Thursday, January 20, 2011

Giveaway: Death of a Chimney Sweep by M.C. Beaton

In the south of Scotland, residents get their chimneys vacuum-cleaned. But in the isolated villages in the very north of Scotland, the villagers rely on the services of the itinerant sweep, Pete Ray, and his old-fashioned brushes. Pete is always able to find work in the Scottish highlands, until one day when Police Constable Hamish Macbeth notices blood dripping onto the floor of a villager's fireplace, and a dead body stuffed inside the chimney. The entire town of Lochdubh is certain Pete is the culprit, but Hamish doesn't believe that the affable chimney sweep is capable of committing murder. Then Pete's body is found on the Scottish moors, and the mystery deepens. Once again, it's up to Hamish to discover who's responsible for the dirty deed--and this time, the murderer may be closer than he realizes.



Thanks to Hachette Book Group I have three copies to give away!

Contest ends 11:59 PM EST February 28, 2011. Open to residents of US and Canada only. No PO boxes.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: He Blew Her a Kiss by Angie Pechak Printup & Kelley Stewart Dollar

It comes as a brush of the shoulder, a breath, a familiar scent, or perhaps a gentle breeze when everything else is still. These remarkable sensations are all examples of our loved ones communicating to us after they are gone from this life-letting us know they are in a better place, and yet still with us.

He Blew Her a Kiss collects dozens of such stories of after-death communication, in which husbands, wives, children, grandparents, and others, gently let us know that their spirit lives on. This series of short, delightfully written vignettes-based on real-life stories from all over the country-describes:

-How a simple note tied to a balloon proves the incredible power of love to transcend all, following the death of a beloved wife

-The voicemail message a sister receives after her brother has passed-and its incredible tidings of hope

-The uncanny revelation contained in a TV game show that supplies comfort to a family after the death of their patriarch

-The nightlight that flickers only when a granddaughter speaks of her late grandmother-and how it refuses to go out...and much more

Filled with touching accounts that will make you smile and cry at the same time, He Blew Her a Kiss is required reading for anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one and needs a little help to carry on.



Received from the publisher for review.
 
This one gets three stars.  It was the first in a series and I look forward to future releases in the series.  Some of the stories from this lovely collection certainly bring tears to your eyes.  Reading the book is almost like a hug.  It is certainly recommended for those who have lost a loved one.

★★☆☆ = Liked It



Sunday, January 9, 2011

Winners: Lastingness

The winners of Lastingness from Hachette are:


Jessica
Dawn M.

Congratulations!

Thank you to all who entered!



Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: Earth (the Audiobook) by Jon Stewart

The eagerly awaited new book from the Emmy-winning, Oscar-hosting, Daily Show-anchoring Jon Stewart—the man behind the megaseller America (The Book)

Where do we come from? Who created us? Why are we here? These questions have puzzled us since the dawn of time, but when it became apparent to Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show that the world was about to end, they embarked on a massive mission to write a book that summed up the human race: What we looked like; what we accomplished; our achievements in society, government, religion, science and culture — all in a tome of approximately 256 pages with lots of color photos, graphs and charts. 

After two weeks of hard work, they had their book. EARTH (The Book) is the definitive guide to our species. With their trademark wit, irreverence, and intelligence, Stewart and his team will posthumously answer all of life's most hard-hitting questions, completely unburdened by objectivity, journalistic integrity, or even accuracy.



Received from the publisher for review.

This one gets two stars.  While I love Jon Stewart, this was just not the best format for the material.  It would be infinitely better in print.  That said, this audio version was tolerable for only half of the first disc.  It tried to have a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy feel and failed miserably.  It was just too ... something.  The readers were good, but it didn't do justice to the material.  It felt rather as if they were trying too hard and left you wincing instead of laughing.  If you're up for this definitely get it in print!

☆☆= Just Okay



Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem.  And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

The Emerald Atlas brims with humor and action as it charts Kate, Michael, and Emma's extraordinary adventures through an unforgettable, enchanted world.



ARC received from the publisher for review.

This just sounded so awesome even before I learned that the author had written for Gilmore Girls and The O.C. which made it just that much better.

I loved the names of some of the orphanages the children had been, for example, The Edgar Allen Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans.

This one gets four stars.  It had a decided Harry Potter feel at the beginning, then became more of a Lord of the Rings/A Series of Unfortunate Events hybrid.  The story itself was interesting, engrossing, and kept my attention through all four hundred plus pages.  The children were likable and felt very real.  This is certainly highly recommended for fantasy fans of all ages!

★★★★ = Really Liked It



Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: Miss Tutu's Star by Leslea Newman

Selena is a little girl “who does not walk so much as twirl.” When her mother takes her to Miss Tutu’s school of ballet, Selena has a bit of trouble with some of the steps, but still she practices and practices to get them right. Finally the time comes for Selena to make her debut. But she is terrified. Will her fear stop her from becoming Miss Tutu’s star?

LeslĂ©a Newman’s lyrical and humorous story about achieving one’s dream is perfectly matched with Carey Armstrong-Ellis’s witty and charming illustrations, which are filled with little stories of their own.





Received from the publisher for review.

This one gets four stars.  First, it's a book about ballet dancing with a kitten on every page, what more could a little girl ask for?  The story is nice with an excellent lesson.  The adorable illustrations by Carey Armstrong-Ellis were lovely and beautifully colored.  This is highly recommended and would make a lovely gift!

★★★★ = Really Liked It



Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: The Contrail Chronicles by Dick Nelson

"Contrails" are those silvery white tracks left in the sky by the engine exhaust condensation of high-altitude aircraft. They show where the airborne traveler is going, as well as where he has been. They define the journey, conducted at high speed, where the air is thin and danger is always lurking. This was the harsh testing-ground for a father and his son, from a family of Swedish immigrants---unlikely participants in the armed conflicts that would consume the world in their respective lifetimes.

The saga of the Nelson family contains joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, and ample quantities of humorous stories. It is a case study in how wars cut deeply into a family's heart and soul, and often destroy the bonds that normally exist.

The book traces Wendel Nelson's idealistic quest to become a World War II fighter pilot and defend democracy from fascism. As an American volunteer in the RAF, his exploits range from the Battle of Britain to the North African campaign against Rommel, and then fighter sweeps into Europe in the final years of the war.

His son, Dick, documents his experiences at the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval flight training, and the Vietnam air war. The impact of war on the families involved is described in poignant detail. The lifestyle of the modern combat pilot is described in both hilarious and sad episodes, where fiery death was always around the corner. 

This book also describes in detail the family's involvement with World War II, and its effect on Dick and his mother. The stories show the full impact of a war's lost sons and fathers on the families they leave behind. There are rarely happy endings in such stories---mostly, there are only lucky escapes at best. The reader should remember that war is about destruction, not creation; fear, as well as courage; and hatred, as well as love. It is a process of violent human extremes, and not for the squeamish.

In hindsight, most wars seem easy to diagnose as caused by missteps, lapses in judgment, and hidden agendas. But for the immediate participants and decision-makers, the initiation of war always seems---at the time---to be warranted and necessary. Even when war is unavoidable for national survival, it is almost always permeated by a number of incompetent decisions, lack of leadership courage, and cynical motives. 

The wars that impacted the Nelsons---World War II and Vietnam---demonstrated war's cruel fallacies in many ways. Wars are normally not won in quick, bloodless victories. The winner is usually the one that makes the least mistakes along the way, and is still standing at the end. That is why the doctrine evolved by some of the greatest military strategists---from William Tecumseh Sherman to Colin Powell---advocated the immediate application of overwhelming force on the enemy to force resolution. Sherman wrote, "I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success." 

From the swirling dog-fights of the Battle of Britain to the bloody skies over North Vietnam, the Nelsons put their lives on the line to serve the country they loved. Wendel lost his life in the last months of his war, when his P-51 Mustang was caught in a blinding snow storm. Twenty years later, Dick followed in his footsteps and became a Navy carrier pilot, flying the supersonic F-8E Crusader into combat from an aircraft carrier. He was lucky and survived that conflict, while many did not.

Another aspect of war is its painful impact on the families that are swept up in its whirlwind of violence. The story begins with a young Swedish carpenter's classic search for a better life in America. Enjoy the journey!



Received from the publisher for review.

This one gets three stars.  As you know, I'm not overly fond of biographies, auto or not, but this sounded interesting.  The story, while densely packed text, was informative.  Some of the language was rather technical and left me with that glazed look an economic textbook imparts.  The photographs generously distributed throughout each chapter really helped to illustrate the story, especially since I'm an aviation neophyte.  Overall, this was well written and history buffs should find it quite fascinating.

★★☆☆ = Liked It



Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: America the Beautiful by Sri Chinmaly

America the Beautiful is a one-of-a-kind meditation on the moral and spiritual roots of our nation. Written in approachable but inspired language, this book evokes the spirit of the Founding Fathers and the great luminaries who have graced our nation's soil, and presents their views clearly and simply in both poetry and prose. This is a rare glimpse into the soul of America presented by one of the greatest philosophers of our time. America the Beautiful is at once a reminder of our nation's deep moral heritage as well as a call-to-action to all Americans to broaden their commitment to the ideals upon which our nation was founded and upon which it is still sustained. This book is sure to inspire both young and old from all backgrounds and countries to the unlimited potential our great nation possessed and still possesses.




Received from the publisher for review.

This slim little volume certainly packs a punch. It offers an interesting perspective on our nation from a non-native author.  The little tidbits of information are beautifully sized so one can read one or more at a time and meditate on their message.  Think of them as truffles for the mind - rich morsels to be slowly savored.  This nice volume is a good option for those who wish for a positive perspective of America's past from someone who who truly did love our nation.

★★☆☆ = Liked It



Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: What Good Is God? by Philip Yancey (Audiobook)

Journalist and spiritual seeker Philip Yancey has always struggled with the most basic questions of the Christian faith. The question he tackles in WHAT GOOD IS GOD? concerns the practical value of belief in God. His search for the answer to this question took him to some amazing settings around the world: Mumbai, India when the firing started during the terrorist attacks; at the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; on the Virginia Tech campus soon after the massacre; an AA convention; and even to a conference for women in prostitution. At each of the 10 places he visited, his preparation for the visit and exactly what he said to the people he met each provided evidence that faith really does work when what we believe is severely tested. WHAT GOOD IS GOD? tells the story of Philips journey—the background, the preparation, the presentations themselves. Here is a story of grace for armchair travelers, spiritual seekers, and those in desperate need of assurance that their faith really matters.



Received from the publisher for review.

This one gets two stars.  I was truly looking forward to listening to this book, but my hopes for a positive experience were soon dashed.  Unfortunately, the author was allowed to read his book which is never a good thing.  The author's bland, almost patronizing voice did absolutely nothing to add to the material.  What could have been a tolerable listen became an exercise of will to even make it to the next track.  The material itself also did virtually nothing for me.  I found the author's tone and attitude extremely annoying and that took away any sort of connection I may have had to the story.  Overall, this may be an acceptable read for the religiously inclined but get it as a print book.

☆☆= Just Okay 



Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: Blonde Lotus by Cecile Gamst Berg

A semi-autobiographical humor novel set in China, Korea and Hong Kong. A girl from Norway runs away from the snow and moustaches plaguing her home country and accidentally ends up in China. Here, her life-long suspicion of having been born in the wrong country is confirmed. Burning a trail of misadventure through China and Hong Kong, she lives out a fantasy of living like a suffering dissident Chinese scholar. Immersing herself in her surroundings, Kat lives, loves, eats, drinks, studies, and then teaches Chinese language, Chinese men and Chinese culture. Hers is in no way an ordinary expat's life, and by the end of the book she finds that her one true companion is her own razor-sharp wit.





Received from the publicist for review.

This one gets two stars. Although the story premise was intriguing, and the book was well written with a nice flow, I didn't particularly connect with the main character, Kat, so I never really became immersed in the book. It was okay, but it did nothing for me and left me simply wondering why I'd bothered. Perhaps this would be a better match for someone ells, although I'm not entirely sure who that reader would be.

☆☆= Just Okay



Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review: In Search of the Great White God by Anthony T. Cluff

I was born a Mormon. I don't know why I was. I just was. All that I remember is hearing someone say: "Hey, it's a boy. He's a Mormon. Quick, circumcise him." From that moment on I was marked mentally, physically and genetically as a Mormon.

The Mormon church says that because I was born a Mormon I had been a valiant soul in a pre-existing life, that I am a member of God's elect here on earth and that I had a front row seat at Big Bang. But with my birth as a Mormon came a heavy responsibility, which was to find the "truth" of all things, especially the "truth" about the teachings of the Mormon church. I, thus, began at birth a life long search that would bring me ultimately to an understanding of my place in the universe.

At the heart of it all was the need to know the truth about the existence of a Great White God who Mormons believe to be none other than Jesus Christ himself. That would always bring me back to that most sacred of all Mormon scriptures, The Book of Mormon. And, it would also bring me back to the most revered of all persons in Mormonism, the prophet Joseph Smith. He was responsible for bringing The Book of Mormon to light. That event was critical in Mormon history because for the first time there was hard, physical, hands-on evidence that a new kid was in town, and he'd come-a-packin'. 

It was important that I get this right. My skepticisms about Mormonism meant that I would never make it in the next life to the highest, or "Celestial," kingdom where God resides. I could only hope that I could land in the "Terrestial," or middle kingdom. I definitely wanted to avoid the "Telestial," or lowest kingdom of heaven. That is reserved for people who engage in potty talk and have problems with their personal hygiene. I was sure that is where the bully boys from my high school are waiting for me to show up so they can use me as a punching bag and make me their slave boy. 

I had been born into a religion that was far different from anything that had been seen before. Mormons believe it to be the restoration of the Gospel in all its fullness and glory. To them, it is the "old-time religion," and it's here to stay. I was unwilling or unable, however, to rely on the promptings of the "spirit" to determine the "truth" about my religion of birth. So, I decided to undertake a thorough empirical examination of what I had been taught as a child. This included the many accounts about ancient American inhabitants, competing theories about The Book of Mormon's origin, and a page-by-mind-numbing-page review of The Book of Mormon itself with a big bottle of No-Doz in hand. In the end I came up with was what I was sure would be a new and path-breaking theory of how The Book of Mormon came to be. 

But, a chance-finding of a mural from the walls of an ancient city in Mexico threatened to undermine all that I had come to believe. So, in one last desperate attempt to get at the "truth," I decided to make a personal pilgrimage to ancient Mayan ruins hidden deep in the jungles of Mexico. There I encountered a Mexican guide named after a great warrior in The Book of Mormon, a bus full of American tourists who insisted on singing the song about 100 bottles of beer on the wall every time we went out on a tour of Mexican ruins, a group of French archaeologists who were more interested in sipping fine wines than in digging for artifacts and a mysterious stranger dressed as the legendary Mayan God, Quetzalcoatl. And, it was there, atop the tallest of all the Mayan pyramids in the jungles of Northern Yucatan--the Great Pyramid of Coba--that I found what I had been looking for.



Received from the publisher for review.

My favorite quote from the book was:

The "truth" is an elusive thing. At least it is for me. No sooner do I think that I have discovered it when I find that I have not. When I think that I have found it, I discover that I did not. When I think I need look no further, I realize that I must. I am one of those persons for whom the "truth" never stands still, is never stable, and is never the same now and forevermore. It is a changeable thing, always evolving, ever unfolding.

This one gets four stars. I know virtually nothing about the Mormons, despite there being a Mormon church in my town, except what I've seen on Big Love, so this immediately intrigued me. I'm normally not exactly a fan of any religious books but this was pleasantly surprising. It was extremely well written in a clear, intelligent style that was quite readable. This fascinating look into one man's journey for his own truth will resonate with you no matter your religion or lack thereof. It is definitely recommended.

★★★★ = Really Liked It