Thursday, December 10, 2015

Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers by Sally Allen (Review & Giveaway)

Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers by Sally Allen
Griffins Wharf Productions
ISBN: 978-0983644613
Published November 2015
Trade paperback, 225 pages

Book Description:

Award-winning writer and teacher Sally Allen knows that good books don’t just draw us in; they talk to us, shape us, and transport us to times, places, and minds different from our own.

In Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers, Allen deftly weaves personal stories with fifteen thematized, annotated, and illustrated reading lists for what to read next. By sharing some of the treasures in her library and the secret lives they reveal, she gives us permission to embrace the shameless book lover inside each of us. Unlocking Worlds is a testament to how reading passionately—and compassionately—can unlock the world beyond our back yard. Celebrating books and those who read them, Allen shows how the solitary act of reading can be a powerful thread that creates community and connection. Thought-provoking and eloquent, Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers is a must-have for anyone who can’t leave the house without a book in hand.

My Review:

The minute I began to read Unlocking Worlds I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Sally Allen begins with an anecdote of how she brought along her current read (at the time Goldfinch) tucked in her purse as she went to meet a friend for coffee. You know, just in case her friend was late. That's me. That's a lot of us, right? I even bought a new purse recently based on the specs that I could fit a book in it.

Unlocking Worlds lives up to its name of being a companion to book lovers. Allen who has a PhD in English Education writes without airs, but with a true understanding of someone whose life is revolved around literature from early childhood onward. She writes about her discovery of book blogs and "how despite the illusion that reading is solitary, we readers are always in conversation--with books, of course, but also with other readers and critics." How true, hence the appeal of book blogging.

The book is divided into chapters that list books that touched her and made her reading experience memorable for various reasons. For example, Novels That Play with Time and Space, Books Set in Times of War, Books That Thrill, Chill and Keep You Guessing and so on. It was like being part of Allen's book club where she went into the reason she liked these books. I was intrigued. I made a list of books I now wanted to read because of what Allen discovered through them. She even includes a bibliography at the back of the book of all the books she mentions in her text.

Allen even addresses the issue all book lovers have, agony of not being able to read all the books we want. Who could understand such a thing but another book lover? The book is interspersed with quotes at the beginning of each chapter. My favorite is the one that summarizes the book:

"the great advantage of being a literary woman was that you could go everywhere and do everything."
- Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Unlocking Worlds is the perfect gift for any book lover.  It's such a pleasure to read and infuses you with warmth and nostalgia. Why nostalgia? Because as Sally is reminiscing about the books she's read as a child, teenager or adult you will inevitable do the same. Thank you, Sally, for telling the world why we love books so much.

To read more reviews, please visit Sally Allen's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the book: 


About the Author:

Award winning writer and teacher Sally Allen holds a Ph.D. from New York University in English Education, with an emphasis in writing and rhetoric, and a M.A. in English Language and Literature. She teaches writing, literature, and communications, leads book group discussions, and is the founder and editor of Books, Ink at HamletHub.

Connect with the author:   Website   ~   Twitter

And now for the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: Thanks to the author for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Birds of Passage: An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story by Joe Giordano (Review and Giveaway!)

Birds of Passage: an Italian Immigrant coming of Age Story by Joe Giordano
Harvard Square Editions
ISBN: 9781941861080
Published: October 8, 2015
Trade paperback, 274 pages

Book description:

What turns the gentle mean and the mean brutal? The thirst for wealth? The demand for respect? Vying for a woman? Birds of Passage recalls the Italian immigration experience at the turn of the twentieth-century when New York's streets were paved with violence and disappointment.

Leonardo Robustelli leaves Naples in 1905 to seek his fortune. Carlo Mazzi committed murder and escaped. Azzura Medina is an American of Italian parents. She's ambitious but strictly controlled by her mother. Leonardo and Carlo vie for her affection.

Azzura, Leonardo, and Carlo confront con men, Tammany Hall politicians, the longshoreman's union, Camorra clans, Black Hand extortion, and the Tombs prison.

My review:

Italian historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so it's no wonder that I was immediately attracted to this book. And I was not disappointed. Joe Giordano's telling of two young men from Naples, Leonardo, the beloved son of a poor farmer's wife, and Carlo, the coddled son of their wealthy landlord who make their way to New York in 1905, is filled with drama, despair, longing and hard choices.

It's not a morose tale, but one that spells reality, a reality that many immigrants, and in this particular case, Italian immigrants lived through. Giordano's own relatives did so and so did mine. My great-grandfather immigrated to Boston, my grandfather to Montreal followed by my father years later after he married my mom in Rome. So like the author, I grew up hearing immigration stories with parents who made sure we had a good education and took advantage of everything our country could give us.

The story takes place both in Naples, Italy and in New York. I was transported to these locations easily with Giordano's descriptions. His crisp writing was perfect for this kind of story. The dialogue clipped and direct. I was totally immersed in the story, pulled into the stark reality of immigrants trying to make a life for themself, caught up in Leonardo's innocence and watching as it was slowly stripped away. The characters are well developed and even the secondary characters get background information. I could easily see this book being made into a move because the compelling story, the realistic characters and the setting were all superb.

There were several layers to this story as it explored the themes of family obligation, vendettas, deciding between right and wrong, familial love, and women's independence. Leonardo struggled with these choices (both his and others), while Carlo followed his gut instincts even when they led to terrible actions. Azzura, the young woman they both fell in love with, also struggled but she made the right choices for herself, even if they were hard and initially caused her heartache. I admired her.

This was a story that made me think. It made me realize how difficult immigration must have been for my relatives, how heartbreaking some choices must have been. Of course, the ugly side of the mafia rears its head and although our parents shielded much of it from their children, they had to have lived in fear of its domination.

There are some rough scenes in the book, religious profanity and violence in the form of brutal killings, but none of it is too excessive considering the setting and circumstances of the story. Giordano is a gifted storyteller whose realistic stories pull you in and bring you back to the turn of the 20th century, where the back-breaking work and sweat of immigrants paved the way for a better future for all generations. 

To read more reviews, please visit Joe Giordano's page on Italy Book Tours.

Buy the book:

eBook Promotion: 

The Kindle copy of Birds of Passage will be free to download for five days starting the day after the end of this virtual tour (Saturday, November 7th through Wednesday, November 11th)

About the Author:

Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. His father and grandparents immigrated to New York from Naples. Joe and his wife, Jane have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and the Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their shih tzu Sophia. Joe's stories have appeared in more than sixty magazines including Bartleby Snopes, The Newfound Journal, and The Summerset Review.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

And now for the Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure : Thanks to the author for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.