Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Well, it's about time I begin to tell you about some of the good reading I've been doing. One of my favorites is the new one from Isabel Allende. I will admit that I've never been a big fan of her works, although various book clubs I've been in seem to think she's an absolute imperative to read. but

The Japanese Lover
really sang to me.

The Publisher says:
In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.

Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

My Take:

I was drawn to young Irina and the beautiful relationship she forms with Alma. Each woman has something to offer the other. Allende shows us respect, love, the need for privacy, and the importance of autonomy as Alma ages and Irina matures. It's a lovely gentle although at time disturbing story, with an ending I didn't see coming. I loved the setting, mourned with both as they came to grips with losing loved ones, and found my hopes enlarging as life progressed.  Her compassionate and objective description of the suffering of Japanese Americans as they were interned definitely added a complexity to the story.  A gorgeous story, strongly recommended.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

 With the publication of this 11th book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, Louise Penny continues to delight her many fans.  Each book builds on the previous ones, but can stand alone.  This newest, to be published next week, introduces new characters - something we see in each volume - and a more developed and nuanced view of evil -both from an historic point of view and as it pertains to today's world situation.

For those who are looking for cafe au lait and brioche by the fire in the bistro, and quirky quips from Gabri and Ruth, they are there, but they are more solemn, more philosophical, and not as lighthearted as some readers may prefer.

No true Gamache fan would dare give away a plot, and it was for this reason that I even refrained from reading the little tidbits that Miss Louise doled out over the last couple months.  I wanted to read the entire book cover to cover so that I could feel the building tension, keep my mind spinning with all the marvelous possibilities Penny builds into her stories, and sit back with a grand sigh of satisfaction when the last page is read.  Once again , she does not disappoint.   The characters are the same (but they continue growing), the setting is the same (Three Pines after all is another character), and there is a murder.  But the plot, the motivations, the murder itself, and the side/subplots are just new and different enough to make the reader, and the true fan say "She's still at the top of her game."   It's magnificent.  Don't miss it.

Many thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available.  I ordered a copy of the audio version from Audible, and can't wait to download it on publication day.  The divine Miss P's books are always good for a re--read and a listen.

Title: The Nature of the Beast 
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher: Minotaur Books (2015), 384 pages
Genre: Mystery - police procedural
Subject: crime solving a current murder and a possible future Armageddon
Setting: fictional village of Three Pines
Series: Chief Inspector Gamage Novels #11
Source: electronic ATC from publisher via Edelweiss
Why did I read this book now?  I couldn't wait any longer.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Moving Day!


Today is finally the day when my daughter's "stuff" will get delivered to her new house near Wimbledon. It's been interesting trying to decide (even with a notebook full of measurements, a good measuring tape, and frog tape to mark spots on the floor) where everything is going to go. It will be especially challenging to see how clever the removal persons can be about getting several pieces up to the 1st and 2nd floors. The stairs are narrow and steep. The hallways are narrow and angled. I fear it will be a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng day.

Tutu's job is going to be supervising the Internet installation, ground floor box unpacking and figuring out how to use the all-in-one washer/dryer to do laundry we've been piling up for a week. Last night we ran a mixed load of light cottons, and it took over 4 hours to do the one load. Very different from our US style of getting three loads done in 4 hours.

Must also be sure the kettle is hot and the cups are ready for tea. Stay tuned.  More to follow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fun in Merry Olde England

I'm one of those people who has so much fun sightseeing that I often forget to take pictures. One day earlier this week, I headed off to Foyles, one of the city's largest bookstores just to roam around. Baggage restrictions kept me from buying anything except a couple tour books, but I did jot down a list of books I'd never seen in the US. I don't even think I'd seen them in US book review literature. They will make a wonderful wish list for the daughter to give Tutu for upcoming gift-giving opportunities, or for Tutu to plan into her next packing allowance.

After book drooling and other window shopping, I headed off to find a good spot to grab a bite to eat.  One of the best sights I saw walking around the South Bank and the Thames River walkway happened when I looked up as I was waiting to cross an intersection near Waterloo station. I caught this rather iconic photo of two of the best sights London offers: Big Ben and the London Eye. The weather was perfect, and I even avoided having someone walk directly in front of me as I clicked.  It was a perfect day.  Just enough walking, good sightseeing, good transport (can't beat public transportation in London) and good food. 

I'm looking forward to the weekend, when Lisa and I will be ready to take off for the theatre (we have tickets to see BOOK OF MORMON), dinner and then some more sightseeing on Sunday.   Next week we'll be spending all our time trying to get the house in order before I fly back to US to begin planning my next trip over.  Stay tuned for more.

And I am still reading....just finished the newest Louise Penny novel The Nature of the Beast.  Pub date: August 25th.  My review will post in a couple days.  It's a stunner, so don't miss it.  Now I'm about to dive into a pre pub copy of Elizabeth George's newest Inspector Lindley mystery set here in England.  I love reading these and now being able to say "I've been there!"

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Our souls at Night by Kent Haruf

The world lost an exceptional writer when Kent Haruf died in November 2014.  I think Our Souls at Night, his farewell offering, is by far the most eloquent and bittersweet of all his works. The publisher gives us a detailed description almost as long as the book itself.  I won't quote it, or spoil the story but it begins
In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf's fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have long been aware of each other, if not exactly friends; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis's wife. His daughter, Holly, lives hours away in Colorado Springs; her son, Gene, even farther away in Grand Junction. What Addie has come to ask—since she and Louis have been living alone for so long in houses now empty of family, and the nights are so terribly lonely—is whether he might be willing to spend them with her, in her bed, so they can have someone to talk with.
As the story progresses, Haruf's typical laconic prose pulls us into the arms of Addie and Louis as they negotiate their way through long buried feelings and share their past lives and adventures.  The arrival of Addie's grandson, who is almost "dumped" by her son in the midst of his marital problems, brings an added layer of richness to the elders as they reminisce about raising their own children in earlier days.

In such a small town, it is inevitable that Louis' nightly comings and goings are noted and commented on.  However, most residents adopt a "live and let live" attitude toward the unusual couple.  It is only when Addie and Louis' grown children become horrified at their parents' immoral, shocking, and embarrassing behavior, and try to destroy the relationship,  that the true melancholy of the loneliness of old age becomes apparent.

This is a short book, only 192 pages, but it is beautifully nuanced, and poignantly emotional.  The reader wants it to go on for another 100 pages, but Haruf, in his evocative style, is able to bring the story to a well-paced conclusion, even though our hearts break to read it.

Like all the books he wrote that are set in Holt Colorado, this one is destined to be a classic.  Whether you've read any of his earlier books (they can all stand alone) or this is your first, it will not disappoint.

Title: Our Souls at Night
Author: Kent Haruf
Publisher: Knopf (2015), Edition: First, 192 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Subject: aging, loneliness,
Setting: Colorado
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now?  I love the author's works.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Travel time - off to London

It's been a while since I did a real travel post. Most of our traveling this past year has been to visit various family members who live spread across the country. I'm just finishing a visit with my son's family (and those delightful grand-kids) in the Blue Ridge and this morning I am off to London for two weeks.  I've loaded up my tablet with books to review, and the Walkman has several audios available for quiet times.

Mr. Tutu is staying home to work on his next book...it's been slow going, but maybe he'll be able to make better progress without so many distractions. For Tutu, this is not going to be an actual tourist trip. My daughter is moving to London in connection with her job, and has invited me to help her get settled in her new digs. We decided that organizing and executing 19 moves in 26 years as a Navy wife qualified me to be a helper, and the prospect of some great mother-daughter time together was quite appealing.  Besides,  we can't spend ALL our time unpacking.  There are such things as shopping, shows, food, and sightseeing to cram into the schedule.

I'll be checking in while I'm there, and have scheduled a couple reviews to post for books I've recently finished, so hopefully you'll find something inspiring to read while I'm gone.  Enjoy your August.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: Newport by Jill Morrow

The publisher calls this "A skillful alchemy of social satire, dark humor, and finely drawn characters".  It certainly fills that bill.

Up front, Newport is one of my favorite cities.  My husband and I met there, and subsequently spent several years living there.  We returned there about a year ago for a short reunion trip after an absence of almost 20 years.  It's still glittering, glamorous, and filled with sights, sounds and smells of the ocean, although now one drives across a huge bridge rather than riding the ferry across to Aquidneck Island as we well remember.

Jill Morrow captures that atmosphere using the clever scheme of alternating views from 1898 and the roaring 1920's.   Her main characters, adults who come together to observe a rather unorthodox wedding/will signing, find themselves immersed in contact with other-worldly characters from the past.

In short, the wedding to be celebrated is one that has been directed by the octogenarian groom-to-be's long-deceased first wife, who appears to the prospective bride's "niece" commanding that this wedding must take place forthwith, and that a new will must be signed immediately, leaving all the groom's sizeable estate to the new bride.  Since this essentially cuts the two adult children of the first marriage out of the inheritance, there is some family tension being generated by the interloping new bride.

To add even more mystery, the groom's attorney, who has journeyed from Boston to draw up the new will, appears to have been previously involved somehow with the potential bride.   There's lots of mystery, several seances, plenty of period fluff scenes of stereotypical rich folks enjoying their inheritances, and spending their considerable wealth on frivolity and ostentatious "summer cottages".

It's a well-drawn period piece.  The setting is spot-on, but the characters are a bit over the top for my taste, and the story is way too melodramatic.  That said, it's been a wonderful summertime read, and one that should be quite popular to readers of romance/historical fiction.

Title: Newport: A Novel
Author: Jill Morrow
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (2015), 384 pages
Genre: Romance, historical fiction
Subject: Seances, family secrets
Setting: Newport Rhode Island
Source: Review copy from the publisher 
Why did I read this book now? I received a copy in connection with the Early Review program on LibraryThing.com and promised a review.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Review: Black River by S.M. Hulse

 The publisher whets our appetite for the story:
When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.
Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes — undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.
Tutu says: 
If ever a book were written to bring me out of a reading funk, this one is it. S. M. Hulse, in her debut novel, has given us an anguished and compelling tale of love and regret, condemnation and forgiveness, life and death, acceptance and rejection.  She sets the story in the starkness of Montana mountains, leading several reviewers to declare the book to be a "western".  The theme however, is much more universal.  This story of human tragedy could take place in any small town in any part of the country.

Through an alternating series of flashbacks and current narrations, we follow the life of Wesley Carver, his wife Claire, his step-son Dennis, and assorted friends, co-workers, and relatives.  The story of the prison riot and its impact on his life is the center piece.   The theme of faith, forgiveness, goodness and evil provides the underpinnings.  Watching Wes as he works through his grief over Claire's death, his feelings about the impending parole hearing for the prisoner who held him hostage, his relationship with his estranged step-son, and how he deals with the loss of the musical ability he took such joy in gives the reader a poignant tale of heart-breaking beauty.

The writing is clean, poetic, full of imagery and emotion.  The story is short (only 232 pages,) and well-paced, without an extra word, but with the ability to paint scenes that bring us to tears.  Even the ending is exceptional.

This is the best book I've read this year.  I can't wait to see more by this author.

Title: Black River
Author: S. M. Hulse
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015), ebook 240 pages 
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Grief, redemption, personal relationships
Setting: Montana 
Source: Electronic review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now?  It is being considered for the Maine Reader Choices Award.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

It's very hard to rate/review this one.  On the one hand, it's not too well written.  Dialogue is preachy, characters and their time frame go back and forth and are hard to follow, and while there's plenty of racial/family tension, I wasn't quite able to decide whether anything was resolved.

I think all the hype about the book also made it difficult to judge.  I don't think it was meant to be an "enjoyable" read.  I suspect it was definitely meant to be a sociological polemic aimed at the Civil Rights movement of the 60's, and the "interference of the NAACP.   The point of view of the main character "Scout" Finch (of To Kill A Mockingbird fame) doesn't ring true to the Scout we already know and love, Atticus and Uncle Jack are given some decent chances to expound, but other characters are given short-shift.  The whole thing just felt very unfinished, and unworthy of what we know Harper Lee to be capable of.

I'm inclined to believe the suggestions I've seen that this is not a separate novel, but actually the early, very rough and unedited version of what would later (with a lot of good re-writing and editing) turn into the world famous Pulitzer winner.

Title: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Harper Collins 2015
Genre: Fiction
Subject: racism, segregation
Setting: Alabama
Source: Audible dowload

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos

The Publisher says: Sometimes the most powerful words are the ones you’re still searching for.

Charles Marlow teaches his high school English students that language will expand their worlds. But linguistic precision cannot help him connect with his autistic son, or with his ex-wife, who abandoned their shared life years before, or even with his college-bound daughter who has just flown the nest. He’s at the end of a road he’s traveled on autopilot for years when a series of events forces him to think back on the lifetime of decisions and in-decisions that have brought him to this point. With the help of an ambitious art student, an Italian-speaking nun, and the memory of a boy in a white suit who inscribed his childhood with both solace and sorrow, Charles may finally be able to rewrite the script of his life.
Tutu comments:  This is a beautifully written, multi-layered story, written in both third person (Charles Marlow) and some 1st person (Emmy Marlow).  There are letters, postcards, writing exercises, phone calls--in short, every form of oral communication we have at our disposal.  Except....Charles' son Cory has a very severe form of autism and does not communicate with words.  His signing becomes another language art that must be mastered by all with whom Cory has contact.

The story can be difficult to follow at times, but Kallos has a way of bringing us back to the center before we become lost.   There is such a rich cast of characters who add to the complexity of the story, keeping us alert to how each fits into the deeply textured landscape of the lives of each member of this family.  It is a stunning read: introspective, artistic, lyrical, heart-breaking and definitely one worth reading.

Title: Language Arts
Author: Stephanie Kallos
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015) 416 pages 
Genre: Literary Fiction
Subject: Autism, family relations

Series: Source: Why did I read this book now?

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.
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.

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.

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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.