Tag Archives: Hachette Book Group USA

Love is the Cure

In the 1980s, Elton John saw friend after friend, loved one after loved one, perish needlessly from AIDS.   In the midst of the plague, he befriended Ryan White, a young Indiana boy ostracized by his town and his school because of the HIV infection he had contracted from a blood transfusion.   Ryan’s inspiring life and devastating death led Elton to two realizations:  His own life was a mess.   And he had to do something to help stop the AIDS crisis.

Since then, Elton has dedicated himself to beating the epidemic and the stigma of AIDS.   He has done this through the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised and donated $275 million to date to fighting the disease worldwide.   Love is the Cure is Elton’s personal account of his life during the AIDS epidemic, including stories of his close friendships with Ryan White, Freddie Mercury, Princess Diana, Elizabeth Taylor, and others.   It is also the story of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.   With powerful conviction and emotional force, Elton conveys the personal toll AIDS has taken on his life — and his infinite determination to halt its spread.

Elton writes, “This is a disease that must be cured not by a miraculous vaccine, but by changing hearts and minds, and through a collective effort to break down social barriers and to build bridges of compassion.   Why are we not doing more?   This is a question I have thought deeply about, and wish to answer – and help to change – by writing this book.”

Love is the Cure: Ending the Global AIDS Epidemic will be released by Little, Brown and Company on July 17, 2012.   All proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

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Helplessly Hoping

The Best of Me: A Novel by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central Publishing; $25.99; 304 pages).

The Violets of March: A Novel by Sarah Jio (Plume; $15.00; 304 pages)

“He shouldn’t have come back home.   He didn’t belong here, he’d never belong here.”

I had never read a story by Sacramento native Nicholas Sparks, so I had high hopes for The Best of Me, his latest novel that I downloaded as a Nook Book on my Nook Color e-reader.   It starts off very promisingly, a tale of forbidden romance between the well-bred Amanda Collier and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Dawson Cole.   Amanda and Dawson grew up in the town of Oriental, North Carolina and societal pressures kept them apart.   Now it’s decades later and both of them are drawn back to Oriental to attend the funeral of Tuck, a man who was a father-figure of sorts for both of them.

Amanda has married a relatively-successful dentist and she’s a mother, but she’s never lost the feelings she had for Dawson.   Dawson, who has pined for Amanda his entire life, has remained single, working on oil rigs and living in a double-wide trailer outside of New Orleans.   The question raised by this story is, “Will Amanda and Dawson finally get together, even if it is late in the day in their lives (Dawson is 42); if so, what will it cost them to change their lives competely?”

Sparks writes in a calm, polite and seemingly timeless fashion, at least through the first four-fifths of the book.   But it’s when the reader gets to that last fifth – in sight of the finish line – that the story falls apart like a child’s sand castle on a beach hit by a high tide.   The ending is nothing less than trite, predictable and tacky; some serious readers are going to find it so bad that they may feel personally insulted.

The Best of Me starts off like a major motion picture but ends like a poor-quality “made for TV” film broadcast at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday.   If you love hokey corn packaged as romance literature, you may like this one.   For me, one Nicholas Sparks book is far more than enough.

Fortunately, The Violets of March, the debut novel from Sarah Jio is a fine antidote to having one’s hopes dashed by reading something as predictable as The Best of Me.   Jio has written a story about a young woman who has it all, a fine marriage and a successful writer’s life in Manhattan, when it all falls apart.   Emily Wilson’s husband suddenly leaves her for a younger model, and so she departs for some much needed rest and recuperation at her aunt’s home on Brainbridge Island in Washington State (a ferry ride from Seattle).   Once there, she finds a diary that was written by her lost maternal grandmother Esther, a woman who died under mysterious circumstances at a time when the love of her life had broken her heart.   (Esther, like Amanda Colllier, was married to a man that she did not actually love – a man who served as a substitute for her true love.)

All of her life Emily has been told that she looks exactly like her grandmother Esther, and she comes to find that there are some similarities in their lives.   Thus, Emily becomes determined to find out exactly what happened to this woman who she never met.   This is not an easy task, as no one in her mother’s family is willing to talk about what happened in the early 1940s.   Readers raised in families that pride themselves on keeping their secrets deeply buried will identify with this unique story.

Kudos to Jio for fashioning a satisfying ending in which everything comes together, made all the more satisfying due to its lack of predictability.   Jio does not rush events nor does she paste on a false-feeling ending to “…an unsolved family mystery and an unfinished love affair.”

The motto of Emily Wilson’s grandmother Esther was, “True love lives on.”   So does good writing and with The Violets of March, Sarah Jio shows that she’s a writer to watch.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of The Violets of March was provided by the publisher.   The reviewer paid, unfortunately, for the Nook Book edition of The Best of Me.   (Spark’s novel is sometimes entertaining while one’s reading it, but the elements of the story simply don’t add up or ring true.   In retrospect, there are simply too many improbable and implausible events which precede the groaningly awful ending.)  

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Win Help! for Writers

Roy Peter Clark is vice president and senior scholar at The Poynter Institute, a highly prestigious school for journalists.   He has taught writing at every level – from schoolchildren to college students and Pulitzer Prize winners.   A writer who teaches and a teacher who writes, he has authored or edited fifteen books about writing, including Writing Tools and The Glamour of Grammar.  

In Help! for Writers: 210 Soutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces (released today), Clark presents an “owner’s manaul” for writers, outlining the seven steps of the writing process, while addressing the 21 most urgent problems that writers face.   In his engaging and entertaining style, Clark offers ten short solutions to each problem.   Out of ideas?   Read posters, billboards, and even grafitti.   Can’t bear to edit yourself?   Watch the deleted scenes of a film DVD, and ask yourself why these scenes were justifiably left on the cutting-room floor.  

Help! for Writers offers writers, new and old, young and experienced, 210 strategies for success!   Would you like to win a copy?   Thanks to the publisher (Little, Brown and Company), we’re giving 5 (five) copies away.   In order to enter this book giveaway contest, just post a comment below with your name and e-mail address, or send an e-mail message with this information to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .  (E-mail addresses will only be used to contact the winners.)   This will count as a first entry.

For a second entry, tell us exactly why you think this guidebook would be useful to you.   Is it because of the type of writing that you do?   Are you stuck in writing a novel or an article, etc.?   Let us know!  

In one way or another, we’re all writers, so this should be a useful addition to almost anyone’s library.

In order to enter this book contest, you must live in the continental U.S. or in Canada, and be able to provide a residential mailing address if you’re selected as a winner.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or to a business-related address.   You have until 12:00 Midnight PST on Saturday, November 15, 2011 to submit your entry or entries, so don’t delay!

We reserve the right to change the contest rules, or submission deadline, at any point, so it’s best to enter early…   We may choose the winners at random, or simply select five early entrants; you never know.   This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   

Good luck and good reading!  

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This Diamond Ring

Death of a Chimney Sweep, A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M.C. Beaton (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 256 pages)

Surprise!   A wicked sense of humor runs throughout this 26th mystery novel written by M.C. Beaton.   There are plenty of red herrings and portents of things to come as the plot wends its way through the Scottish moors and into the big city of Glasgow.   Country Police Constable Hamish Macbeth lumbers along at his own pace trying to solve the murders of a retired military officer who was out for a walk on the moors and a local fellow, the sweep who was cleaning the chimney at the officer’s home.

The trail to the solution is littered with corpses, most of which belonged to people who deserved what happened to them.   No spoiler alert is needed here as Beaton’s book titles are indicative of mayhem and murder.   This meandering plot is, in the end, tied up neater than an Elfa storage solution from The Container Store.   The pieces interlock and hold together well.

The military man left behind a timid mouse of a wife.   Milly, his widow, appears to be quite shy and yet she manages to win the hearts and engagement rings of a couple of fellows not long after her husband’s demise.   Her husband, Captain Henry Davenport, had engaged in a bit of fraud that brought in scads of money from unwitting investors eager to make a killing.   The search for the whereabouts of the money fuels the killing spree.

Constable Macbeth is a clever redhead who cherishes his freedom and the quiet solitude of a secret fishing spot.   He has little time for fishing as he, a past fiance, a former girlfriend and his pets spend much time and energy trying to cut short the killing spree that results from Davenport’s fraud.   Beaton goes in for a bit of exotica as Macbeth’s cat is no ordinary kitty.   No sir!   Sonsie is a wildcat!

If you’re not familiar with this author, as is the case with this reviewer, be comforted in the knowledge that there’s more – lots more – where this came from.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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An Unflappable Giveaway

Thanks to Anna at the Hachette Book Group, we have three (3) copies to give away of a new nonfiction book which was just released on March 6, 2011.   This is Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool; a hardbound release from Little, Brown and Company valued at $25.99.   Here is the official synopsis:

Nerves make us bomb job interviews, first dates and SATs.   With a presentation looming at work, fear robs us of sleep for days.   It paralyzes seasoned concert musicians and freezes rookie cops in tight situations.   And yet not everyone cracks.   Soldiers keep their heads in combat; firemen rush into burning buildings; unflappable trauma doctors juggle patient after patient.   It’s not just that these people feel no fear; often, in fact, they’re riddled with it.

In Nerve, Taylor Clark draws upon cutting-edge science and painstaking reporting to explore the very heart of panic and poise.   Using a wide range of case studies, Clark overturns the popular myth about anxiety and fear to explain why some people thrive under pressure, while others falter – and how we can go forward with steadier nerves and increased confidence.

“…brings sophisticated science into precise layperson’s language and applies it to our everyday lives with humor and wit.”   Amazon

So, how can you win one of these copies without experiencing too much stress?   Simple, just post a comment here with your name and e-mail address; or send an e-mail message to josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, tell us the answer to this question – If 1 is a ‘fraidy cat and 10 is a superhero with nerves of steel, which number would a panel of fear and stress experts give you, and why?   Post your answer below, or provide your response in an e-mail, and you will be credited with a second entry.

Our usual furry contest administrator will draw the 3 winning names.   You have until midnight on April 15, 2011 to submit your entry or entries.   In order to be eligible to win this contest, you must live in the United States or Canada and provide a residential address when you are contacted.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or a business-related address.   Only one person can win per household.

This is it for the nervous-making contest rules.   Put on your superhero costume and give it a whirl!   Munchy the cat  says, Yeowk!   (Translated this means, Good luck and good reading!)

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Coming Up Next…

See how you can win one of three copies of the new nonfiction book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool by Taylor Clark (Little, Brown and Company).

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Ruby Tuesday

An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin (Grand Central Publishing; $26.99; 295 pages)

“In addition to her normal inquisitiveness about a work, who painted it and when, and a collegiate hangover necessitating a formulaic, internal monologue about what the painting meant – which always left her mind racing with static – she now found she had another added task:  she tried to estimate a painting’s worth.   Lacey’s internal wiring had been altered by her work in Manhattan.”

Lacey Yeager is herself an object of beauty and she is mesmerized by the notion of possessing beauty in the form of paintings.   Her training at Sotheby’s auction house is the launching point for the morphing of a clever girl just out of college into a conniving woman years later.   Her story is told by a college friend whose profession is closely aligned to Lacey’s.   Daniel Franks is the narrator who allows himself to be drawn into her magnetic field for years.

Crisp, dry prose that has the power to embed itself in the reader’s memory; exquisite examples of fine art illustrating the plot twists and turns; a white cover reminiscent of art gallery walls; and a journey through the inner workings of an impressionable mind make this book a sensational read.   Never mind that this reviewer was a design major with an art history minor and volunteered as an art museum docent!   A reader with lesser credentials will surely come away with the same sense of the personality quirks, self-absorption and greed that fueled the Manhattan art scene in the 1990s.   Someone who does possess knowledge of art history can be assured that Steve Martin has gathered spot on examples for his illustrations.   Martin has succeeded in avoiding the obvious, over-exposed works in favor of others by the artists being featured.

Martin’s emphasis on the spare use of adjectives, ample use of specific details and well-researched facts place the story solidly in the time and places he has chosen.   Lacey’s movements around Manhattan serve to define her values.   She aspires to possess the best and has a great set of assets that provide her with what she wants.   There is a bit of mystery that, while not particularly central to the novel, does serve to deepen the reader’s engagement with the story.

Frequently at casual gatherings the question, “Who would you choose to sit with at a dinner party?” pops into the conversation.   After reading An Object of Beauty, I know my immediate answer would be, “Steve Martin.”   Although dinner party conversation would not allow me to plumb the depths of this brilliant man’s mind and character, it would be a wonderful start.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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