Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Mirage by Matt Ruff

In The Mirage, it's November 9, 2001 (that's 11/9) and 4 high-jacked jetliners are heading to their targets: the World Trade Towers in Badhdad; the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh; and Mecca. Three of the four planes hit their targets and the UAS (United Arab States) declares a war on terror by invading the east coast of North America. Several years later, a suicide bomber is captured by Homeland Security. He claims that the Arabs are living in a mirage and that the USA is the real super power. In his apartment they find some supporting evidence -- a newspaper -- the New York Times dated September 12, 2001 (the day after 9/11) describing the 4 high-jacked jetliners attacking America. Mustafa from Homeland Security sets out to discover the truth.

There's one line from the HarperCollins description online (, which describes the book perfectly: The author has created "...a shadow world that is eerily recognizable but, at the same time, almost unimaginable."

I really enjoyed this one, but it took me a long time to get through it. I'm a slow reader to start with and the Arab names and the subject matter slowed me down even further. Also, I tried to read it during the Olympics, a time period in which I watched a lot of TV, but got very little reading done. Because there were long stretches where I didn't pick up the book at all, it was a little hard to get into at times. I think I did okay, though.

I read this book on Mark's (from HarperCollins) recommendation. I've enjoyed a few others he suggested, so I trusted him on this one. He was right. It was extremely interesting and entertaining to read this book in which the author created a topsy-turvy world in which United Arab States (UAS) is the super power, not the USA.

Reading the book was a little disorienting, though. It's like walking into a room and finding everything upside down. It looks familiar, but something's not quite right. It was hard to get my head around the whole thing. Even though reading about violence (or anything for that matter) in the Middle East or Iraq/Afghanistan usually makes my eyes glaze over, some familiar references in the book kept me on my toes and continually peaked my interest.

In-between chapters, Ruff inserted snippets from "The Library of Alexandria" - A User-Edited Reference Source to explain various terms to the reader. There were much like our Wikipedia entries. Remember this is a world turned upside down, so people like Saddam, bin Laden, Lyndon B. Johnson and Rumsfeld have very different roles that need explaining. So do things like Al Qaeda, the CIA, the green zone, Baghdad, Israel and much more. I loved reading these entries.

I liked the first half of the book (Books One and Two) better than the last half. I'm not sure why, but when it got to explaining what was happening in the US and the key players, I didn't find it as interesting. It could also have been that the newness and novelty were wearing off.

I would have loved to have seen a map of the United Arab States (UAS). I love maps and have a vague idea about the location of most of the Arab countries involved, but a map would have been awesome for reference. I would have also liked a map of North America, too, just to see how the author imagined it might be.

New Words:
abaya (page 49): Arab outer garment
apocrypha (page 54): early Christian writings not included in the Bible
dishdasha (page 96): long robe worn by Arab men
djellaba (page 104): long robe worn in Islamic countries
sigheh (page 145): a Shiite tradition of temporary marriage with a predetermined time frame
niqab (page 213): A veil worn by some Muslim women in public, covering all of the face apart from the eyes.
narthex (page 275): screened off area or entrance hall in a church.

Highly recommended. You'll probably never read another book like this one.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy. Thanks Mark for the recommendation.

The Mirage by Matt Ruff, Harper (HarperCollins), ©2012. ISBN 9780061976223(Uncorrected Proof), 414p.

Needlework Tuesday - On Wednesday - October 31

Last week I was telling you about the ruffle scarf I was making. It was a little different than others that I had seen in that it's worked from end to end (lengthwise) rather than side to side (widthwise). Anyway, I finished it. The pattern said to "cast off loosely" and I did so, but I think it wasn't loose enough. The scarf has a bit of a curve down one side because of it. It also makes the scarf twist rather than lie flat. Oh, well, that's the way it's going to be. The yarn isn't forgiving enough that I could rip out the cast off and do it again.

Knitting was a bit tricky, especially after I had done several rows. It got quite bulky and because the yarn was slippery, it threatened to slide off the needles several times. Luckily, I caught it before it did.

I really like the ruffles on this one...vertical and understated.  I have one more ball like this, but I think I'm going to use make a regular (knit widthwise) scarf with it. If I find more of this yarn, though, (on sale of course) I'd love to make another one like this. It wasn't the easiest one to make, but I really like the look of it. I'd sort of like to try that "cast off loosely" thing again. Maybe in a different colour. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled.

Here are two photos of the scarf:

The next ruffle scarf I'm going to make is out of yarn pictured below from Frill Seeker. I've been procrastinating because I wasn't sure if I wanted to make one or two scarves out of this 200g ball. Since my other scarves are made out of 100g balls, I decided that this one should make 2. I'll probably start this one soon.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rest in Pizza by Chris Cavender

In Rest in Pizza, Eleanor runs The Slice of Delight, a pizzeria, with her sister Maddy. Not far away, there's a book store opening and TV host and famous chef, Antonio Benet has agreed to do a book signing and cooking demonstration for the grand opening. The owner has enlisted help from both Eleanor and Maddy. Things don't work out as planned, though, and Chef Antonio is found at the pizzeria with a knife in his back. Suspects abound as everyone from his assistants to Eleanor and her sister come under suspicion.

I enjoyed this book. I love both pizza and books so the settings were ideal for me. The story charming, light, humorous and easy to read. It's as much about their personal lives as it is about the murder and solving it. I liked reading about the inner workings of a the restaurant and kitchen as the two prepared the pizzas and served the patrons.

I liked both Eleanor and Maddy. Both were hard working and quick on their feet. Running a restaurant is hard work, so I was surprised they had so much time to investigate the murder and do all of the other things mentioned. I'd be really tired after doing all they accomplished.

Rest in Pizza is the 4th book in the Pizza Mystery series, but the first one I've read. In this case, I wish I had read the others because I felt like I was missing a lot of stuff because I hadn't read them. For example, the character of Art Young, a friend of Eleanor's. He drifts in and out of the story without having much, if anything, to do with the plot. I think there were a few other instances where some background information would have helped me. While it's nice for regular readers of this series to have some continuing characters and storylines, it's not that welcoming for new comers. I felt left out.

A couple of things about the story itself left me confused. First of all, I read that the pizzeria "closed for lunch". Huh? I thought they meant that they closed at lunch time. That wouldn't be too advantageous for a restaurant owner now, would it? However, as I read further, quite a bit further actually, I realized that they closed in the late afternoon so that the employees could have lunch before reopening for the evening. I wish that would have been clearer from the beginning. Another thing that left me scratching my head was the logistics involved in the book signing and cooking demonstration. I couldn't figure out who was supposed to be where and at what time. Maybe I just read it too fast, but it seemed confusing to me. I'm glad the characters had it all figured out.

The book left some loose ends (not dealing with the murder) dangling at the end of the book. That's not unusual with books in a series. Perhaps these will be wrapped up or dealt with in the next book.

The author included two recipes for dessert pizza. Both look yummy, but use store-bought cookie dough for the crust. I wish he'd included a recipe for a homemade crust for at least one of them. I also wish that he included a recipe for a savoury pizza.

Recommended for fans of this series. Cozy lovers might also enjoy it, but I'd recommend reading the others in the series first.

Chris Cavender is the pseudonym for an Agatha Award Nominated Author, Tim Myers.

For more information about this book or to read the first chapter, please visit the Kensington Books website.

Thanks to those nice people from Kensington Books for this review copy.

Rest in Pizza by Chris Cavender, Kensington Books, ©2012. ISBN 9780758271501(Uncorrected Proof), 248p. Includes recipes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Needlework Tuesday - More Scarves

I accomplished two things this week with regards to needlework/crafting.

First, I caught up on my sky scarf. When we were busy with yard work in the late spring and all summer long, I really let this thing slide. At one time I think I was about 5 weeks behind. I was still writing down the sky conditions each day, but I wasn't actually knitting. I was just too tired at the end of the day to spend 4 minutes knitting up the row for that day. If I ever wanted to finish this scarf and not have it end up as an unfinished project, I knew that was going to have to change. So, the last few weeks I've been slowly catching up. I'm still not knitting every day, but when I do, I knit for longer periods and do several days in one sitting.

I purchased some additional yarn last week for this project. Two balls: one bright sky blue, the other white. I was afraid I was going to run out of both of these before the project ended. I figured better safe than sorry.  

Here's the latest photo:

Second, I also started another ruffled scarf. While I was waiting for the yarn to be wound into a ball at the yarn store, I spotted some yarn on clearance. My weakness! This one is Frill Seeker Precious Metal Light. It isn't as wide as the other yarns I used last week, so I'm finding it really hard to work with. The pattern I found on their website is different from others I've seen, so I figured I'd give it a try. The scarf is worked from end to end, across the length rather than across the width (if that makes any sense). I cast on 100 stitches and will knit 10 rows before casting off.

Here's the latest photo of that:

It's kind of hard to see because I've only complete one row so far. I'm not loving this yarn at all. Hopefully, that will change as I use it more.

That's it for my knitting week.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand

In Summerland, after the traditional graduation beach bonfire on the island of Nantucket, a tragic car accident leaves Penny, the driver of the car, dead and her twin brother, Hobby, in a coma. Two other passengers are physically unhurt, but are troubled by the memories of that night. The twins' mother, who raised the two alone, is devastated. How can she go on when her world has changed so drastically? As time goes by, secrets are revealed about all of the teens and those around them as they learn the truth about what happened that night on the beach and in the subsequent crash.

I loved this book. I've never been to Nantucket or the surrounding area, but I love reading about it. The book is so wonderfully written, I felt like I was transported to the east of the US. It's one of the first book I've read that featured so many teenagers, but wasn't filled with teenage angst or whining. Even though many of the main characters are teenagers, it's not a young adult book and doesn't read like one.

The story is told from many points of view. Rather than being a "he said, she said" thing, it was more like the characters took turns, one by one, in telling parts of the story. The reader got little bits and pieces of who they are and what happened before and after the accident. Even the island itself has a part, speaking for the collective of islanders. The story also jumps around a lot in time. From years before the accident to weeks after the accident and everything in between. With all of the characters and time jumping, it got a little disorienting at times. I found that I really had to pay attention to figure out what was going on. Had I not, I could have easily gotten lost. I could see how others might find this really confusing.

The story was suspenseful, but not terribly fast-paced. Now that I think about it, not much happened. Besides the accident, most of the story focused on what Penny found on out the beach that night and what pushed her to the point of no return. Nevertheless, the story was wonderfully entertaining, albeit a bit sad.

I found it interesting that the author didn't give Penny part of the narrative. Well, at least, I don't remember one. That would have truly cleared up any assumptions about her frame of mind and explain what happened that night. That's what would happen in real life, right? After an accident like this, the families are left with lots of questions and no clear, solid answers. Very clever on Hilderbrand's part.

New words:
quoins (page 182): outer corner of a wall
effete (page 183): weak
ameliorate (page 222): improve (I'm know I've seen this word before, but I keep forgetting what it means.)
perspicacious (page 268): insightful

I've read two other books by Elin, Castaways and more recently Silver Girl. I'd definitely recommend them both.

Highly recommended. I'm pretty sure I have one or two books from her backlist on the to be read shelf. I'm looking forward to reading these and others by this author. I'm happy to say that Hilderbrand is becoming one of my favourite authors.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Hachette's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for this review copy.

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand, Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ©2012. ISBN 9780316099837(Hardcover), 388p.

Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark

In Guilt by Degrees, deputy D.A. Rachel Knight discovers that the murder of a homeless man is connected to the murder of a LAPD cop from a few years back. The suspect, a beautiful woman, in the first murder was acquitted. It's up to Knight and Detective Bailey Keller to decipher the connections and track down the killer while staying out of his or her way.

I liked this book and found it entertaining. It's Clark's second book featuring Rachel Knight, but the first one that I've read. It was reasonably well-written and contained a good fast-paced story. It kept be interested until the very end. The short chapters added to the suspense and allowed me to read just a few pages in between other activities. (I don't like breaking in the middle of a chapter.) I really liked the shifting points of view and the shifts from first person to third person. A perfect fit for this type of book.

I liked both Rachel and Bailey. Both were strong women who didn't cower at the thought of chasing down a psychopath. I also really liked the side story about her sister Romy. It's too bad there wasn't more of it in this book. Maybe I'll find out more about it when I read the first book or maybe I'll have to wait until subsequent books some out.

While I enjoyed this book, I didn't love it. The story just didn't stick with me. I remembered what was happening while I read the book, but as I write this review I'm having to depend on the notes I took. I could probably reread it at some point and be surprised some of the things that happened. Also, I had a little trouble with some of the slangy verbs Clark used: beefed, jacked up, popped off, nailed. The problem is that many of these have or could have multiple meanings. Sure, I can probably decipher their meanings from the sentence in which it was used, but after awhile it got a little annoying. I didn't like some of the abbreviations either for the same reason: eyewit, uni.

As a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney and lead prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson murder case, Clark no doubt saw her fair share of murder cases. I don't really know the roll of the DA (or deputy DA in this case), especially the ins and outs of what they do outside of the courtroom. The book left me wondering how much of this book represents the job of a real-life deputy DA.

Favourite quotes:
Seething done in private can keep anger burning, but like a pot of boiling water, once you take the lid off, the heat dissipates and the boil turns to a simmer. (page 306)
New word:
immolate (page 303): kill as a sacrifice

Recommended. Even though I didn't love this book, I picked up Clark's first book featuring Rachel Knight, Guilt by Association recently and hope to read it soon. If that goes well, I'll be looking for more books by this author.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Hachette's website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Marcia Clark's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group in Canada for this review copy.

Guilt by Degrees by Marcia Clark, Mulholland Books (Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group)), ©2012. ISBN 9780316129534(Hardcover), 438p.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Needlework Tuesday - Look at Me! I'm knitting.

It feels like ages since I picked up some knitting needles and knit something. Oh sure, I'm still doing my sky scarf, but at 4 minutes a day (two rows) it hardly feels like it. Progress is soooooooooooooo slow. I'm a bit behind, too, so I'm really not knitting every day.

Anyway, since those ruffled scarves are the "in thing" to knit these days, I figured I'd give it a try. I love scarves, but don't wear them too often. I'm hoping to change that. I bought yarn from a few different manufacturers to try a few different styles. I may keep them for myself (most likely) or I may give one or two away (depending on how they turn out). So far I've made two. They knit up fairly quickly.

The first one is made from Red Heart Ribbons and was fun to make. The yarn is a bit slippery, but other than that it's structured and quite stable, so it's easy to knit with. I love this scarf! I hope to make a couple more like this. The photo below shows a close-up of the scarf doubled up.

The second one is from Red Heart Boutique Sashay. This yarn is more challenging to work with. It's a bit flimsy as well as being slippery. The stitches came off the needles more than once. I had a hard time starting this one and resorted to YouTube for some visual instructions. After about 6 tries and rip-outs, I finally got it and was able to get more than a few rows done. Since I have more of this yarn, I will be making another scarf, but I'm going to try a shorter/wider one next. The photo below shows a close-up of the the scarf doubled up.

Finally, a shot of the two of them together. Ribbons on the right, Sashay on the left.  

That's it!  It feels good to be making stuff again.  I've missed it.  I recently moved my craft room from a second floor bedroom to the basement, where there's a lot more room.  I thought it was going to be a good idea, but now I'm having second thoughts.   Maybe it's because everything is still packed in boxes and the thought of organizing it is daunting.  That's going to be a winter project. 

Wish me luck!

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Antiques Disposal by Barbara Allan

In Antiques Disposal, Brandy and her mother Vivian, discover a vintage cornet in a storage unit they bought. When they return to pick up the rest of the contents, it's empty except for a body. Later an intruder breaks into their house to retrieve the cornet. There must be something about the horn that worth killing over, but what could it be? It's up to these two to figure it out the reason and get to the bottom of things.

This is such a fun book to read. It was hilarious and had me laughing-out-loud many times. It's the 6th one in the Trash 'n' Treasures mystery series, but the first one I've read. I love the casual style in which it's written. It was almost like they were talking directly to me. I also loved the many acknowledgements to the reader and the references to the book itself as well as their other books and cases. Very cool!

I appreciated the hand drawn map at the beginning of the book. I love maps, even ones that are tongue-in-cheek and not very useful for navigation, like this one.

The book also contains some cute, yet informative, tips for attending storage unit auctions. Although I will probably never attend a storage unit auction, I do watch some of those shows on TV dealing with them. I appreciated the tips and had fun reading them.

I have Antiques Roadkill, the first in the series, on my to-be-read shelf. Now that I know what this series is like I can't wait to read it as well as others in the series.

Barbara Allan is a pseudonym for Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins.

Highly recommended for cozy mystery fans and fans of those storage unit auction shows on TV.

For more information about this book or to read Chapter 1, please visit the Kensington Books website.

For more information about the authors and their other books, please visit Max Allan Collins website.

Thanks to those nice people from Kensington Books for this review copy.

Antiques Disposal by Barbara Allan, Kensington Books, ©2012. ISBN 9780758263605(Hardcover), 230p.

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

In On the Island, Anna, a 30-year-old English teacher, has been hired to tutor seventeen-year-old T.J. for the summer. He has fallen behind in school after a bout with cancer. Now, that he's in remission, his wealthy parents have arranged for him and his tutor to spend the summer in the Maldives to get caught up in school. On route, the plane carrying Anna and T.J. crashes after the pilot has a heart attack. The two of them survive and manage to get to a deserted island. While waiting for help to arrive, they depend on each other for survival and company. Eventually, they become attracted to one another.

  I thought the book had a pretty good premise and could have turned out to be an interesting story. However, the execution was a disappointment. The writing felt choppy and didn't flow. As for the story, it was superficial and didn't dig deep enough. I didn't feel the characters' struggle or their emotions over being trapped and isolated with little hope of rescue. The conversations didn't feel natural.

The story is written from two point of views, Anna's and T.J.'s, in alternating chapters. This style was a perfect fit for this type of story. I liked that part. However, there should have been more differentiation between the "voices". A 30-something woman speaks much differently than a teenager would. With just a few exceptions, it all felt pretty much the same.

While the age difference between Anna and T.J. could be a problem for some readers, it didn't bother me at all. I was bored by the other characters asking them when this relationship started. They wanted to make sure it was "legal", as if it would make a difference. Wouldn't they just lie if it had happened sooner?

Part of their story seemed to be inconsistent with reality. I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil the plot for others, so I'll just say I didn't find it believable. I will say, though, that they must the luckiest castaways ever, with most of their essentials eventually washing up onto shore shortly after they did. This included Woolite for laundry as well as shampoo, soap and other items. Apparently, there was enough to last a couple of years. Who carries that much with them on vacation? They also had other items, not commonly found on deserted islands, that greatly improved their chance of survival. That was great for them, but not terribly realistic.

Even though I didn't enjoy the book, I finished it two reasons. One, it was a fairly quick read. I'm a slow reader and it took me a couple of days, but that's still quick for me. Two, since I got this book from the publisher to review, I wanted to find some redeeming qualities in order to write this review. That was harder than I thought it would be.

Sorry, but I won't be recommending this book to anyone.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website. Note: This book was apparently picked up by Plume/Penguin after being self-published.

For more information about the author, please visit Tracey's blog.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves, Plume (Penguin), ©2012. ISBN 9780142196724(Trade paperback), 319p.

Dead Ringer by Allen Wyler

In Dead Ringer, neurosurgeon Dr. McCrae sees the head of his best friend at a medical conference demonstration in Hong Kong. This is unsettling, to say the least because the last time he saw his friend, Andy, he was alive and well and living in Seattle. McCrae later discovers that Andy is indeed missing. To get to the bottom of it, McCrae gets together with Sergeant Wendy Elliott and a gang member, Ruiz, whose sister is also missing. The three determine that a funeral home is murdering prostitutes and their johns then selling off their body parts for medical research -- a lucrative, but sleazy, adventure involving crooked cops and greedy funeral directors.

I enjoyed this book. Actually, a lot more than I thought I would. I found the premise interesting, but, quite honestly, because it wasn't a review book that came from a major publisher, I thought it might be mediocre. I admit, I judged a book by its cover and its source and was wrong.

Like I said, I liked the premise. A bit on the gruesome side perhaps, but interesting nevertheless. The book was well-written, fast paced and suspenseful. The author kept the story moving along by using short chapters and frequently changing the setting and character focus. I stayed up past my bedtime a couple of time reading this page-turner.

I learned a little about medical research while reading this book. Well, at least it made me think. I never really thought about it before, like where the specimens/body parts come from. Now, that I've thought about it, I think I'll stop thinking about it. It's kind of macabre, especially the way it was handled in this story. I just hope that in real life, it's handled properly and with utmost respect.

I do have one complaint about the book; the language. The swearing, at first, seemed excessive and over the top. It did calm down as the story continued. I know it was used to set the scene and give insight into the characters, but it felt gratuitous. I should say that swearing doesn't usually bother me when it's warranted. The other thing was the racial slurs. It's one thing to generalize and say something derogatory about a whole race of people; it's another to use an offensive term in doing so. Again, it emphasized the characters' mindset, but that could have and SHOULD have been done differently. I hadn't seen or heard some of those terms in years, probably for good reason.

This book might not be for everyone. The squeamish, sensitive reader should be wary. Otherwise, recommended. I'd definitely read another book by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit Astor + Blue's website.

Thanks to Lauren from Blue Dot Literary for this review copy.

Dead Ringer by Allen Wyler, Astor + Blue Editions, ©2012. ISBN 9781938231148(Advance Reader Copy), 324p.