Friday, November 28, 2014

Big Finish Giveaway

The Big Finish: A Thorn Novel (Thorn, #14)The Big Finish: A Thorn Novel by James W. Hall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Big Finish is a wild ride through Florida and North Carolina with crazed killers—and some of them are the good guys.

Thorn is an ex-Special Forces man who spends his time hunting and fishing and living a simple life off the grid in Florida. He recently met and bonded with his adult son, Flynn Moss, who then joined an environmental group and has been branded an eco-terrorist. Flynn sends him postcards from protest sites. One day, a postcard arrives that says, “Help me.” It’s shortly followed by a visit from an FBI agent, and Thorn sets off for North Carolina, to an area where Flynn was last seen, an area hard hit by hog farming—and more nefarious doings.  It’s an intricate, fast-moving plot whose twists and turns are worthy of both swamp and bayou.

The Big Finish is dark, violent, well-written—and not for the soft-hearted. There’s torture, twisted sex, cruelty—there’s honor, love, and beauty, too. If you like macho noir thrillers with lyrical prose, Hall is your man.  The closest comparison I could give would be James Lee Burke—in atmosphere, and both cynicism and hope.

I received an advance copy for review from St. Martins.

St. Martins has offered two Advance Reader copies for a giveaway! Enter by leaving a comment here or on Miss Em Recommends on Facebook. Winners will be announced on pub date, Dec. 2. I will ask for your address and St. Martin's will mail your copy directly to you.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Job (Fox and O'Hare, #3)The Job by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear readers, I said I would give the series another chance, and by golly, they've fixed things!  Tighter editing wins the day, and all that's left on the pages is fluff and fun. Nick Fox, international master thief, and Kate O'Hare, the FBI agent who caught him, now secretly work together with government sanction, using elaborate cons to catch really evil bad guys. Though there's a shipwreck in the plot, The Job stays on course and afloat. An even closer combo of White Collar and Red--I can't help picturing Kate's father as Bruce Willis, no matter what he's supposed to look like! This is action comedy with the necessary tinge of romance. The dialogue is usually great. And an international thief goes international! Exotic locales, humor, quirkiness, suspense. This entry in the series hits all the right notes. Are the authors trolling for another movie deal? Miss Em says, "Brava!" (But books are better.)

(I received an EARC for review from the publisher and netgalley.)

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Flora Illustrata is an intellectual and aesthetic feast for both gourmands and gourmets of gardens, and will satisfy many other tastes as well; within these pages are history and science--the history of science, of art, of botany and pharmacy, of gardens and garden design, of book illustration and production; even the history of museum and library curation, philanthropy, and civic life. In short, here we have a work to celebrate and cherish for many years to come, and an example of the elegant perfection that can ensue when people of different disciplines collaborate to create; this is a work of love as well as of art and science, engaging all the senses as well as the mind.

Honestly, Miss Em is trying not to be giddy, but it's not working. She was unaware, growing up in the wilds, that one can travel a mere two thousand miles to New York's Botanical Garden and be almost as happy as traveling the 5,000 miles to Kew Gardens in London. She was unaware of the presence of these rich treasures of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden, acquired in those dizzying years of the expanding American Empire, reaching back to Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis historia (1483), to especially rare  etchings of the water gardens at Villa Pratolino in Florence (1600s), to books that depict the exploration of South America. Flora Illustrata highlights key works spanning more than eight centuries, from rare manuscripts and iconic books to Renaissance herbals, precious botanical drawings, elegant engravings, explorers’ notebooks, and more.  Lilies and lettuces, librarians and landscape theorists, explorers, scientists, philanthropists and shopkeepers, the history of New York and the world--all glimpsed and touched upon in these pages.

Flora Illustrata was created in order to highlight the astounding and not-so-well-known collection of the Mertz Library, and there's an exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden from Nov 15, 2014-Jan 19, 2015 to celebrate the publication.
For those who go and those who can't, Flora Illustrata is an exhibition in itself, lavishly illustrated, beautifully written and edited to create prose that flows instead of "scholar-speak." Yet the authors' and editors' love of scholarship shows through, making this a perfect book for both coffee table and research collections, to be treasured for years to come.

What a perfect gift for book people, plant people, artists and antiquarians. Hint, hint. (Miss Em's giddiness was caused by a digital edition of the book provided for review.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Heart Has Its ReasonsThe Heart Has Its Reasons by María Dueñas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sure wish there were half stars. 3.5
Maria Duenas’ second novel to appear in translation, The Heart Has Its Reasons, is dramatic in a different way from her previous international bestseller, The Time In Between, a novel that dealt with the suspense of both love and war. The Heart Has Its Reasons is more a novel of the havoc of love. The book is told in the first person: Blanca Perea, a Spanish professor of linguistics, discovers that the husband who just left her is having a child with his lover—the third child he never wanted, and Blanca did. She wants to get far, far away, and lick her emotional wounds far away from her grown sons and ex-husband, and takes a sabbatical from the university to travel all the way to California to work on a project far beneath her level of expertise, compiling and classifying some documents—a project that requires a Spanish native with a humanities doctorate.

When Blanca arrives at the University of Santa Cecilia, she discovers much disarray—tumult that matches her own life. The papers she’s to deal with have lain in a basement for many years; there’s a conflict between the department head and a former University professor who’s visiting Santa Cecilia (but why is he neglecting his own university?); there’s the very odd daughter of the very creepy ex-department secretary; there are students protesting against the proposed construction of a mall in a beautiful park. There’s a mess to match the mess of her heart.  There’s lots of academic intrigue, many hints of dangers lurking. In the end, though, this is not a novel of plot, but an exploration of grief, loss, and recovery; of growing up and growing onward, of heart and home.

I wish I had read the previous novel (still on my to-read list) so that I had a little more perspective on how much of the book’s sense of emotional disconnection is due to the author, and how much to the translator—that book had a different translator. But I am not intrigued enough to read it in the original Spanish.

Pros: accurate depiction of academics and university culture, intriguing background of Spaniards in California if you don’t know it, a snapshot of Spain’s modern history. Cons: like I said, I don’t know if it’s the translator’s choice, or the author’s: despite the very dramatic, sometimes passionate, actions and words of the characters, it feels like one is “reading about,” rather than immersed in the story. The very formal, sometimes literal translation definitely lets you know you are in the head of a foreigner, but the lack of colloquialism imposes a distance. The most egregious “literal” example: Chapter 6, “four portentous GE electric irons.” In order to be “portentous” in English, they should signify something that comes up later. What came up, at the very end of the book, was that Chapter 6, a flashback, is supposedly based on something that a native English speaker wrote.

Liked it, didn’t love it. Pretty sure I could predict that as the overall opinion of my book group, as well; some will love it, some will hate it, most will like it.
(Thanks to Atria and Netgalley for the E-ARC for review.)

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hello From the GillespiesHello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hello From the Gillespies

Wow. You think you're reading one book, a book you've read before, in many lovely iterations, the women's fiction, family saga, comfort novel. Then it looks like maybe there's a book within a book? Then there's a completely different twist altogether! I loved it!

All is not sweetness and light in the Australian outback, and for once in her thirty-three year marriage, Angela hangs it all out there in the annual Christmas letter, airing the family laundry. Her husband's become obsessed with his Irish roots, but he's not talking about anything else--like how much financial trouble are they in? Her twin daughters need to do a lot more growing up--they're in their thirties. Their youngest daughter bounces from job to job, further in debt all the time, and their ten-year-old son, the surprise, is talking to his imaginary friend again. No wonder she needs a fantasy life to relieve her worry and stress! Of course she didn't really plan to email her inmost worries to those hundred close and far-flung friends, but circumstances intervened, and the letter went out. And friends are taking it much better than family…

What will all this fresh air blowing through the cracks in the family bring? Healing and bridging the gaps, or huffing and puffing and blowing the Gillespie house down? With the charm and humor that have caused comparisons to Maeve Binchy, Monica McInerny has penned a winning soap opera of a story that reads quickly despite its length. If, as one reviewer said, this isn't her best, I'll be even happier to read her other books! Highly recommended!
(I received an EARC for review from NAL and Netgalley)

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