gives a lot of history about how Afghanistan used to be before the Taliban and a glimpse into the current political climate.  Its sad that such a beautiful country and culture have been destroyed by constant war.  At one point one of the sons was making a pilgrimage and was passing through all different cities while one of his friends read from a tour book.  The city now looks nothing like the book described.  It is now a desolate location with bombed out buildings, no trees, and very few people whereas before it was known as a place of great art.  Beautiful pottery was sold by the road which was lined with cherry trees and people.

The bookseller intrigued the author when she met him because of his love of books, and his passion for keeping the culture of his people alive even during the Taliban rule.  He frequently kept banned books in his shop.  He was imprisoned many times and his books taken out and burned in the streets.  I think somewhere within her time with him her respect for him dwindled and the book became less about him and more about his family.  His sons, one of who is completely dislikable and others that you feel sorry for because they really have no say about their lives.  The bookseller is the ultimate ruler of his family and what he says is law.  The women in the family which include his mother, his sisters, and his daughters are treated more as possessions than people.  Seierstad does show other families where womens lives aren't quite as rigid as the booksellers and have more freedom but she tends to focus more on the family.  It is fascinating to read the parts from the women's point of view, most of whom have accepted that they have no say, while others still struggle against this.

All in all I would say this is a really interesting book that gives an interesting glimpse inside one Afghani families  world.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Torn Between Two Lovers

Title: Runes by Em Petrova
Publisher: Red Sage Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, erotica
Price: $3.99 ebook

This book was received free from the publisher via netgalley.com

Synopsis: When immortals Will Cochran and Evangeline Mayer are thrown together by a phenomenon known as The Calling, they breech the barriers of a conventional relationship.  By sharing their blood and bodies, their minds and souls are also entwined.  But Evangeline has been yanked from the arms of her mortal love, Sean Livingston, and the echo of his touch never leaves her.

When she's kidnapped by a sadistic immortal seeking revenge for the loss of his own mate, Sean is summoned as a means to torture her. Their reunion both titillates and torments her new mate, Will. He and Sean make a pact to share the woman they both love, and find new desires arising in the arms of each other.

Review: First I have to mention that it is very dangerous to just pick a book without reading the synopsis first or even knowing what genre it is from.  When I started reading Runes I thought it was a YA book until the scene turned a bit too racy for it to be considered YA.  So I looked it up and realized what book I had just picked!

As far as erotic books go Runes has a fairly strong story unlike many erotic books and the author really delves into the minds of her characters.  Their struggles and thoughts are much more developed than most erotic fictions I've read.

Will, an immortal saves the life of his sisters girlfriend from an overdose by "turning her".  It isn't until afterward that he discovers that they are bonded and "called" as soul mates.  If they don't come together the pain they feel will drive them insane.

While Will fights the "calling" Evangaline, who doesn't know she is immortal, fears the voices in her head are her going insane not Will trying to calm her down.  Not wanting to scare her sister she turns to Sean a mortal friend of hers who offers her a place to stay.  While there they form a bond of their own, that borders on obsessive.

So now Evangaline is torn between her mortal love and her immortal bond. After Evangaline is kidnapped Will and Sean find themselves in the awkward situation of trying to work together to save the woman they both love.

In between all the action are long graphic sex scenes including menage a trois, and male on male scenes.  If this is offensive to you I would avoid this book.  All in all I would say one of the better erotic fictions I've read.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bones, Secrets and Ancient Gods

Title: The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
336 Pages
Genre: Mystery Suspense

I received this book as an electronic galley from the publisher via netgalley. This title will be released January 2011.

Synopsis: It’s been only a few months since archaeologist Ruth Galloway found herself entangled in a missing persons case, barely escaping with her life. But when construction workers demolishing a large old house in Norwich uncover the bones of a child beneath a doorway—minus its skull—Ruth is once again called upon to investigate. Is it a Roman-era ritual sacrifice, or is the killer closer at hand?

Ruth and Detective Harry Nelson would like to find out—and fast. When they realize the house was once a children’s home, they track down the Catholic priest who served as its operator. Father Hennessey reports that two children did go missing from the home forty years before—a boy and a girl. They were never found. When carbon dating proves that the child’s bones predate the home and relate to a time when the house was privately owned, Ruth is drawn ever more deeply into the case. But as spring turns into summer it becomes clear that someone is trying very hard to put her off the trail by frightening her, and her unborn child, half to death.

Review: This is the 2nd book in the Ruth Galloway series but it truly could stand alone.  It references the first book but you don't feel left out or in the dark by not reading it which is nice.  Its a fresh take on the whole Kay Scarpetta/ Temperence Brennan theme, forensic anthropologist finds bones, helps police solve the crime. This series is set in England which is also a nice change of scenery from the US or Canada.  Filled with celtic folklore, druids, and archeologist sites galore, this book is a fun new entry into this genre.

Ruth Gallloway isn't as accomplished as either Scarpetta or Bones, she isn't the head of any lab, she teaches at the University and is considered an expert but on a more human level.  I think thats one of the reasons I liked this book.  Ruth isn't superhuman and the one who always saves the day and solves the crime.  She has a role in solving the case but its the police who actually do the investigating.  Ruth just seems easier to relate to, obsessing about being out of shape, how she is going to handle a baby on her own, dealing with ultra conservative born-again parents, and a best friend who is sleeping with her married boss.  The supporting characters are all quirky and interesting each with their own secrets that start to unravel in this book.

In this book Ruth finds herself pregnant after a one night stand with a married man, trying to overcome morning sickness and figure out the origins of the bones of a child found buried in a doorway of a building site.  If that isn't enough to handle someone is determined to scare her off this case, leaving gruesome objects for her to find and stalking her at home.

A great book to put on your "to be read" list for 2011.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Hop

Its that day again!  Today's question is:
"When you read a book that you just can't get into, do you stick it out and keep reading or move to your next title?"


The answer to this used to be yes I stuck it out...but now, it's getting harder and harder for me to do.  I will usually give a book about 100-150 pages to change my mind or grab me if it still isn't cutting it I'll reluctantly stop reading it.  So far I've only experienced this with one book that just really really sucked in my opinion.  Usually even if I don't particularly like it, if it has some redeeming quality I will continue to read it but I think I'm getting over this feeling of needing to finish the book despite feeling like I'm being tortured by reading it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Science and Moral Dilemma's

Title: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage International
288 pages
Genre: Fantasy/Sci fi

Synopsis: Hailsham is a British boarding school for special students. The reminiscence is told from the point of view of Kathy H., now 31, whose evocation of the sheltered estate's sunlit rolling hills, guardians, dormitories, and sports pavilions is imbued with undercurrents of muted tension and foreboding that presage a darker reality. As an adult, Kathy re-engages in lapsed friendships with classmates Ruth and Tommy, examining the details of their shared youth and revisiting with growing awareness the clues and anecdotal evidence apparent to them even as youngsters that they were different from everyone outside.

Review:I couldn't put this book down. It isn't until about 1/3 of the way through this book that you start to have a glimmer of what it is really about and since I don't want to spoil it my review is going to be fairly cryptic and for that I apologize.  If the little I reveal peaks your curiosity or if you like moral questions this is a book for you.

Ishiguro reveals the true horror of this book slowly after you get to know the players involved.  Little by little like peeling the layers of an onion you are slowly shown the fate of the main characters of this book.  It makes you think, it makes you want to scream, it makes you want to shake them and scream "run" or "what are you thinking!".  Is this what our future holds? I hope not. Maybe this is a cautionary tale, one that shows what could happen, and investigates what makes one person more important than another.

This is a more personal book but it reminds me of the out of print book World Enough and Time by James Kahn, which blends science and fantasy but asks some of the same questions, such as just because we have the technology to do something should we really do it and what are the consequences if we do?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hoppity Hop Hop Hop

Its Blog Hop Friday...This weeks questions is what is your favorite beverage to drink while blogging or reading?

For me it has to be tea.  I am almost as obsessed with tea as I am with books.  I have an entire cabinet in my kitchen devoted to tea only! Black tea, green tea, white tea...you name it its probably in there.  Decaf, caffeinated it doesn't matter.  My favorites?  Depending on my mood, I like English Breakfast in the morning, something fruity in the afternoon or if its a rainy blah day that calls for Earl Grey. In the evening, something more mellow like a chamomile, or peppermint.

Thanks for visiting! Enjoy.

Imagine life in an 11X11 room

Title: Room by Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
336 Pages
Genre:

Synopsis: To five year old Jack, Room is the world. It's where he was born, its where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack's imagination - the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma's clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen - for seven years.  Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven by eleven foot space. But Jack's curiosity is building alongside her own desperation - and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Review: Emma Donoghue has written a remarkable book.  Disturbing, uplifting and powerful, Room is a fabulous book about the power of a mothers love even in the most dire of circumstances.  Jack and his mother are prisoners but Jack doesn't understand that.  Room is all he has ever known.  His mother does everything she can to make sure that he stays healthy and his mind stays sharp as she tries to make his childhood seem as normal as possible.  Together Jack and his mother come up with games, exercises, stories and routine that help them pass the time.  But as Jack gets older his mother worries about him and knows that she needs to try to escape in order to give Jack the life he deserves.

Reminiscent of what happened to Jaycee Dugard, the woman who was abducted at age 11, held in a compound for 18 years and when she was finally discovered she had raised 2 children who were now 12 & 14. It is amazing the power of love and what a mother will do to protect her children.

Donoghue is brilliant in helping the reader put themselves in the shoes of a 5 year old boy whose only world has been an 11x11 room. Her descriptions of the world as seen through the eyes of Jack are brilliant and well thought out.  She does an amazing job of putting us in his shoes.  Even the scenes with Old Nick show how Jack's mother has protected him from the harsh reality of their situation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rumshpringa Murder

Title: Murder in Plain Sight by Marta Perry
Publisher: Harlequin
384 Pages
Genre: Romance

I received this book as an advanced electronic readers copy from the publisher via netgalley.com.  It is due to be released November 30, 2010


Synopsis: There are secrets buried in Amish country...
Did a sweet-faced Amish teenager brutally murder a young woman? To save her career, big-city lawyer Jessica Langdon is determined to defend him—against the community’s bitter and even violent outrage. Yet without an understanding of Amish culture, Jessica must rely on arrogant businessman Trey Morgan, who has ties to the Amish community...and believes in the boy’s guilt.

Jessica has threats coming from all sides: a local fanatic, stirred up by the biased publicity of the case; the dead girl’s boyfriend; even from the person she’s learned to trust the most, Trey Morgan. But just when Jessica fears she’s placed her trust in the wrong man, Trey saves her life. And now they must both reach into a dangerous past to protect everyone’s future—including their own.

Review: I may not know that much about Phoenix (see my last review) but I know a lot about Philadelphia, the Main Line and Lancaster County.  I am fascinated by the Amish culture and have been stuck behind a buggy or two in my time.

This book hooked me from the first moment and kept me interested the whole way through.  Who actually killed the woman in the barn?  Was it the Amish boy suspected of it or someone else?  Jessica is sent from her big Philadelphia law firm to help broker a plea but once she starts investigating she finds that there is much more to the case than meets the eye.  With the help of Trey the son of the local woman who hired her she uncovers links to secret societies, and a deception that runs so deep it will affect Treys family forever.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gangs, Guns and Politics

Title: South Phoenix Rules by Jon Talton
Publisher: Poison Pen Press
250 Pages
Genre: Urban Mystery

This book will be released in December 2010.  I received this as an advanced electronic galley from the publisher through netgalley.com

Synopsis: A handsome young New York professor comes to Phoenix to research his new book. But when he’s brutally murdered, police connect him to one of the world’s most deadly drug cartels. This shouldn’t be a case for historian-turned-deputy David Mapstone – except the victim has been dating David’s sister-in-law Robin and now she’s a target, too. David’s wife Lindsey is in Washington with an elite anti-cyber terror unit and she makes one demand of him: protect Robin.

This won’t be an easy job with the city police suspicious of Robin and trying to pressure her. With the sheriff’s office in turmoil, David is even more of an outsider. And the gangsters are able to outgun and outspend law enforcement. It doesn’t help that David and Lindsey’s long-distance marriage is under strain. But the danger is real and growing. To save Robin, David must leave his stack of historic crimes and plunge into the savage today world of smuggling – people, drugs, and guns – in Phoenix.

Review: After some investigation I learned that this was the 6th book in the David Mapstone Series.  Since learning this I can definitely see the advantage of reading these books in order.  While I really enjoyed the book I felt like an outsider looking in.  I was missing some of the reason behind different characters behaviors and the relationships between them that I believe was established in earlier books.

My other disadvantage was in not knowing much about Arizona. Taltons descriptions of the cities and the culture and politics are very vivid and I could see how they would be very appealing to someone who is familiar with the area. The descriptions of the neighborhoods included street names and neighborhood history making me want to know the area to better find myself in it.  It reminds me of how I feel about books set in Philadelphia or New Orleans which I am very familiar with and get a thrill out of following the characters as they walk around the city.  When you know the area and the people, its often easier to slip into the setting and feel of the book. Despite the lack of knowledge of Phoenix I did enjoy learning about it and you can tell the author has a deep passion for it.

The mystery that David Mapstone finds himself involved in leads him to a very dark place.  This is a great Noir novel as we see the main character go from an innocent man to a jaded man who is willing to walk a very dark path.  It was fascinating watching the transformation and wondering how it would all play out. Leaving the police force, unsure of the future of his marriage and surrounded by death David relies on his training as a historian to help him discover the links that bind it all together and find a way out.  The deceptions and mysteries that Mapstone uncovers are fascinating and interesting.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Things that go bump in the night

Title: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher (Book 3 of the Dresden Files)
Publisher: ROC a division of Penguin Putnam Publishing
378 pages
Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: In all Harry Dresden's years of supernatural sleuthing, he's never faced anything like this: the spirit world's gone postal. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble - and not just of the door slamming, boo shouting variety.  These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly.  Someone or something is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc.  But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry?

Review: Its always difficult to review books in a series without giving anything away but here goes nothing.  This is the third Harry Dresden book that I've read, and this one was better than the first two.  I was a huge fan of the SyFy series that only ran for one season and then realized that there were books!

The books are different than the series but equally as good.  Harry is witty, faulty and heroic.  He often finds himself in no-win situations where his options both suck but he finds a way free often beaten to the point of death but alive.  Grave Peril is a bit of a vampire hunting, ghost adventure with wizardry thrown in.  It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here since his actions in this book start a chain reaction that will bring the White Council (those who guard the wizards) down on his head.  I'm going to assume they don't kill him since there are something like 12 books in this series.

I like the Jim Butchers take on Wizards, and what they can do, can't do and some of their limitations.  For instance they don't seem to interact too well with technology so Harry's home has no lights except candles and a fire place for heat.  His office is constantly blowing light bulbs and he prefers to take the stairs instead of elevators so he doesn't get stuck.  Guns stop working, cars get fried etc...which makes living in Chicago a problem.  These are fun reads with amusing, sarcastic and witty dialog  that makes you chuckle.  If you're a fantasy, witch, wizard fan you will like this series and all the many characters that Harry meets, befriends and kills.
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