Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? by Lisa Scottoline

The name Lisa Scottoline is usually associated with thrillers, but in her book Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?   she, together with her daughter Francesca Serritella, takes a look at the humorous side of life. I liked the glimpse into their family, although I felt the inserts about her mother's death were not considered humor, and might have been better placed in another genre. It was nice to read about the mother-daughter relationship and some of the predicaments they find themselves in.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Loofahs and Cucumbers

Did you know that loofahs (luffa) do not come from the ocean but are a member of the cucumber family? Debbie  from Luv A Luffa spoke at our recent garden club meeting and had some interesting tips on growing luffas and uses for them. You can buy them or get seeds from her site.

You can see how they grow on Wandering Chopsticks blog.

Image result for loofah and cucumber

Santa Fe Dead by Stuart Woods

I liked the book - not so much the author.

I don't remember reading anything by Stuart Woods before (a friend gave me the book). There was a lot I liked about Santa Fe Dead. Lots of jet setting around California and New Mexico and several tense moments. Stuart Woods is a master storyteller with lots of twists and turns in the story. Although this wasn't the first book in the series, I didn't find it necessary to read the others first.

Ed Eagle finds the tables turned when he testifies as a witness for the prosecution in the trial of his ex-wife, Barbara Eagle, who has been a very, very bad girl.

The trial ends in a way Ed had not anticipated, and Barbara is still in a position to make his life and that of others, a living hell.

With private detectives, hit men, double crosses and billion-dollar-bank accounts involved, Ed calls in every favor and follows every lead, no matter where they take him. From the posh resorts of desert California and the lush wine country of Napa, to the New Mexico high country and the seedy hotels of Tijuana, Ed Eagle won’t rest until he’s discovered the truth about what Barbara is up to - and settled the score.

One thing that did discourage me from reading more of Stuart Woods books is his arrogant notes to the reader at the end of the book. In summary he seems to view his readers with disdain and doesn't want to be bothered with e-mails that don't follow his rules and he adds if you find an error in his book let the Penguin Group know. If you complain about a previous book then he "may yell at you." He goes on to say that you should read his biography and interview first as the question you may be asking him in an e-mail might be answered there and save you both trouble and pain. I can't think of any other author who thinks getting an e-mail from a reader is trouble and pain!

You can read all his messages to the reader here

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato delves into the treachery and intrigue of 17th century Venice. Venice is my favorite place in the world and so anything that gives me a glimpse into life there I enjoy. During the 13th and 14th century, concerned about fire risks on Venice, the glassmakers were sent to the island of Murano to set up their workshops. It was here that the Venetian government chose to enforce strict requirements for glassmakers in fear of their secrets being sent abroad. In fact a few were enticed away and secretly taken to France. See Rick Steves' You Tube video Venice:City of Dreams  below for a view inside the prisons for those who defied The Ten. The second video is Venice and its Lagoon - Murano and the Venetian islands.

Venice 1681. Glassblowing is the lifeblood of the Republic, and Venetian mirrors are more precious than gold. Jealously guarded by the murderous Council of Ten, the glassblowers of Murano are virtually imprisoned on their island in the lagoon. But the greatest of the artists, Corradino Manin, sells his methods and his soul to Louis XIV of France to protect his secret daughter. In the present day, his descendant Leonora Manin, leaves London for a new life as a glassblower in Venice - only to find her fate inextricably linked with her ancestor's dangerous secrets. 

My thoughts:
I liked the story of Corradino and especially the little tidbits about Venice that peppered the novel. I found that by having a map of Venice close by, I could understand where the characters were travelling to and from. It might have been helpful for readers to have one in the book. I'm not sure that having a present day story interspersed enhanced the novel. Some of Leonora/Nora's parts I didn't find believable, although her research did explain to the reader much of Corradino's life and his decisions. The Glassblower of Murano would make a good book club read and has reading group questions.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes reminded me a little of the Jill Mansell's chic lit books. I thought she captured the trials and tribulations of teens well along with insights into the struggles of a single parent.

From the cover:
Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bocca Di Leone, Venice

 I'm still finding little tidbits about Venice in The Glassblower of Murano novel by Marino Fiorato. Bocca Di Leone (The Lion's Mouth) are embedded in the walls around Venice (one is at the Doge's Palace). Each of these engravings has a wide opening in the mouth of the figure. The purpose of these are to tattle on your neighbors and relatives by inserting a written account of a bad deed or act of treason (the historical equivalent of Twitter). It was important to insert the written document in the correct location as certain "boxes" dealt with specific crimes. The letters were then read by the Council of Ten and punishment ensued. Many of the engravings were destroyed when Napoleon arrived in Venice showing that the island was no longer under Venetian law.

Mark Twain mentions the Lion's Mouth in The Innocents Abroad (free for Kindle):
At the head of the Giant's Staircase, where Marino Faliero was beheaded, and where the Doges were crowned in ancient times, two small slits in the stone wall were pointed out--two harmless, insignificant orifices that would never attract a stranger's attention--yet these were the terrible Lions' Mouths! The heads were gone (knocked off by the French during their occupation of Venice,) but these were the throats, down which went the anonymous accusation, thrust in secretly at dead of night by an enemy, that doomed many an innocent man to walk the Bridge of Sighs and descend into the dungeon which none entered and hoped to see the sun again. This was in the old days when the Patricians alone governed Venice--the common herd had no vote and no voice. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Hunger by Carol Drinkwater

A series of children's books called My Story gives young readers a glimpse into the lives of a person or family during historical periods. The Hunger by Carol Drinkwater takes the reader to 1845 Ireland during the potato blight and famine.  Although the books are written for young readers, I've become addicted to them. If you have children studying a particular event or historical period, these would be a wonderful way for them to become acquainted with a family living during that time.

My Story - An Irish Girl's Diary
It's 1845 and blight has destroyed the precious potato crop leaving Ireland starving. Phyllis works hard to support her struggling family, but when her mother's health deteriorates she sets off in search of her rebel brother and is soon swept up in the fight for a free and fair Ireland.

Written in the form of a diary, Phyllis's family rents 16 acres of farm land. They burn bog peat in the winter which causes the house to fill with smoke because they have no fireplace. Although life is difficult, Phyllis is happy that Catholics now have equal rights and she is entitled to go to school. She says it's been 45 years since the Irish lost their government. On top of the day to day struggles of the family, a fungal disease affects their main source of food (potatoes) and estates are mismanaged while the British landlords are absent and not aware that their managers are evicting tenants (30,000 were evicted between 1849 and 1850).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mail Surprise

I had a lovely surprise in the mail today from Gretchen Archer. (I was the giveaway winner from Musings and Ramblings). Can't wait to start reading.

Will Your Book Be a Bestseller?

Hop on over to Lulu and enter your title to see if your book is likely to get to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

The Lulu Titlescorer has been developed exclusively for Lulu by statisticians who studied the titles of 50 years' worth of top bestsellers and identified which title attributes separated the bestsellers from the rest.
We commissioned a research team to analyse the title of every novel to have topped the hardback fiction section of the New York Times Bestseller List during the half-century from 1955 to 2004 and then compare them with the titles of a control group of less successful novels by the same authors.
The team, lead by British statistician Dr. Atai Winkler, then used the data gathered from a total of some 700 titles to create this "Lulu Titlescorer" a program able to predict the chances that any given title would produce a New York Times No. 1 bestseller.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Ospedale della Pieta, Venice

I came across The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato at the library this week (as most of you know I love all things relating to Venice). I have only read the first few chapters (review to follow at a later date) but one thing that piqued my interest was the reference to Ospedale della Pieta. Apparently hospitals (ospedale) were not built in Italy just for the sick, they were also used as orphanages. Ospedale della Pieta was one such orphanage and Vivaldi, who was born near the ospedale, took an interest in the musical accomplishments of the girls, and a wonderful choir and orchestra was formed. Most of the girls were the illegitimate children of noblemen, anonymously left at the ospedale through a small opening (revolving drawer) in a wall.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell was borrowed from a friend.
The novel is beautifully written with lovely descriptions, but the story left me a little baffled. Esme Lennox was not what her parents thought of as normal and in the 1930s attention deficit disorder was unheard of. Eventually, Esme was sent to an institution which apparently wasn't uncommon in those days and even a husband who had grown tired of his wife could commit her with little fuss or explanation. The story follows the lives of Esme and her sister Kitty who herself made many bad choices. Once the institution was scheduled to close its doors and Kitty's granddaughter was asked to take in her Aunt Esme (whom she didn't know existed) some of the secrets come to light. The ending was the most confusing part and I felt it left a lot of questions unanswered. I would have preferred that the reader was privy to the conversation between the two sisters. In fact I wasn't too sure what actually happened and searched Google for a response from other readers. Ending comments (spoiler) here.
This would be a good book group choice - lots to discuss throughout the story.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Real Life Social Media

I don't want to encourage stalkers, but you can follow my blog by either entering your e-mail or clicking on follow this site on the right hand side of this post.

How to Design a Book Cover - What Program to Use

Here are a few tutorials for designing a book cover using programs you probably already have (Word) or free (GIMP)

Microsoft Word 2013

KDP Amazon (e-books)

Cover using Gimp

Book Cover Using Gimp (There are several videos by Aubrey Watt)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Strawberry Fields by Katie Flynn

I came across Strawberry Fields by Katie Flynn among used books for sale at a railway station in England. Apparently Katie Flynn is a top ten Sunday Times bestselling author. 

Strawberry Fields

Liverpool: Christmas Day 1924. 

When twelve-year-old Sara Cordwainer, the unloved child of rich and fashionable parents, sees a ragged girl with a baby in her arms outside her church, she stops to talk to her, pressing her collection money into the girl's icy hand. But from this generous act comes a tragedy which will haunt her for years.

When, years later, Sara meets Brogan, a young Irishman working in England, she feels she has found a friend at last. But Brogan has a secret which he dare tell no one, not even Sara.

And in a Dublin slum, Brogan's little sister Polly is growing up. The only girl in a family of boys, she knows herself to be much loved, but it is not until Sara begins to work at the Salvation Army children's home, Strawberry Fields, that the two girls meet - and Brogan's secret is told at last...

The story reminded me a little of Catherine Cookson's books and Katie Flynn captures life in the early 20s and gives the reader a glimpse into how people struggled with large families and lack of work both in Ireland and England. She compares life of a young Irish family to that of Sara who is both sheltered and privileged. I enjoyed the story but parts are heart wrenching. It's hard to believe that the contrast was so great between the rich and the poor that children died of starvation. This wasn't always because of lack of work but often because of fathers who squandered any earnings on drink rather than feed their family.