Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen


The Publisher says:
Madeline Hyde, a young socialite from Philadelphia, reluctantly follows her husband and their best friend to the tiny village of Drumnadrochit in search of the Loch Ness monster—at the same time that a very real monster, Hitler, wages war against the Allied Forces. Despite German warplanes flying overhead and scarce food rations (and even scarcer stockings), what Maddie discovers—about the larger world and about herself—through the unlikely friendships she develops with the villagers, opens her eyes not only to the dark forces that exist around her but to the beauty and surprising possibilities as well.
Tutu comments:  I wasn't sure that I liked this one as it started.  I found the three main characters stereotyped and obnoxious.  However, as the story unfolded and Maddie is forced to face life's realities without the money or social backing she was used to in the US, I found myself rooting for her and hoping that she would survive the wartime experience, and the apprarent and devastating betrayals of husband and friend.

It's a beautiful story, with romantic characters, heart-stopping episodes of violence and loyalty, and the opportunity to absorb some history as well.  I only wish the characters hadn't been typecast as rich, spoiled brat Americans.  That character drawing made it just a bit too hard to accept. It's still a good solid read, but certainly not Pulitzer material.

Title: At the Water's Edge
Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (2015), 368 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Subject: Loch Ness monster
Setting: Scotland during World War II
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now?  It was being considered for the Maine Reader's Choice Longlist.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler


The Publisher Says:

"Dear Mr. Watson, I came across this book at auction as part of a larger lot I purchased on speculation. The damage renders it useless to me, but a name inside it—Verona Bonn—led me to believe it might be of interest to you or your family...."

Simon Watson, a young librarian on the verge of losing his job, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home—a house, perched on the edge of a bluff, that is slowly crumbling toward the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a traveling carnival reading tarot cards, and seldom calls.

On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious package from an antiquarian bookseller.... Why does his grandmother's name, Verona Bonn, appear in this book? Why do so many women in his family drown on July 24? Could there possibly be some kind of curse on his family—and could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in six years, risk the same fate in just a few weeks? In order to save her—and perhaps himself—Simon must try urgently to decode his family history while moving on from the past. 
The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books and family and magic.

Tutu comments:  First of all - it's about a book.  It's about a librarian, and it's all about the reference and research functions of a library.  What's not to like?  A delightful give and take flight of fancy and fantasy.  Often I dislike books that try to wrap an ancient family history into a present day reality. However, this time Erika Swyler held my interest from the start.  The fascination of the old book, the traveling circus, the tarot readings (a subject I knew little of), together with the present day romance, the looming disaster of the crumbling house, and the just below the waterline mystery of the identity of the antiquarian bookdealer all combined to keep me up late for two nights while I finished this one.

The subject matter: the antique book, the storm damage, the loss of job, fortune telling, ancient circus tales combines with eloquently drawn characters: an out-of-work librarian, a tattoo'd circus strong man, neighbors who may be more than just neighbors, a mute wild man, a human 'mermaid' who can hold her breath underwater for more than 10 minutes.   All of these disparate elements are woven into a colorful, soulful tale of life before and life to come, of unrequited love, lost love, and love recovered.  An engaging first novel.  I will definitely be on the look out for more by this author. 

Title: The Book of Speculation
Author: Erika Swyler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (2015),e-book, 352 pages
Genre: Literary fiction, fantasy
Subject: Circus performers, mermaids
Setting: Long Island Shoreline
Source: electronic galley from the publisher via Net Galley

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: The Precipice by Paul Doiron


In this action packed suspense mystery, the publisher whets our appetite with a blurb that almost spoils the story.  Here's the opening:
In this riveting new novel from Edgar finalist Paul Doiron, Bowditch joins a desperate search for two missing hikers as Maine wildlife officials deal with a frightening rash of coyote attacks.
When two female hikers disappear in the Hundred Mile Wilderness-the most remote stretch along the entire Appalachian Trail-Maine game warden Mike Bowditch joins the desperate search to find them.
Hope turns to despair after two unidentified corpses are discovered-their bones picked clean by coyotes. Do the bodies belong to the missing hikers? And were they killed by the increasingly aggressive wild dogs?
Paul Doiron continues to improve his story-telling skills in this latest of the Mike Bowditch series set in the northern woods of Maine.  The story contains mystery, romance, animals (both human and wild), and a tale of egos, gorgeous scenery, and high adventures in the Maine Wilderness.

I don't want to spoil the story.  It's a fast-paced, page turning look at the multi-facted life of Maine Game Wardens as they go about protecting land, people, resources, and wildlife.  Mike Bowditch is maturing as a character, Paul Doiron is maturing as a writer, and that all adds up to a treat for the reader.


Title: The Precipice
Author: Paul Doiron
Publisher: Minotaur Books (2015), e-galley 336 pages
Genre: Mystery
Subject: Missing persons
Setting: Northern Maine woods
Series: Mike Bowditch (6)
Source: review copy from publisher via Net Galley
Why did I read this book now?  I'd read the earlier books in the series and had a chance to get a review copy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Three Worth Mentioning - Non Fiction

Although the majority of my reading is fiction, I periodically like to step out of the world of make-believe and read something that is true to life.  Over the past few months, I've been enriched by several volumes on different subjects.

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

I lived in Hawaii for over 2 years back in the 70's and was fascinated about the history and cultural background that accompanied the beautiful and magical landscape. Sarah Vowell's well researched and organized story of the Hawaiian Islands presents the geography, history, the various ethnic groups, the food, the music, the poetry, the myths, the treachery and the language in a low-key but mesmerizing prose.

I'm a definite fan of audio books, so chose to listen to this one.  Sarah Vowell's quirky, fun delivery of her writing added a lot for me.  She definitely helped us to understand where her humor was responsible for tongue-in-cheek asides, where the straight history was being presented, and where she was drawing inferences based on various bits of info, especially where one might not have normally drawn such conclusions.

We are introduced to the various ethnic groups who populated the islands, the mythical and magical stories that form so much of the Hawaiian charm, and the unquenchably greedy grasping of big money big politicians in Washington whose quest for territory is one of our country's less than stellar moments in history.  Altogether an enchanting read, and one which will appeal for a variety of reasons.
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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End  by Atul Gawande

I agree with the many reviewers who urge that everyone should read this book.  Since that is of course not going to happen, perhaps the better goal would be that everybody should have the chance to be exposed to the ideas and ideals delineated so clearly by Dr. Gawande.  In clearly written prose, Gawande explains why it is that doctors are not giving patients the information they should have to navigate the many options available as a person nears the end of life.

The story is compelling, non-frightening, and utterly believable as he tells of how his own father, a renowned physician, dealt with his impending death.  We are introduced to concepts that are all too often brushed aside, glossed over, or even ignored, as doctors (who are trained to cure and keep people alive) bumble along without the proper training in how to help people make intelligent and life-enhancing choices.  The phrase I liked best was his insistence on getting terminal patients to think about "How do you want to live the rest of your life?  What would you like to do with the time you have left?"  By offering patients the opportunity to decline painful, expensive and often extraordinary medical procedures to gain only days or weeks of agony so they can live out their remaining time alert and without added physical distress, he shows us a new and more humane model for coping for life's natural end.  Highly recommended.
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NPR American Chronicles: First Ladies

A delightful introduction to a collection of first lady vignettes. Cokie Roberts introduces this series of NPR podcasts, which present us with some well-known, some little known tidbits of information, gossip, facts and inferences about many of our favorite first ladies.

Not exactly a book, I received this short CD assortment as part of the ER program.  The individual segments are the perfect length for travel listening.  Well written, well researched, and absolutely fascinating.  It has certainly enhanced my quest to read biographies of all the presidents.  I definitely plan to add some fuller bios of the interesting ladies.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

 I was really disappointed in this big, slow, lumbering story.  Based on the author's previous work, I expected to enjoy the novel.  Instead, I found myself struggling for over a month to get anywhere close to finishing it.  Perhaps  Barrows was trying to give the reader the experience of life in slower times, but she only succeeded in giving the reader a glimpse into a life of total tedium.

Based on the publisher's blurb, I thought we'd get more of the flavor of the effects of the Great Depression on a small town in West Virginia.  The publisher says that the main character Layla Beck imagined that she "was destined, in her own opinion, to go mad with boredom".   I'm not sure if she really did, because before I could find out if Layla did,  I certainly came close to that state myself.

Too many insipid, unbelievable characters with too many agenda, and nothing spinning anyplace but around in circles.  Probably it would have been a good story if an editor had helped tighten it up, but I gave up about 3/4 of the way through.  Even a good ending isn't going to save this one.

Title: The Truth According to Us
Author: Annie Barrows
Publisher: The Dial Press (2015), Hardcover, 512 pages
Genre: Claims to be historical fiction - long on fiction, very short on history
Subject: wish I could have figured it out
Setting: fictional West Virginia town during the Great Depression
Source: review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? I received it as a participant in LibraryThing.com's Early Reviewer program and was committed to review it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

In his stunning debut novel, Christopher Scotton has given us a powerful story of life, death, greed, family relations, friendship and growing up.  Set in rural Appalachian Kentucky, we meet people who are trying to honor their roots, raise and feed their families, preserve a way of life, and teach the next generation the value of the land and its resources.

I was blown away by this one.  The camping, hiking, hunting, tramping scenes are not subjects I'm normally fond of, but Scotton's descriptions and his ability to spin not only believable but spectacular dialogue made this one a true page turner for me.

There are heart-wrenching and poignant scenes of incredible sadness.  There are heart-warming and rewarding scenes of astonishing acts of friendship.  There are scenes of such devotion, love and bravery that I was often on the verge of tears.

And the prose.....Ah....the prose.  It is sparse, clipped, poetic, insightful, artistic and often breathtaking.  I saw every picture the writer painted as he described mountains, buildings, caves, vegetation, and most especially love, respect, hatred, cunning, greed and bigotry.

After his younger brother dies in a horrifying accident, fourteen year old Kevin and his mother come to Medgar Kentucky to spend the summer with his grandfather, hoping to help each of them mend.  Here they encounter a town caught in a battle over strip-mining, leveling the surrounding mountains, and polluting the waterways.  The opposition is led by a recently outed homosexual in this small-town, Bible-belted setting.  Here Kevin meets Buzzy Fink, outdoorsman extraordinaire. Buzzy witnesses a horrific crime and struggles with what to do with the knowledge.  On a harrowing camping trip with Grandpa, both boys learn their true strength, both moral and physical.

An adult Kevin narrates the story, giving us the benefit of his hindsight, but never lets us loose the pit-of-the-stomach moments the teenagers experience.

Definitely one of the best books of the year for me.  I was so enamored, I also borrowed the audio from  the public library.  The narrator, Robert Petkoff, gives us the pitch perfect accents of the areas, varies the voices so the listener is never in doubt about who is speaking, and cements this debut novel in the top ranks of literary fiction for 2015.  Don't miss it.

Title: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
Author: Christopher Scotton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (2015),  480 pages;
Audio:  Hachette Audio and Blackstone Audio; Unabridged edition (January 6, 2015)
Narrator: Robert Petkoff
Genre: literary fiction
Subject: coming of age; bigotry, greed, strip-mining
Setting: rural Kentucky
Source: Public library

Sunday, July 12, 2015

She's back.....sort of

As you can see, there's been a huge gap in posting here in Tutuland for the past two months. I have been reading but real life has definitely been using up any extra time I used to have for reviewing books I've been reading.   In fact, real life has even gotten in the way of reading. Most of my interaction with books has been late at night in the form of re-listening to mystery series with characters who are like old friends.  I've been especially devoted to Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and Inspector Thomas Lynley.

I'm not sure whether I'll have a regular schedule of reviews up anytime soon.  We've had two deaths, several serious illnesses, and other changes in life situations in our extended families and those are taking 6-10 hours a week of telephone time, in addition to emails, unexpected cross-country flights, etc.   Both Mr. and Mrs. Tutu are fine and in good health, but we're both trying to be good siblings, cousins, aunts/uncles, parents and grandparents. I hope you understand.

 I have finished one review which I'll post later this week, and hope to post at least tempting tid-bits when I come across one I feel needs a shout-out. Also, I'm planning some time in the UK next month to visit my daughter, so I'll try to line up a few posts to run while I'm gone.  In the meantime, pour the ice tea, call a loved one  and enjoy this beautiful summer.

If you want to be sure to catch my haphazard posting, subscribe via email at the bottom of the page.  That way we can stay in touch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spotlight: The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

Last week Skyhorse Publishing released the trade paperback edition of THE PROMISE by Ann Weisgarber.

In this critically acclaimed and award-winning novel, author Ann Weisgarber returns with a deeply moving story about the Galveston, Texas 1900 Storm, the worst natural disaster in the United States in the twentieth century. While there are accounts of what happened to the city of Galveston and its residents, little has been written about what happened to the families on the rural, isolated end of the island, something Weisgarber sought to remedy.

The story begins a few weeks before the storm and is told by two narrators. The first narrator, Catherine Wainwright, is a concert pianist fleeing scandal and Ohio society by marrying Oscar Williams, a recently widowed dairy farmer who lives on the island. The second narrator is Nan Ogden, the local young woman Oscar hired to care for his home and small, grieving son, Andre.

Nan has grown attached to Oscar and Andre, and she struggles to accept Catherine in the household. As for Catherine, she is overwhelmed by her secrets, by motherhood, and by the rougher surroundings. But when the hurricane strikes, Catherine and Nan are tested as never before.

About the Author:

Photo courtesy of Christine Meeker
Ann Weisgarber's latest novel  The Promise was
  •  shortlisted for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, making Ms. Weisgarber the first American to be a finalist for this UK prize.
 In the United States, THE PROMISE
  •  was a finalist for the Spur Award in Best Western Historical Fiction and The Ohioana Book Award for Fiction.
  • was a Women’s National Book Association Great Group Read, 
  • a Pulpwood Queen Pick for October 2014, 
  • and the Pulpwood Queen Bonus Book of the Year. 
Weisgarber’s first novel was The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, which actress Viola Davis’s JuVee Productions has optioned the film rights. For her first novel, Weisgarber was nominated for England’s 2009 Orange Prize and for the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. In the United States, she won the Stephen Turner Award for New Fiction and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. She was shortlisted for the Ohioana Book Award and was a Barnes and Noble Discover New Writer. Weisgarber serves on the selection committee for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction and is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. Originally from Ohio, she now divides her time between Sugar Land, Texas, and Galveston, Texas.

To learn more, please visit her website at http://annweisgarber.com.

 I reviewed this one last year when I was first published, and also had a chance to interview the author. My full review is here. I must say that I especially like the paperback cover.  It captures the mood of the book completely. If you didn't get a chance to read this last summer, definitely plan to put it in your beach basket for the upcoming season.  It's a stunning tale.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

I'll start by saying that I loved Rachel Joyce's earlier and companion book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and so was looking forward to this one.

I found Queenie's side of the story somewhat difficult to get into, but once I did, I was enchanted by the beauty of the philosophy espoused. It's a story that doesn't bear telling in a review because the reader needs to experience the feelings, the memories, the regret and the love.

I do think these two books are best read in tandem a fairly close time frame - I think I'd like to go back and read them together since I seem to have forgotten several scenes from the first. That said, I think Joyce has done a fabulous job writing this one as a stand alone. If I'd never read Harold Fry, this still would have been a credible read.

I received a review copy of this one through the Early Reviewer program.


Title: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
Author: Rachel Joyce
Publisher: Random House (2015), ARC, 384 pages
Genre: Fiction
Subject: Unrequited love
Setting: England
Source: ARC from publisher via LibraryThing.com's Early Reviewer program
Why did I read this book now?  I'd read the earlier story and wanted the other side.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Mystery Series - My favorite genre

Whenever I'm asked about comfort food, I can come up with an entire list of goodies that automatically make me relax, feel better about life, and mellow out. There's macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, pasta with grilled veggies, strawberry yogurt, cappuchino, anisette toast, hob-nobs, Lady Grey tea, etc.


But food isn't the only comfort goodie in my life. I can mellow out quite easily with a good fire in the fireplace, a cat in my lap, a comfy chair and a good mystery. I'm especially fond of mystery series where we get to meet the detective, private eye, civilian snoop, hero/heroine in the first book, and watch their character, motivation and interpersonal relationships develop as they solve an ever more exciting series of crimes (mostly, but not always murders). This year I resolved to give up doing lots of "hot off the presses" reviews for publishers, pulling back to spend my reading time catching up on some well-loved series and some other personal reading (e.g. the President's Biography challenge), so I haven't been blogging quite as much, but I certainly have been reading and enjoying it.


Mysteries have certainly been taking up the majority of my time, especially Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley/Barbara Havers series. I had read the first three years ago, and a few sporadically here and there since then. Last year I had such a wonderful experience re-reading Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series (capped off by a trip to Quebec to take the Bury Your Dead tour). Then I followed up last fall by reading Deborah Crombie's Duncan KinKaid/Gemma James series set in London.

So now I'm following Lynley/Havers around merry olde England. I started at the beginning, and just finished #7 Playing for the Ashes. Each of these books gives the reader not just a good mystery, and delightful, sometimes quirky characters, but they also manage to portray scenery, history, food, and ambiance. The juxtaposition of aristocratic Thomas (Earl of Asherton) Lynley and the street smart, hightop wearing, disheveled Sergeant Barbara Havers is the meat of the series.  I really can't wait to see what happens in their lives next.  But then I'm also  really getting excited to visit my daughter in London later this year to see some of these venues up close.

In addition to these, I'm sprinkling the European settings with mysteries of the American Southwest, both Ann and Tony Hillerman stories, and the Wind River Reservation series by Margaret Coel {Shadow Dancing and Killing Raven).



And finally, I went back to a mystery I read back in August 2009, the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Our bookclub is reading this one for this week's meeting. Back in 09 I decided that while it was a "cute" book, I wasn't sure I could stand an entire series. My re-read this past week has convinced me to go look up the second one. I think Flavia is a character who is going to grow on me.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: Inside the Obriens by Lisa Genova


The publisher says:
"From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a powerful new novel that does for Huntington’s Disease what her debut Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s."... Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure."
 Lisa Genova is a special scientist.   She has the  gift of being able to explain intricate and complicated diseases in language and concepts understood by non-scientific laymen. She is also able to write incredible descriptive fiction to give us  the details in a stark and compelling story that tells us what this disease feels like both to the patient and to family members who must live with the patient. 

In this case,  Joe Obrien, a 44 year old Irish Catholic policemen with four children, must now face the end of his career, and the fact that each of his children has a 50% chance of having inherited the disease. Each child now must face not only watching Joe die, but also must decide whether to undergo the testing that will tell them whether or not they too carry the gene and will all too soon begin to exhibit the same symptoms their father has.

Throughout the story, set in Boston, Genova shows us well drawn characters who struggle with real life issues as they wrestle with the pros and cons of knowing the future.  It's a powerful book, beautifully written and one that will certainly provide many thoughtful discussions among its readers.

Many thanks to publisher Gallery Books for providing an e-galley review copy through Net Galley.



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This one has gotten a lot of hype, and seems to enthrall, enrage, bore, delight, hold captive (choose all that apply) readers across a broad spectrum.  While it's been compared to GONE GIRL, the absence of GG's pages and pages of gratuitous sex made this one a better read for me.   Here's how the publisher describes it:
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.  And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Author Paula Hawkins has three different narrators relate the story.  The first, Rachel, is an alcoholic, subject to black-outs, depression, and on the verge of total melt-down.  Not up there at the top of the reliable witness category.  The second is the "victim?" Megan, who is missing  (sound familiar?)  The third, Amy,  is a neighbor of the missing girl, who also happens to be married to Rachel's ex-husband.   Not only are relationships a bit confusing at first, but as the story progresses, the reader becomes aware that none of these storytellers is reliable.   Who to believe?  What really happened?

While this device of multiple and/or unreliable narrators can add a great deal of suspense to a mystery, it has to be handled carefully to avoid descending into a farce.   Hawkins manages all the twists and turns admirably to give us a true page turner.  We don't even have to like these characters to have a ripping good read. I was really glad that I had not read any of the reviews before I picked this up in the library.  It's a book that deserves to be read with as little known up front as possible.


Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Press, 2015, 336 pages

Genre: Mystery - psychological thriller
Subject: Missing persons
Setting: London and environs
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now?  It jumped off the shelf yelling "pick me!"

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Review: Winter At the Door by Sarah Graves

Lizzie Snow, an experienced homicide detective from Boston, has come north to the farthest reaches of Maine to take a job in a small town where the sheriff is concerned about a string of suspicious deaths among former police officials.  We quickly learn that Lizzie is there only because she's looking for her missing niece, although we never quite seem to find out much about this missing girl.

In the meantime, the plot thickens as Lizzie settles into small town, winter-time life in rural Maine.   I've enjoyed Sarah Graves' "Home Repair is Homicide" series set in the same general locale, and actually thought this one was better written.   The characters are edgier and more sketched in, and the place descriptions are spectacular.  However, the plot really became very much like the runaway logging trucks that are the stuff of legends in the Maine wilds.   Way too much going on with no brakes on the wild ride.  We had little vignettes of quirky town characters, we had Lizzie fending off two suitors, both too good to be believed and too edgy to be comfortable about.   We had those suspicious suicides, out of control teenagers, and mysterious bad guys running around unnoticed.

I actually couldn't put it down because I had to see how all of these pieces would ever come together.   Graves does a reasonable job of tying up loose ends, and gives us a real kick-a surprise at the end, but there is still laundry hanging on the line at the end.   I guess this is her way of making us wait for the second installment.   I think there's plenty of potential for a good series here.   Lizzie Snow is definitely a female character with lots of pizazz.  I just hope that Graves isn't going to do one of these series where we are forever hanging waiting for the heroine to decide who's sleeping in her bed that night.  Lizzie appears to be too smart to let that go on for long.   Let's hope so anyway.

Title: Winter at the Door
Author: Sarah Graves
Publisher: Bantam (2015), Hardcover, 272 pages
Genre: Mystery - police procedural
Subject: murder and mayhem
Setting:Fictional town of Bearskill Maine
Series: Lizzie Snow #1
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers program
Why did I read this book now? I was given a review copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman


I never really got into Tony Hillerman's books, although there are many of them on my shelves since my husband is a big fan.  I did however get a chance to listen to this one last month while I was snowed in, and have decided that the Hillerman books are definintely worth adding to the my teetering TBR pile.  I especially liked the female protagonist in this well plotted story that paints a detailed picture of the police procedures employed when crimes occur on Native American reservations in the southwest.  I'm definitely going to be reading more of hers when they're published, and will be going back to look at Tony Hillerman's popular series.  Here's what the publisher tells us about this one.
 Anne Hillerman, the talented daughter of bestselling author Tony Hillerman, continues his popular Leaphorn and Chee series with Spider Woman's Daughter, a Navajo Country mystery, filled with captivating lore, startling suspense, bold new characters, vivid color, and rich Southwestern atmosphere.Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manualito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn't mean she's going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.Bernie and Chee discover that a cold case involving his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn, may hold the key. Digging into the old investigation, husband and wife find themselves inching closer to the truth, and closer to a killer determined to prevent justice from taking its course.



Saturday, March 7, 2015

the Fakir

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe: A novel by Romain Puertolas

This is one of the funniest farces I've read in a long time.  Available as a Kindle download from my local library, very reminiscent of  The 100 year old Man who climbed out the window and disappeared or a good old fashioned Three Stooges/Fawlty Towers/Monty Python slapstick.  A quick, quirky, belly-laugh out loud satire.  Absolutely delightful.  Get it and save it for a day when you need a quick and sure pick me up.
Here's a fer instance:
 "A fakir by trade, Ajatashatru Oghash (pronounced  A-jar-of-rat-stew-oh-gosh!) had decided to travel incognito for his first trip to Europe.  For this occasion, he had swapped his "uniform," which consisted of a loincloth shaped like an enormous diaper, for a shiny gray suit and a tie rented for peanuts from Dilawar (pronounced Die, lawyer!), an old man from the village who had, during his youth, been a representative for a famous brand of shampoo...."
In addition to the fun, the travel, and the outrageous puns, there's actually a teensy bit of a life lesson. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Port City Shakedown: A Brandon Blake Crime Novel


This first book in a new series is set in and around the Portland, Maine, waterfront. It introduces Brandon Blake, a loner who lives on his old wooden cruiser. Raised by his alcoholic grandmother after his mother was lost at sea, Blake learned to depend on himself. During an assignment for a law-enforcement class, Blake gets involved in a fight and is marked for payback by a soon-to-be-released convict. Meanwhile, questions surface about his mother's disappearance.(from the publisher)

Last year I read the 2nd in this series "Port City Black and White" but only got around to reading this 1st in the series when the paperback edition was offered through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. This is a very well done police procedural series with lots of room to grow. I especially like how Boyle shows us the early motivations that bring Blake to his career in the Portland police department.

I've gotten to know the city a bit more than I did when I read the previous volume and was very comfortable reading this. The crime story was especially well-plotted and I didn't see the end until it was upon me.  I don't do spoilers, but there was plenty of action, romance, and lots of clues to keep the reader interested. I did see that we were going to solve the crime, but I didn't realize what the crime was!!! A great story, and I'll definitely keep my eyes out for the next one in the series.


Title: Port City Shakedown
Author: Gerry Boyle
Publisher: Down East Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2014) 240 pages
Genre: police procedural, crime
Subject: gang fighting, smuggling
Setting: Portland Maine
Series:Brandon Blake crime mysteries #1
Source:Review copy from the publisher through LibraryThing.com Early Reviewer program
Why did I read this book now? I promised to do a review in return for a free copy.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Winter Reading Continues - Mini re-caps

The snow story is getting very boring. The weather forecasters don't even bother to spend much time on it other than to say "well another 3-6" by tomorrow--nothing to get excited about!" That just gives me more incentive to snuggle down and read. I've been doing a lot of reading, and have settled into a re-read of one of my favorite series - more on that later. I'll give you one big hint, it's not Louise Penny, or Deborah Crombie.

Anyway, I've finally finished all 25 of the Maine Reader's Choice long list, and I'm now re-reading a couple of them so I can decide how I'm going to vote. There were so many good ones this year that it's a really hard choice. I've been having such a good time reading and sorting through all the books in piles and stacked up on my Nook and Kindle, that I never got my weekly post done last weekend. Here's a mini re-cap of some more goodies to tempt you.


Everything I Never Told You 
by Celeste NG

I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  Character studies are one of my favorite fiction genres and this one gives us well drawn characters struggling with the racial and socio-economic issues so prevalent today.   It's a true page-turner.  Here's how the publisher describes it:
"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet. So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue-in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James's case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. ....  A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another"-- 
* * * *  

The Daughters of Mars
by Thomas Keneally
I got a review copy of this last year, and never had a chance to read it.  Like several others I've read recently, this one is large in size and scope.  In the past two years, I've done quite a bit of reading set in the World War I timeframe, but never had one set in the Dardanelles, nor did any of them feature Australian nurses. This one has been rightly described as epic.
"From the acclaimed author of Schindlers List comes the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters whose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the First World War. In 1915, Naomi and Sally Durance, two spirited Australian sisters, join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their fathers farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Though they are used to tending the sick, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first on a hospital ship near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front. Yet amid the carnage, the sisters become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger and also the hostility from some on their own side. There is great bravery, humor, and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the remarkable women they serve alongside. In France, where Naomi nurses in a hospital set up by the eccentric Lady Tarlton while Sally works in a casualty clearing station, each meets an exceptional man: the kind of men for whom they might give up some of their newfound independence if only they all survive. At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars brings World War I vividly to life from an uncommon perspective. Thomas Keneally has written a remarkable novel about suffering and transcendence, despair and triumph, and the simple acts of decency that make us human even in a world gone mad"--
 About half-way through my read I was able to borrow a copy of the audio format and it was absolutely splendid.  The print book has an excellent map inside the cover which made the reading even more enjoyable.  Definitely a keeper and one to re-read and loan to friends.

Friday, February 27, 2015

We are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

This one has been sitting on my e-reader since the publisher sent it for review last October, and I finally got a chance to read it.  This is what they gave me to tempt me :
Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed. Eileen can't help but dream of a calmer life, in a better neighborhood. When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she's found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn't aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream. Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives...through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a powerfully affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away. Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves is a testament to our greatest desires and our greatest frailties."--
This is thoroughly engrossing story, even tho it drags a bit in the middle. I found the character of Eileen despicable although I suspect the author wanted us to have a great deal of sympathy for her. The slow and inexorable decline of the husband as he succumbs to early-onset Alzheimers is handled with discouraging and often depressing realism. At times, it appears the entire family is a train-wreck in the making, and then the reader realizes that may actually be what it feels like to live with this fearsome disease. The author may want us to see this as an epic portrayal of how life changed in the 1950s and 1960s, but it is more a study of the combination of impacts-- a disease of the brain and a huge case of greed.  It is certainly worth reading to get an idea of the devastating impact of Alzheimer's on not just the patient but the entire family, particularly in earlier times when it was not as well known, diagnosed, and discussed.

Title: We are Not Ourselves
Author: Matthew Thomas
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014), Edition: e-galley 640 pages 
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Adult on-set Alzheimer's
Source: e-galley from the publisher via Net Galley

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: The Free by Willy Vlautin

The stark title and cover of this books sets its tone, or so it seems if we are to believe the publisher's blurb:
Severely wounded in the Iraq war, Leroy Kervin has lived in a group home for eight years. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, he finds his existence has become unbearable. An act of desperation helps him disappear deep into his mind, into a world of romance and science fiction, danger and adventure where he is whole once again. Freddie McCall, the night man at Leroy's group home, works two jobs yet still can't make ends meet. He's lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative '' and dangerous -- proposition. Pauline Hawkins, a nurse, cares for the sick and wounded, including Leroy. She also looks after her mentally ill elderly father. Yet she remains emotionally removed, until she meets a young runaway who touches something deep and unexpected inside her.
Out of all this despair and desperation Vlautin gives us a story of hope, a glorious portrayal of humanity and humaneness as ordinary people struggle to get by in a world that sometimes seems capable of only dumping more and more pain and problems on their already bent backs.  Still these characters are able to reach through their pain to various degrees to offer friendship, caring and hope.

As a reader, I was drawn into this story before I knew it, and could not put it down.  Although it is dark, depressing and overwhelmingly sad at times, I finished the book with a feeling of optimism that all was not lost.

I received a copy of this from the publisher as part of my participation in the panel for the Maine Readers Choice Award.   It is one that is on the long list, and will certainly receive a favorable consideration from me to make the short list.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: Redeployment by Phil Klay


Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. 

 These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming. Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing. Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss. Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation"--

I almost rebelled when I saw that another book about the current Middle East war was on the list of those I had to read for the Maine Readers Choice Awards panel, but books don't win the National Book Award unless they're good, so after seeing the publisher's blurb above, I began reading. This one is everything everyone says it is. Klay has given us a series of characters in inter-related short stories portraying hope and hopelessness, horror and honor and comradeship and patriotism and empty nothingness. It is as much a book about coming home as it is about re-deploying.

By showing us the struggles of several different players who don't always star in the war flicks, Klay allows us to soak up the utter distress experienced by troops who are sent into the fracas that is Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to ground troops engaged in the daily task of avoiding IEDs, we see a chaplain whose Christian beliefs are sorely tested by his inability to provide any true comfort or support to soldiers trying to deal with the emotional impacts of death and destruction; we get a glimpse of the non-military component of our foreign policy by accompanying a Foreign Service officer as he tries to help Iraquis "improve their lives" by learning to play baseball; and we accompany a mortuary officer as he collects the remains of victims -both US and Iraqi.

Redeployment is a book to be read, to be re-read, to be discussed, and most of all to be taken to heart by all who haven't had the privilege of serving.  It is only after absorbing some of the emotion Klay confronts us with that our rote offering of "thank you for your service" will have any depth.

My thanks to Penguin Press for furnishing the review copy of this one.

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION - 2014
Title: Redeployment
Author: Phil Klay
Publisher:Penguin Press HC, The (2014), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 304 pages
Genre: Fiction - short stories
Subject: War stories
Setting: Iraq/Afghanistan
Source: review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? It is on the longlist for the Maine Readers Choice Award