Armchair BEA Giveaway Day! James Madison By Lynne Cheney


Armchair BEA

Armchair BEA is for those people who cannot attend Book Expo America in NYC.  It’s a way for them to stay connected and join in. Today is day 4: giveaway day! We’re all giving away great books. After you enter my giveaway, then go have a look at the rest.

I have one finished hard copy of JAMES MADISON by Lynne Cheney for giveaway! How cool is this! The wonderful people at Penguin Publishing are furnishing this amazing biography just in time for Father’s Day giving.  What a great gift.

Lynne Cheney

James Madison

Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author or co-author of twelve books, including six bestsellers about American history for children and their families.  She holds a Ph.D from University of Wisconsin, and  has been studying Madison since 1987.  She is no slouch, as you can see.


Lynne Cheney

In order to be in the running to win this amazing history book, please leave a comment below. And, as usual. no P.O. boxes, please, and only residents of U.S.

This giveaway will end Friday, May 30. I am extending it so that the bloggers at BEA will have a chance for this great giveaway.

Good luck to everyone!

Edge Of Eternity By Ken Follett

Finale of The Century Trilogy

Edge of Eternity

Finally, the third and final tome of The Century Trilogy: EDGE OF ETERNITY. Ken Follett has outdone himself, again.

First came FALL OF GIANTS where we learned about WWI. Then came WINTER OF THE WORLD and WWII. Now Follett sets us down smack dab into the sixties and seventies: it’s the Cold War.

It’s the 1960’s.  The United States is dealing with civil rights, Viet Nam, The Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile Crisis, impeachment of a president, assassination of a president, Russia and the Cold War, and all the craziness of rock and roll.

We were introduced to five families in FALL OF GIANTS. These five families hale from America, Germany, Russia, England, and Wales. We’ve followed them through hell and high water for three generations. We’ve come to love them and have been eagerly anticipating this finale. Now these five families are so fatefully enmeshed that they have become a blur.

I absolutely adore Ken Follett’s writing. I think he’s a genius.  He was able to bring these characters back to the page in a way that I could pick up where I left off in WINTER OF THE WORLD, without feeling like I needed to go back and reread it. So I took right off running with the first page.

Ken Follett has managed to tell the story of the twentieth century in a trilogy of more than three thousand pages. But do not feel daunted by the sheer number; the pages fly through your fingers as you find yourself reading as quickly as you can.  These characters have become so familiar over the years.

EDGE OF ETERNITY begins in 1961 in Berlin, Germany. Rebecca Hoffman, an East German teacher, discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and changes her life and her family’s lives forever by escaping to the West in a harrowing experience you will never forget.  The video above gives you a good idea what the Berlin Wall was like. I learned so much about this tumultuous time that I feel as if it is all true. Now, mind you, Follett does his research. Most of this is true. He only makes up the characters.

Dimka Dvorkin is an aide to Nikita Khrushchev, when he finds himself in the middle of U.S.-Soviet nuclear power plays; while his twin sister Tanya travels to Cuba and beyond as a journalist during the Cold War. We find Tanya in Cuba during the Missile Crisis.  Yes, Follett traveled to Cuba during his research.

But the majority of this novel takes place in America and is about civil rights.

George Jakes, the son of a black woman and a high-powered white man, is unforgettable as he works with the Freedom Riders and then works with Bobby Kennedy in the Justice Department.  As George Jakes flies into Birmingham, Alabama.  “The most racial city in America was probably Birmingham, Alabama. George Jakes flew there in April 1963.

“Last time he came to Alabama, he recalled vividly, they had tried to kill him.  

Birmingham was a dirty industrial city, and from the plane it had a delicate rose-pink aura of pollution, like the chiffon scarf around the neck of an old prostitute.

George felt the hostility as he walked through the terminal. He was the only colored man in a suit. “

America is also a hotspot for drugs and rock and roll. A small group of English ragamuffins become one of the hottest groups in the world. While the escapades of President Kennedy pepper the pages with intimate details about his womanizing. Actually, none of our presidents are seen favorably in this novel. At times, it was almost like a  personal and political tell-all.

So while I was reading about the civil rights movement, and the rioting in the streets, I was also hearing of the rioting in this country in our midwest, right now. It was unsettling to say the least to read about rioting so many years ago, then turn the news on and find the same sort of rioting going on HERE, NOW. It did take the wind out of my reading sails, at times.

I will say that my favorite parts of the story are behind the scenes in Russia with Khrushchev, and everything about The Berlin Wall. I learned so much that I did not know. And Follett made me feel as if I were a fly on the wall. Not only the warm and endearing characters, but the unique inner stories, brought this part of the novel to the forefront for me.

Maybe I didn’t enjoy the parts about the civil rights as much since I remember vividly living through a lot of it. It was a rough time to be a teenager. I had friends who went to Viet Nam.  And I remember the song playing on the radio about Bobby and Martin and John. It still makes me quite sad as I can hear it ringing in my ears right now.

However, saying all this, Ken Follett is a brilliant writer. I would read anything he writes: essay; grocery list, etc. You know what I mean.

This finale to a larger than life trilogy ties up the twentieth century into one fine knot. Do not miss it.

My review copy came from the fine publishing people of Dutton books. You know how much I love you guys! Thanks so much.


A Conversation With Ken Follett About Edge Of Eternity

Finale of The Century Trilogy

Edge of Eternity

EDGE OF ETERNITY, by Ken Follett, bursts  into the publishing world on Tuesday, September 16th. And everyone is gnashing their teeth, biting at the bit, to get at it. I thought a conversation with Mr. Follett might fuel the fire even more. So here you have it.

With the Century Trilogy, you set out to write a sweeping historical epic of the twentieth century; what does it feel like to have just complete it?

Mainly I feel relieved that it worked. When I embarked on the project I was not sure that I could tell the story of an entire century in fiction. I thought I might read some similar books by other authors and found that no one had ever tried to do this-which made it all the more daunting. But readers have loved the trilogy and I’m very happy about it.

Remind us, where did the idea for the Century Trilogy come from? Why the 20th century?

I wanted to recapture the magic of WORLD WITHOUT END but, fond as I am of the Middle Ages, didn’t want to become a “medieval writer.” At some point, in trying to figure out how to do that, I thought of the twentieth century-the most dramatic and bloodthirsty century in the history of the human race; an ongoing drama of war against oppressive regimes and of people struggling for independence. It’s a thrilling story and it’s our story, one that has touched us all either directly or through our parents or grandparents.

Why did you choose the title EDGE OF ETERNITY?

Throughout this period we all knew that nuclear war could break out at any minute and bring the human race to an end. In that sense we were living on the edge of eternity.

Unlike the previous two books in the trilogy, FALL OF GIANTS and WINTER OF THE WORLD, EDGE OF ETERNITY takes place in a more recent era, one that you grew up in. Was it more difficult to ear the historian’s hat in this case? Did you let your own memories guide any of your character’s experiences? Are there any autobiographical details tucked into the narrative?

Like my character Dave Williams, I learned to play the guitar in the early sixties. I was also a pretty cool dresser! Like Jasper Murray, I went to university in London and worked for the college newspaper-which was my first experience of writing for readers other than my school teachers. Like Walli Franck, I was thrilled to achieve success in America.

You did some unique research for this book, including personally retracing the Freedom Riders route via Greyhound Bus and visiting monuments like the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. How did these experiences help shape your writing, and how did they affect you personally?

Most of the cities are familiar to me-Berlin, Moscow, London, Paris-but I did make a research trip to Cuba, as I have a character in Havana during the Cuban missile crisis. I also visited cities in the Deep South of the USA where the great events of the Civil Rights era took place. Retracing the steps of the Freedom Riders was a profoundly emotional experience for me and for anyone who has any personal connection  with the issue of freedom and discrimination. In the sixties, civil rights leaders were vilified by the press and conservative politicians. When they were beaten up and killed, many people said they deserved it. Now there are statues to them all over the Deep South.

You also interviewed first-person witnesses to the era, like civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis and former White House intern Mimi Alford. What did you learn from them, and how did you incorporate it into EDGE OF ETERNITY?

John Lewis gave me insight into the almost saintly behavior of nonviolent civil rights protestors who did not retaliate when abused and even beaten. Mimi Alford told me what it was like to have sex with President Kennedy. Frank Gannon, who worked in the Nixon White House, convinced me that Nixon was not quite as bad as I had thought.

Like the previous two novels in the trilogy, EDGE OF ETERNITY has a number of real historical characters, including several heads of state. What are your thoughts on the key leaders of the era?

I came to admire both Kennedy and Johnson. I found that Nixon was a better president that I had previously thought. Both Reagan and George W. Bush were ineffectual in foreign affairs, despite the propaganda to the contrary. I have nothing but contempt for leaders in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe before the Gorbachev era.

Do you still read the reviews of your work?

I do read my reviews.  I particularly love it when readers-whether a reviewer in a national paper or someone I meet on the street-says once they started reading they couldn’t stop. It makes me feel like I must have done a pretty good job. 

So there you have it Just a little tidbit of what’s to come. My review will come on Monday, September 15. Stay tuned!

Ken Follett

Ken Follett

Lisette’s List By Susan Vreeland

Susan Vreeland

Lisette’s List

LISETTE’S LIST, by Susan Vreeland, will appeal to those of you who follow her.  She certainly knows her art. And she has captured the south of France, and Provence in particular, spot-on.

Lisette Roux is living in Paris in 1939 with her husband Andre as the story starts. Lisette is twenty and enjoying her life working as an apprentice in an art gallery. She can not even imagine that her ideal life is about to change drastically.

And then, Andre receives a letter from his aging grandfather Pascal. Pascal is in need of help because of crucial health issues. Feeling totally obligated, off the pair go to the south of Provence, to take care of their relative.

Upon arrival in the small village in Provence, Lisette is dismayed to find absolutely no art gallery.  This really is a tiny out-of-the-way spot. But Pascal quickly wins Lisette’s heart with his precious paintings by amazing artists such as Pissarro and Cezanne.  How did  he come to acquire these? He used his unique talent for frame making.

As WW11 looms, France is invaded.  And Andre goes off to war. But not before hiding Pascal’s art.  Art and war have become an interesting topic in recent years. The more I read about it, the more I want to know.

Lisette meets up with Marc and Beth Chagall who are in hiding before fleeing to America.


There’s lots of history in this novel.  And lots of art. Enjoy!

And The Winner Is…..

Lucy Dillon

A Hundred Pieces of Me

Who can resist this cover? No animal lover, that’s for sure. I have my winner.

Carol Starman, you’ve won a copy of A HUNDRED PIECES OF ME by Lucy Dillon. I will send you an email straight away so you can send your mailing address. Or book will come from the publisher. Congratulations Carol!

Thanks go out to all of you who took the time to participate. And a huge thanks go to Berkley, which is part of Penguin Group Publishing. As always, thanks so much.

Announcing The Winner Of The Mathematician’s Shiva By Stuart Rojstaczer

Stuart Rojstaczer

The Mathematician’s Shiva

I have my winner! Susie, you are last, but not least. You’ve won my giveaway. Your book will come straight from Penguin. I will send you an email this morning asking for your mailing address. Congratulations! I know you are going to love this smart new novel.

Thanks go out to all of you who took the time to make comments. You are what make these giveaways happen. Thanks so much. And thanks to Penguin for making it all happen.

My Paris Kitchen By David Lebovitz

David Lebowitz

My Paris Kitchen

How lucky can a girl get? Pretty darn lucky. I received this absolutely amazing cookbook  by one of my favorite food writers, David Lebovitz, from Blogging for Books. Really, it came from Random House. All in exchange for an honest review. I am totally giddy.

When David Lebovitz moved to Paris ten years ago he didn’t really know what he was getting into; didn’t speak any French and knew only two friends. His kitchen was so tiny he says his workspace was the size of a chessboard. OMG! He really, really wanted to live in Paris.

In the years since he first arrived in Paris, he has come a long way. But not without many challenges and many adventures. I really admire him, and I am head over heels in love with his writing. And I adore his blog. You will too!

David worked for thirteen years at Chez Pannisse before leaving the restaurant business in 1999 to write fulltime. He’s the author of six books including the memoir, THE SWEET LIFE IN PARIS, that won over my heart. And had me laughing my head off. I have handsold this book over and over.

There are so many recipes in, MY PARIS KITCHEN ,that I have flagged, that my book is beginning to look well-used, already. I have chosen three to showcase in this post, with photos.


French onion soup.

This amazing, gooey, sumptuous dish is made with two yummy cheeses: Emmenthal and Comte or Gruyere. I can’t wait to make it. I am a big fan of French onion soup. This one is sure to be a step up.

I’ve been on a roll seeking unique BBQ rib recipes. This one is a definite contender.


Caramel Pork Rib

French food

Ham, blue cheese, and pear quiche.


And I could not resist adding a photo of this tantalizing and creamy ham, blue cheese, and pear quiche. It looks so good I wish I could make it magically appear this very moment!

David’s photos are vibrant and plentiful. I am always suspicious of a cookbook without pictures, not to mention…disappointed. Not to worry here.

David tells and shows you about shopping for the ingredients for his recipes.  He has so much fun gathering all the really good food he incorporates into his recipes. You will enjoy his visits to local markets as much as I have. I could imagine visiting Paris to visit the markets alone. I really enjoyed living vicariously through David.

After learning how David was able to prepare and concoct these amazing dishes in less than standard conditions, you must know that you too can whip up these tasty morsels. After all, most of us have full kitchens. He dedicates a page at the end of this gorgeous book to sources.  If you are having trouble finding any of the ingredients or supplies, he provides links so you can acquire them.

I could go on and on about this cookbook. It is so much more than a cookbook. And it’s one of the cookbooks I’ll be giving as gifts this holiday season, and beyond. And, oh, the photos of the City of Lights throughout will have you keeping this book handy to leaf through whenever you have a spare moment.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, I have received this book in exchange for an honest review. What a pleasure!

GiveAway: A Hundred Pieces Of Me By Lucy Dillon

Lucy Dillon

A Hundred Pieces of Me

Just look at this cover. I am such an animal lover! When Gina Bellamy finds herself reeling from her recent divorce, she gathers up her rescued greyhound and moves into a new flat, tossing most of her possessions to the wind. Gina has decided to take only 100 things she deems most precious, to her new abode. She’s purging her old life. On with the new.

Jojo Moyes writes, “Such a brilliant book. So satisfying and clever and deeply moving. I’ll be passing it to all my friends.”

I have one copy of, A HUNDRED PIECES OF ME, by Lucy Dillon, for my giveaway. This is a real winner. To enter my contest please leave a comment below. You need to have a U.S. address, and no P.O. boxes, please.  I will choose my winner on Wednesday, September 10. Good luck, everybody!

Thanks go out to Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group. Thank you, as always.

A Conversation With Stuart Rojstaczer

Stuart Rojstaczer

The Mathematician’s Shiva

Look who’s stopping by to discuss his new novel, THE MATHEMATICIAN’S SHIVA?   Stuart Rojstaczer tells us about himself and his writing. 



Q: Is this your first novel? Could you talk about what inspired you to write this book?


Actually, this is my third novel.  I wrote my first when I was 20.  It was a comic picaresque a la Thomas Pynchon and it was so terrible that I knew I had to get out of the novel writing business and get a PhD. in science.  Then in my forties I wrote novel number two at the behest of my daughter, a comedy about a university led by a lunatic president.  It too was terrible, so terrible that I felt very happy that I’d gone into science all those years ago.  I tried again in my fifties.  I remembered an incident from when my daughter was three.  A well-known Eastern European émigré mathematician was at our house.  All dinner long he kept staring at my daughter.  Then after dinner, he berated me for not teaching my three-year-old algebra because he was convinced, somehow, that she was a math genius.  I thought about that incident many years later.  “What would it be like to be an Eastern European math genius?”  I asked myself.  The result was The Mathematician’s Shiva.  It’s leaps and bounds better than my first two novels.  The third time was the charm.


Q: You’re a PhD geophysicist, and Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch, the narrator of your novel, is an atmospheric scientist. How did you come to fiction writing from a background in hard science?


I’ve always been a careful and serious reader of fiction, mostly Eastern European fiction and American fiction with strong European influences.  Off and on, I’ve written fiction for decades.  I wasn’t a talented writer, though.  Then in my fifties, I somehow developed what I thought was a unique voice.  I can’t explain how that happened.  It just did.


Q: Your novel is about academics and academic life, subjects that are very popular in contemporary fiction. Why do you think that these stories are so appealing, and why did you choose to write about academics yourself?


Academia is a closed setting, a small well-defined community.  In writing a novel, you need to focus on a group of people and the unit of an academic department or discipline is to my mind an ideal natural way to provide that focus.  I spent fifteen years as a professor.  I understand the academic mindset well.  Write about what you know, they say.


Q: How much did you draw from your own experiences in writing this novel?


The novel has some autobiographical elements, certainly.  The opening is highly autobiographical, for example.  There is a scene where Rachela and her family go to a Russian cultural event and she tries, despite the inevitable tumult that will ensue, to get the Russian performers to defect.  This is something my mother did at least once a year.  But overall about eighty percent of the novel and the characters created come wholly from my imagination.


Q: Though the novel revolves around the death of Rachela Karnokovitch—the narrator’s mother—and describes the difficulties of life in Eastern Europe under Stalinism, it’s also very funny. How do you balance comedy and tragedy in your writing, and why do you feel that that’s important?


I think this approach to writing and life—dealing with tragedy through farce and acidic humor—is embedded in Eastern European culture and is especially embedded in Eastern European Jewish culture.  It was part of my day-to-day growing up.  My parents lived through so much horror in their early years that it would have been impossible and intolerable for them to confront it head on.  Comedy is how my family deals with tragedy almost always.  It softens the blow.  It’s usually an acceptable way to state displeasure and heartbreak over oppression.  I think this approach is probably fairly common with cultures that have been subject to cruelty and worse for centuries.



Q: Rachela was a brilliant mathematician working in a difficult, male-dominated field. Was her character inspired by anyone in your own life or from history?


I’ve had academic female friends who have told me in painful detail of their difficulties with male colleagues and male leadership in academia.  The playing field is not close to being level.  Sexual harassment is common.  Most feel that they cannot complain because it will be detrimental to their professional standing and note that those who do complain are vilified.  Then there is the problem that their work is slighted simply because they are female.  Those stories influenced my writing, certainly.  There was also the example of my mother, who in her later years ran construction crews and built a subdivision from scratch.  She, too, was in a male dominated field (even more so than my female academic colleagues), but she had the advantage of having a huge personality and she had lived through WWII.  Nothing could intimidate her.  She could scare people, male and female, with her intensity.  I thought about what it would take to succeed in mathematics in the 1950s as a woman.  That person would have to be even more intimidating than my mother could be in the face of adversity and would have to be leagues smarter than any male in her field.  She’d have to be tall and disarmingly good-looking.  That’s how Rachela Karnokovitch was born.


Q: History and memory play very important roles in your novel. How did these forces affect you as you wrote the book?


I come from a family that had to flee their home because of war.  They didn’t come to America because they wanted to be here.  They came because they had no home left.  When your life and past are torn from you like that—when you don’t have even photographs to remind you of a life you view with fondness—you cherish your memories and live them again through narrative.  That’s what my father did, certainly.  He would tell stories about Europe and the war at our dining room table in broken English.  People would come to our house and listen.  My mother would serve cake and tea.  That would be something fairly typical for an evening’s entertainment in my home.  I can talk about great writers who have influenced me, but those stories of the past that my father used to tell Americans in our home—which were a mix of the real and completely fabricated—are the most significant influence on my writing.


Q: What writers do you admire, and why? How have they influenced your own writing?


Chekhov is at the top of the list because he had far more understanding about the intricacies of the human mind, heart and soul than anyone I’ve read and he could be articulate and plain spoken at the same time.  That’s what I aim for.  Then there is the mordantly comical approach of Gogol.  Recently I reread him after a forty-year hiatus and I was amazed by how close my writing was to his.  I cannot write without using comic elements.  Dickens always kept the plot front and center and wasn’t afraid to use emotions to drive a story; sometimes I need to be reminded of that to keep my own work from being too cold and erudite.  Mendele and Malamud looked at traditional Jewish life with both tenderness and acidic humor and both are never far from my mind when I write.


Q: What do you love most about this book, and what do you hope that your readers will love about it?


It’s a book about how people can, through passion, hard work, and talent, overcome obstacles and still be aware of the irony that luck—both bad and good—plays a central role in their lives.  I hope readers will laugh out loud, cry now and then, and fall in love with the central characters, who are full of vitality and still maintain a positive, if somewhat gimlet-eyed, outlook despite the many tragedies they have endured.


Q: What are you working on now?

A novel about a community of Holocaust survivors in the 1960s and 1970s, which has to deal with the American equivalent of a pogrom: a planned freeway that will tear their neighbourhood apart.  Right now, like The Mathematician’s Shiva, it’s a comedy.



GiveAway: The Mathematician’s Shiva By Stuart Rojstaczer

Stuart Rojstaczer

The Mathematician’s Shiva

I have one copy of, THE MATHEMATICIAN’S SHIVA, by Stuart Rojstaczer, for giveaway. Please leave a comment below to enter my contest. I can only send to U.S. addresses, and no P.O. boxes, please. Good luck! Oh, and you have until midnight on Sunday, September 7th.

I will be posting a conversation with Stuart Rojstaczer tomorrow. Be sure not to miss it. This author is witty and smart. A great book to add to your must-read pile!

A great big thank you goes out to the generous publishing people at Penguin?Random House!

An Italian Wife By Ann Hood

Ann Hood

An Italian Wife

I get excited when I know a new novel by Ann Hood is approaching publication.  I have been thinking about AN ITALIAN WIFE by Ann Hood since I finished it three days ago. I am still digesting the content. Figuring out the story. Asking myself if I loved it.

The story of Josephine Rimaldi begins in 1889. She’s fifteen years-old and about to be married to a man 11 years her senior. A man she’s never set eyes on, someone her parents have chosen for her. Josephine’s family were simple folk living high in the mountains of Italy.  And her family married her off to Vincenzo so she would have a better life.  The so-called better life did not begin for five years, the amount of time it took Vincenzo to send for her to join him in America.

Ann Hood has an uncanny ability to show you the soul of the characters she inhabits.  Josephine Rimaldi ended up in Rhode Island in a loveless marriage with only the church for comfort. And some comfort that is.  Edgy, and at times downright odd, the relationship Josephine has with Father Leone is bothersome and  uncomfortable. And the children keep coming. One after the other, after the other. Seven all told, but the last child is a surprise in more ways than one.

Josephine’s family is filled with rife. Carmine, her son, returned from WW11 shell-shocked and not quite right.  Francie, her granddaughter, was widowed at a young age and never fit back into the suburbs where she lives. Then there is Aida, Josephine’s greatgranddaughter, who runs away from  home taking a bus across the country to end up in the  Haight- Ashbury of San Francisco.

Hood wrote this novel of connected stories over a time frame of fifteen years.  She has pulled from her memory of her own Italian-American family. Most of her oldest relatives never learned to speak or write English. And there were plenty of them. She is from a huge family.


Ann Hood

I love a multigenerational novel.  And I love Italy. I also love reading about immigrant experiences.  And who better than Ann Hood to bring us this evocative  story of love, complacency, the sexual revolution,  and a secret kept for almost a hundred years!

I keep thinking about Valentina, the last daughter, who got away. And I have to wonder how  many other babies have been so lost.

This novel will definitely make you think. I think of all the women and girls who lived through sexual revolutions.  How a young woman deals with her sexual feelings can and usually does shape her life, for better or worse. I watched over a period of a hundred years how women and sex changed: their feelings, their awakenings to it, and, finally, their freedom to enjoy it.

AN ITALIAN WIFE is a quick ,enlightening novel. You will want to share it  and talk about it. Go ahead, you’ll be glad you did.

I borrowed my copy from work, a wonderful lending perk for booksellers of BN.