Friday, August 19, 2016

New Book Review -- Between Two Fires, by Mark Noce

I've had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Mark Noce through blogging, and the equally good fortune to get an advance reading of his debut novel, Between Two Fires. Mark is on a blog tour now, and -- lucky me -- I had the good fortune even again to get an interview with Mark. Next week I'll be posting that interview, so please do return to learn more about him, his book, and his writing process. 

Meanwhile, here is the review of his book I posted on Goodreads yesterday:

I love a good mystery, and I love fiction that takes place in historical times. I’m also hooked on stories set in Celtic Britain. So these are three great reasons to be delighted with Mark Noce’s debut novel, Between Two Fires.

The book opens in the year A.D. 597—post-Arthurian times, when Wales is in disarray from the invading Saxons. The Romans are gone. Arthur’s Camelot is distant history. Christianity coexists with remnants of the old Druid religion. Fragmented Wales is riddled by power struggles between kings want to be sole ruler of Wales, if it can ever be united enough to withstand the Saxons. The ambitious King Vortigen of Dyfed has decided to marry his illegitimate daughter Branwen to King Morgan of Caerleon and Caerwent, also known as the Hammer King. Illegitimate or not, it’s to Morgan’s advantage to breed sons by Branwen for the future, and it’s to Vortigen’s advantage to have his daughter strategically placed to spy on Morgan. Yes. It’s that kind of world, full of intrigue and counterplots set in motion by those who have other plans for Branwen.

At first, sixteen-year-old Branwen, smart but dutiful, is resigned to her destiny. Then several attempts on her life force her to make her own destiny, one very much at odds to the future her father had planned. Choosing love over duty, using healing skills she learned from her mother, trusting her own natural leadership, Branwen becomes a legend throughout Wales. The story is told throughout through her eyes in present tense, which gives a sense of immediacy to every scene. Subplots abound, all of them well-resolved. From the opening line (Today I will marry a man I have never met), the main story’s builds tension, and each chapter ends on a page turner.

The story takes place over a three-year period, during which Branwen evolves into a revered figure the people call Mab Ceridwen, with the love of her life by her side. I can’t tell much more of the storyline beyond this without spoilers. But this is a book to settle into, as you become immersed in history, legend, and a great love story.

You can learn more about Between Two Fires and the author HERE. And you can preorder the book HERE  (I did, and I can hardly wait for it to arrive, so that I can take it to his book signing in Sacramento next month -- September 3rd).

How about you? Have you had the opportunity to get a book signed by an author you like? Do you like historical fiction? If so, what period of time and what setting? 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Books Set in Paris

I have had the good fortune to go to Paris two times in my life, and I loved that city both times. The art museums, the book stalls by the river, the cafés with outdoor tables and delicious wines, and musicians playing accordions in the park . . . I could go on and on.

I'd love to go to Paris again if the fates are kind. Until then, I satisfy myself with books set in Paris. Cara Black's mystery series leaps to mind:

I always consider a new Aimee LeDuc mystery my free trip to Paris. I haven't read the whole series, although I'm doing my best. I read too many of them to review them, but a few years ago I discovered Murder in the Bastille, and  while it isn't Book I of the series, it was my introduction. Actually, any one of them is a stand alone mystery, although, once hooked, it's fun to keep track of Aimée's life. She's a private eye for white collar techie crime, but keeps getting dragged into murder cases instead. Single, she 's a bit on the wild side with a penchant for bad boys.  Cara Black knows Paris inside and out and places each new mystery in a different neighborhood. Because Aimée grew up in Paris, naturally she has little snippets of memory about buildings she passes or bridges or streets she traverses, and so in a completely non-intrusive way, the reader picks up scraps of French history and art history while Aimée chases or runs from the bad guys.  Cara Black's website is equally interesting: Press HERE and go take a peek.

Right now I'm reading two different books set in Paris. And, since I seem to be on a book review kick these days, I'll share them with you.

One is fiction--Extraordinary People, a mystery by Peter May. A forensic expert, Enzo Macleod, has made a wager with a police chief and a préfect that, with modern forensic techniques, he can solve a cold case. Ten years earlier Jacques Gaillard mysteriously disappeared. Foul play was suspected, but there were no leads. With the help of a journalist, Macleod uncovers clues that were missed in earlier. investigations. He (like author Peter May) knows his way around Paris, too, and his setting details make you feel as though you are there in the City of Light, not as a tourist, but in a day-to-day way, with all the local landmarks being a familiar part of your universe. His writing is superb: interesting, well-drawn characters, and good story movement that never bogs down. Naturally I'm going to have to find more of this series to feed both my Paris habit and my mystery habit, because I love a good mystery. And, as you can tell, "I Love Paris."

The second book I'm reading (I'm about halfway through) is nonfiction. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by Thad Carhart, is just delightful. It's a memoir of sorts. I say it that way, because, while it starts out recounting how Carhart discovered the shop and what was inside, it becomes an engaging share about the world of pianos in general--their history, how they are made, why they are made that way, etc. And it introduces you to life in a quiet, modest Parisian neighborhood with its local customs and traditions and ways of looking at the world. Carhart noticed the shop for weeks and weeks while walking his children to school, then finally worked up his courage to go inside. (He had once studied piano and had a softness in his heart for pianos and piano music.) In the window, it looked like a piano tuning and repair shop, and so it seemed when he first went inside. But the atelier he glimpsed through the back door of the shop held further mysteries. Really, you must read this.

How about you? Have you discovered some new good reads lately? If so, please share titles. I love to read a good book and usually find my books by word of mouth or hanging out at the library or book stores.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review: Landfalls, by Naomi Williams

I have been wanting to review this book for quite some time, but as you know, the last few weeks have been full of preoccupying matters. Now it is my great pleasure to get to this wonderful book.

In Landfalls, author Naomi Williams traces the ill-fated expedition of the 18th century French naval officer and explorer Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse. In 1785 he set off with two frigates under his command on a round the world expedition to chart flora and fauna and map new areas of exploration.

Williams has done her research, but it’s her storytelling that brings the expedition alive and makes a reader care about these explorers and seamen from another era. They made it as far as Botany Bay, Australia, in January of 1788, after landfalls in Chile, Easter Island, Hawaii, Alaska, Monterey, Japan, Russia, and Samoa among other sites. Setting off from Australia for New Caledonia in the Pacific with plans to be home by June, 1789, they simply disappeared. Later rescue expeditions yielded evidence that Lapérouse’s ships had wrecked on the reefs near Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands and that a small group of survivors built a boat and sailed away, never to be seen again.

Williams bases each story at a different landfall, narrating it through the perspective of a different member of the expedition and sometimes one of the locals. Each voice is distinct from the others, yet every story is consistent in its elegance of tone, capturing interactions in a way that reverberates long after, the way a bell tone keeps echoing after the clapper is stilled. And while this collection of individual stories tells the larger story of the voyage, each can stand alone.

Her story openings are brilliant examples of the age old advice to “hook” a reader. Consider:

From “Lamanon at Sea”
Lamanon has two years, three months, and fifteen days to live. He does not know this, of course. He has no inkling of what is to come.

From “Concepción”
How strange that the town was not there.

From “Snow Men”
There is a big disagreement in my family about what happens if you drown and your body is never found.

From “A Monography on Parasites”
They did not even get his name right when they came to apprehend him.

How can you not read on? When you do read on, these stories capture more than an ill-fated voyage of long ago. They are cautionary tales, signposts reminding one that no matter how well-intentioned one’s own voyage, obliviousness has long range consequences.  

You can visit Naomi Williams at her website: Naomi J. Williams
Follow here on Facebook: Naomi Williams

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Cowpoke Clyde is Back, and So Is Dawg

Cowpoke Clyde and Dawg, my favorite picture book duo, are back in another zany adventure. And what an adventure!

Clyde finds an ad in his mailbox from Smedley's Splendid Bicycles that promises fun to the rider. Now, Clyde is used to horses. How can a bicycle be a smart thing to get? But he talks himself into it, considering that a bicycle doesn't require food, doesn't make noise, and doesn't run off on its own.

And it's gotta be easy to ride, right?

Wrong. Clyde and Dawg are in for chills and thrills. The reader is in for lots of laughs. From the illustrations, Dawg's funny bone seems to be tickled as well, although Clyde doesn't find his adventures one bit funny. Illustrator Michael Allen Austin captures the humor, the terror, the horror, as Clyde rides the range on his out-of-control bicycle, his expressions wildly changing from scene to scene.

I loved this book. It's a great read-aloud. Clyde's "voice" is pitch perfect, as is the narrator's voice. Mortensen's rhyming works beautifully, and I can imagine young listeners chanting along as they listen more than once to this delightful book. Dawg is so doggone doggie, you'll want take him home.

This was a great follow-up to Mortensen's first Cowpoke Clyde book, Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg. (I reviewed it on my blog two and a half years ago HERE.)    

 You can buy Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg at Amazon HERE

You can buy Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range HERE

I certainly hope there is a third Cowpoke Clyde book in the works!

More information about where and how to buy these books and the books below can be found on Lori's  WEBSITE HERE. Visit the site, too, to read more reviews of these books.
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Check out two other rhyming picture books by Lori Mortensen: In the Trees, Honey Bees (it's won all kinds of awards), as well as the award-winning Cindy Moo, and a non-rhyming biography about Léon Foucault, Come See the Earth Turn. 

Foucalt's Pendulum'

Hey, diddle-diddle.
Find out about the secret
life of bees.