Friday, November 4, 2011

Wendy Wax Giveaway Opportunity!


Starting this week, Ten Beach Road author Wendy Wax is offering a book a week for each of six weeks, all women’s fiction.

This week is week one and the winner will receive a copy of Carly Phillips’ new bestseller SERENDIPITY. This Saturday morning week two starts and highlights Jill Shalvis’s latest.

In the following weeks, one reader a week will be randomly selected to receive a book. Coming weeks will offer the latest novels from first novelist K.J. Steele, Carol Snow, Marie Skinner and Wendy.

To enter, readers just go to, click on Contest News: Enter Wendy’s Latest Giveaway Now, and enter their email address as directed and they are in the running. Each Saturday begins a new giveaway and offers another chance to enter.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Charles Dickens: A Life by Jane Smiley

Charles Dickens: A Life. Jane Smiley. Penguin Group (USA). November 2011. 224 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143119920.

Charles Dickens is famous for depicting the lower class to the middle and upper classes of England and eventually the world, an existence most would prefer to acknowledge. But few realize how driven Dickens was to produce social results that would put an end to the evil and devastating consequences of poverty and ill-treatment far too many poor people endured in that revolutionary time. Jane Smiley, a scholarly and best-selling author, presents the entire life of Charles Dickens in a way that enhances our admiration and respect for this prodigious author.

He is revered for the way he combined artistic vision with social action in a new world of capitalism rapidly expanding. Thus he presents new ideas: "care and respect are owed to the weakest and meekest in society, rather than to the strongest; that the ways in which class and money divide humans from one another are artificial and dangerous; that pleasure and physical comfort are positive goods; that the spiritual lives of the powerful have social and economic ramifications."

Smiley then proceeds to depict the familial and authorial characteristics of this man who penned novels, short stories, and plays, often in serial form. We learn how his style evolved as he developed an uncanny sense of what people responded to, a sort of early understanding of the power of advertising. By placing the humorous with the tragic, he forced readers to face social inequalities and the consequent suffering therein. Smiley sees his weakness in providing a connective understanding of this world rather than providing a collective solution that is more political in nature. We also realize something heretofore unknown, that it was Dickens' own background that he was forced to dig into and expose, with the revelation of past experiences in social context. It led him to greater awareness of the power of important individuals that often expressed itself in what were truly moments of weakness rather than strength.

Dickens believed that mental attitude was to prevail over whatever challenging and daunting experiences life throws one's way. When it came to family, however, Dickens was unable to apply this recognized philosophical truth. He had a relatively content relationship with his wife and multiple children yet at times was guilty of not only negligence but perhaps of infidelity, amply described in these pages. Smiley then takes us through the plot and characterizations of each novel, describing what worked and failed to work; we note how Dickens learned from his mistakes and lack of connection, always driven by the financial elements driven by his increasing or dwindling sales. His love of the theater is recorded, a fact few know about this creative writer, a love that was actually a preference that remained relatively unfulfilled except for some short-lived projects in that genre.

All in all, Jane Smiley has given the world a comprehensive, fascinating portrait of a writer who was known as England's first novelist and whose novels continue to be read and dramatized in movie and play form throughout the world. Excellent biography, Ms. Smiley!

James Joyce: A Life by Edna O'Brien

James Joyce: A Life. Edna O'Brien. Penguin Lives - Penguin Books, USA. November 2011. 192 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143119937.

Emotionally bereft, haunted by poverty, cynical of religion and politics, James Joyce spends his whole life determined to grasp every experience to its dregs. Edna O'Brien masterfully conveys how these attitudes and consequent behaviors both attracted and repulsed professional and consumer readers throughout Joyce's stressful, conflict-ridden life. In the beginning of his life, he moves from being an ardent Catholic to one who projects his hatred of his own lusts upon the priests who formerly inspired him. A fluctuating love-hate relationship exists between him and the predominant political leaders of his time as well. Yet O'Brien doesn't allow the reader to forget that he passionately loved the land he was to reject for most of his tortured life, condemning them as he wrote, "Poets were the keepers of spirituality and priests the destroyers and usurpers."

Ibsen is Joyce's first love, sharing with him a hatred of hypocrisy and falsity. Joyce read voraciously throughout his whole life, and it is that knowledge as well as every facet of his own world that will fill the pages of Ulysses, the work he is most famous for crafting. Support and rejection fluctuate from Joyce's family, including his closest brother Stanislaus. O'Brien calls the relationship with Joyce's mother, as with all brilliant writers, "the uncharted deep." For Joyce it was an association of the Host of Catholicism, the prostitutes and his mother's tenderness," hardly associations yielding a good connection to family, romance, and religion. He will wed Nora Barnacle and their marriage will be full of attraction and repulsion as life becomes more ordinary when the writer can revel only in the extraordinary, unique, and almost frenetic moments that give purpose to his understanding and writing.

Memory and exile are the elements fueling the pages of his novels and stories, to which one must add knowledge. O'Brien takes us through each work Joyce constructed, the reactions of individuals and Ireland and the difficulties in publishing Joyce knew, chiefly because of what was perceived to be criticism highlighted with the most obscene language and images. Sexual passion continues to fuel his life with Nora, a woman who pleased him in this one way but could never even come close to understanding his mind. His family life is even more stressed later on with the mental instability of his daughter, Lucia, a woman who finally is committed yet who remarkably resembles her father in so many of her ramblings and associations.

While many know the highlights of James Joyce's life, Edna O'Brien presents her knowledge and analysis with aplomb, implying with depth the undercurrents of Joyce's mind and soul, while stating the obvious; interpreting and making connections that the average reader might miss while again implying that so few truly understood what drove Joyce's scurrilous and debasing depiction of life's grand and sordid aspects. Brief but potent, O'Brien's biography of James Joyce is a phenomenal read about an unfathomable writer - both are brilliant, indeed!!!

The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White

The Strangers on Montagu Street. Karen White. Penguin Group (USA). November 2011. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451235268.

It's 5:15 a.m. and the phone and doorbell are ringing in Melanie's home. While she's used to seeing and hearing voices of dead spirits at all times of the day, she doesn't like the messages she's hearing about listening to her heart. So far she's been guarding her heart quite fiercely, thank you very much. So how surprised is she when Jack, her ex-boyfriend and whom she secretly yearns, is at the door, asking her to house his daughter who has trekked her way to his door after her mother died. Jack never even knew until now that he has a daughter, a surly, angry gal at that!

Several plot elements are happening here which basically involve voices and things violently moving by unknown hands, voices haunting Melanie with incessant messages involving Jack's daughter, Nola, and the mystery behind a Gothic dollhouse temporarily being held at Melanie's mother's house.

Nola's tough exterior doesn't frighten Melanie as they share the experience of abandonment and both search for healing. Their lack of trust frequently complicates the story, a hesitation and cynicism that is quite understandable and can truly only be understood by those who have known the same. As Nola slowly and not without clashes adapts to her father's presence and insistence on his love, she becomes the connection with some very sad and other very angry spirits. She and Melanie's Mom, as well as best friend Sophie and Jack, prompt Melanie to investigate further. Replete with mysterious, dark, and many terror-filled pages, this novel has enough multiple threads to keep the reader riveted and furiously flipping the pages to read faster.

The journey Melanie and Jack shares has a consistent pattern to it. Banter together with a constant edge, followed by a resisted tender moment, followed by a thoughtless or accusatory comment, flight in anger or frustration, and then an appearance where neither acknowledges the previous altercation. Each deeply yearns for and needs the other, but both are battle-shy and ultra-hesitant to go where their heart is indeed directing and suggesting. Passion is frequently waylaid until...

Karen White is a skilled writer deftly crafting a mysterious and fascinating ghost story with romance and a touch of Southern history threaded into its engrossing pages. Well done, Ms. White - I absolutely loved this novel!!!