FEBRUARY FIND (01/28/2014)

A new talent, a dark comedy, slightly risque, breathtaking and always captivating...Foreign Gods, Inc by Okie Ndibe caught my attention.

I've never heard of this author, which means nothing, but the reviews have been intriguing. My New York Times "go to" reviewer, Janet Maslin praised it and that's reference enough.

Here's an Amazon review....

"Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.

Ike's plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes.

And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity.

A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the "exotic," including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.



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In an earlier post I expressed doubts about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I'm eating my words!

Reviewers labeled it unnecessarily long, but so what?!! I was quick to agree, but I spoke too soon and this is my mea culpa.


THE GOLDFINCH by Tartt is now my choice for the Best Book of the Month. The depth and quality of Tartt's writing does not disappoint.

I've read her other books and although The Goldfinch could use some minor editing, simply said, I don't want this main character's journey to end.(And what a journey!)

For lovers of art, New York, beautiful writing, this masterful novel holds a great deal of meaning. Compelling and powerful, I highly recommend it.




THE ONE TO WATCH (01/24/2014)

The lovelife of Scottish author, Robert Lewis Stevenson does not interest me and why should it? The lovelife of Frank Lyod Wright didn't get me either...until Author Nancy Horan wrote LOVING FRANK and now her new mesmerizing novel, UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY, just released. Once again, I'm intrigued and borderline voyeuristic!

UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKIES BY Nancy Horan is my January pick for an immediate best seller, and with good reason. The epic story follows the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and his provocative and strong-willed American wife, Fanny Osborne. No ordinary story, the book illustrates the lives of two creative individuals as they embark on the adventure of life.

This is an ambitious historical tale, well researched and centering on very complex characters. Horan also explores relevant social concerns and how Stevenson's tumultuous personal life influenced his work.  Horan returns with another spirited well crafted story....definitely the One to Watch this month.

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I recently heard from blog reader, Monica G, an ardent and enthusiastic book lover. Monica's suggestions are always unique and timely and The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien is a good example. Originally a Broadway Play (2001) it was the recipient of many awards and accolades. Author Pamela Gien actually appeared in the production.

Monica G's other recommendation is Address Unknown by Katherine Kressmann Taylor. This small book became a sensation when it was first printed.  Author Taylor's inspiration was a Jewish art dealer who grew up in pre-Nazi Germany bidding farewell to his longtime friend and business partner, who returns to Germany and becomes a Nazi.

 The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien

Here are Monica's comments about THE SYRINGA TREE .....

"Have you ever bought a book and read it a year later? I did just that. With the passing of Mandela it suddenly seemed so relevant. The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien is a beautifully written book about South Africa and the beginning of Apartheid .  

The book is told through the eyes of a 6 year old, Elizabeth Grace. You feel the love she has of the land and especially of her Xhosa Nanny. It is both a portrait of the time, yet a personal story.

She paints a wonderful portrait of the countryside, the people, the unrest, personal ties and how the politics of the time tear people apart and turn lives upside down. The book pulses with rhythms of Africa and its people and brought me to tears.

Author Pamela Gien is from South Africa, which probably explains her vivid portrayals of the scenery and the people. This is her first novel."

ADDRESS UNKNOWN by Katherine Kressmann Taylor

Monica G. said....

"I just read Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor. It was originally published in 1938 and banned in Nazi Germany. It created quite a buzz at the time...

The book was reissued when the author was 91 years old and was dubbed "an American literary classic."

ADDRESS UNKNOWN was written as a series of letters between a Jewish Art Dealer living in San Francisco and his business partner who had returned to Germany in 1932.

Short, powerful, and uplifting, the reader is left with many complex points to ponder."


After its debut in Seattle, "The Syringa Tree," a one-woman play by the South African actress Pamela Gien, opened in Manhattan in the fall of 2000 at Playhouse 91, an intimate theater in Yorkville.

The early response did not overwhelm; one night, 17 people made up the entire audience. But Gien's virtuoso performance in all the roughly two dozen roles she had written began to attract attention.

Oprah attended and sent flowers backstage. Rosie O'Donnell became a cheerleader. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward showed up, as did J.D. Salinger, the father of the show's producer, Matt Salinger.

Eventually, "The Syringa Tree" and its author/star collected a sheaf of Off Broadway awards, including an Obie for best play.




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SYCAMORE ROW (01/12/2014)

I've almost completed SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham. Grisham is my "go to" author when I need something fast paced, "un-put-downable" and slightly mindless.

A follow up to A TIME TO KILL, his very successful novel written 25 years ago, Grisham reprieves some of the same characters but centers on a new trial in Clanton, Mississippi. Again, charismatic lawyer, Jake Brigance is at the helm.

Non Fiction reviewer Gary S. submitted these comments..

"Well, I finally finished the Grisham book. The ending was fantastic and very powerful. Once the trial actually started, I was completely hooked. I still think the middle part of the book was way too long and detailed—and the chapters leading up to the trial (taking depositions, jury selection) were really tedious.

I had a feeling how it all might play out—and I was right, but there is nothing that prepares you for the final chapters. Overall, the first 1/3 of the book gets you hooked. The middle part is a complete let down and almost lost me. Finally, when everything comes together and the trial actually happens, I could not put it down."


I'm currently in the middle of SYCAMORE LANE...yes, it's a bit "tedious" and I've resorted to skimming parts. Even though the
multitude of characters are rich and entertaining, I feel like saying "enough already, get to the point!"

So, I'm anxiously awaiting for something momentous to occur...and fortunately, I've  reached that point and yes, it's "un-put-downable"....and not mindless.

If you are a Grisham fan, especially if you are a Grisham fan, read Sycamore Lane. Even with a few glitches, you won't be disappointed.




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January is ushering in scores of new books. I'm zeroing in on releases that have the most promise, originality and verve, partnered with strong reviews and feedback from reliable blog readers.

You'll find a passionate memoir, Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson, and on the other end of the spectrum, a sweeping historical epic, titled Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies.

So many good choices with more to come...Bring it on 2014!

Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson (January 7, Simon & Schuster)

At age 26, Henderson became a widow when her Marine husband was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Henderson and her mother share the painful experience of young widowhood because Henderson's father died in a plane crash when she was 5. Beautifully written, this memoir explores the meaning to be found in an apparently senseless death. —Ann Walters

Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies (January 7, Doubleday)

Belle Cora is ambitious in scope and excellent in execution. Arabella Godwin's transformation to the madam Belle Cora creates a story that forces the reader to constantly evaluate previous assumptions and belief systems. With its vibrant descriptions of the Gold Rush and San Francisco's astounding metamorphosis and with its unforgettable characters, Belle Cora is a book for the ages.—Michelle Shannon

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What a great title! I was immediately attracted, especially when I realized the author of this upcoming new release was Anna Quindlen. I have been a fan of her books and columns for years.

STILL LIFE WITH BREADCRUMBS is the story of a woman past her prime and still trying to figure out who she really is...a woman who is open to whatever life brings, and a woman being comfortable in her own skin.....Is this about me?!!

Fortunately for readers out there, its about the main character, Rebecca Winters, a woman who ventures into new territory and fends for herself in strange and challenging conditions....

Here's a review from  www.Goodreads.com

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

"Still Life with Bread Crumbs begins with an imagined gunshot and ends with a new tin roof. Between the two is a wry and knowing portrait of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose work made her an unlikely heroine for many women.

Her career is now descendent, her bank balance shaky, and she has fled the city for the middle of nowhere. There she discovers, in a tree stand with a roofer named Jim Bates, that what she sees through a camera lens is not all there is to life.

Brilliantly written, powerfully observed, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a deeply moving and often very funny story of unexpected love, and a stunningly crafted journey into the life of a woman, her heart, her mind, her days, as she discovers that life is a story with many levels, a story that is longer and more exciting than she ever imagined."


Love stories can be "schmaltzy" (Sappy)..hopefully this is not. Early reviews labeled  it heartwarming and life affirming...so far, so good.
I want to like it because I like Anna Quindlen..so it's on my "To be read" list. (It may be worth reading just to discover what the title means.)

STILL LIFE WITH BREADCRUMBS will be released January 28th. Pre-order from Amazon directly from this blog. Use the Amazon Search Box in the Sidebar. 

MAKING HISTORY (01/05/2014)

Many of us crave a good historical novel once in awhile, and author David-Michael Harding fills that void.. HOW ANGELS DIE, fast paced and powerful, focuses on life in France during the Nazi occupation. Not just another World War II story, this  novel highlights two sisters, punctuated by family drama and astounding bravery.

You may not have heard of David-Michael Harding, but his books often outsell Ken Follett in the UK.  He is a life-long writer whose work has appeared in national publications and has been recognized by the international writing community for his piece, The Cats of Savone.  

Harding's previous historical fiction work includes, Forever Beneath the Celtic Sea, detailing the German submarine crew and their sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania. He is a collegiate writing instructor and former semi-professional football player.

His experiences provide readers with well researched, crushing fast-paced action.  Most of his days are spent writing from the cockpit of his sailboat, Pegasus, somewhere off the Nature Coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico.
 Two sisters take different roads in their work for the French Resistance during World War II. Claire is an active guerrilla fighter while Monique seduces German officers to learn military secrets from bedroom pillows. Love enters in for both as battles rage in their family over the morality of killing vs. sex while, unknown to them all, D-Day rapidly approaches.

HOW ANGELS DIE is a highly dramatic novel with very strong female protagonists.  The story is rife with action, conflict, and intrigue.  Through it all, the characters struggle with devotion to family, country, cause, and oneself.  The reader is effortlessly drawn along the storyline and feels the impact of the events surrounding the sisters.  Compassion for the characters, German as well as French, runs deep and captures the imagination as coastal war-torn France comes alive on the pages.

Brimming with high drama that is punctuated by family humor, HOW ANGELS DIE lifts the veil on a lesser-known side of the French Resistance. Through the prism of two intrepid women, the novel illuminates how these women employ their formidable assets and fierce love of country to face down a vicious enemy. With page-turning action, unstoppable passion, and historical accuracy, this heart-racing novel is a must-read for sisters, history buffs, and action enthusiasts alike.

More than a war story, HOW ANGELS DIE compels its readers to face the decision-making processes that bring us to where we are and who we are.  It also asks questions of the mind that expose prejudices and eventual regret that follows.



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BUZZWORTHY (01/05/2013)

It's 2014 and new releases are debuting steadily. WOWBRARY, my local library publication, posts what's new and trending in the book world. It recently targeted E. L. Doctorow, the author of Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and many other prizewinners. At age 81, Doctorow will be releasing ANDREW'S BRAIN on January 14th.

Although it sounds like a challenging read, most reviews have been favorable. The reviewer's comment below will give you a preview.

ANDREW'S BRAIN by E. L. Doctorow

"I would call myself a casual E.L. Doctorow reader. I've read all his classics, and a smattering of his other works. Probably 8-10 total. So I'm far from an expert. I can say that this is pretty unique from other Doctorow titles I've read, it's a different approach for him. 'Andrew's Brain' is certainly an interesting read, it's only 200 pages and I finished it on a DC-NYC Amtrak train up and back. It flows well, but it's not necessarily an 'easy read.' The narrative is not all that compelling, it's a man (Andrew) telling his analyst about his life, his marriages, etc. But the writing is fantastic, the prose is great, and the plot twists take the story in some interesting directions. As an avid reader, I would recommend this book." (B.R.IR) 


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Once again I am highlighting an unknown author, Michael Piafsky. His new book titled ALL THE HAPPINESS YOU DESERVE debuts February 1st in Canada and the United States. It's literary fiction and tells the story of a man's life
in a most unusual way.....through 78 chapters patterned on the Tarot Deck.

Michael Piafsky is Director of Creative Writing and Associate Professor of English at Spring Hill College, in Mobile, Alabama. His recent fiction and nonfiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, jabberwock review, BluestemOcho, Meridian, Bar Stories and elsewhere.  Earlier this year he was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and was a finalist in the 2012 Tuscany Prize for Fiction.


Here's the BOOKLIST REVIEW of All The Happiness You Deserve by  Michael Piafsky......

Piafsky's debut novel is a slow, wonderful read that slices a midwestern boy's life into vignettes. The story is delivered with a holism evocative of a John Irving novel (the father, Garland, even tries to influence the protagonist to wrestle in college), and it is very male.

Early on in the story, the mother grows weary of the father's "salesman" drinking behavior and leaves with her daughter for two years, abandoning the son to live with his boozy, meat-and-potatoes father. The dynamic between father and son becomes the novel's nucleus.

As the son moves to Boston to attend college, and, eventually, to Seattle and New York, the father notes, "This one here . . . seems to have made it his life's mission to move as far away from home as possible."

There is abandonment, early tragedy, girlfriends, and money, and yet, Piafsky ultimately asks, do we ever truly leave home?

This isn't an easy novel and the time line is uneven, but it is beautifully written and deeply rewarding. Piafsky is heading toward becoming a major writer.


ALL THE HAPPINESS YOU DESERVE will be available on Amazon. You can pre-order directly from this blog by using the Amazon Search Box in the Sidebar. Please support the unknown authors featured on Joyce's Choices.