Saturday, January 24, 2015

Weekly Wrap - January 24th

This has been good reading week. In addition to our monthly book club meeting, I was able to make more progress on the Maine Reader's Choice Long list, visit with a cousin who appears annually this time of year, get some preliminary tax filing paperwork done, try out a couple new recipes, and spend quite a bit of time in front of the fire (our high temp this week actually climbed to 43ish last Sunday. Overnight it consistently dipped to the 0° mark (sometime even going below!)

Weekly reads include:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami

 I really wanted to like this one, but it was a huge disappointment. I lived in Japan for 5 years so I recognized many of the locales and foods in the story, about the damaged psyche of a 20 something year old male whose friends dump him suddenly in his early college years.  He rambles around feeling sorry for himself, contemplating suicide, and struggling to relate to women until he can find out why he got booted off the team.  The ending is particularly "meh."  Frankly,the first word of the title describes the entire book perfectly; "COLORLESS".  Although the author would have us think this is his purpose to describe poor Tsukuru's life, it works for the whole book: it's just plain boring. The book jacket is the best part of the book.

* * * *

On Such A Full Sea
By Chang-Rae Lee

I'm having "conflictions" about this one. Parts of the story were cleverly written, a couple of the characters were well-drawn, but I just didn't get it, and I hated the ending. I don't normally do futuristic sci-fi, dystopia or futuristic looks at manufactured foods, manufactured family units, and regimented societies. This one has all of those elements and a story line that just didn't grab me, even with the cleverly and thinly disguised setting of my hometown, Baltimore.

* * * *

by Bret Anthony Johnson

A Stunner!   A true page turner.   I read this (not even in audio) in less than 24 hours.  Could not put it down.  Set in hot, muggy Corpus Christi Texas, it tells the story of the psychological impact of  child kidnapping, missing children search, on not only the immediate family of the victim but the community at large.  The characters are drawn in fine lines...we feel every emotion, we ride the emotional roller-coaster with them, and as a reader, you do not put this down until you're finished.  I can't tell the story without spoiling it, but it's definitely going into the hopper for my book club to discuss sometime this year, and it will be on my list of those I want to advance from the long to the short list for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.  5 stars.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday book box - January 17th

This week I've continued my reading and listening, and am now trying to catch up on the remaining volumes of the Maine Readers Choice Long List that I must finish by the end of next month.  Here's the list for the past week of what I finished:

A Symphony of Echoes
 by Jodi Taylor - #2 in the Chronicles of St. Marys series

As I've said before, I'm not a time-travel fan, but this series is so fun. I love the characters, the plots, and the whole insouciance of this group of "historians" who magically zip through time fixing things that weren't quite right in history, or even go forward a bit to see how things might be. In this one the group goes looking for Jack the Ripper, witnesses the murder of Thomas a Becket, tries to save Do=Do birds from extinction, and makes sure a would be interloper doesn't screw up the succession to the british throne in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Great fun in audio, and just what the doctor ordered as an antidote to an overdose of really heavy reading.

* * * * * * 

by Ben Ames Williams

It's taken me over six weeks to savor this 866 page chunkster.  It was worth every minute.  Our book club chose to read this one over two months, and I can't wait to get together with them next week to compare our reactions.  It is the story of the founding of the town of Union in the midcoast area of Maine.  In 1786 when the town was established there were 17 families and 75 inhabitants.   Although written as an historical novel, the people and events were all real, and many of the places, and names are familiar to those of us who live here in this area.  Union today has a population of 2300.  It is only 16 miles from where I live.

Starting in the 1770's and going until 1784, the story tells us how the central characters, Mima Robbins and Joel Adams, meet, court, eventually marry and ultimately produce 10 children; how they cleared the acres and acres of land of the thick forests of trees, planted crops, built houses, raised barns, hunted, trapped, lugged buckets of water, battled mosquitoes and black flies, and always, always, always had to be worrying about surviving the long cold winters.  Always the thought was "Come Spring everything will be OK".  As I sat here reading in my comfortable home with indoor plumbing, central heating, power, inter-connectivity with the world, instant access to news, enough healthy food to feed my family, and the knowledge that good medical care is only a 911 call away,  I was in awe of the strength, fortitude and independent spirit of those early settlers.  I don't know if I could have done it!

It's a lovely long winter's nap read and highly recommended to anyone who wants to get a real feel for what life was all about in the days of the Revolutionary War and the founding of our country.

It's not easy to find this one - not available in audio or ebook, but most libraries can get it for you.

* * * * * 
 Nora Webster
by Colm Toibin

Although I own the e-book, I devoured about 80% of this one in audio.  I loved the dulcet tones of  Fiona Shaw's narration.  It was perfect to tell the beautifully written story of Nora Webster, widowed at age 40, who had 2 grown daughters, and two pre-teen sons at the time her beloved Maurice died a painful premature death.  Toibin skillfully lets us into the terror she faces as she balances a precarious budget, learns to live a lonelier life, and eventually comes to terms with her change in status and opportunities.  A truly elegant story, one worth reading in any format.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday soup bowl

As you know, I said I wasn't going to do reviews for awhile, but I am going to try to use this space to keep a running list of what I've been reading, and if I'm so inclined, I'll add a few words about the books I've finished. The left side bar will always show what I'm currently reading in a variety of formats. For now, I'm aiming for a weekly soup bowl of entries noting what I've read in the past week.

As you can see, I'm still working my way thru COME SPRING which our book club will be meeting to discuss on January 21st. I'm not quite half-way thru it, so I need to get going. The story is interesting, especially since the setting is entirely within 10 miles of where I now live. It's just that the book is so darn BIG, and my arthritic hands, and light-sensitive eyes don't want to spend long periods of uninterrupted time with it. It is a prime candidate for an e-book format, but I have been unable to locate one.

In the meantime, I've finished two more books from the Maine Readers Choice Award long-list:

The Wind is Not A River by Brian Payton
I was really impressed. It's loosely the story of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Island chain (Alaska) during early WW II. Evidently the US Govt didn't want the general populace to know about this and kept it very hush hush. The story concerns a couple and their relationship, but it also is a survival story of how John Easley, a journalist who has entered the area without permission and, by virtue of his plane being shot down, is now stuck behind enemy lines without anybody's knowing he's there.

His wife Helen's part of the story - how she sets out to rescue him - is less believable, but as a love story it makes for a good read, and gives us a look into the early USO as it cobbled shows together to go entertain the troops.

* * * * *

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman.
This one was hard to follow at first, but eventually the reader figures out the time map and falls in love with Tooly Zylberberg and her eclectic and peripatetic "family."  The story goes back and forth to follow her life to such exotic spots as Bangkok, Australia, South Africa, Wales, Brooklyn. It's almost too convoluted to try to explain, and I suspect I'm going to read this one again---especially if it makes the MRCA short list (it's on the long list which is why I read it).  Next time, I may flip through chapters and read it linearly in time order. I also listened to the audio, presented by a spectacular narrator Penelope Rawlins in which she offers us a wide spectrum of voices and accents. A great book to start off the New Year.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another "Best of" List

Yes, I've been very absent from posting.  Real life and reading have seriously overtaken my reviewing time.  I'd considered shutting down the blog for awhile because I don't see having enough time to do serious reviewing, but I decided instead to change my focus.

For 2015, I am not going to solicit or accept from publishers (or authors) any new books for review. I'm still going to read, and I'm still going to blog about my reading but I need to remove the obligation I feel to write a review.   I found I was not reading books the way I want to at this stage of my life.  Instead of reading for fun, relaxation, or information, I've been reading with "what am I going to say in a review?" in my mind as I read.  No more of that for the foreseeable future.

I hope to give you at least a monthly update on what I've been reading and doing to keep busy with books, travel and life.  To start off the New Year, here's a list of the best books I read in 2014.  If I reviewed them, I've linked to the review.  The list is not in any particular order.

Benediction by Kent Haruf
Transatlantic  by Colum McCann
All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr
The Long Way Home  by Louise Penny 
Shotgun Lovesongs  by Nickolas Butler 
The Free by Wily Vlautin  
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson 
Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach
Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Several of these are books that I've read as a panel member for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.  The entire long list for the award for is listed here.  Do check out the list.  There are some fabulous reads there.   I for one am going to have a very difficult time choosing 10 out of that 25.  I'll keep you posted.   In the meantime, in addition to reading those books, I'm going to finish up some that I have promise reviews for and then concentrate on some non-fiction, some mysteries, and a few cozies.

I'm way behind where I'd wanted to be on reading presidential bios, I'm horribly behind on several series I want to continue, and January 16th is looming to close.  I'm supposed to be leading a discussion of Ben Ames Williams' epic novel of Maine "COME SPRING"  and I've only finished 185 of the 866 pages.   It's incredibly interesting, set right here where I live, and I want to dive in and not come up.  With projects like this looming, it's no wonder I'm suffering from blog neglect.

Once again, I wish you all a fabulous New Year, and promise to pop up in your feeders periodically.

Tutu starts another year.

Where ever you are, however you celebrate,
Tutu sends love and best wishes
for a year of health, peace and prosperity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: Etta May's Worst Bad Luck Day by Ann B. Ross

The Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross is one I've always enjoyed.  In this volume, the author serves up a previously ancillary character and makes her the star.  In this audio version I received from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program, the story rings clear, clean and very southern, but without the often insipid southern accent many readers find necessary to give the story authenticity.

Etta Mae is introduced to us by Miss Julia who tries very hard not to appear prejudiced against this "poor girl" who hasn't had all the right opportunities that life can dish out.  In fact, you can almost hear the phrase "poor white trash" bouncing through Miss Julia's head.

Etta Mae is trying to better herself.  To that end, she has become a certified home care provider and landed the plum job of caring for a very wealthy, but very sickly old gentlemen.  Visions of sugarplums (and dollar signs) dance through Etta Mae's head as she sets out to capitalize on her patient's obvious obsession to marry her while outsmarting the gentleman's grown son and daughter-in-law who are intent upon stashing him in a sterile old age facility well out of the reaches of Etta Mae.

The mad-cap shenanigans that befall all the players are almost over the top.  At times I thought I was reading an episode of Three Stooges meets Green Acres.  In the end, justice (of a sort) is done, and life goes on.

This is a pleasant, if zany, read that will help while away a pleasant weekend in the upcoming winter.

Many thanks to the publisher, Recorded Books for making this available.

Title: Etta Mae's Worst Bad Luck Day
Author: Ann B. Ross
Publisher: Recorded Books
Genre: southern fiction
Subject: getting rich quick
Setting: fictional town of Abbotsville NC
Series: Miss Julia
Source: review copy from the publisher

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: The Resistance Man by Martin Walker

I've been able to stay current with this one of my favorite series. Since France is one of the European countries where I've not traveled extensively and Walker's descriptions of the land, the landscape and the people impart an atmosphere of the area, I really enjoy the rural French setting.

Bruno Courrèges, the engaging Chief of Police of the small town of St. Denis, is still struggling with several romantic interests, but the author handles the conflicts without having Bruno come across as a Lothario, ladies' man, or in any way unpleasant.  He's just a friendly gentleman whose female acquaintances aren't always everything he'd like them to be.

Romance aside, this series offers not only mysteries, in this case murder and an ancient unsolved train robbery, but also gives the reader a charming history lesson.  The Resistance Man elucidates the often confusing story of various political and military factions that inhabited France during World War II, by reflecting the adventures of several elderly inhabitants of the town who served during that period. The story is further embellished with descriptions of delicious foods and the wines that accompany them.

The dust jacket tells us:
 A veteran of the Resistance dies, and among his possessions are documents that connect him to a notorious train robbery. A former British spymaster's estate is burglarized, the latest in a spree of expert thefts. An academic's home is broken into just as she is finishing a revelatory book on Frances nuclear weapons program. An antiques dealer is found brutally murdered, and his former lover, the number one suspect, is on the run. It's just another summer in St. Denis for Bruno, who must balance the constant barrage of demands on his time and expertise-including the complex affections of two powerful women, town politics (the mayor is having romantic problems of his own), his irrepressible puppy, Balzac, and nights entertaining friends and visitors with ever-sumptuous repasts-with a new focus on the mounting crime wave, whose seemingly unrelated events Bruno begins to suspect are linked.
This is an altogether charming series with plenty of meat on its bones.  At the end of episode 6, I'm now hoping that Bruno might soon find a more permanent relationship so we can watch as he turns his small farm into a burgeoning family homestead.

Title: The Resistance Man
Author: Martin Walker
Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc (2014)
Genre: mystery, police procedural
Subject: murder, train robbery, history and politics
Setting: fictional village of St. Denis France
Series: Bruno Courrèges 
Source: public library

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: River of Darkness by Rennie Airth

Tutu has egg on her face with this one.   I listened to the audio of River of Darkness back in August, and have had the book on my "write review" list since then.  I have several notations indicating I liked the setting, found the mystery compelling, and the protagonist engaging.  But my memory of the exact details of the story has dimmed.  I suppose that means that I may want to listen to it again.  It is however, the first in a series that looks like it may be just what I like in mystery series, so I'm going to go after #2, and hope that my memory gets refreshed enough to continue.  In the meantime, here is the publisher's recap:

In rural England, in a landscape shadowed by the sorrow of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by a murderous attack, which leaves five butchered bodies and no motive for the killings. Sent by Scotland Yard to investigate is Inspector John Madden, a grave and good man who bears the emotional and physical scars from his own harrowing war experiences and from the tragic loss of his wife and child. The local police dismiss the slaughter as a robbery gone tragically awry, but Madden and his chief inspector detect the work of a madman.

With the help of a beautiful doctor who introduces Madden to the latest developments in forensic psychology and who opens his heart again to the possibility of love, Madden sets out to identify and capture the killer--a demented former soldier with a bloody past--even as he sets his sights on his next innocent victims.

As darkly stylish as the best of P. D. James, rippled with tension and resonant with historical atmosphere, River of Darkness marks the debut of a powerful new voice in suspense writing and of a compelling character whom readers will long to know better.
Title: River of Darkness
Author: Rennie airth
Publisher: W.F. Howes Ltd./Clipper Audio ; Prince Frederick, Md. : Distributed by Recorded Books, p2002, c1999.  
Genre: mystery
Subject: murder, police procedural
Setting: rural England, post WWI
Series: John Madden
Source: public library
Why did I read this book now? It caught my eye while browsing the library.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another

If you've been a Tutu reader for any length of time, you've probably noticed that time travel is not my normal cuppa.  In life, however, there are always exceptions.   JUST ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER was highly touted by several people in my reading group over on LibraryThing, and when it popped up as the Amazon Kindle freebie of the day, I thought I might as well see what all the hype was about.

It was certainly worth the marketing ploy, because now I want all the rest in this series.  It's light, it's humorous, it's got a little bit of something for everyone.

The author presents us with a delightful heroine who doesn't quite realize what she's gotten herself into, but who has the uncanny ability to hop back and forth in historic times, to perhaps "adjust" history.  She's cheeky, she's industrious, she's brilliant, and even if Jurassic park wasn't your thing, the dinosaurs in this one will change your mind.

Publisher says:
 Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting. Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake.

Now I just have to pace myself, because this series is one I'm going to have to have.   I even paid for the "Whispersync" audio version from Amazon since the ebook was free.   That recording made it even more fun. 

Definitely worth trying the first one - it's still showing as free.  But beware, you'll be hooked.

Title: Just One Damned Thing After Another
Author: Jodi Taylor
Publisher/format: Accent Press Ltd (2014), ebook 332 pages, audio: Audio Studios
Genre: fantasy, time travel
Subject: time travel to various historic eras
Setting: England
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary's
Source: My own library
Why did I read this book now?  It was highly recommended by several readers I trust.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Finishing a beloved series

Whew!  It has been a busy autumn, but now that I'm finally back home in Maine and the air is definitely too chilly to sit outside and enjoy the view, so I have no excuse to keep me from catching up on blogging, reviewing, and yes - more reading!

Since I last posted any reviews,  I've finished 10 books, including the last three in the Duncan Kinkaid and Gemma James series by Deborah Crombie.  I was motivated to fill in the blanks I hadn't read after reviewing To Dwell in Darkness for the TLC Blog tour.  I've now completed that series, and can't wait for a new one to come out.  I'm not writing reviews because when I read a series one after the other, the story blends (as well it should) and the enjoyment is ruined for me if I have to sort out what happened when. 

Suffice it to say, all three of these were terrific reads.  I especially like how Crombie blends specific facets of London's neighborhoods and/or history to fashion a story.  Each book features the same characters, but the settings, and the criminals and their motivations are quite different.  She's exceptional at blending cold cases with new ones. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

We have a winner!

Deepest apologies to all my loyal readers and followers.  The recent Nor'easter that tore through Maine last week while we were visiting grandbabies left our area without power for several days.  When we returned earlier this week, our power was on, the heat was working, the cat was still speaking to us, BUT WE HAD NO INTERNET.

It is amazing how dependent we have become on that little work "connectivity".  We do have smartphones and were able to pick up email, and do some basic browsing, but anything requiring lots of typing was beyond the capabilities of the clumsy knarled fingers in this household.

So Tutu is quite tardy in announcing the lucky winner for Wiley Cash's newest tomeThis Dark Road to Mercy now out in paperback. has chosen an entry from


as our winner.   I have contacted her via email and she will have until 11: 59PM Sunday November 16th to get back to me with her mailing address.   Many thanks to all who stopped by.  I have tons of review opportunities stacked up and hope to get 2 or 3 a week posted between now and the end of the year.   This has been a year of incredible reading, and I'm anxious to share my thoughts with you.

Congratulations to Margie!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tutu's Newest Hobby

As many of you know, the title "Tutu" is actually the Hawaiian word for grandmother.

But living in Maine, Tutu doesn't get to see her grandchildren as often as some.

This past month we have been visiting our children and grandchildren here in the mid-Atlantic. The two darlings shown here have occupied a large chunk of our time, since the youngest darling Cameron Douglas just arrived two weeks ago. He weighed in at a whopping 9 lb, 6 oz, and yesterday at his 2 week checkup tipped the scales at 10 lbs. Big brother Adrian 4 1/2 (seen above) is taking good are of him and also keeping the 2 year old Australian blue heeler/Shibu Ino blend puppy occupied.  Our son and daughter-in-law  live in the Blue Ridge with very limited internet (and no TV!!) so my blogging opportunities have been severely limited.

We began our journey with a huge family reunion/90th birthday celebration for my mother in Baltimore two weeks ago. Over 65 family and friends came from as far away as Louisiana, Oregon and Texas to help her celebrate. It was a wonderful afternoon for all of us to get reacquainted with relatives we rarely see except for weddings and funerals.  Then we also attended Homecomig at the Naval Academy, visited several former neighbors and work associates before heading up here to the top of the mountain.

Of course while we've been gone, our little town in Maine was one of the hardest hit by the early snow storm this week. According to our fantastic neighbors who were looking after our cat, the house is safe, the cat is fine, but we did go almost three days without power, so I'm not sure about the state of our winter ice-cream stash we'd just put up.

Anyway, where this is leading is that while I've been doing some reading, I haven't been able to keep my eyes open to concentrate for any long period of time. Even my audio book listening has been severely limited. As soon as I plug my ears in, my brain seems to unplug and go to sleep. For the time being, I'm doing only Maine Readers Choice books, and a couple of LibraryThing Early Review books that I'm way overdue on for reviews.  I'm not sure I'll ever catch up....playing grandma is as much fun as reading!


Stay tuned though and I'll try to give you some thoughts on some of the excellent reading I have been able to finish. Enjoy your reading, your families, your friends, and whatever blessings you have received. We're all fortunate to have them in our lives and should never forget to be grateful.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

TLC BLog Tour: This Dark Road to Mercy - An interview with Wiley Cash & A GIVEAWAY!

Wiley Cash is one of my favorite authors.  In May 2013, I reviewed his debut novel
A Land more Kind than Home which was subsequently chosen to receive the Maine Readers Choice Award for the best literary fiction of 2014.

Then in February of this year, after I had the chance to meet Wiley Cash at an appearance in Portland,  I reviewed his next book This Dark Road to Mercy.   It was every bit as enjoyable as the first one.  Now the publisher is releasing Dark Road in paperback and asked if I was interested in blogging again about this talented author.  To herald the paperback version, we have a copy available to giveaway, and an interview with Wiley.
While I didn't have the opportunity to sit and have a beer with Wiley (that would have been my preferred venue to interview him),  I did get to submit some questions which he graciously answered for us.  Here's what we came up with.

  • Where do you get your ideas for stories?
    The idea for A Land More Kind Than Home took hold of me after I learned of a similar tragedy occurring in Milwaukee: a young autistic boy had been smothered to death at a store-front church during a healing service. The two girls from my second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, were inspired by two foster children I knew while growing up in Gastonia, North Carolina. And my third novel, which I'm hard at work on right now, is based on a violent 1929 textile mill strike in Gastonia that has nearly been erased from history.
    • What are you reading now?
    I'm always reading more than one book at a time. Right now I'm about a third of the way through Eliot's Middlemarch, a quarter of the way through Aslan's Zealot, and I have a handful of stories left in Klay's Redeployment.
    • Are you working on another book? Can you tell us a bit about it? When do you think it will be published?
    Right now I'm at work on a novel about the 1929 Loray Mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, which is my hometown. The novel centers on the life of Ella May Wiggins, who, by 1929 at the age of 29, had left the Tennessee mountains and settled in Gastonia, given birth to nine children (four of them died from poverty related illnesses), attempted to integrate the National Textile Workers' Union, and testified in front of Congress in DC. And then she was murdered after being turned away from a rally in support of jailed strikers. The novel is about Ella May's life and how her murder affects two generations of women: her now 96 year old daughter who's being interviewed by her great niece in an attempt to solve the mystery of Ella May murder, a murder for which no one was ever convicted.
    • You used the device of three different narrators/points of view in both of your books. What was the reason for that, and will you continue with that format in the next book?<
    I don't know that I'll ever use three narrators again, but I think I'll rely on different perspectives, whatever the form they take. I like to investigate the community's role in stories and how those stories affect the communities in which they unfold. These multi-perspective stories are great vehicles for that.
    • What writers influenced you to become a writer?
    Ernest Gaines, Thomas Wolfe, Toni Morrison, Jean Toomer, Charles Chesnutt, Flannery O'Connor, and many, many others. Contemporary writers who keep me going are Alice McDermott, Tom Franklin, Colson Whitehead, and many, many others.
    • Besides your own books, if you could give a gift book to a friend, what would it be?
    Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson. I'd say, "You need to read this before it wins the Pulitzer."

     In preparing for this post, I re-read (and re-listened to) several sections of this gripping tale of abandonment, betrayal, and family dynamics.  It has stood the test of time for me.  It was every bit as enthralling as it was the first time I read it. 

    The publisher has made a copy available for giveaway, so if you want a copy of this one, leave me a comment saying why you want to win.  You can get an extra entry if you go back and read Tutu's earlier reviews (just click the links in the opening paragraph above) and then tell me about something you read there.  Two reviews = two extra entries (each comment should be a separate entry including your email.)

    The giveaway is open to readers in the US and Canada.  Contest is open until 6:pm  (EST) Saturday November 8th. will choose a winner on November 9th.

    Finally, I'd like to thank Wiley Cash for his gracious interaction with his readers.  And thanks to Harper Collins for the chance to re-blog this one. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to review the next one (HINT Hint.) 
    photo by Tiffany B. Davis

    New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers.

    Thursday, October 16, 2014

    TLC Blog Tour : Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

    Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials

    I'd never heard of Rosie "Aunty" Lee before TLC Blog Tours offered me a review copy of Ovidia Yu's latest volume in this series.   I was attracted to it by the setting.  Singapore is one of my favorite cities and if you asked me why, I'd say without a second thought "The Food."  So when I saw a story set in Singapore about a little old lady who ran a restaurant and a catering business I was in.  Here's what the publisher said to entice me:

    Rosie “Aunty” Lee, the feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite

    "Rosie Lee is a terrifically original heroine.” —Louise Penny, author of The Beautiful Mystery

    Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation involving prominent citizens makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There’s no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee’s Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung at their opulent house.

    Rumor has it that the Sung’s fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sung’s house, her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is a storage house she discovers locked—and what’s inside? What is the couple arguing about behind closed doors? Where is the guest of honor who never showed up?

    Then, Mabel Sung and her son Leonard are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee’s special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. Aunty Lee has never carelessly prepared a dish. She’s certain the deaths are murder—and that they’re somehow linked to the organ donor scandal.

    To save her business and her reputation, she’s got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer whose next victim may just be Aunty Lee.

    I enjoyed the story, but found it to be a bit hard to follow.  There are numerous characters with similar names, and I needed to actually write down names and relationships to keep them straight.  The choppy dialogue was very disconcerting.   I couldn't tell if it was a poorly edited e-galley or if it was the author's attempt to replicate "pidgin" English ( or its Singaporean version).  The food descriptions were certainly enough to make me want to call my travel agent to book an immediate flight, but the murder mystery was a bit bland (OK, it's a cozy).  It was obvious from the beginning what was going on, and the machinations of Aunty (a nosy old lady if ever there was one) and her friends to out-solve the authorities (or convince them that a crime had been committed) got to be boring after a while.  I just wanted them to get on with it.   I liked the setting and the premise did offer some opportunities for mysterious undertakings. I certainly would recommend it to readers who like new and exciting settings, descriptions and recipes of good food, and a cast of crazy quirky characters.   I'm just not sure I could take an entire series of Aunty.  In view of Ms. Yu's background as a playwright, I'd bet this could be a great comedic play, movie, or TV series.

    Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had over thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries that have been published in Singapore and India. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.If you want to see more about Ovidia Yu's works,  you can visit on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

    Title: Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials
    Author: Ovidia Yu
    Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (2014)
    Genre: Cozy mystery, amateur sleuth
    Subject: illegal organ harvesting
    Setting: Singapore
    Series: Singaporean Mysteries
    Source: e-galley from the publisher via Edelweiss
    Why did I read this book now?  I am participating in the TLC Blog Tour

    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Review: When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood

     1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum’s youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, the televised grace of Jackie Kennedy—she too a Catholic widow with young children—galvanizes Mum to set off on an unprecedented family road trip to Washington, D.C., to do some rescuing of her own. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.

    Our local book club chose to read this one for our monthly discussion this week.  Set in Maine, it tells the author's family story of growing to adulthood in the same time frame as the majority of our members.  As such, it was a memoir for us too.  World events were the same ones we lived through. For several of us, the flashbacks to a pre-Vatican II catholic school education are almost chilling.  For all of us, the struggles of the family due to the father's death, and then the impending and always threatened closure of the paper mill (the town's major employer) are producing some dejà vu moments as several towns here in Maine are wrestling with exactly these problems of mill closures, bankruptcies, high unemployment and the despair that goes along with those events.

    It's a beautiful and poignant story that, in spite of the hardships portrayed for the children, is full of hope and promise. Wood writes from the heart, evidencing the close and loving structure of her family, and the solidarity of small town life.  Definitely a memoir worth reading.

    Title: When we Were the Kennedys
    Author: Monica  Wood
    Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (July 10, 2012), Amazon digital edition
    Genre: Memoir
    Subject:growing up after a parent's death
    Setting: Mexico Maine
    Source: my own digital shelf

    Wednesday, October 1, 2014

    TLC Blog Tour - To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie

    Finally, the newest Deborah Crombie is here, and it's every bit as good as the earlier ones in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series.  Crombie, like Louise Penny and Elizabeth George, has developed a tightly paced, historically enlightening, and personally edifying collection of stories set in modern day London.   I was thrilled when TLC blog tour announced that To Dwell in Darkness was being made available for reviewers.  Although I  had read about half of the earlier installments years ago, I did not have time to read the 8 I had missed along the way.  So, I was able to review this one almost like I'd never read any of the previous episodes.   I found this one works just as well as a stand-alone.  Crombie gives us enough back fill to flesh out characters who may be new to the reader, but doesn't feel the need to rehash every sentence of older segments.  This one centers around the rehabilitation of the area around historic St. Pancras station and gives us a broad brush of traffic, housing and other cross cultural issues as well as present day environmental debates, explosives, and out of control crowds. The publisher's blurb gives you just enough without giving away the plot:
     In the tradition of Elizabeth George, Louise Penny, and P. D. James, New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie delivers a powerful tale of intrigue, betrayal, and lies that will plunge married London detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James into the unspeakable darkness that lies at the heart of murder.
     Recently transferred to the London borough of Camden from Scotland Yard headquarters, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his new murder investigation team are called to a deadly bombing at historic St. Pancras Station. By fortunate coincidence, Melody Talbot, Gemma's trusted colleague, witnesses the explosion. The victim was taking part in an organized protest, yet the other group members swear the young man only meant to set off a smoke bomb. As Kincaid begins to gather the facts, he finds every piece of the puzzle yields an unexpected pattern, including the disappearance of a mysterious bystander.
    The bombing isn't the only mystery troubling Kincaid. He's still questioning the reasons behind his transfer, and when his former boss—who's been avoiding him—is attacked, those suspicions deepen. With the help of his former sergeant, Doug Cullen, Melody Talbot, and Gemma, Kincaid begins to untangle the truth. But what he discovers will leave him questioning his belief in the job that has shaped his life and his values—and remind him just how vulnerable his precious family is.
    Crombie is especially talented at keeping several story lines going at the same time.  We have the bombing, we have an upcoming custody battle concerning Duncan's son, we have developing friction in the personnel structure of Scotland Yard and the local police departments.  Duncan and Gemma are still adjusting to married life, their blended family, and the concerns of parenting a teen-ager.  Crombie is beginning to show us more of new characters that have recently appeared in the series: Melody and Doug.  Their motivations and personalities are increasing my interest and certainly have me already looking for the next book.  This one is a definite addition to the series.

    In my opinion, Deborah Crombie is one of the best detective crime writers working in the genre today.  You can follow her on her websiteFacebook or on Twitter.

    To see more reviews,follow the TLC

    Deborah’s Tour Stops
    Tuesday, September 23rd: Booksie’s Blog
    Wednesday, September 24th: 5 Minutes For Books
    Thursday, September 25th: Back Porchervations
    Monday, September 29th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
    Monday, September 29th: Drey’s Library
    Tuesday, September 30th: Helen’s Book Blog
    Wednesday, October 1st: Tutu’s Two Cents
    Thursday, October 2nd: A Bookworm’s World
    Monday, October 6th: Dwell in Possibility
    Tuesday, October 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
    Wednesday, October 8th: My Bookshelf
    Thursday, October 9th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
    Friday, October 10th: Book Addict Katie
    Saturday, October 11th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies

    Title: To Dwell in Darkness
    Author: Deborah Crombie
    Publisher:William Morrow (2014), Hardcover, 336 pages
    Genre:  police procedural mystery 
    Setting: London
    Series: Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James
    Source: review copy from publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  I'm a fan of the series.

    Thursday, September 18, 2014

    Review: A Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

    A Spinning Heart is a small book, written in a series of 21 short, concise, heartbreaking and/or heartwarming vignettes about the inhabitants of an unnamed town in contemporary Ireland.  Simply put, it's 156 pages of pure literary gem.

    Around 2008 Ireland had been experiencing a building boom, its young people had jobs, and the older generation was perhaps breathing a bit easier that this upcoming generation would not be forced to emigrate to find employment.  Then the world financial crisis burst upon the scene with its impact crushing not only huge banks but small villages worldwide.

    Ryan takes us to one such village, and tells the story of that burst bubble on the lives of the people living there.  With raw vernacular and piercing wit, we get to see a story through the eyes of each participant, whether active or passive.  The writing is stunning, the characters are so intricately carved that it is almost impossible to believe that we can know them that well when they each get only an average of 7 pages to tell their story.

    As the stories progress, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together, and a whole emerges.  It is a spell-binding literary tour-de-force.  Donal Ryan certainly deserved the Irish Book of the Year award for this one.  He has another book coming out soon: The Thing About December.  I'm already lining up for this one too.  This is an author we're going to be hearing about.  In the meantime, dust off your Irish slang dictionary, pull yourself a pint, and settle down.  This one can be read in a very pleasant evening.

    Title: A Spinning Heart
    Author: Donal Ryan
    Publisher: Steerforth (2014), Paperback, 160 pages
    Genre: Literary fiction
    Subject: small town life in Ireland
    Setting: unamed Irish village
    Source: review copy from the publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  It's being considered for the 2015 Maine Reader's Choice Award.

    Many thanks to Steerforth Press for providing a review copy.

    Monday, September 15, 2014

    Review: The Sleep Walker's Guide to Dancing

    What an enjoyable and enchanting read!  The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing brings us a cast of sometimes looney, but always loveable characters whose quirks are laid out for all to see, and whose struggles to become integrated into their society while holding onto their unique cultural identity are easily understood by anyone who has ever felt "different" for whatever reason.

    The publisher's notes about the premise "Brain surgeon Thomas Eapen's decision to shorten his visit to his mother's home in India has consequences that reverberate two decades later as he starts conversing with the dead and daughter Amina must sort through the family's past to help him."  give us just a hint of the magic and mayhem the reader deals with in this story of three generations of family coming to grips with illness, emmigration, and different cultural norms - especially for young women.

    The main character, Amina Eapen is a 20 something budding photographer living in Seattle who is called home to Albuquerque by her mother to help with her father Thomas' strange behavior.  (He's talking to dead people for one thing.)  Not only does Amina have to decide if this call for help is just a ploy on her mother's part to get her home again, but she has to sort out whether or not her father truly needs help and what she is responsible for doing.    All during her visit, various relatives appear, (among them her cousin "Dimple" the all-American girl who has fully adopted to not only the American way of life, but to the full feminist agenda) telling stories about the family back in India, and pulling Amina further along into the family past, not to mention trying to convince her to abandon her job in Seattle, and find a nice Indian boy to marry to settle down near her parents.

    Mira does a fantastic job of weaving back and forth from past to present, of painting word pictures that have us seeing, hearing and smelling all the elements of the cultures this family is dealing with.  It's an emotional roller-coaster; it's a long read that takes a while to settle into; but in the end it's a story of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and hope.  It's perfect to settle into as the nights lengthen this autumn.  I just wish we had a good Indian take-away close by!

    I had so much fun with this I checked out the audio also.  It's exceptionally well done - read by the author - and really gives the listener an added emotional dimension. Her ability to give different voices and accents to the characters is exceptional.

    Title: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
    Author: Mira Jacob
    Publisher: Random House (2014), Hardcover, 512 pages
    Audio: Books on Tape (2014) 12 hours.
    Genre: Literary fiction
    Subject: immigration, assimilation, cultural differences
    Setting: Albuquerque, Seattle, India
    Source: Public library

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    TLC Blog Tour: Ballroom by Alice Simpson

    Ballroom dancing seems to be making a recovery these days, perhaps thanks to several "Dancing, etc etc etc" TV shows.  Ballroom, Alice Simpson's debut novel tries to captures the world of ballroom dancing in the late 20th century by looking at that world from the point of view of about six major and several minor characters.

    Although billed as a series of interconnecting stories, the characters connect only in the fact that they meet at a ballroom on Sunday nights.  I kept waiting for some deeper connection, but with two exceptions, these were lonely, shriveled up, past their prime, solitary creatures whose individual tales  related to each other only in their personal fantasies.

    I really wanted to like this book, but it took quite a while for any relationships to develop, and when they finally began to emerge, they didn't go very far.  Even the endings of the stories left me bereft.  The ballroom, the dancers, the hangers-on, all of them seemed not to get what they were looking for, and it was hard for the reader to decide if the lack of closure was deliberate on the part of the author, or just not written well enough to bring some resolution to the reader. 

    I found the publisher's back cover blurb to be misleading. 
    Told in interconnecting stories, Ballroom is a beautifully crafted debut novel—reminiscent of the works of Elizabeth Strout and Jennifer Haigh—about a group of strangers united by a desire to escape their complicated lives, if only for a few hours each week, in a faded New York City dance hall.
    Time has eroded the glamour of the Ballroom, but at the end of the 1990s, a small crowd of loyal patrons still makes its way past the floor-to-ceiling columns which frame the once grand hall each Sunday evening. Sweeping across the worn parquet floor under a peeling indigo ceiling, these men and women succumb to the magic of the music, looking for love and connection, eager to erase the drab reality of their complicated lives.
    Nearly forty and still single, Sarah Dreyfus is desperate for love and sure she’ll find it with debonair Gabriel Katz, a dazzling peacock who dances to distract himself from his crumbling marriage. Tired of the bachelor life, Joseph believes that his yearning for a wife and family will be fulfilled—if only he can get Sarah to notice him. Besotted with beautiful young Maria Rodriguez, elderly dance instructor Harry Korn knows they can find happiness together. Maria, one of the Ballroom’s stars, has a dream of her own, a passion her broken-hearted father refuses to accept or understand.
    As the rhythms of the Ballroom ebb and flow through these characters’ hearts, their fates come together in touching, unexpected ways.
    This opens the door to let us spy on the main players, but I just don't buy the implication that everything comes together in the end.

    The quotes from various dancing handbooks and etiquette books at the beginning of each chapter were fascinating and gave us a excellent glimpse into the past glories of the art.  There's an excellent bibliography of material about ballroom dancing in the book for those who want to delve further.

    Title: BALLROOM
    Author: Alice Simpson
    Publisher: Harper Collins (2014)  ARC 285 pages
    Genre: fiction
    Subject: Ballroom dancing
    Setting: New York city and environs
    Source: review copy from the publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  I was asked to do a review by the publisher.

    This review is being provided in connection with the TLC Blog Tour.  Many thanks to publicist Trish Collins from Harper Collins for making the galley available.


    Saturday, September 6, 2014

    Review: Euphoria by Lily King

    Anthropology is not a reading topic I'm apt to run right out and grab off the shelf. I'm marginally aware of what the subject matter purports to study, and I'm minimally acquainted with Margaret Mead's early studies.  That's about where my background ends.  Euphoria is an articulate exposè (albeit fictional) of the early history of the practitioners of the craft. The publisher offers this recap:

    .... a breathtaking novel about three young anthropologists of the ‘30’s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.
    English anthropologist Andrew Banson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.
    Set between two World Wars and inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is an enthralling story of passion, possession, exploration, and sacrifice from accomplished author Lily King.
    The ill-fated three-sided love story pulled me in emotionally.  The scenes of tribal practices left me less than excited, although from a strictly intellectual perspective, like all new material, I found the descriptions riveting.  It's a short book, the action moves along at a decent pace, and the publisher's addition of end-papers with a map of the region was extremely helpful.  While it did not entice me to set off for more on the subject matter, neither did it tempt me to stop reading until the book was finished.  It's well worth the read, even if this isn't your normal cuppa.  I certainly would recommend it to readers with an interest in South Pacific early tribal customs.

    Title: Euphoria
    Author: Lily King
    Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (2014), Edition: 1ST, Hardcover, 256 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Subject: Anthropology
    Setting: South Pacific Islands
    Source: Review copy from the publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  It's being reviewed for consideration for the 2015 Maine Reader's Choice Award.
    Many thanks to publisher Atlantic Monthly Press for the review copy.

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

    Review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

    Wow!  Every once in awhile a book comes along that gives the reader an "AHA" moment.  Shotgun Lovesongs is such a book.  I didn't want this book to end.  I wanted to read, re-read, listen to the audio, and just sink into the glorious prose telling the simple story of four friends who grew up together in a small town, and whose individual stories are told in such clear, stellar prose that I was captured by the end of page 3!

    Each of the stories is discrete, but each advances the story of the whole, of the group.  Each life is separate and unique, but every life meshes with all of the others.  In the end, we see an entire range of experiences and relationships.  Friendships turned sour, friendships stretched as friends move away and then return, friendships poisoned by jealousy and rivalries, but through it all, it is the simple, beautiful story of four people whose ties to their life in a small town and to their love of each other overcomes the obstacles and rivalries that are the staples of life and love.  Here's how the publisher describes it:
    Henry, Lee, Kip and Ronny grew up together in rural Wisconsin. Friends since childhood, their lives all began the same way, but have since taken different paths. Henry stayed on the family farm and married his first love, whilst the others left in search of something more. Ronnie became a rodeo star, Kip made his fortune in the city, and musician Lee found fame but heartbreak, too. Now all four are back in town for a wedding, each of them hoping to recapture their old closeness but unable to escape how much has changed. Amid the happiness of reunion and celebration, old rivalries resurface and a wife's secret threatens to tear both a marriage and a friendship apart.
    Not only did I read this one in print, but I listened to the audio - a spectacular production from MacMillan Audio, read by Ari Fliakos, Maggie Hoffman, Scott Shepherd, Scott Sowers and Gary Wilmes.  Each voice clarified the character, and each story took on an even more defined picture from the audio.  The word pictures are as sharp as one listens as they are when we read the well-written words.  This is definitely going to be on my top of the year list.

    Title: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Author: Nickolas Butler
    Publisher:Thomas Dunne Books (2014), Hardcover, 320 pages
    Audio Publisher:  Macmillan Audio, 2014. 10 hours
    Subject: small town life, friendship
    Setting: rural Wisconsin
    Source: review copy from publisher; audio copy from public library