Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Salon-What Willpower? I Capitulate and Join Historical Tapestry's Challenge

Challenges make me very anxious, and so I only signed up for one this year, The War Through the Generations. Mainly I picked this one our of all the great challenges in the blogosphere because  I love history.  Secondly,  I have participated in this challenge over the past three years. Most important of all, I enjoy this challenge because it is very broad and flexible. There are one a few limitations, but I like the fact that non-fiction and fiction are included. The inclusion of  DVD's as an acceptable format for the challenge makes so much sense, as they really bring life to the study of whatever war is currently being covered.

This year's Civil War topic has me overjoyed. A couple of years ago I took a grad course and was able to visit Gettysburg. I have so many books left sitting unread on my shelve. Now with this challenge I am delighted to have a focus ahead this year.

I'm In....Yes, my second challenge!

I visited Historical Tapestry recently and noticed their new challenge for this year.  After reading further, I couldn't help myself. I admit it, no willpower.  Not when it comes to books. I can abstain from sweets and adhere to specific portion control no problem, but we're talking books and reading and HISTORY!   At least that was my rationalization. 

So before I changed my mind, I quickly added several reviews that I already posted this month. Historical fiction is my comfort zone and my passion, so I don't know if this would really be a challenge. However, as I said before, most challenges make me anxious, but I'm going to accept this one and sign up for the highest level because I know I am a history bookaholic.  so it would make sense that I choose the Severe Bookaholism level at 20 books. So, good luck to everyone who is participating in this challenge and thank you to Historical Tapestry for hosting the Historical Fiction Challenge 2011.

Disclosure: If at any time I get too nervous or suffer anxiety as a result of pressures from this challenge, I will withdraw. LOL

As far as my reading for Sunday Salon, I am in the midst of Enemy Women, by Paulette Jiles and finishing up The Fort, by Bernard  Cornwell. Have a great weekend everyone.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: The Wave, by Susan Casey

Susan Casey
September 14, 2010
$27.95, 352 pages

If you want to experience a sense of what The Wave is about, watch the book trailer below entitled: The Wave, by Susan Casey.

My Review

Bravo to Susan Casey! 

Susan Casey had a challenge ahead when she decided to write about freakish, unexplained waves. After viewing the trailer, you probably ask yourself how could a book about waves be that interesting.  I was skeptical prior to reading this book, but her narrative is spectacular. 

The Wave is an engaging and enlightening non-fictional account from three points of view, the scientist, the mariner, and the extreme sports enthusiast.  These are the people who have experienced and witnessed the dynamic turbulent and frightening force of these freakish, seemingly unexplained and unbelievably massive waves, that years ago would be considered unheard of. Casey takes the reader on a geographical tour around the globe as she relates stories, interviews as well as her own first hand accounting of super waves.  

Most readers will recall the tsunami that crashed ashore in 2004 in the Pacific, killing over 250,00 people and decimating villages in its path. Casey presents countless other shocking seafaring tragedies, mysteries never solved and the scientists predictions for earth’s future.  Surfers who are compelled with a frenetic impulse to ride these behemoths have valuable, first hand information.  Mariners encountering a rogue, have reliable information they experience traveling the shipping lanes. Scientists sifting through many scenarios have come to realize that they are more than just old fish tales.  Unfortunately, some information is gathered from the bottom of the ocean, through salvage. Sometimes only small pieces of wreckage are found despite the grave human loss and destruction of formidable ships.

My own relationship with the power of the ocean began at a very early age. I was a toddler in fact. Respect for it’s force and appreciation for its awesome beauty was a lifelong gift from my parents.  I think I knew what an under-toe and a riptide was before I could even walk.  Once, an elderly lifetime resident of a beach in Rhode Island, told my parents,

“When the sands of Quonochontaug get in your shoes, you will soon be back.”  

My parents never forgot this woman or her sage and prescient advice.  They did in fact, return many times each year until they took up permanent residency near the ocean.  To this day, I love the ocean and all it’s grandeur, it’s power has given me perspective and a centering when I most needed it. There is just something magical about looking over the ocean, the mirror of reflection is both internal and external, with a reverent understanding and respect for it’s unpredictable nature. 

The Wave is fascinating and will interest so many readers today who want to gain an understanding of our environment, nature and the effects of global warming.  Her book reveals disturbing facts and information about the ocean and rogue waves both past and present, with a glimpse from the scientific world of what may lay ahead. Casey succeeds in her intent as her book delivers a stimulating narrative that offers what I would term anxious realism.  Thrilling scenes so compelling you will want to close your eyes. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I received my copy of The Wave as a gift from the publisher. My review is my honest and unbiased opinion. 

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert-Paperback Release

Great News!! For those of you who loved Elizabeth Gilbert's bestseller Eat, Pray, Love or saw the recent movie this post is for you. Penguin Books will be releasing Committed, the follow-up story to Eat, Pray, Love on February 1, 2011.  

To celebrate this release,  Penguin is donating a copy of Committed to one lucky reader of my blog. So, first the information about the book.

Here is the information from Penguin Books:
Elizabeth Gilbert’s COMMITTED: A Love Story debuted at #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list when it was published by Viking in January of 2010 and was also a USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller. On February 1st, Penguin Books will release the book in paperback. 

COMMITTED begins where Gilbert’s # 1 New York Times bestseller Eat, Pray, Love ended—just after she fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian-born man of Australian citizenship who’d been living in Bali when they met.  Resettling in America , the couple swore eternal fidelity to each other, but also swore to never, ever, under any circumstances get legally married.  (Both were skittish divorce survivors.)  But providence intervened one day in the form of the U.S. government, which—after unexpectedly detaining Felipe at an American border crossing—gave the couple a choice: they could either get married, or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the country again. 

Having been effectively sentenced to wed, Elizabeth and Felipe spent the next ten months wandering haphazardly across Asia , traveling with limited resources and waiting for word from their immigration lawyer as their case languished in bureaucratic uncertainty.  Gilbert used this time to ponder the subject of romantic commitment, interviewing everyone from housewives in Vietnam and Thailand to family members and friends, and looking closely at how the institution of marriage has evolved to reflect our social needs and how it is so often intertwined with religion, politics, class, and money. 

COMMITTED tells the story of one woman’s efforts to make peace with marriage before she enters its estate once more.  Told with Gilbert’s trademark wit, intelligence, and compassion, it frankly discusses issues of compatibility, infatuation, fidelity, tradition, economic realities, divorce risks, and social expectations.  Myths are debunked; fears are unthreaded; historical perspective is found; and romantic fantasies are ultimately exchanged for vital emotional compromises.  In the end, Gilbert’s book is a clear-eyed celebration of the complexity and consequence that real love, in the real world, actually entails.

About the Author
ELIZABETH GILBERT is an award-winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction.  Her short story collection Pilgrims was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and her novel Stern Men was a New York Times notable book.  Her 2002 book The Last American Man was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.   Since its initial publication in January 2006, her #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love has sold over 8 million copies and been published in forty languages.  A film adaptation of the book came out this past August from Columbia Pictures with an all star cast: Julia Roberts as Gilbert, Javier Bardem as Felipe, James Franco as David, Billy Crudup as her ex-husband and Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas.  In 2008, Time magazine named Gilbert one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.

The author's website:

Book Giveaway Details:
Contest runs from January 28-Feb 14, 2011...just in time for Valentine's Day.

1. To be entered you must be a follower on my sidebar Google Reader, and post a comment on this post about either book or the author, Eat, Pray, Love or Committed.

2. Blog or Twitter about this contest and leave a link to the post in the comments.  (2 additional chances) 

3. Leave a comment about your special love or love story or Valentine wish. (2 additional chances)

Open to Canada and US participants.

Disclosure: All copies for review and giveaway are free copies by Penguin Books. Any review or guest post is submitted with no monetary compensation. Opinions by the author of this blog are honest and truthful.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review-The Anatomy of Ghosts, by Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor
January 2011,
$24.99, 432 pages

Book Description from Publisher

“1786, Jerusalem College, Cambridge
The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumored to be haunting Jerusalem ever since student Frank Oldershaw claimed to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds and was locked up because of his violent reaction to these disturbed visions.
Desperate to salvage her son’s reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts—a stinging account of why ghosts are mere delusion—to investigate. But his arrival in Cambridge disrupts an uneasy status quo as he glimpses a world of privilege and abuse, where the sinister Holy Ghost Club governs life at Jerusalem more effectively than the Master, Dr. Carbury, ever could. And when Holdsworth finds himself haunted—not only by the ghost of his dead wife, Maria, but also by Elinor, the very-much-alive Master’s wife—his fate is sealed. He must find Sylvia’s murderer, or else the hauntings will continue. And not one of this troubled group will leave the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem unchanged.
- Hyperion Books

My Review

I don’t often read mysteries, although when I picked up The Anatomy of Ghosts, I was lured into this haunting tale that took place at Jerusalem College, a fictitious campus in 18th century England. I have included the publisher synopsis above and a trailer is available at the Hyperion site,so for the sake of brevity, I will forgo a plot review.

If you have not read anything written by Andrew Taylor, you will definitely want to pick up his newest book. A new author to me, I was charmed throughout. His writing is exciting, each page adds another layer of complexity that complicates and masks the ability to unravel all the ends. There are over twenty intriguing characters who provide a continuous barrage of activity. Each unique and essential, the cast creates a perfect counterpoint to this composition. His writing adds intense clarity with distinct attention to the nuances within each scene. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: This was an ARC sent as a gift from the publisher. My review is my honest unbiased opinion.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meet Pamela Schoenewaldt, author of When We Were Strangers

Recently, I posted a review of When We Were Strangers by Pamela Schoenewaldt. I was fortunate to have "snagged"(as they say) this ARC through the Early Reviewer Group at Library Thing. When I contacted the author to ask if she would be willing to visit my blog as my guest, she graciously agreed. My interview with Pamela Schoenewaldt follows. This Tuesday is the release date for When We Were Strangers, so look for it in the stores.

Hi Pamela,
Thank you so much for joining me today to answer a few questions about your debut novel, WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS.

First, I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your book.  I can’t stop thinking about it. The women characters Irma and Sofia touched me in so many ways.  What was the inspiration for your story?

When we lived in Italy, we were taken by friends for cross-country skiing in Abruzzo in the mountains north east of Naples. We rented a house in Opi, a tiny village on the tip of a small mountain. The isolation and views of the valleys spread below, the grave courtesy of the people, the sense of timelessness as I walked through the quiet streets made a profound impression. I noted that several house had stone plaques from the 1890s and felt sure that this money had come from America, since Opi was very poor then. Who sent this money? Walking in the dusk, having gotten a few vegetables and wine for dinner, I conjured a young woman, not pretty, but possessed of a graceful, solemn presence, walking before me, silhouetted against the sky, carrying a loaf of bread, I think. This was Irma. Several houses had embroidered or cutwork linen curtains and I conceived the idea that Irma was a needle worker. The story emerged from there. We returned to Naples and Irma came with me.

How did the development of your key characters emerge?

Many of my characters emerge from research, like the Missus, the abusive sweatshop worker that Irma encounters in Cleveland. Others just appeared, like Jacob, the rag picker in Chicago. He walked in the door, ribbons fluttering and at some point it was apparent that he had two younger sisters, and that something terrible had happened to them which bound them to Irma. Molly I created to serve a plot function – do Irma out of a job. But she’s a bustling, entrepreneurial type and bustled herself right into a larger and larger role in the novel.

How did the setting for your story unfold?

See above for Opi.
The novel began as a short story which was essentially the first chapter. As soon as I began thinking of a novel, of following Irma to America, I conceived of her ending in San Francisco. There seemed to be a logic in her long voyage west, with the geography of journey paralleling a discovery of her self and an evolution of her work. And in a way it was my journey. I grew up in New Jersey, went to college near Cleveland, and after some forays back east, and moved to San Francisco, where I began to write seriously.

Why historical fiction and why this period in history?

Historical fiction gives a certain freedom. I feel that the history somehow creates a stage for the fiction, an artifice that keeps me from simply creating a veneer over a telling of “real life” because you must create everything – the setting, the physicality of the world, the issues and possibilities of the characters. There’s a lot of work to do --- the research burdens are tremendous – but I like to read history, particularly social history, and squirreling around to discover this or that detail of daily life is fascinating, as well as offering a convenient distraction from the hard work of writing . . . Also I think that choosing a setting can underscore a basic theme in a novel, in my case, Irma’s struggle to find a place for herself and work that reflected her evolving sense of who she is and what she can contribute is played out in the late 1800s, a time in our country defined by movement, masses of people coming here on their own journeys.

I got the idea for this story when I was living in Italy, married to an Italian, with work and friends, speaking Italian – and yet a stranger. Once I went to pick up an order of frozen fish. All others there to get their fish had their names on a long order sheet. I had no name, only L’Americana – the American woman. It was in the many moments like this that I could sympathize with Irma’s sense of exclusion. And it’s funny but I felt it again when we moved back to the U.S., after having been away for ten years, I felt like a stranger all over again.

What do you hope your readers will glean after reading WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS? Is there a universal message you hope readers will reflect upon?

All of us have been strangers, found ourselves someplace that is either geographically new or a new situation in which nothing we know before is useful. When that happens, we are thrown back on character, on our native wit, on values that persist. Irma has only a few practical skills -- sheepherding and needlework -- so she must dig into those skills to find the tools to negotiate utterly new situations. Her particular mix of pride and humility and willingness to connect with those around her is successful and Carlo’s mix of characteristics is not.
So the novel is in part about those parts of us that travel with us even as circumstances change. And today, when the issue of immigration is so charged, and in many ways the treatment of immigrants even more hypocritical and vicious than it was in Irma’s time, I hope readers can connect, perhaps with their own family history as immigrants or at least with some time in which they were strangers and someone welcomed them, someone helped them on their journey.

The upcoming release (January 25, 2011) of When We Were Strangers has to be exciting and perhaps scary. What are you feeling and how are you coping?

While I was researching and writing I didn’t much let myself think about the book finding an agent or even publisher. I just had to dig in and keep working with the issues as they arose – this chapter, this character turn. So I didn’t have any image of how this pre-release time would be. It’s exciting. It’s very moving and gratifying to feel so many good friends excited and supportive. I hope the novel does well also because so many at HarperCollins as well as my agent worked hard and believed in the project. And it’s scary, it’s very public, like walking around semi-dressed. It’s also hard to try to move on to the next project which is also historical but much earlier – the 1100s. But I’m grateful, I’m very nervous. And I’m sad that my father, who was supportive of my writing, isn’t here to hold the book.

What else would you like to share about When We Were Strangers or your writing process?

There are two scenes of sexual violence in the novel and they were very hard to write, for one must go there as a victim, see and feel the event and its repercussions on your own body if the scene is going to be more than action-exploitation fiction. No amount of technique or practice takes away from the need to do this or makes it easier on the writer. A tendency, mine anyway, is to skim over these scenes and that won’t work. I’m not talking about wallowing in gory details, or being melodramatic in the telling, but just truly being there emotionally and spiritually with the characters. That was hard enough, and my fiction group with the Knoxville Writers Guild was ruthless when I tried to back away. But later, as I working on revisions with my agent and then the editor I realized that there was a more difficult journey required – to be there with the perpetrator, to find that dark place in me that could engender such violence. I truly believe that if a writer can’t at some level empathize with the most negative character created, then that character has no business in the piece. I wanted to reach the unbroken soul beneath the brokenness. Not to excuse the act, but to acknowledge that none of us is born a sexual predator and even the two perpetrators in my novel were capable of love, maybe earlier in their lives, and had been loved, and there but for heaven, grace, good luck or any of the mysterious factors that shape our lives, go I.

Now, here are some fun questions.

I understand you have a dog and I know my hounds are sometimes jealous of my reading and writing time.  Would you tell us a little about your dog?
We got Jesse in a classic way, I fear. Our daughter brought home a soft adorable puppy, which she swore she could take care of. Perhaps other parents know the scene? In fact, for various reasons, I had to take over more and more care of Jesse and in caring for this dog I had initially resented, I got ridiculously attached. Later, our daughter moved out to another stage in her life and Jesse stayed put, graduating himself from a cage on the ground floor to a bed in our bedroom. He has silky black hair, feathered ears and paws, sweet and thoughtful. I was teaching him left and right (as in “left paw, right paw”) but my husband pointed out that I was teaching him from my left and right, not his. Fortunately Jesse is too much of a gentleman to point this out.

Asking you to tell us your favorite author I know is very difficult. In the blog community reading about what others are reading is always fun and helps to spread the word about great books. Would you share some of your most memorable reads either novels or non-fiction?

Plainsong, by Kent Haruf, surely for its crystalline prose and deep heart. Recently Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones; Little Bee by Clive James. Right now I’m reading the graphic novel Persepolis, by Marjane Satarapi and The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, about the Columbine incident. I started Lamb’s book before the Tucson massacre and it reverberates painfully.

How do you unwind and decompress?

I garden, on the principle of “good enough gardener,” doing what I can in any piece of time. I’d plant the front yard to perennials and pachysandra since it’s shady and the Tennessee clay needs a lot of persuasion to grow grass but Maurizio wants a lawn. I each spring I chisel away a bit more for hostas. We have a pretty active social life, run a “Cinema Sotto Le Stelle” Italian film series in the summer on our deck. I’m the social justice deacon of my church, organizing various initiatives. Next month, for instance, we’re hosting a community forum on immigration – close to the topic of my book. By massive bad timing I’ll be in Nashville at a reading when we have the forum.

How do you pronounce your last name?

Show-EN-walt. It means “beautiful forest” in German. I believe that my father’s family came from near the Black Forest and at least one was a cabinetmaker.

What is your astrological sign?


Further information can be obtained at Harper Collins Author Page.

Pamela Schoenewaldt Website

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review-Ape House, by Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen
Spiegel & Grau
September 2010
$26.00, 320pp.

Ape House, is not Water for Elephants for sure. The beginning moves along and I was hooked as the story of the fascinating bonobos fueled my desire to research more about them. However, I was disappointed in this story. I was anticipating so much more after falling in love with Water for Elephants. Ape House is a story stretch that didn’t make much sense.

The beginning is plausible and promising, I was engaged from the start. Isabel Duncan is a dedicated scientist and specialist who is renowned for her communication skills with the bonobos. When an explosion leaves her critically injured, no one seems to care about the bonobos health and well-being. Isabel is enraged to discover their escape and disappearance, especially since her fiance promised to take care of them. Unbeknownst to her they have ended up in the hands of profiteers who have one motive, making money. To Isabel, the bonobos are her family, and she can’t rest until she knows they are safe and protected.

The plot gets strange and frankly is too far fetched. Without giving away too much of the story, can you imagine a reality show with primates who communicate with sign language, order what they desire online and then the world tunes in to watch with fascination as their wishes come true? Seriously, I kid you not. I’m not a fan of any television, nor do I watch it, but this was beyond my limit of tolerance. I understand that this is meant to be a parody of life as we know it today, but honestly, it doesn’t work.

Sara Gruen is a fine writer with a passion for animal rights. Her ability to bring forth stories about the plight of these animals should not be minimized. With that said, there is an endearing element to her novel Ape House. The reader learns about the captivatingly, often comical, and surprisingly communicative bonobos. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a conversation with one of these amazing apes. I encourage you to go to her website and read about her interest in animal rights. She has obvious passion for protecting animals and has given them voice through her storytelling.

Sara Gruen Website

Disclosure: This book was given to me by the publisher.
Regardless of how I obtain my books, all reviews are my honest and unbiased opinion.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Mark Twain's Other Woman, by Laura Trombley

The Hidden Story of His Final Years
Laura Trombley, Alfred A. Knopf,March 17 2010, $28.95,  352pp, 978-0-307-27344-4.

Mark Twain wanted his biography published without a doubt. He also wanted to have total control over the image of the man people would read about and therefore went to great lengths to protect his reputation.  So, how do we know the real Mark Twain? 

Mark Twain’s Other Woman, by Laura Trombley is about the writer’s later years between 1900 and 1910 and his personal relationship with his secretary, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon.    Trombley, a college professor,  has written two other books about Twain and has sifted through a vast array of primary documents that include personal letters, notes and diary entries.  Through interviews and reading the daily reminders written by Isabel Van Kleek Lyon the author has put together a chronology of Twain’s life, a portrait of the man he and his family hoped would never come to light.

This is an engaging at times shocking look at Mark Twain, his relationship with his secretary Van Kleek Lyon and his daughters.  It will be easy to overlook slow moving passages that are burdened by the author’s research findings.  Trombley’s evaluation and interpretation about this unconventional yet respected iconoclast in American literature will offer an irresistible and controversial read.

Disclosure: This book was provided to me to review by Historical Novels Review.
Regardless of how I obtain my books, all reviews are my honest opinion.
This review originally appeared in Historical Novels Review.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Friday, January 21, 2011

Michelle Moran's Madame Tussaud Book Giveaway and Guest Post!

As a huge fan of Michelle Moran, I am delighted to announce her latest book Madame Tussaud:A Novel of the French Revolution will be in stores sometime around or on February 15, 2011.  To kick-off her book release, I am hosting a book giveaway for a signed copy of Madame Tussaud and a pair of aristocratically delicate cupcake earrings. (Take a look below)

Michelle has submitted this synopsis of her book that will give you a little background about this amazing woman from history.  After reading the excerpt see the contest details. With eager anticipation I can't wait for my copy to arrive.   Congratulations Michelle!


When most people hear the name Madame Tussaud, the first thing that comes to mind are the eerily lifelike waxworks which crowd her museums throughout the world. But who was the woman behind the name, and what was she like in the flesh?

Madame Tussaud’s story actually began in 18th century Paris. While most people know her from her famous museum in London, it was in France, on the humble Boulevard du Temple, where Marie first got her start as an apprentice in her uncle’s wax museum, the Salon de Cire. At the time, the Boulevard du Temple was crowded with exhibits of every kind. For just a few sous a passerby might attend the opera, watch a puppet show, or visit Henri Charles’ mystifying exhibition The Invisible Girl. The Boulevard was a difficult place to distinguish yourself as an artist, but as Marie’s talent grew for both sculpting and public relations, the Salon de Cire became one of the most popular attractions around. Suddenly, no one could compete with Marie or her uncle for ingenious publicity stunts, and when the royal family supposedly visited their museum, this only solidified what most showmen in Paris already knew — the Salon was an exhibition to watch out for.

But as the Salon’s popularity grew, so did the unusual requests. Noblemen came asking for wax sculptures of their mistresses, women wanted models of their newborn infants, and – most importantly – the king’s sister herself wanted Marie to come to Versailles to be her wax tutor. While this was, in many ways, a dream come true for Marie, it was also a dangerous time to be associated with the royal family. Men like Robespierre, Marat, and Desmoulins were meeting at Marie’s house to discuss the future of the monarchy, and when the Revolution began, Marie found herself in a precarious position. Ultimately, she was given a choice by France’s new leaders: to preserve the famous victims of Madame Guillotine in wax, or be guillotined herself.

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution is the story of Marie’s life during one of the most tumultuous times in human history. Her survival was nothing less than astonishing, and how she survived makes for what I hope is a compelling read.~ Michelle Moran

Check out Michelle's blog at

Contest Giveaway from January 21st-February 21, 2011

A  copy of Madame Tussaud signed by Michelle Moran and a pair of cupcake earrings.

1. To be entered you must be a follower on my sidebar Google Reader, and post a comment about the above excerpt, or about Michelle Moran's novels and writing. 

2. Blog about this contest and leave a link to the post in the comments.  (2 additional chances) 

3. Twitter about this contest and leave a link to your tweet. (2 additional chances)

Open participants worldwide. :)
Disclosure: All book copies for review, and earrings for this giveaway are free copies sent by Crown Publishing.  Any review or guest post is submitted without monetary compensation with my opinion written and posted free from bias.  

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bookworm's Dinner Top Pics for 2010

Thank goodness for snow days in New England to give me some extra time to catch up on my to do list.   I am excited to share my favorites for 2010 with all of you.

Top Pics for 2010


A Fierce Radiance, by Lauren Belfer
The Day the Falls Stood Still, by Cathy Marie Buchanan
For the King's Favor, by Elizabeth Chadwick
Mistress of the Revolution, by  Catherine Delors
The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng
Lady of the Hay, by Barbara Erskine
Bloodroot, by Amy Greene
The Forever Queen, by Helen Hollick
Lady of the Butterflies, by Fiona Mountain
The Heretic Queen, by Michelle Moran
Song of Slaves, by Alan Cheuse (HNR February 2011) (Review to follow upon publication)


Little Princes, by Conor Grennan

Young Adult

The Alchemy and Meggy Swan, by Karen Cushman 

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011]. 

Review-Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace

Joseph Wallace,Touchstone, 2010, $25.00,pb, 464pp, 978-1-4391-6005-3.

Ruby Thomas, a child of seven catches a fly ball hit by Casey Stengel on April 5, 1913. As she looks at the ball she imagines herself a pitcher. Whether her unusually long arms often a source of ridicule, contribute to her success one will never know. Catching baseball fever that day, Ruby is destined to make a mark on the world.

Later, using a tree in her backyard as a target, she discovers her athletic gift. A mighty fastball with pin point accuracy. Some years later, when her family dies during the Spanish influenza outbreak, she becomes the sole support for her two nieces. Driven by the need to care for them, she lands a job at a Coney Island sideshow throwing fastballs. The attraction, called the Birdcage, is a challenge to anyone to beat her speed. The abusive owner schedules her long arduous hours with little rest. The pay is low and the work takes a painful physical tole on her throwing arm. One day Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, curious visitors, show up at the Birdcage to watch Ruby, and the resulting newspaper article rockets her fame. When given the opportunity to pitch for a minor league team, Ruby agrees.

As her adoring public craves more of Ruby, others of bad intent emerge. The Ku Klux Klan threatens her, the underworld wants to own her, and the baseball commissioner wants to ban her. All Ruby wants is to play ball and shelter her family.

Wallace has written a dramatically powerful story of determination. Ruby faces difficult choices, she is inspiringly special with an innate ability to endure immense hardships. The character genuine, not sainted, but human facing persistent challenges. Based on the life of Jackie Mitchell, Diamond Ruby is a historically uplifting unforgettable journey back to the excitement of the roaring twenties.

Disclosure: This book was given to me by HNR for review. This review originally was published in Historical Novels Review August 2010 issue.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2008-2011].

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday Movie Recap-The King's Speech

Wow! I want to share an astounding film with you, The King's Speech. 

What an incredible story of King George VI. If you have not seen this brilliant performance by a spectacular cast, treat yourself to a truly wonderful movie today.  Here is the official trailer to take a look, but honestly, the acting is superb. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter had me staring at the screen with an engrossing intensity.  I have to see it again, something I have rarely done. The story is based on the history and life of King George VI, who struggled with a speech impediment for years. When he  assumed the thrown after his brother abdicated, the spotlight on his elocution was intensified causing even greater self-doubt. The fascinating and the clever repartee between King George VI (Bertie) and Lionel Logue, his speech therapist will deliver many emotional scenes that are unforgettable. Don't miss this marvelous contender that I predict will be nominated for Best Movie of the Year and Best Actor.  (January 25, 2011).

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review-When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Pamela Schoenewaldt
Harper Collins
$14.99, 336 pages

Book Description from Publisher

"If you leave Opi, you'll die with strangers," Irma Vitale's mother always warned. Even after her beloved mother's passing, 20-year-old Irma longs to stay in her Abruzzo mountain village, plying her needle. But too poor and plain to marry and subject to growing danger in her own home, she risks rough passage to America and workhouse servitude to achieve her dream of making dresses for gentlewomen.
In the raw immigrant quarters and with the help of an entrepreneurial Irish serving girl, ribbon-decked Polish ragman and austere Alsatian dressmaker, Irma begins to stitch together a new life . . . until her peace and self are shattered in the charred remains of the Great Chicago Fire. Enduring a painful recovery, Irma reaches deep within to find that she has even more to offer the world than her remarkable ability with a needle and thread  -Harper Collins

My Review

When We Were Strangers will be one of this years cherished memorable novels. Schoenewaldt is a dramatically exciting storyteller who has a velcro like ability to hold on to an audience throughout. Her characters are destined to attain literary immortality, they breathe beyond the final chapter. Two women stand out as formidable in their own way: Irma both victim and survivor and Sofia, savior and mentor. Whether random, kismet or some divine encounter, when Irma and Sofia meet their relationship is powerful and inspiring.

The story reflects the immigrant experience unique to America and the multicultural composite of it’s citizens. Once valued and celebrated, this diversity was the foundation of this country, adopting an appropriate motto, e pluribus unum (out of many one). Today, rather than shrinking, the gap of intolerance of others difference has become extreme, a disturbing trend. Reading this novel one might question how civil we are today, two centuries later?  Further, when will tolerance emerge from this apex of intolerance and the prodigious prejudice still with us today?

Pamela Schoenewaldt, a propitious and pensive writer who will no doubt leave readers anticipating her next book. Until then, don’t miss her debut.

Disclosure: The copy of this book was given to me by Library Thing as an ARC to review for the Early Reviewer program.  This review is submitted free of bias and represents my honest opinion.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review-Heartbroke Bay, by Lynn D'Urso

Lynn D’Urso
Berkley Trade Paperback
November 2, 2010
$15.00/C$18.50,HC, 320pp

In 1898 Lady Hamilton, recently from England is traveling by rail on a tour of the West. Hannah Butler is one of her servants and she bleakly envisions four remaining in her employ. During their trip Hannah meets Hans Nelson, a fellow traveler bound for the Pacific. Their courtship is brief and they soon marry. Nelson has visions of striking rich as he plans to make a fortune mining gold. Along the way they encounter three other gold seekers, Harky, Dutch and Michael Severts. Their journey seeking riches is not an easy one, as countless others discover. Undaunted by the climate and horror stories they manage to make a tenuous landing after a ferocious storm in Lituya Bay, Alaska. For months they work tirelessly with meager results. Their promise of wealth alludes them. When they loose their only means of transportation back to civilization there despair is lifted when Negook, a local Tlingit shaman agrees to take them back home. As they enter his village, abundant food and wealth are everywhere, and a plan to stay is agreed upon by all. Negook is convinced the white people are causing bad luck to his people. Knowing that the only way for him to rid himself of their presence is to give them what they want. He sees their greed is driving their destiny and is sure they won’t survive, so Negook leads them to gold, lots of gold.

Based on a true story of Hans and Hannah Nelson. With D’Urso’s research and some imagination it is easy to picture the despair and isolation felt by the the four men who along with Hannah Nelson battled the harsh and hostile climate of Alaska.

Disclosure: This book was given to me by Historical Novels Review.
Review first published HNR, November 2010.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review-The House on Salt Hay Road by Carin Clevidence

Carin Clevidence
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
2010, $25.00/C$18.50,HC

Clayton and his sister Nancy lost both parents and have moved in with their mother’s family on Salt Hay Road on Long Island. In the Spring of 1937 a firework factory explosion rocks the community as the story opens and you soon get a sense of the family dynamics. Nancy takes on the role of mother to Clayton causing some resentment on his part. She never quite accepts her circumstances or the love of her Aunt, Uncle, grandfather. When Nancy meets Robert, a visitor from Boston, she is swept away by his charm and with impulsivity agrees to marry him. Nancy assumes that Clayton will move with her, but when he refuses she is forced to leave her only family and move to Boston.

After her departure, Grandfather Scudder, is filled with sorrow and his health deteriorates as he grieves her absence. Aunt Mavis questions her own marriage left abandoned by her husband. Uncle Roy, never married becomes interested in a newcomer to the island. Clay finds a job and avoids school whenever possible. Nancy feels isolated and unhappy. When the hurricane of 1938 slams the eastern seaboard, all are caught off guard. This is not a story about this devastating hurricane, but more about the choices made, consequences, and ultimate forgiveness.

The first half sets the tone and the rhythm of daily life for the Poole family. The setting is vivid and charming as anyone who lives or visits the shore will embrace. Each character touches you with compassionate familiarity. Readers may find the pace at the beginning slow, however, the second half is much more engaging as the family struggles through the hurricane and its aftermath. The House on Salt Hay Road is a pensive and memorable achievement with a timeless message.

First published in Historical Novels Review, September 2010.
Disclosure: Copy of book was provided by HNR. This review is original and without bias.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Young Adult Review-Iron Thunder, by AVI

The Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac
by AVI
Hyperion Books, 2007
Hardcover Follett Bound, 207pp

Description from the Author’s Page

When his father is killed fighting for the Union in the War Between the States, thirteen-year-old Tom Carroll must take a job to help support his family. He manages to find work at a bustling ironworks in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York, where dozens of men are frantically pounding together the strangest ship Tom has ever seen. A ship made of iron. Tom soon learns that the Union army has very important plans for this iron ship called the Monitor. It is supposed to fight the Confederate “sea monster”—another ironclad, the Merimac. But almost no one believes the Monitor will float!
Meanwhile, Tom’s job at the ironworks has made him a target of Confederate spies who offer him money for information about the ship. Tom finds himself caught between two certain dangers: an encounter with murderous spies and a battle at sea in an iron coffin. . . .

My Review

The battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac was a distance vague memory from my childhood.  An exciting story, Iron Thunder shows off the skillful storytelling of AVI who always makes history is fun to read.  It is through his character’s lives that his nimble novel writing excels. 

Tom Carroll was an actual sailor on the Monitor who is fictionalized by Avi.  Through Tom’s point of view his vivid and clever imagination for what could have been comes alive. Backed up and supported by primary and secondary sources,  Avi’s story conveys the importance of these unproven, experimental iron ships and the significance of the battles that took place at sea.

In his author notes he shares how he researched background for the novel by examining newspaper articles, letters, memoirs, and eyewitness reports of those who served on the ships or witnessed the engagement.

Teachers should consider this an excellent choice for middle school readers, as a read aloud or literature circle study. Many themes can be explored as well as the controversy that remains as to who actually won the battle. Tom’s story becomes complicated when he is faced with tough decisions that weigh on his conscience.

Avi’s books are numerous in my school library collection.  From fantasy to historical fiction, he knows how to entertain kids. Many books about the Civil War are inappropriate for upper elementary and middle school due to the brutal reality of battle. Without depicting the harsh and horrific images of the battlefield he is able to tell an inspiring story that is age appropriate.  Iron Thunder is an important addition to the Civil War collection of historical fiction.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Wisteria Leigh
Library/Media Specialist
January 2011

Disclosure:  Library book in my school collection. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mary Mackey's-The Notorious Mrs. Winston, a review

Mary Mackey
Berkley Books
May 2007
$14.00U.S./17.50 CAN, Paperback
340 pp

Book Description from the Back Cover
"Married to an older man who sees her as little more than a possession, Claire Winston feels trapped and unhappy, but she knows her personal suffering pales in comparison to the hardships of the nation, which is teetering on the precipice of civil war. And she has a secret that helps ease her despair: her family's devotion to the cause of assisting runaway slaves to freedom, a purpose she embraces, and of which her husband is unaware. Still, the empty pretense of her marriage makes her vulnerable to temptation, and soon she finds herself captivated by John Taylor, her husband's nephew. In his arms she finds the passion and tenderness her marriage lacks, but as much as John loves her, he is devoted first and foremost to the Confederacy, and to the band of rebel guerillas known as Morgan's Raiders. Separated from John for more than two years by the forces of history, and by her husband's machinations, Claire will travel boldly across the war-torn country in search of her lover. Until, disguised as a male soldier, she finds herself drafted by none other than General Morgan himself, swept up in the greatest guerilla raid in American history, and caught between her loyalty to the Union and her love for John."

My Review

Claire thought she was in love with her new husband Henry, but soon after they were married his obsession with photographing her became a source of discomfort and revulsion. He wouldn’t touch her, in fact the marriage was never consummated. Claire is not even allowed to touch him when they lay in bed at night. The mysterious green album sends shudders through Claire’s veins as it contains indiscreet photos of her, oddly provocative and perverse, a secret fetish of her husband’s. He worships her beauty in an artistic way, but for Claire, the camera lens becomes a dreaded focal point to her marriage.

When she meets John Taylor, Henry’s nephew, their mutual attraction is explosive. This event will alter her destiny as The Notorious Mrs. Winston takes on the persona of Zeke, a young boy eager to join the infamous Morgan Raiders so that she can be with her beloved.

Historiographically, General Morgan and his company of about seventeen hundred men did exist and their presence in the Ohio River area of southern Indiana was intended to cause havoc for the Union men. The fictional Claire, although she claimed allegiance to the Union cause, fought with Morgan’s men to be with John. She is clever, and devoted to him with an unstoppable tenacious willful spirit of adventure.

While it is hard to accept that Claire was able to pull of the disguise of a rebel soldier, when her beauty was evidently striking, I enjoyed her character. Her loyalty and dedication to the Underground Railroad is evident early on, yet she must somehow work with the enemy in order to save herself and a future with the man she loves. Somewhat dramatic in a soap opera way, this still is an enjoyable read. Mackey has since written The Widow’s War, set in the Civil War period which in my opinion is superb. Those looking for an adventurous book for the Civil War Challenge should consider this one.

Wisteria Leigh
January 2011

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Disclosure: Self-purchase at National Military Park Bookstore, Gettysburg, PA.

War Through the Generations-I'm Signed Up!

I have decided to join the War Through the Generations Challenge again this year. This year the subject is The American Civil War. Ever since I attended a grad course several years ago and visited Gettysburg for the second time, I have had a fascination with this period of history. I already have a prodigious library of Civil War books both non-fiction and historical fiction. This challenge will give me a big nudge to tackle this highly anticipated TBR pile of mine. I also plan on including some YA books that are on my library shelves in school. Buying books for the library is always fun, but I don't always take the time to read the entire book, just skimming through the reviews and a few chapters.

I don't plan on participating in any other challenges at this point, although I am reserving my right to change that later. LOL

Thanks again to Anna and Serena for hosting this valuable and thought provoking challenge.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Teaser Tuesday-#1 2011

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme,
hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along!

This week my teaser comes from:

The Notorious Mrs. Winston
by Mary Makey
Published by Berkley

"She has come to think of the lens as the barrel of a gun. Even now, when it is pointed in another direction, she feels as if she is standing in the crosshairs." (page 11)

Disclosure: I purchased this book in Gettysburg.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

With Much Anticipation ....Review-The Little Princes by Conor Grennan

One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Conor Grennan
William Morrow
February 2011
$25.99, 304pages

The Little Princes should be on everyone's wishlist for 2011!

When Conor Grennan left his full-time job and decided to travel for a year, little did he know his journey would end up consuming his life, heart and soul, with an incessant need to locate children of Nepal who he had made a vow to. Conor Grennan was 29 when he decided to volunteer to help orphans in Nepal, more as a means to impress than for any noble endeavor. Whatever his original intent, he ended up with a deep passion to save the children of Little Princes Orphanage who he believed he left behind in good care.

After three months of volunteering, Conor sets off to travel the world on a bicycle for a year. When he learns that the children he left behind, those he promised would be taken care of by nice people, were actually recaptured by the same child trafficker who took them initially, Conor becomes instantly sickened. He knows the children who came to trust him, now look at him with betrayal.

With an indomitable drive and no idea where to start, he researches how to start a non-profit organization. He knows he needs to raise money, because he is broke, he has spent his life savings traveling the world. He ultimately forms Next Generation Nepal (NGN) and freely admits, his purpose was to find the seven children he left behind. As he lectured and met people he raised money, and was able to return to Nepal to begin his arduous task of searching for his seven kids. Through his efforts, he and his associate in Nepal, Farid, were able to open Dhaulagiri House. Jointly, they set up the home that would accommodate twenty children. They were assisted by Gyan Bahadur from the Child Welfare Board in Kathmandu. They literally had to walk hundreds of miles to try and locate the children and families. During the early stages of their mission, they were caught up in the political unrest in Kathmandu between Maoist rebels and the king’s government, often life threatening.

In reading Little Princes, you will become aware of the child trafficking and the systemic issues in Nepal that create such terrible family separations. You read how easily children become slaves and families loose total contact with them. They believe they have handed them over to be educated, fed and a better life. This book has broadened my schema in so many ways. Nepal is so much more real to me now: the climate, the politics, the culture and the families. His stories of the children, their horrible plight and difficult rescue is just so special, a beautiful book. His organization can be found at

Book Source: I received this book from William Morrow Publisher. This review reflects my candid and truthful opinion.

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Reflections

This has been a challenging blogging year for me for many reasons. My full-time job has required much more time outside of my work day. My health status was further compromised with Lyme Disease in the spring. Wow, I can't imagine how a wee-bitty tiny tick can create such havoc and illness with one small bite. Then during this year, two of my dogs had major medical issues, and as many of you know I lost my sweet Webster in the summer. Mystery is doing much better and will always be on medicine. She is a little Diva, but cute as a button anyway. Lion is my heart dog..ever present and my protector. He is my biggest dog with an old sensitive soul. Wizard is the resident nervous Nellie. He is always on guard for my terrorist cat Owen, who sits and waits to take pot claw shots at him as he tries to sneak by him. Houdini turned fourteen and true to his name is elusive, having no interest in dogs or people, with the exception of his love for me. He is my book buddy.

Reading is always my solace and the sunshine to look forward to each day. The obstacles that prevented my passionate pursuit of print are hopefully behind me. I am looking forward to 2011 with optimism and hope to be physically better able to read and write again.

My stats for this year are: 75 Books Read


Challenges: ABC Historical Fiction Challenge 6 of 26 books. Although some of my books would have worked, I lost interest in the game. I loved this challenge and wish I had more focus to participate.

Reagan Arthur Book Challenge: Read two books.

War Through the Generations: One book....but it was an awesome one: The Lotus Eaters.

New Author Challenge: I didn't post or keep up my stats on this, but I read many new authors as I review for different magazines. Therefore, of the 75 books read, 63 were new authors.

Authors who blew me away with their writing this year.....

Helen Hollick
Ciji Ware
Elizabeth Chadwick
Barbara Erskine
Brady Udall
Tan Twan Eng
Fiona Mountain,
Robin Oliveira,
Lauren Belfer
Michelle Moran
Alison Weir
Catherine Delors
Alan Cheuse
Cathy Marie Buchanan.

I will be posting my 2010 Favorite Pics withing the next two days. Hmmmmmmm?

I think it is safe to admit that I am really awful at challenges. Therefore, I will probably only do one challenge this year. I love the War Through the Generations challenge, and my interest in Civil War history really makes this challenge a must accept. I already have a stack of books to include so Serena and Anna...I'll be signing up. LOL

Something new for me this year will be reading a daily journal called The Book of Awakening. This was a "favorite thing" of Oprah's this year and it became one of my favorite gifts to give special friends.

Happy New Year !

© [Wisteria Leigh] and [Bookworm's Dinner], [2011].