Saturday, August 30, 2008

Review: The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella

"A well made cup of coffee is the proper beginning to an idle day. Its aroma is beguiling, its taste is sweet; yet it leaves behind only bitterness and regret. In that it resembles, surely, the pleasures of love.....Although in this case, it seems to taste of nothing much except mud. With, perhaps, a faint aftertaste of rotten apricots."

With these words Robert Wallis seals his fate. Not that it didn't need to be sealed. After having been expelled from Oxford (too much partying, no studying) and cut off by his father, Robert is living in London on credit from various tradesmen. He is the very picture of a dandy, dressing in the most fashionable manner, writing marginal poetry by day and visiting local brothels by night. A dissolute young man who is nevertheless endearing from the very first page.

While sitting in a cafe one morning his remark is overheard by coffee merchant Samuel Pinker. Mr. Pinker wants to develop a reference manual to describe the tastes & smells in the various coffee beans that he imports. He needs someone with a discerning palate and the vocabulary necessary to complete the task. He offers Robert the very last thing that he wants, employment. But even Robert realizes that he will not be able to maintain his lifestyle with no income, so he reluctantly accepts.

The dreadful dullness of employment is greatly reduced when Robert meets his assistant. Mr. Pinker's lovely daughter, Emily, serves as secretary and partner in the task. Robert, of course, is attracted to her (and her father's wealth). He feels that he is a wonderful catch, a view not shared by Mr. Pinker. In order to win her hand he is given a mission. A five year trek to Africa, to plant and grow a crop of the best kind of coffee available. Obviously this kind of job is not to Robert's taste but again, he sees that his life has left him few options and he agrees to go.

Africa will profoundly change Robert in ways that he cannot begin to imagine. The man who returns to London has learned hard lessons and survived harrowing experiences. The years have changed London and its inhabitants, as well. When he returns he will have to rebuild his life and try create a future for himself.

Mr. Capella has written a fantastic historical novel. He brilliantly describes London at the end of the nineteenth century with all of its wonderful depth, from the glamorous upper class drawing rooms to the seedy, poverty stricken streets. Then he takes us to the dusty plains and steamy jungles of Africa and introduces us to the native people, showing us their struggle to maintain their way of life in the face of outsiders in search of wealth and land. It is a rich, evocative, compelling story and I loved it.

The Various Flavors of Coffee
will be published by Bantam on September 2, 2008.

Order The Various Flavors of Coffee from Amazon

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Support Your Favorite Book Blogger!!

Nominations are open for Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008! Send your favorites in by August 31. Instructions are here

Thanks, Amy, for all your hard work!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Review: First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader

The transition of the US President is always a volatile time. No one knows this better than President-Elect Edward Carson. It is one month before his swearing in ceremony and his nineteen year old daughter, Alli, has disappeared. She may have been kidnapped by a homegrown terrorist organization. Finding her is his top priority, and it must be done without anyone in the media getting wind of it.

Carson hand-picks ATF agent Jack McClure to investigate his daughter's disappearance. He has several good reasons for doing so. Jack's daughter, Emma, who died seven months before in a car accident, was Allie's college roommate and close friend. He knows that Jack will do anything necessary to bring Allie home.

Jack has another unique quality. He is dyslexic and while that poses great problems for him when it comes to reading, the way his brain is wired makes him an outstanding agent. He is able to see things in a more complete way than the average person. He can pick up nuances that others might miss, including smells and small details. It has made him very successful in his career and he is a top ATF agent.

It hasn't helped him in his personal life, though. He has not been able to accept the death of his daughter and his marriage has since broken up as well. He is a lost and lonely man. As he begins to investigate Alli's disappearance, striking events from Jack's past begin to crop up. Somehow the case in inextricably linked with Jack's life and as he tries to fit together all the pieces he is pressured from all sides. It's up to him to find Allie and discover the motive behind her kidnapping and he is running out of time.

This thriller has a twisting, intriguing plot and is a fast paced and exciting read. Pick up First Daughter, you won't be able to put it down!

First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader is published by Forge. ISBN 978-0-7653-2170-1

Order First Daughter from Amazon

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review: The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The twelve tribes of ancient Israel have been in the promised land for nearly a hundred years, but theirs is not a peaceful existence. The Canaanites have never ceased to harass the tribes, attacking small villages, stealing livestock and killing any Israelite they come across. The only safety is in numbers and the Israelites have retreated behind the walls of their towns.

The prophetess Deborah, a mother in her thirties, has been a powerful voice for the Israelites for years. She is known far and wide for her fair judgement and is a respected leader. She has received a vision that she must bring peace with the Canaanites. When her diplomatic efforts fail, she is forced to call the tribes together under a warrior who will lead them to victory. If the Canaanites will not agree to a truce, Israel must subdue them by force.

Barak is a young warrior who has been very successful in retaliatory raids against the Canaanites. He has built up quite a bit of wealth, is strong and a natural leader of men. He is Deborah's choice to lead the Israelites. Unfortunately Barak has a reputation that precedes him. He is a lover of women, many women. This does not sit well with Lapidoth, Deborah's husband. He does not trust Barak and does not want Deborah anywhere near him. They have a huge fight and Lapidoth's anger and jealousy get the better of him, he divorces Deborah on the spot, after sixteen years of marriage.

Despite the problems in her personal life, Deborah agrees to accompany the army to the battle against the Canaanites. While the war is a resounding success, it creates further problems for Deborah, who has developed a bit of a crush on Barak. He demands sexual favors of her in return for his participation in the war and she surprises herself by enjoying their encounter. Then he manages to capture two of the Canaanite king's daughters, Asherah and Nogah. Thus a love triangle (rectangle?) is born. Untangling the motivations and emotions of everyone involved will have a great impact on future events.

What a great premise for a novel, to take biblical women who have little known background information and breathe life into their stories. The author does it beautifully, creating the landscape of ancient Israel so that the reader can experience it. She then brings her characters to life with human needs and emotions so that they shake off the dust of history and can be related to as people, just as if they were living today. It's the best kind of historical fiction and I recommend it!

Order The Triumph of Deborah from Amazon

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin

In the first few minutes of the year 1900 Lilly Nelly Aphrodite is born in Berlin, Germany. Her mother is a volatile, unmarried cabaret performer. By the time Lilly is two her parents are dead and she is placed in an orphanage where she will remain until she is in her early teens. Lily does not make friends easily and it is not until the age of about twelve when she makes the one friend who will remain a part of her life in the future, Hanne Schmidt.

Hanne is a new arrival at the orphanage and is a couple of years older than Lilly. She shows Lilly the seedy world of nighttime Berlin, home to cheap cabaret bars called "Tingle-Tangles". The girls begin sneaking out of the orphanage at night to sell flowers in the clubs. When the orphanage is suddenly shut down shortly thereafter, Hanne deserts Lilly and disappears.

As the build-up to World War I begins, Lilly tries to make her way in the world. She finds a job as a maid for a difficult Countess but it is not long before she is assaulted by the husband and must eventually leave. She encounters Hanne again as the deprivations that the war brings begin to set in.

The necessities of life become scarce during the war and especially in it's aftermath, so the residents of Berlin throw themselves into the seedy nightlife of cabaret bars & cinemas. Any escape is preferable to the misery of daily life. It is at a cinema that Lilly meets Ilya Yurasov, a Russian who came to Berlin after the war and plays piano at the theater. He falls in love with Lilly and, with his contacts in the film industry, gets her a job typing film scripts.

From the typing pool, Lilly is discovered. She begins to appear in movies and is an immediate success. But success does not bring the happiness that she thought it would and she is not able to enjoy her new life.

I found this book difficult to get through. The author did a wonderful job with the historical setting of Berlin from 1900-1934, from the glitz and glamour to the starvation and despair. Unfortunately the characters were not very likable. They consistently made poor choices that contributed to their misery and kept them in the bad situations that they found themselves in. It made for a very dark, gritty, depressing novel. I'm sure that this was the author's intent, not all stories have happy endings, after all. But I did not enjoy it, though it was well written and the story was interesting.

The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin; published by Riverhead Books; ISBN 9781594489853

Order it from Amazon
The Glimmer Palace

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

Isha Tilak is happily married with a small daughter and pregnant with her second child. She lives with her husband, Nikhil, and his parents in Palgaum, a small town in southwestern India. Her life begins to change, though she doesn't know it, with a visit to her doctor for an ultrasound. As she and her husband watch the test, the doctor tells them that the baby Isha is carrying is a girl. Then he says "We can fix that."

Isha and Nikhil are stunned. The doctor is suggesting terminating the pregnancy because the child is not a boy! They are both aware that in the past boys had been much preferred to girls in Indian culture but are shocked that a modern doctor would be so nonchalantly suggesting an abortion on the basis of the baby's sex, which is against the law in modern India. They refuse, of course, but are deeply disturbed.

A short time later, tragedy strikes the Tilak family. Nikhil is found dead at the family business. It looks as if he was robbed and stabbed while he was in the process of closing for the evening. He was the only son in his family and his parents' grief is overwhelming. They start to take their anger out on Isha and her small daughter. They say the baby girl she is carrying is a curse on the family and was the cause of her father's death. They make it obvious that they think she should have had the abortion. Isha finds that she cannot continue to live with them and subject her child to their animosity. Despite the fact that she has nowhere to go, no status as a widow and no way to earn any money, she takes her daughter and leaves.

Thus begins Isha's journey to finding herself, finding out what really happened to her husband, and creating a future for herself and her two beautiful daughters. She surprises herself with her own strength and ability to adapt and grow despite the challenges that she encounters.

I really liked this book. The characters felt real, were interesting and well written and the story was engaging. Though the idea of using abortion as a means of sex selection is disturbing, I think the author right to bring it to light in this way. I look forward to reading future books by Shobhan Bantwal.

Order The Forbidden Daughter from Amazon

Monday, August 18, 2008

And now for the winner of my Summer Reading Book Giveaway!

The winner of a new hardback copy of Stealing Athena by Karen Essex is tasses at Random Wonder! Thank you to everyone who entered & posted! Check back for a new book giveaway coming soon!!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review: The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart

Poor Guillaume Ladoucette. He has been an excellent barber for his small French town for twenty years. But now he has a problem. Well, two problems, really. The population of the town has not changed much over the years. It stands, in fact, at thirty-three. (That includes the pharmacist who has been missing since the mini-tornado of 1999.) The population's hair is aging. You know what happens to aging hair. That's right, it falls out. Some of Guillaume's customers are going bald!

To make matters worse, a new snazzy barber has set up shop in a neighboring town and some folks have been lured away by the fashionable haircuts that he is offering. Guillaume feels that he must remain true to conventional barbering wisdom and not be swayed by popular attitudes. But the fact remains, he has almost no customers left. What is he to do?

He decides to make a clean break. Start over in an entirely new profession. Despite his own bachelor status and his inability to proclaim his feelings to the woman he has been in love with his entire life, he decides what the town needs most is a matchmaker. And he's the man for the job. He tears the sink out of his shop and, after a quick makeover, re-opens his shop as "Heart's Desire".

Unfortunately, business is a bit slow at the start. Prospective clients looking for love are matched up with people that they are already VERY familiar with. It is a small town, people have already formed opinions about each other, getting them to change is difficult. Things aren't going so well for Guillaume. Then, suddenly, he seems to have a success! The postman has found someone he really likes! Poor Guillaume, the woman in question turns out to be the same one he has been in love with his whole life. Now it looks like he will lose her forever, to the postman. Will he ever muster up the courage to admit his feelings?

What a fun book this is. It is witty and warm, filled with eccentric, endearing characters and fantastic descriptions of French food and pastries. It is a wonderful 'cassoulet' of a novel. Enjoy!

Order The Matchmaker of Perigord from Amazon

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: Favorite bookstores. What's your favorite bookstore? Is it an online store or a bricks-and-mortar store? How often do you go book shopping? Is your favorite bookstore (or bookstores) listed as a favorite in LT? Do you attend events at local bookstores? Do you use LT to find events?

My favorite bookstore is always a "used" bookshop. I love digging through piles of old books and finding treasures that I didn't know that I wanted! My favorite used bookshop in New Hampshire is Books by the Lake in Bradford, NH. Tons of great books and always something new and different!

For "new" bookstores we have a nice local New Hampshire shop that has several locations, The Toadstool Bookshop. They have a great selection and always have something interesting going on.

I book shop as often as possible, even though I don't need any more books. When I can't find what I am looking for in a local shop I frequently use ABE Books for online ordering. I have never used Library Thing to find events but just went over there to check out what is listed and I was surprised how much is there! Definitely a resource that I will be using more often.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Review: Left To Die by Lisa Jackson

Amidst an unusually bad Montana winter, a serial killer is at work near the town of Grizzly Falls. The killer "rescues" his female victims when their cars careen off of a mountain road. Most of them don't realize that their accident was caused by the killer shooting their tires out. He then carries them off to a remote cabin in the mountains and wins their trust by tending to their wounds and lulling them into trusting him. Weeks later he will leave each victim tied, naked, to a tree, to die from exposure. Nice guy.

Under intense pressure to catch the killer as the body count rises, Detectives Selena Alvarez and Regan Pescoli work the case for months. But each has her own personal issues to deal with as well. Regan is divorced with two typically parent-hating teens and a difficult ex-husband. Not to mention a tendency to escape into a superficial relationship based on sex and alcohol. Selena is the opposite, a lonely and solitary woman with no life outside of her job. Despite help from the FBI, they are no closer to catching the killer in December than they were in September when the first body was found.

When Seattle resident Jillian Rivers starts to get anonymous tips that her deceased husband, Aaron, is alive, she thinks it must be some kind of prank. He's been dead for ten years. Okay, so the body was never found and it turned out that he had bilked investors out of a half a million dollars. But still, he must be dead, right? She eventually heads to Montana to follow up on some photos she has received that look alot like Aaron. But she never makes it, her tires are shot out and her car plummets to the bottom of a steep ravine.

Jillian is rescued by Zane MacGregor and taken to his cabin where he gives her medical care. But they are trapped together by an intense blizzard, unable to contact the outside world or make their way to a populated area. She is lucky to be alive but she has read about the serial killer, doesn't her situation fit the known pattern? Should she trust her rescuer? It seems she has no choice.

This creepy thriller is fast paced with engaging characters and a plot that will keep you guessing. Though part of the story is neatly wrapped up at the end of the book, the remainder will be continued in the author's next book, Chosen to Die, due out August 2009! I'm a little irked that I will have to wait so long to find out what happens!

Order Left to Die from Amazon

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Summer Reading Book Giveaway....Stealing Athena by Karen Essex!

For this contest I am giving away a brand new hardback copy of Stealing Athena by Karen Essex. For one entry leave a comment here that mentions the best book you have read this summer. For an additional entry leave a comment on my review for Stealing Athena. You can earn an additional two entries by mentioning the contest on your blog and linking back here. That's a total of four possible entries! I'll mail the book to any US or Canada address. The contest will end on August 17 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time and a winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!

Saturday, August 2, 2008


My husband and I just got home from a fantastic eight day trip to the United Kingdom. We had a wonderful time and the weather even cooperated! We spent the first day in London and the second day in Oxfordshire at the CLA Game Fair.

The Game Fair is quite an event. It is mind-bogglingly big and the crowds were huge. We heard that the first day they had to turn away 13,000 people because of over crowding! The Game Fair is held once a year in England and it celebrates all of the outdoor sports and pursuits. There is food and shopping and exhibits, it's a really fun way to spend a weekend.

We spent two days in Oxford, it was the first time we had been there. The highlight of the trip for me was the C.S. Lewis Tour hosted by Ronald K. Brind. As a boy Ron lived right next to The Kilns, C.S. Lewis' home for 33 years. When Lewis married Joy Davidman and her two sons came to live at the Kilns, Ron became fast friends with Doug, the younger of the two boys. Though at the time Ron had no idea who Lewis was, beyond his friend's Dad, he now has unique memories of Lewis and much admiration for him.

The tour was wonderful. I have loved C.S. Lewis' books my entire life. I clearly remember sitting on the couch all day when I was about 8, reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. As an adult I have read most of his literary, critical and religious works as well as much of his letters and correspondence. Ron took us to see all of the places where Lewis lived and worked in Oxford and told wonderful stories about his life. You can do your own tour with Ron's book, which I have shown above. It is small and light enough to carry in your coat pocket!

We were saddened to see the development around The Kilns. It used to be an 8 or 9 acre parcel with fields, woodland and a historic pond. Most of that is gone now, replaced by housing, and the remaining land did not seem to be managed very well. Just the weekend before we were there a blue historical plaque had been placed on the house. It needed one, and it's the only recognition of the man or his work that we saw in the city. It's too bad that such a wonderful man does not have a more fitting memorial.

After Oxford we headed up to Yorkshire. We went to Hawes on market day and visited the Wensleydale Creamery where they make the delicious Wensleydale cheese. We also visited Haworth and the Bronte Parsonage Museum, it is really well done and worth the trip! There is a steam train that runs from Keighley to Haworth with antique rail cars. That's the way to get there if you are going!

Our last day was spent in York, one of my favorite cities in England. The Minster is beautiful and we were lucky enough to be there at just the right time to do a tour of the Minster's Library, which has been in existence since 1414! It is in the old Archbishop's Residence right on the cathedral grounds. Next time you are in York, stop in at the library. The old books are so beautiful, pieces of art in their own right. Also not to be missed is the National Rail Museum at York. It is easily the best of it's kind, with wonderful displays and exhibits. You can easily spend three or four hours there. This was the only day that we had any serious rain, so it was a perfect day for the Museum!

It was a wonderful vacation and we enjoyed every minute of it. We bought waaayy too many books, but that's half the fun. I didn't take extra books with me because I didn't want to be weighed down. There wasn't too much time to read, anyway. We were so exhausted each evening from full days of walking, I could barely keep my eyes open. So now, it's back to some serious reading time! I'll be posting a new contest in the next day or two, stay tuned!

Order A Guide to the C.S. Lewis Tour in Oxford from Amazon

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

Thank you!!

Thank you to Beth at Beth Fish Reads and to The Blogger Guide for helping me to customize my template and to Andrea at The Little Bookworm for improving my header!!

About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.