Posts Tagged giveaway

book review: Ana of California

ana of california

Ana of California By Andi Teran.
Penguin Original| June 30, 2015|256 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0-14-312649-2

Rating: ***/5*

Fifteen-year-old orphan Ana survived a tough past. Her drug-dealing parents got shot to death and then the same happened to her beloved grandmother [seemingly a revenge plot] a few years later. Shuffled from foster home to foster home, deemed a difficult child, Ana spends a lot of time at the library pouring over films and music and books. That is her escape, her solace. Any child with that kind of traumatic background would have some issues and need a good therapist and definitely find it challenging to trust anyone. Her social worker gives her one last opportunity to live and work on a farm in Northern California.

“Ana Cortez didn’t need anyone to explain it to her: she understood the rhythm of repetitive work, knew all about aligning herself to the synergy of tedium. She was aware of all of the orphan clichés—the Pips, Pollyannas, and Pony boys whose optimism triumphed over difficult circumstances. She’d read all the books.”

This is a modern retelling of Anne of Green Gables. I know I read Anne of Green Gables. I’ve been an avid reader since I could read. My fondest youth literary memory remains for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett. I don’t remember the story of Anne of Green Gables enough to compare Ana of California to it. Without that recollection I still enjoyed this novel.

Sister and brother pair Abbie and Emmett Garber operate their family farm. Abbie bakes, pickles and cooks while Emmett makes sure everything’s running on the farm. Ana befriends Rye who feels she’s somewhat of a misfit particularly as she’s come out as gay. She also meets a cute “bad boy” named Cole. Ana confronts her fears, learns a bit about getting along and becomes optimistic that she may be finally home. However a falling out with Rye and liaisons with Cole may threaten her comfortable situation in this rural northern California farm town.

Despite Ana’s unfortunate past there’s little pathos here. It’s light and breezy. Rather happy even. The novel progresses in an inevitable quaint manner at times but it’s a solid summer/weekend read. Ana is a spunky, spirited and extremely likable character. Ana’s grueling past receives the glossy treatment. Readers aren’t allowed to delve into it or truly feel Ana’s pain. The novel keeps a lighter tone which makes it a quick, light read.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.

GIVEAWAY: Giving away a copy of Ana of California as well as a copy of Anne of Green Gables to a U.S. resident courtesy of Penguin Random House. If interested please comment below and include your email address. Winner will be selected on July 15.

purchase at Amazon: Ana of California: A Novel


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BOOK NEWS: Pioneer Girl out in paperback (giveaway); Asian-American Authors

pioneer girl

One of the best books of 2014 comes out in paperback on January 27. Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nyugen is about second-generation immigrants born in the United States who still feel very much bound to their family’s and country’s customs even though they have never traveled to their homeland. Paralleling the stories of PhD student Lee Lien and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter Rose Wilder proves a truly clever way to describe this unique immigrant experience as it is very much like that of those pioneers who braved the new frontier traveling West so many years ago. An energetic read I didn’t want to put down.

Giveaway: Viking will provide one paperback copy of Pioneer Girl to one reader. Open to U.S. contestants. Please provide your email in the comments section and I’ll choose a winner. Deadline January 29.

purchase at Amazon: Pioneer Girl: A Novel

follow Bich Minh Nyugen on twitter

everything i never

Please also read the list of Asian-American authors my friend Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You) compiled for SALON. Her novel was another best of 2014 read.

purchase at Amazon: Everything I Never Told You: A Novel

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The Other Typist: review and giveaway [now out in paperback]

other typist

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell [Berkley/Penguin Books, April 2014]. Historical Fiction. Paperback. ISBN13: 9780241963746. 354 pg.

“Odalie understood it was sometimes your will to want to be tricked; she did not need you to affirm her world. She would create it with or without you. Instead, she invited you in ever so casually, and somehow—even when her lies were shabbily wrought—you would find yourself wanting to go in, if only out of an insatiable curiosity.”

Notes on a Scandal meets Single White Female. Rose grew up in a convent and lives an orderly life. She’s a typist with perfect accuracy and impressive speed at a New York Police Department precinct during prohibition in the 1920s. By her own description she’s a plain woman with a simple, quiet life. In walks the mysterious Odalie who completely charms Rose with her modernity and confidence. She possesses the beauty, style and lifestyle that Rose dreams about. Her new colleague introduces Rose to a speakeasy, they quickly become close friends–soon sharing an apartment and wardrobe. But who is Odalie really? Her backstory often mysteriously changes.

A dangerous secret threatens their friendship and comfortable existence as Rose falls further under Odalie’s spell. Is Odalie using Rose for her survival and to escape her sordid past? To give anything away would ruin the fantastic storytelling in this debut novel. It’s a masterful work of historical fiction. The setting and characters draw you in from page one.

RATING: ****/5

[review reprinted from August 2013]


Berkley Trade Reprint has offered to send a reader with a valid U.S. Mailing address a copy of The Other Typist. To enter, please include your email address in the comment section and I will select one winner on April 14. I’ll email you for your mailing address. The publisher will then mail out a copy of the novel to you.

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Pack up the Moon: spotlight and giveaway

pack up the moon

Pack Up the Moon by Rachael Herron
NAL Trade Paperback Original
384 pages
ISBN 13: ISBN13: 9780451468604
March 4, 2014

A poignant novel about loss, lies, and the unbreakable bonds of family.

Three years after a horrible tragedy took her son and tore her family apart, artist Kate Monroe is beginning to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. At a gala showcasing her triumphant return to the art world, Kate’s world is rocked again when the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-two years ago introduces herself. Pree is the child Kate never knew and never forgot. But Pree has questions that Kate isn’t sure she’s ready to answer. For one thing, she never told Pree’s father, her high school sweetheart and ex-husband, Nolan, that they had a daughter. For another, Kate hasn’t spoken to Nolan for three years, not since the accident which took their nine-year-old son from them. But to keep Pree from leaving forever, Kate will have to confront the secrets that have haunted her since her son died and discover if the love of her family is strong enough to survive even the most heartbreaking of betrayals…

about the author: Rachael received her MFA in writing from Mills College and is a 911 fire/medical dispatcher when she’s not scribbling. She lives with her wife, Lala, in Oakland, California, where they have more animals and instruments than are probably advisable. Rachael is struggling to learn the accordion and can probably play along with you on the ukulele. She’s a New Zealander as well as an American. She’s been known to knit.


NAL Trade Reprint has offered to send one of my readers with a valid U.S. Mailing address a copy of Above All Things. To enter, please include your email address in the comment section and I will select one winner on March 15.

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FALLEN BEAUTY: review and giveaway

fallen beauty

FALLEN BEAUTY by Erika Robuck (NAL Trade Paperback; 978-0-451-41890-6; March 4, 2014; $16)

Novel Synopsis:

In 1928 upstate New York, unwed mother Laura Kelley struggles to support her daughter at her failing dress shop, just steps away from the girl’s father, the man Laura loves but can never have. Responsible for her family, she has put her dreams of going to New York City to become a costume designer on indefinite hold. When Laura’s brother-in-law breaks his marriage vows by having a brief affair with famous local, married poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, anger spurs her to approach Millay in her nearby Berkshire estate, Steepletop. Laura finds herself accepting a job to sew costumes for Millay’s tour of enormously popular poetry readings. As Laura is increasingly drawn into Millay’s no-holds-barred world of free love and uninhibited artistic expression, she becomes privy to shocking secrets and cruel betrayals. And when Millay’s private torments reach a crisis point, Laura must choose between her loyalty to her family and the impulse to pursue her own artistic dreams.


Erika Robuck’s best novel yet. It’s a tough one to put down. Loved the characters, the descriptiveness. The story’s mainly Laura’s yet told through both Laura’s and Millay’s perspectives. It’s an old story told often about a small-town woman stuck in a bad position with ties to this little town and its judgmental ways. She’s an outcast. Then she strikes a wealthy, famous poet’s fancy. Laura’s looks, personality and talent draw Millay to her. But it’s not simple because Laura believes she’s not like her neighbors yet proves to be exactly like them at first toward Millay. She’s completely critical and apprehensive. Robuck over-uses the term witch in reference to Millay and other townspeople who are different. Laura also acts so typically for a single, unmarried woman, shamed and all. So at times the novel grinds to cliched, predictable moments. The mysterious, handsome sculptor who shows up in town one day to create the virgin statue? Any astute reader knows he’ll end up with Laura from moment one. Scarlet-lettered woman. Brooding stranger. Check and check. Too transparent for me.

“I thought of Millay with a growing awe, and some jealousy. Whether she was a witch or not, her words meant a lot to many people, including me. I felt pride at the thought of creating for this woman child. A woman who needed a well of experience from which to draw her words.”

I didn’t know much about Millay beyond her poetry, and I’m sadly limited on my knowledge of that, and by the last page I loved her bohemian spirit so much that I plan to go out and buy one of her poetry collections this week. Robuck conducted impeccable research and manages to truly allow Millay’s vibrant spirit, sensuality and creative force to come forth on the page. In the beginning Laura feels threatened by the beguiling poet who lives such an open lifestyle in her castle on the hill. Millay throws parties and takes lovers as does her husband. It feeds her creativity and artistic expression. It’s their lifestyle. Laura’s closed off because she’s ostracized by a town that judges her and her decision to raise a daughter on her own after her affair ending badly. Would have liked more Edna St. Vincent Millay and less Laura Kelley but truly appreciated the manner in which Robuck twisted together these women’s stories. It worked. They meshed beautifully. Loved any creative moments–about Laura designing costumes and gowns for Millay and all parts about Millay’s poetry. How wonderful to read about two creative women who share similar experiences and forge a friendship while overcoming challenges and embracing their commonalities and strengths rather than being forced apart by small-town prejudices.

RATING: ****/5

About the Author:

Erika Robuck has appeared on the Southern Independent Bestseller List for Call Me Zelda and is the critically acclaimed author of Hemingway’s Girl. Born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland, Erika was inspired by the cobblestones and old churches. She is a contributor to the popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, and maintains her own historical fiction blog called Muse. For more information please visit


NAL Trade Paperback has offered to send one of my readers with a valid U.S. Mailing address a copy of Fallen Beauty. To enter, please include your email address in the comment section and I will select one winner on March 15. I’ll email you for your mailing address. The publisher will then mail out a copy of the novel to you.

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Above All Things: spotlight and GIVEAWAY

above all things

Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

synopsis: In 1924 George Mallory departs on his third expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Left behind in Cambridge, George’s young wife, Ruth, along with the rest of a war-ravaged England, anticipates news they hope will reclaim some of the empire’s faded glory. Through alternating narratives, what emerges is a beautifully rendered story of love torn apart by obsession and the need for redemption.

*March book club pick for Ladies’ Home Journal

Berkley Trade Reprint / February 2014


Berkley Trade Reprint has offered to send one of my readers with a valid U.S. Mailing address a copy of Above All Things. To enter, please include your email address in the comment section and I will select one winner on February 21.

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GIVEAWAY: CANADA by Richard Ford

Canada pb c

The New York Times bestseller from Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford is now available in paperback from HarperCollins Publishers.

I have ONE copy to give away courtesy of HarperCollins.

Contest open to U.S. Residents ONLY.

TO ENTER: in the comments section, tell me what interests you about this novel. include your name and email address so that I can contact the winner.

Entries close January 31, 2013.

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book review : Eating Animals

eatinganimalsbookcoverTitle: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
ISBN: 978-0316069908
Pages: 352 (hardcover)
Release Date: November 2, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Category: non-fiction
Review source: Hachette Book Group
Rating: 5/5

As my son began life and I began this book, it seemed that almost everything he did revolved around eating. He was nursing, or sleeping after nursing, or getting cranky before nursing, or getting rid of the milk he had just nursed. As I finish this book, he is able to carry on quite sophisticated conversations, and increasingly the food he eats is digested together with the stories we tell. Feeding my child is not like feeding myself: it matters more. It matters because food matters (his physical health matters, the pleasure of eating matters), and because the stories that are served with food matter. These stories bind our family together, and bind our family to others.

At age 12, I stopped eating red meat. Before then I ate raw hamburger [you know, rolled up in a ball] and the chicken livers that my Nana cooked. At 18, I gave up all other meat. I ate fish off and on until a few years ago. Now I’m a non-dairy vegetarian. I’m not vegan because I cannot afford to be. It is a complex and complicated undertaking and can be very expensive. If Alicia Silverstone wants to come to my apartment with a personal chef, I’m more than happy to go vegan.

Eating Animals reads as a cross between a memoir and an investigative journalism expose on factory farming, the humane treatment of animals, and making wise choices in the food that you eat. In between the plethora of facts, Jonathan Safran Foer mixes in his own memories of food, his decisions to become a vegetarian, and his thoughts on the entire United States food industry. Eating Animals is an ambitious undertaking and Jonathan Safran Foer spent three years researching the book, interviewing all kinds of people and traveling throughout the United States in his quest for knowledge. He goes on a rescue mission to a turkey farm with an animal rights activist. He visited Paul Willis’s hog farm in Iowa and also “heritage” poultry farmer Frank Reese. He wanted to become an educated consumer. Safran Foer is clearly anti-factory farming. And honestly, who wouldn’t be? Is Eating Animals going to be a vegetarian manifesto for some? Sure. Many people will not pick up this book because they do not want to know about the food that they are putting in their mouths. I read a passage to my mother and she didn’t want to hear it. Ignorance is bliss, as the saying goes. If people go around not thinking that the food on their plate once roamed a verdant pasture or was crammed into a minute stall just so that they could have tender meat to eat, maybe they’d think twice.

This is why when fully conscious cattle at the (then) largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world, Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, were videotaped having their tracheas and esophagi systematically pulled from their cut throats, languishing for up to three minutes as a result of sloppy slaughter, and being shocked with electric prods in their faces, it bothered me even more than the innumerable times that I’d heard of such things happening at conventional slaughterhouses.

To my relief, much of the Jewish community spoke out against the Iowa plant.

Ultimately Eating Animals is for people to read who know little about our agricultural business and want a brisk, thoughtful, exhaustively researched book. It lacks preaching and serves to deliver the goods and let the reader debate the pros and cons of factory farming and food production and to purchase and consume food with a conscious state of mind. Do you know how that chicken got to your table? Did that lobster feel anything when it was thrown into a boiling pot of water? Is the slaughtering of cows as painless a process as the meat industry claims? The reader will find these answers in Eating Animals. If you’re at all squeamish and love your veal, lamb, foie gras, pate, juicy steak, hamburger and just plain old chicken, Eating Animals is not going to be a pleasant or palatable read for you. However, do not let that deter you. The wonderful, sensitive approach of Safran Foer eases the reader into each topic, one toe at a time. It’s an important topic. Along the way, you will also find out about Safran Foer’s own journey to vegetarianism. He writes with honesty, humor, and straightforward clarity.

I’ve restricted myself to mostly discussing how our food choices affect the ecology of our planet and the lives of its animals, but I could have just as easily made the entire book about public health, worker’s rights, decaying rural communities or global poverty—all of which are profoundly affected by factory farming. Factory farming, of course, does not cause all the world’s problems, but it is equally remarkable just how many of them intersect there. And it is equally remarkable, and completely improbable, that the likes of you and me would have real influence over factory farming. But no one can seriously doubt the influence of US consumers on global farm practices.

Let me share some of the highlights:

Ten million land animals are slaughtered for food every year in America [pg. 15]

Many scientists predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fifty years—and intense efforts are underway to catch, kill, and eat even more sea animals. [pg.33]

Most male layers [chickens that lay eggs] are destroyed by being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate.  [pg. 48]

Perhaps the quintessential example of bullshit, bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident—except not really “by accident,” since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods. . .The average shrimp trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. [pg. 49]

A University of Chicago study recently found that our food choices contribute at least as much as our transportation choices to global warming. [pg. 58]

Fish build complex nests, form monogamous relationships, hunt cooperatively with other species and use tools. They recognize one another as individuals (and keep track of who is to be trusted and who is not). [pg. 65]

Killing chickens: The conveyer system drags the birds through an electrified water bath. This most likely paralyzes them but doesn’t render them insensible . . .The next stop on the line for the immobile-but-conscious bird will be an automated throat slitter [Netflix Food Inc. and it shows this clearly]. [pg. 133]

In 2004, a collection of the world’s experts on emerging zoonotic diseases gathered to discuss the possible relationship between all those compromised and sick farm animals, and pandemic explosions. [pg. 138]

In parts of the world where milk is not a staple of the diet, people often have less osteoporosis and fewer bone fractures than Americans do. The highest rates of osteoporosis are seen in countries where people consume the most dairy foods. [pg. 147]

Killing pigs: After getting stunned and hopefully rendered unconscious on the first, or at least the second, application of the stun gun, the pig is hung up by its feet and “stuck”—stabbed in the neck—and left to bleed out. [pg.155]

Conservative estimates by the EPA indicate that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have already polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in twenty-two states (for reference, the circumference of the earth is roughly 25,000 miles). [pg. 179]

According to The Handbook of Salmon Farming: Six sources of suffering for salmon are: (1) water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; (2) crowding so intense that animals being to cannibalize one another; (3) handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; (4) disturbance by farmworkers and wild animals; (5) nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and (6) the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalism. [pg. 190]

Here’s a list of some famous vegetarians:

Alicia Silverstone        Abbie Cornish

Portia de Rossi            J.M. Coetzee

Benjamin Gibbard       Zooey Deschanel

Alanis Morissette        Shania Twain

Jim Carrey                   Pamela Anderson

Morrissey                    Dennis Rodman

Chris Martin                Liv Tyler

Casey Affleck             Kristen Bell

Chelsea Clinton           Billie Joe Armstrong

Emily Deschanel         Lisa Edelstein

Kevin Eubanks            Traci Bingham

Natalie Portman          Nastassja Kinski

Sir Paul McCartney     Stella McCartney

Cilian Murphy             Damon Albarn

Kate Bush                   Jane Goodall

Thom Yorke                Julie Christie

–review by Amy Steele

Jonathan Safran Foer will be speaking as part of the Brookline Booksmith Reading series on November 11.


GREAT NEWS: HACHETTE BOOK GROUP is graciously providing me with THREE copies of Eating Animals to give away.

To Enter: Leave email in the comment section and if you dare, answer this question: are you a vegetarian or have you considered becoming a vegetarian? Why or Why not?


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