Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review Friday: Juliet

Juliet is  Anne Fortier's debut novel.  It is a work of contemporary and historical fiction telling two parallel stories.  Julie Jacobs is 25 years old when her Aunt Rose dies and instead of leaving her estate for Julie and her twin sister Janice to divide equally, as she had always promised to do, she leaves the estate to Janice.  To Julie she leaves a note, a key to a safety deposit box in a bank in Siena, Italy, and a mystery hundreds of years in the making.
Julie soon learns that she and Janice were born Giulietta and Giannozza Tolomei and their distant ancestor, the original Giulietta Tolomei's tragic life and death was the true inspiration for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
The twins were told that their parents died in a car crash when the  girls were 3 years old.  Now Julie discovers that this is not exactly the whole truth, though their parents are dead, the circumstances were suspicious. And a member of Solembini clan, rivals to the Tolomeis for hundreds of years could be responsible. 
When Julie travels to Siena unable to speak a word of Italian the first people she meets are Eva Maria Solembini and her handsome, but aloof godson, Alessandro.  Eva Maria is fascinated by Julie's story and eager to help her learn more about her past, but Julie can't help but wonder why.  And why is Alessandro so distant and suspicious of her motives?  The safety deposit box holds no treasure, but a box full of papers and diaries. As Julie sifts through this memorabilia she discovers it holds the key not only to a fabulous treasure but also to unlocking the mystery surrounding the ancient tragedy of Giulietta and Romeo.  If she plays her cards right, Julie could finally find a way to end the infamous "plague on both your houses" which still curses both the Tolomeis and the Solembinis or she could end up another victim to the tragic curse.
 Fortier's prose is rich and evocative, if perhaps a bit overlong, as she weaves the two stories together.   The book is well researched and thoroughly entertaining.  A fascinating look beyond the story of Romeo and Juliet.

For more books based on Shakespeare's classic plays check out this list: Fiction Based on Shakespeare from the New York Public Library.

If you liked Juliet, you might like these:

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Violets of March by Sarah Jio
Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Art of War for Writers


The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell is a small, to the point guide for novelists.  Bell is an accomplished author of several novels as well as writer how-to books.  In this book he uses short chapters to highlight various points he considers necessary for writers to improve their craft.  He quotes liberally from Sun Tzu's classic strategy book The Art of War (in the library catalog the author attribution is "sunzi, active 5th century B. C.), applying those principles to the art of putting words on paper.  He also quotes liberally from Stephen King's On Writing

Bell's book is pocket sized, the chapters are short and each contains a pithy nugget of wisdom that writers can use to their benefit.  There are exercises for practicing the craft, strategies for overcoming writer's block, and tips and tricks that only a veteran writer can share with the novice.  An excellent guide book.  A perfect gift for the writer in your life.

Need more help getting that novel started or finished?  Try these:

On Writing by Stephen King
A Writer's Guide to Characterization: Archetypes, Heroic Journeys, and Other Elements of Dynamic Character Development by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks
Beginnings, Middles, & Ends by Nancy Kress
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing by Elmore Leonard
Writer's Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction

More books by James Scott Bell:

Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel
Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish

Blind Justice: A Novel
City of Angels
Angels Flight
Angel of Mercy
A Greater Glory
A Higher Justice
Presumed Guilty
The Whole Truth
Don't Leave Me

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review Friday: A Beautiful Blue Death


A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer, Charles Lennox likes to spend his winter afternoons with a cup of tea, a good book, and a blazing fire.  But when his good friend and neighbor Lady Jane asks him to help solve a crime he cannot refuse.  Lady Jane's former made Pru Smith has turned up at her new job dead of an apparent suicide.  Lennox accompanied by his good friend, Dr. Thomas McConnell and his valet, Graham investigate and soon deduce that Pru was murdered by a rare poison and the race is on to discover how the girl was killed and why. 
A fascinating glimpse into Victorian England and a first class mystery as well. 

For more Charles Lennox mysteries try:

The September Society
The Fleet Street Murders
A Stranger in Mayfair
A Burial at Sea
A Death in the Small Hours
An Old Betrayal

For more Victorian mysteries try:

The Yard by Alex Grecian
The William Monk series by Anne Perry
The Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series by Anne Perry

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories

Friday, December 6, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Christmas Mouse & No Holly for Miss Quinn

 The Christmas Mouse & No Holly for Miss Quinn are two novellas by Miss Read.  These are sweet, old-fashioned Christmas stories, that were originally published in the 1970s.  The stories tell the tales village life in rural England.

In The Christmas Mouse, old Mrs. Berry is settling in for Christmas Eve when her peace is disturbed by two little visitors.  Mrs. Berry copes delightfully with her Christmas mice and her daughter and granddaughters as well. 

In No Holly for Miss Quinn, executive assistant and spinster, Miss Quinn, is jolted out of her longed for solitary Christmas celebration by an urgent call from her brother Lovell.  Soon Miss Quinn is up to her ears in the the hubbub of domestic dramas as she helps care for her pastor brother's family during the Christmas holidays while her sister-in-law is in the hospital.

No earthquakes, no explosions, no dark family secrets to reveal, just two sweet little Christmas stories to remind you of days gone by and give you a good dose of village life and old-fashioned Christmas Spirit.

I listen to them on audio every December.

For more Christmas stories may I suggest:

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford

Matchless: A Christmas Story by Gregory Maguire

For even more Christmas tales search your library catalog for "Christmas Stories."

Sunday, December 1, 2013


To all and sundry who may be viewing my blog I apologize.  I didn't post a book review this past Friday.  I thought I'd scheduled them for the entire month but somewhere down the line, I ran short.  I have a couple of good excuses though:

I spent a few days puppy sitting for the adorable Miss Lily.

And I spent the entire month pounding out a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and the good news is... I did it!


 So maybe someday someone else can review my novel.  Does anyone know how to spell "Long shot"??

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is a cozy mystery that introduces a most endearing sleuth.  Her name is Flavia de Luce, a plucky eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry.  In the summer of 1950 Flavia is living with her father and two sisters on the family estate, Buckshaw.  Flavia's mother disappeared when she was a baby and is presumed dead, the mansion is slowly falling down around their ears, and Flavia and her two teenage sisters spend their time teasing and tormenting one another.  One day a dead is found on the doorstep with a postage stamp impaled on his beak. Meanwhile, a stranger appears and is soon found dying in the family garden.  When Flavia's father is implicated in the death  of the man Flavia sets out to discover the truth.
Author Alan Bradley won the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award for this engaging story.  And the series just gets better with age.  If you like cozy mysteries, quirky characters, engaging sleuths or precocious young chemists with a talent for making poisons, you're going to love Flavia de Luce.

For more of Flavia read:

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
A Red Herring Without Mustard
I Am Half Sick of Shadows
Speaking From Among the Bones
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

For another precocious sleuth try:

The Enola Holmes series (Sherlock's younger sister), start with: The Case of the Missing Marquess

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Unlikely Spy


"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."   ~ Winston Churchill

Before he became famous for his contemporary spy thrillers, Daniel Silva wrote The Unlikely Spy.  The story of college professor Alfred Vicary, who in the midst of WWII is caught up in the British government's desperate efforts to keep the plans for the D-Day invasion secret.  Vicary is a most unlikely spy-catcher and his adversary, a secret Nazi agent, is indeed a most unlikely spy.   Even though you already know how the D-Day invasion turned out, this spy thriller will keep you on the edge of your chair.

If you want more WWII spy novels try:

The Honor of Spies by W E B Griffin
Black Cross by Greg Iles
The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
The Polish Officer by Alan Furst

Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Eyre Affair


 Alternate reality, time travel, literary references, quirky characters, science fiction, romance, and crime thriller ... if any of these appeal to you, you might just love The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. 

Thursday Next is a Special Ops cop in an alternative reality England circa 1985.  She investigates literary crimes and someone has just perpetrated a couple of doozies by stealing an original Dickens manuscript and kidnapping Jane Eyre from the original Bronte work.  Thursday deals with corruption, politics, co-workers, and bad guys as she tries to rescue Jane, deal with demons from her past, and reconnect with the love of her life.  Funny and quirky, with lots of historical and literary references to keep you guessing.

First in a series.  If you like The Eyre Affair follow it up with:

 Lost in a Good Book
The Well of Lost Plots
Something Rotten
First Among Sequels
One of Our Thursdays is Missing
The Woman Who Died A Lot

or try Fforde's Nursey Crime series:

The Big Over Easy
The Fourth Bear

Monday, November 4, 2013


Yeah, My Library Books Are Late 

 Some libraries have stopped charging overdue fines.  Others offer amnesty days where all fines are forgiven provided long lost materials are returned.  Other libraries have gotten creative and offered to removed or reduce library fines in exchange for donations to the library's canned goods drive.   And still other libraries have resorted to the courts to enforce their return and overdue policies.  Check out this story of a man in Texas who was arrested and had to post $200 bond because of an overdue book.

At my library we charge 2 cents per day for books with a maximum of $1 each.  Videos are $1 a day with a maximum of $3.  It doesn't sound like much, but if you take out 10 DVDs at a time and keep 'em out 3 extra days, that's a $30 fine. If the items are more than five weeks late, we send the patron a bill for the replacement costs. And after more than $5 of fines are recorded on the library card, it won't work for computer log ins, checkouts, renewals, or reserves.  But I'm fairly certain we've never called the police.
Something funny to add

So where do you stand on overdue books?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Review Friday: Wedding Magic


Suspend disbelief and allow yourself to be entertained.  This is a sweet and spicy contemporary romance with a paranormal twist.  Sophie Bennett is a no-nonsense wedding planner trying to secure a fairy-tale location for a client's wedding.  The home owner, handsome and brooding, Owen Winters considers tossing Sophie out on her ear.  Then he discovers that she saw something in the house that he thought no one else could see, the crazy ghost that keeps picking up his towels and putting coasters under his drinks.  Soon sparks are flying, but will the ghost allow the wedding to take place?

Want another romance with a ghostly assist?  Try:

Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton

For more contemporary romances, you might like these authors:
Jennifer Crusie
Sophie Kinsella
Katie Fforde


Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Thin Man


I've been a fan of Nick and Nora Charles for years ... the William Powell and Myrna Loy version via the Thin Man movie franchise.  I finally decided it was time to read the book and find out where it all started.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett is a New York Noir 1930s potboiler detective story.   Nick Charles is a retired detective married to Nora, an heiress who has come into her fortune.  Like others of the fashionable 1930's social set, they spend their time traveling, partying, and drinking.  During Christmas week in Manhattan, Nick runs in to the daughter of an old client.  Dorothy Wynant asks Nick for help finding her father, the inventor, Clyde Miller Wynant, who hasn't been seen in over three months.  Nick gives Dorothy a simple suggestion and moves on to his next drink with Nora.  But things start happening and soon Nick and Nora are up to their necks in murder.

This was a quick read and a lot of fun.  The story got bogged down once as Nick told a long, convoluted story about cannibals to young Gilbert Wynant, but aside from that it was a fast-paced story, long on dialogue and action, short on descriptions.

I read the book and listened to the audio, narrated by William Dufris.   Dufris's narration was excellent.  Tho' his voice for Dorothy might have been too spot on, that bratty whine occasionally got on my nerves!

If you want more Dashiell Hammett try:

The Maltese Falcon 
The Glass Key

For more gritty, noir detective novels try these authors:

The Philip Marlowe series by Raymond Chandler, start with The Big Sleep
The Spenser series by Robert B. Parker, start with The Godwulf Manuscript
The Amos Walker series by Loren Estleman, start with Motor City Blue
The Michael Kelly series by Michael Harvey, start with The Chicago Way

Friday, October 18, 2013

Book Review Friday: Queen's Gambit


King Henry VIII to six spouses was wedded
One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded

Queen's Gambit is Elizabeth Fremantle's debut novel. For a first book she definitely hit this one out of the park.  Queen's Gambit is a lush and lavish look  at the Tudor Court of King Henry VIII and his 6th, and surviving, wife, Katherine Parr.
The story opens with the recently widowed Katherine (Kit to her friends) returning to court at the summons of Henry's oldest daughter, Lady Mary.  But the request is just a subterfuge, it is Henry who is casting his eyes her way.  Having recently disposed of wife number 5, Henry is in need of a replacement.  And intelligent, strong-willed Katherine, who just nursed an older, ailing husband through his last illness might be just what the old and ailing king wants. Katherine finds herself plunged into the danger and intrigue of court as highborn ladies, lords, and underlings all jockey for position and power and men make the final decisions.
Thrown into the mix is Katherine's powerful attraction to the handsome, ambitious Thomas Seymour.  Rumor has it that he may be married off to Katherine's stepdaughter, Meg.  But Seymour has other ideas and bigger ambitions. 
The story is told through the eyes of Katherine, her servant Dot, and her personal physician Huicke.  The varying viewpoints let the reader see the sumptuous Tudor Court from all angles above and below stairs.  The period details are fascinating.  Although, from several Tudor purists I have discovered that Fremantle has taken some literary license with Katherine Parr's actual history.  Still, she doesn't stray far from the facts and the personalities she develops for each of the major players bring the story to life. 

For more palace intrigue try these authors:

Philippa Gregory
Hilary Mantel
Alison Weir

And for some more Tudor book reviews check out this list from The Tudor Enthusiast

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Digital Shift Experience


 I attended an online conference on Wednesday hosted by Library Journal and School Library Journal.  The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries.  It was great!  Perhaps a slight misnomer, though 'cause no one was talking about reinventing the library, just helping it continue its evolution.

The keynote panel spoke about the changes they envision libraries and librarians need to make to stay viable.  They talked about makerspaces, production, learning and creation.  They suggested that libraries become platforms for life-long learning.  Places where patrons of all ages and stations in life can come to learn and connect.

In a discussion of critical skills librarians should be learning the panel suggested: problem solving, critical thinking, a willingness to fail, organizational and creative thinking, leadership, relationship building, grit, perseverance, flexibility, and a deep knowledge of how people learn.  There was a lot of emphasis on the role of librarians as educators and teachers.

Other presentations I attended included makerspaces, testing & workforce development (badging), and connected learning.

I came away with lots of ideas and plenty of handouts and brochures from vendors to browse through.  All in all a great experience.