Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monthly Wrap-Up for Challenges

As you can see on the sidebar, I've entered a number of reading challenges this year, and I'm really having fun meeting the requirements.  I'm especially pleased that I've been able to clear out so many ARCs and I'm keeping pace with the ones arriving this year. I'm still not completely caught up, but by April, I hope to be on track, and then I've promised myself I'll never get so far behind again...

Several of my challenges feature criteria that are overlapping, so books can count for more than one challenge. However, I'm finding that when I go to enter all of these in the individual Mr. Linky's set up by the contest people, Mr. Linky doesn't like that overlap. So.........I'm going to do a monthly post and list (and link) them here, and then just use this one post in Mr. Linky to see if that works. If you're a challenge maestro, I'll be emailing you (if I can find your email) to let you know what's happening.

The composite report indicates that for the month of January, I've read  and reviewed 20 books (not counting the four I abandoned).  Of those my top five are

1. Fireworks over Toccoa
2. Then Came the Evening
3. Supreme Courtship
4. True Blue
5. The Postmistress.

Unfortunately, Fireworks and Evening won't be in the stores until next month...But they are worth waiting for.
So here's the progress for the month--the Challenge Title links to that blog's contest, and the Book title links to my review:

Books Won Reading Challenge:
Supreme Courtship
True Blue (Audio)
Simon's Cat

Reading from My Shelves Challenge:
A Year in the Merde
Founding Brothers
Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge
Death Goes on Retreat
A Fountain Filled with Blood
Key Lime Pie Murder
True Blue
The Black Echo
China Lake 
Death of a Valentine
A Fatal Grace
Typically British Reading Challenge
Audio Book Challenge
Death Goes on Retreat
A Fountain Filled with Blood
Key Lime Pie Murder
True Blue
The Black Echo
China Lake
A Fatal Grace
ARC Reading Challenge
The Book of William
My Name is Will
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
The Lovely Bones
Then Came the Evening
The Postmistress
Death of a Valentine
Fireworks over Toccoa
TBR Challenge
Supreme Courtship
Support Your Local Library
China Lake
The Black Echo
Death Goes on Retreat
A Fountain Filled with Blood
Key Lime Pie Murder
The Body in the Cast

So there you have it for January.  I even took time off last nite to watch that gorgeous full moon rise over the river!  Even though meeting those reading challenges is fun, I don't want ever to lose sight of the best the world has to's right outside the door, and sitting right next to us and it's all the friends we've make over the years.  On to February.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mini Review: Kitchen

Author: Banana Yoshimoto

Format: 160 pages, paperback
Characters:Mikage, Yuichi, Eriko
Subject: grief, mourning, healing
Setting: Tokyo Japan

Genre: fiction-novella
Source: Alibris used books

This is an exquisite little book written in prose that is elegant and eloquent. In the first novella, Kitchen,  Mikage, a young girl living in Tokyo, is suddenly orphaned when her grandmother dies. She is living alone, mourning, emotionally lost, when she is invited to stay with a school mate Yuichi and his transgendered mother/father(?) Eriko in their larger, more modern apartment.  There, the availability of a modern (for Japanese households) kitchen gives her a way to work out her grief and solidify her yearnings to make food and its preparation a life's work. While there, her relationship with them speaks of losing, dying, recovering, and living again. When Eriko dies, she is cast again into mourning, and must climb back out, while helping Yuichi with his emotions.

The second short story Moonlight Shadow tells another story of love lost and is equalling touching.

This book had been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I had started it last fall while we were 'on the road' since it's so small and packs easily, but unintentionally left it in Virginia at a friend's house. She mailed it back last week, and I was so thrilled to be able to finish it. It is sparse, short, and beautiful. Well worth finding.

Challenge: Reading from My Shelves

Review: A Fatal Grace

Author: Louise Penny
Format: audio -8 discs (10 hrs), 368 pages equivalent
Characters: Armand Gamache, Jean Guy Beauvoir
Subject: murder in a small town
Setting: Three Pines, outside Montreal
Series: The Three Pines Mysteries
Genre: mystery, detectives
Source: public library audio book

Once again, Louise Penny takes us to that idyllic village in the Pines outside Montreal, where we all want to go on our vacation to experience the beauty, the quiet, the inhabitants whom we are beginning to regard now as friends.  In this 2nd of the Three Pines Mystery series, we even begin to like that eccentric old lady Ruth, the poet, the head of the volunteer fire department.

Inspector Gamache and his team must find out who killed a woman who was electrocuted on a frozen pond while watching the town's annual Boxing Day curling match.

The fact that absolutely no one in the town liked the victim, or even seemed to know much about her, makes the job even harder.  Penny is beginning to hit her stride in this one, as she offers us several different possibilities for the perpetrator, introduces some new characters, and expands on the character of Armand Gamache that we met in her first book "Still Life."

When we finally figure it out (or did we?) there's still several chapters left, and we find perhaps we didn't get it right after all.

I listened to this in audio and it's such a treat to hear the bi-lingual give and take, the elegance of the Quebecois as they go about day to day life.  To read (or listen) to these books is to fall in love with characters, a town, a region. I can't wait to read more.

Challenge: Supoort Your Local Library, Audio books, Thrillers Suspence and Mystery

Friday, January 29, 2010

Unfinished Friday -a double header

Marie, the Boston Bibliophile started this very useful meme so we can blog about books that for whatever reason just don't work. This time I had two that hit the 'Let it Go" Pile. The first was  "The Hemingses of Monticello" by Annette Gordon Reed.

I've been working on this one for almost three weeks.  It is ponderous, tedious, learned, well-researched, and I've certainly learned a lot.  It really isn't for any specific challenge, although I thought it would be good background material for my participation in the US Presidents challenge.  It is not a bad book, it won the National Book Award.  It's just a really slow, and very detailed (probably way too detailed) read.

I'm putting it aside for now.  I've had it as an audio, and it's not working.  I think it might work better in print, and will look for it.  I'm just finding that I'm tiring of the author's constant speculation based on 'we really have no positive proof.'  I seem to be hearing the same theories over and over, and after 4 discs that's enough.  I realize that historians have to make assumptions.  For that reason, I try to read non-fiction written only by well-vetted authors.  I felt that winning a National Book Award was plenty of vetting, but  I also feel let down.

This book is 31 discs in audio and 816 pages in print, so the investment of time is substantial. Let's hope a different format will remedy my indifference toward this one, because my brain is not ready to soak up 800 pages of repetition right now.

On the other hand, the second abandoned book The Broken Road To Disaster Recovery by Keifer Bonvillain is an ARC I got late last summer self-published by the author. It is poorly written, surreptiously researched, and not vetted by anyone except the author. Billed as the undercover whistle blowing story of corruption in Louisiana and FEMA, the author sets out to prove he has the scoop.I couldn't finish this one. I felt like I was in the supermarket line reading the National Enquirer.

It smacked of overblown self-importance--the author seemed to be the only person in the US who knew corruption and was qualified to report on it. If it hadn't been his 2nd such work (he is the author of Ruthless: A Tell-All Book about Oprah Winfrey), I'd have had more inclination to pay attention. The writing was bombastic, snarky, overblown, and in need of good editing. After 50+ pages, I decided life is too short. If there's truly a scandal to be reported, then I'll wait til it's reported by legitimate and vettable journalists.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: Then came the Evening

Author: Brian Hart
Format:  262 pgs hardback
Characters: Bandy, Iona and Tracy Dorner
Subject:rebuilding relationships
Setting: Idaho valleys
Genre: fiction
Source: Bloomsbury publishers review copy
Challenge: ARC

This is an intense book. The setting is stark and beautiful--the wilds of Idaho.  I've never been there, but I had no trouble picturing the trees,the clouds,the winds,the gulleys,the old barns, and the valley.The scene is haunting.

The characters are intense.  There are three: Bandy, Iona, and Tracy.  While several others play more than cameo roles, these three broken, dysfunctional, hurting, needy people form the basis of the story and and keep us from putting down this book while we read how they try to mend their lives and the lives of those they hurt.

The story itself is intense. There are action scenes,and scenes of incredible stillness watching two or three people trying to puzzle out what to say, where to go, what to do next.  While there is no plot per se, there is a distinct beginning, a page-turning middle and a clear and dramatic end. The reader is pulled in from the very first pages and marches inexorably to an end at once fearful and hopeful.

Bandy Dorner, home from service in the Army, awakes from a drunken stupor in his crashed car, to find his house burned to the ground, and his pregnant wife running off with her lover. There's a struggle with the arresting law enforcement persons, and when next we see Bandy,the convicted felon sitting in a prison 18 years later facing the son he never knew he had.  Tracy, tired of living with his alcoholic mom Iona, has run to meet and claim his other parent.

Iona manages to provide for her son during those long years of Bandy's imprisonment by first marrying an OK guy, and moving to Washington State.  Then when that husband dies, Iona finds herself working a series of dead-end jobs, and moving in with her sister. Both ladies find it easier to 'bring home the bacon' by servicing gentlemen in their bedroom rather than waiting tables, or running a cash register, as long as the booze and drugs are well stocked.

As soon as he is old enough, Tracy sets out to find his roots.  After visiting his father in the prison, he returns to the original family homestead in Idaho and begins to rebuild.  When his father is released from prison, and his mother sobers up and comes to find the son she finds she misses, the three of them begin a slow waltz, circling each other, measuring how much effort building a relationship as well as a house will take.

Brian Hart gives us a gut-wrenching story in clean, clear, poetic prose.  There is pain, hurt, violence, and heart-breaking betrayal while at the same time there is love, forgiveness, tenderness, and reaching out to rebuild what has been lost.  We find ourselves routing for these people even as we fear the possibility of a train-wreck.

The ending is absolutely stunning.  We should all hope that Hart has more in his repetoire where this came from.  It's a keeper.

Favorites from the past

A World Lit Only by Fire
by William Manchester

Every Friday, Alyce At Home With Books features this meme inviting us to look back at a favorite book from the past.  Since this week, I'll be doing an Unfinished Friday post, I'm posting this one today while the memory is fresh like the snowflakes falling quietly outside.  It's amazing how the smallest things can trigger our memories.

This week's memory was triggered by a scene in a Louise Penny book I's reading: The Fatal Grace where Inspector Gamage walks into a room lit by oil lamps because a huge blizzard had knocked out the power.  He stopped and said to himself "...a world lit only by fire."  Instantly I remembered this book which I read at least ten years ago.  It was published in 1993, and it's going back on my re-read pile.  I don't remember details, but I do remember I closed it and said 'that was a good book!'  Here's how it's described on the Amazon site:

It speaks to the failure of medieval Europe, writes popular historian William Manchester, that "in the year 1500, after a thousand years of neglect, the roads built by the Romans were still the best on the continent." European powers were so absorbed in destroying each other and in suppressing peasant revolts and religious reform that they never quite got around to realizing the possibilities of contemporary innovations in public health, civil engineering, and other peaceful pursuits. Instead, they waged war in faraway lands, created and lost fortunes, and squandered millions of lives. For all the wastefulness of medieval societies, however, Manchester notes, the era created the foundation for the extraordinary creative explosion of the Renaissance. Drawing on a cast of characters numbering in the hundreds, Manchester does a solid job of reconstructing the medieval world, although some scholars may disagree with his interpretations.
Later, when Thomas Cahill started his Hinges of History series, I found my positive reaction to Manchester laid a great foundation for reading Cahill.  And here, in Maine in the winter, we quite often have short periods of time when the world is truly 'lit only by fire.'  It's magnificent.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New England Bloggers 1st Birthday

New England Bloggers Celebrate their 
1st year!

Tomorrow (January 27th) marks a big day in the calendar for the New England Bloggers.  This has been an exciting year for all of us as we get to know each other's sites and interests. A year ago, Elizabeth (AKA the Evil Overlord) began the daunting task of rounding up, listing and linking those of us in the blogosphere who lived and blogged in the glorious 6 state area known as New England.  We've had a great time finding out about each other: some of us do cooking, others crafting, sewing, art, and book reviews.  Our October mixer celebrating our reaching 100 members was especially fun as we went round visiting new sites and making new friends.

I've learned a lot about the diversity in the area, and am looking forward to visiting more of your blogs during the upcoming year.  Let's hope we grow some more, have some more "getting to know you" events, and maybe someday we'll find a village green, strike a tent, and all get together in real vice virtual space.

I'm not a native New Englander --I'm one of those people "FROM AWAY".  Hubbie and I fell in love with Maine's rugged coastline on our honeymoon, and decided 42+ years ago that we would someday have to live here where we could enjoy the lighthouses, the ocean, the wildlife, the blueberries, and the incredible seafood.  All of that is wonderful, but it's the people who make New England the place to be.  I've not yet met anyone here in Maine who would not stop and give me any help I needed if I asked --- and I probably wouldn't even have to ask.

There isn't a week that goes by that I don't see a church supper or benefit being held to help out fellow townspeople.  There isn't a week that goes by without some exotic wildlife sighting (exotic to me anyway), some new taste sensation being thrust at me, or some gorgeous sunrise or sunset bursting over the ocean here on the coast. 

This week for instance we get to escape our icy 1000 ft long driveway as the 'big snow' of last week finally melts.  Of course in New England we know to laugh at that because......come's still January and we remember that this pile melts and that just means we're making room for the next batch.

So I'm not baking anything spectacular for the party--we had some crab for dinner and we're having hazelnut gelato for dessert (picked it up this afternoon at Hannaford's) with some Sweet Grass Winery (from nearby Union Maine)  Blueberry Beaujolais.  Life doesn't get any better.  What are you having?

No matter how you celebrate, let's all give a HUGE thank you to Elizabeth for being our fairy godmother.  She deserves a particular round of applause and a big virtual hug.

Elizabeth--this one's for you!

Happy Birthday Pictures, Images and Photos

Review: Lovely Bones

Author: Alice Sebold
Format: 328 pgs paperback ARC
Characters: Susie Salmon, her family, Ray Singh, Mr. Harvey
Subject: unsolved murder
Setting: Pennsylvania 1973 and forward
Genre: fiction
Source: ARC from Hachette Book Group

A wonderful read. Since this book was first released in 2002, it has been on the best seller list for years, has sold over 2.3 million copies.  Last summer, it was re-leased in a trade paperback format, leading up to the release of the motion picture just last week.  I can't believe I haven't read it before now.

As you probably know, this is the story of a 14 year old girl, Susie Salmon, who is murdered, but whose body is not found. Susie narrates the story from heaven and shows us what her parents, her siblings, her schoolmates, the police,and the murderer are doing as everyone searches for her body.
NO SPOILERS. It's actually a beautiful story of sorrow, mourning, forgiving, starting over, loving, and growing up. . I was afraid it would be too goulish, but it's not. Susie's description of heaven won't please everyone, nor is it so out of the ordinary to be thrown aside by those who don't believe in an afterlife. Sebold gives us real human emotion in simple, flowing prose.  I literally could not put this down.  At 328 pages, it took just about 6 glorious hours.  What a wonderful way to spend an evening.

Challenge: ARC

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review : Fireworks over Toccoa

Author: Jeffrey Stepakoff
Format: paperback galley proof 260 pgs
Characters: Lily Davis Woodward, Jake Russo, Andrew Woodward
Subject: love, duty, relationships, fireworks
Setting: Toccoa Georgia 1945, 2007
Genre: fiction
Source: Advanced Review Copy from St Martin's Press (Thomas Dunne Books)
Challenge: ARC

Married for just a few weeks before her husband Drew left to go overseas during the war, Lily Davis Woodward, daughter of a wealthy Coca Cola executive, has waited three long years to take her place in society. Now just a few days before his scheduled return, she meets Jake Russo, war veteran and pyrotechnic engineer. He is preparing a huge fireworks show to honor the returning servicemen.

When they meet, love happens-- slowly, tentatively, tenderly and then with same explosiveness of Jake's fireworks.

In understated, elegant, exquisite prose, Stepakoff presents us with a painful, tragic, gorgeous, affirming love affair. The character development of Lily and Jake, as well as the presentation of Lily's parents and other supporting characters, gives us a picture of longing, duty, relationships, and heartbreaking honesty. Lily's dad for instance says to her when he suspects she's conflicted about her husband's return:

"I have been married to the same woman at least five times. Marriage comes in phases. Some good, some not so good. But you work through things, and you grow, and you change, and you stick by the decision that you made, even when you were seventeen.  That is your duty." (pg. 178)

The searing anguish of these star-struck lovers reaches its peak when Lily must choose whether to leave her home and roam the world with Jake shooting fireworks, or stay with her husband.  The resolution of her dilemma is heart rending but almost inevitable.  I will not spoil it for other readers.

This is simply one of the best love stories I've read in my adult life.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: China Lake

Author: Meg Gardiner

Format: 12 discs , 416 pgs equivalent
Characters: Evan, Brian, Luke & Tabitha Delaney,
Subject: Cults, Naval Aviation, crime
Setting: China Lake Air Station California
Series: Evan Delaney mysteries
Genre: mystery- amateur sleuth, thriller
Source: Overdrive audio download from public library

A new protagonist for me.  Evan Delaney, attorney turned writer, has been given temporary custody of her nephew Luke.  Luke's father (Evan's brother) is a Naval Aviator who is deployed to keep the world safe for democracy.  His mother abandoned him because she could not abide the 'Navy way' of life.  Mom subsequently joins a cult, which cult subsequently tries to kidnap Luke.

Evan and her paraplegic boyfriend Jessie- another attorney become caught up in a series of rather 'suspend your belief' adventures as they try to return Luke to his father, now back from sea and stationed at China Lake Naval Base in the desert of California.

The book becomes a combination of good cop/bad cop, Rapture meets Hollywood, biological warfare meets Top Gun.  I enjoyed the story but found Evan's character really stretched my ability to believe any of this could really have gone down the way it is portrayed.

Challenge: Audio Books, Thrillers & Suspense, Support Your Local Library

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mini-Review: The Black Echo

By now most of the literate western world is aware of Michael Connelly's Harry (Heronimous) Bosch-- a rugged individualist with great detective instincts.  I finally got around to reading him last fall when I got an ARC of The Brass Verdict and decided I wanted to go back to the beginning of this fascinating character.  Black Echo is the first of what is now up to fifteen adventures.

With still vivid memories of his days serving in Vietnam, Bosch is called to investigate the murder of someone who served with him. In a plot with many twists, and indelible characters who keep us guessing as to who is on which side of good or bad, Connelly presents us with a protagonist who shows humanity along with ingenuity. Paired with a female FBI agent, Bosch is soon on the trail of bank robbers who seem to be tied to his homicide victim. There are Internal Affairs investigators, pompous Police Captains, and officious FBI operatives, but somehow Connelly avoids stereotyping. Definitely recommended.

Challenges: , Audio Books, Thrillers Suspense, Support Your Local Library

Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: Death of a Valentine

Author: M.C. Beaton
Format: Hardback, 246 pages
Characters: Hamish Macbeth, Josie McSween
Subject: murder, romantic entrapment
Setting: Scottish Highlands
Series: Hamish Macbeth Mystery
Genre: mystery- cozy, police procedural
Source: ARC from Hachette Books

Hamish Macbeth finally goes to the altar??  

The story opens with Hamish standing before the altar as the minister asks the familiar "If any amongst you know of any reason why this man should not be joined to this woman...."

After being assigned a wee lassie female police constable as his assistant, Hamish is confronted with a series of murders, and he suspects they're related.  While he tries to avoid the amorous advances of Constable Josie McSween, he manages to investigate, and solve the crimes. Throughout the story though the reader anxiously waits to see.  Does Josie get her man?

Hamish Macbeth fans would lynch any reviewer who tells!  If you are a fan of this wonderful cozy police procedural series set in the Scottish highlands, you will surely enjoy this one.  If you've not read any before, it works as a stand alone.  And I'll never tell............


Unfinished Friday --- Or is it?

The italics are the beginning of this post that I started earlier this week:
 For the past 9 months I've been picking this book up, trying to read it (or figure out what the premise is, or asking myself what it's all about, etc., etc.), and it's just not singing out "finish me, finish me." In fact, each time I've tried reading it, the other side of my brain is going "why are you wasting your time.?  I'm not liking this...."

I'm sure Shakespeare buffs are falling on their swords right now, but sorry, this one is going onto the abandoned pile--since it's a clearly marked NOT FOR SALE ARC, I can't even donate it to the library for its annual book sale. If you are interested in more objective assessments, BOOKLIST and Publisher's Weekly have blurbs you can read here.
At this point, I began paging through to see how far I really got, and my brain clicked on again.  "This book is downright funny" I thought. "Some of this is finally making sense.  I think I understand what the author is trying to do here"...So I planned to finish it over the weekend, and then give you the final review.  In the meantime, I thought it would be worthwhile to admit that sometimes it takes a time or two for something to 'click' and we ought not be too hasty to toss something aside. I was really settling back, and actually got about 95 of the 320 pages done, but realized that while there are sections of this book that are genuinely funny, and the premise is terribly clever, I just cannot take the abundance of sex, more sex, drugs, and more drugs needed to tell the story the way the author presents it.   It is hereby permanently consigned to the abandoned forever pile. Sorry Will, but this book is not for me.

I appreciate the opportunity offered to review the book, and will point out that no body can read every book and have a favorable opinion.  Others, including some very well known authors, have rated it highly. If you're a Shakespeare fan, a humor fan, and like satire, you might want to give it a try.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: The Postmistress

Author: Sarah Blake

Format: paperback galley, 322 pages
Characters: Iris James, Harry Vale, Emma Fitch, William Fitch, Frankie Bard
Setting: Franklin Mass, London 1941
Genre: literary fiction
Source: LibraryThing Early Review program

Set on both sides of the Atlantic during the early months of WWII, this is a compelling novel that pulls us right into the lives of Iris James-the Postmaster at Franklin Mass on Cape Cod; Emma Fitch-new bride of the town's doctor; Harry Vale-a WWI vet who is convinced that the Germans will land a Uboat on Cape Cod; and of Frankie Bard, the radio reporter working in London with Edward R. Murrow during the Blitz

Miss James is determined to maintain order and discipline in her life. The mail will be stamped and delivered on time without pause.  Harry Vale wants her to lower the Post Office's flag pole by several feet, claiming it serves as a beacon to Germans off-shore.  Iris balks at that suggestion, but agrees to petition the postal department for permission.

Emma, still recovering from a feeling of being abandoned by parents who have died, clings to her husband trying to establish an identity in this small town. After listening to Frankie Bard's emotional broadcasts about the hardships being endured by the British during the bombing of London, and after other events I'll leave to the readers (I DON'T DO SPOILERS), Dr. Fitch leaves behind his practice, his town, and his bride to go to London to help the many victims of the bombings.  He writes to Emma every night, and she mails him a letter every day. He promises he will return after six months.  When his letters suddenly stop, Emma becomes more detached, and Iris, as she watches her continue to mail her daily letter, becomes more concerned.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Frankie meets Dr Fitch in an air raid shelter one evening, and emerges to find her apartment destroyed and her roomate (who had been covering the Jewish story) dead. She convinces Murrow to let her go behind the war lines into Germany to find out what is really going on with the Jews.  She goes through France and Germany, gathering stories but not sure how (or whether) she will be able to tell them.

It is difficult to write about this story without spoiling the ending.  It's not necessarily a mystery, but this is a nuanced, evolving study of the impact of trauma, callousness, abandonment, death, and cruelty on the human beings who must live through war, and whose ability to survive, whose very humanity is constantly tested.  Frankie's stories of horror and personal suffering are particularly poignant and her mental anguish as she struggles to find a frame in which to report them, and deal with her meeting with Dr. Fitch,  are a cogent and mesmerizing thread pulling us along to an inevitable and powerful ending.

I encourage the reader NOT to read the cover blurb.  The 'hint' there about what is going to happen is overplayed, and comes so late in the story, that it is better left behind.  The forceful march to the inescapable ending, and Blake's exquisite character development and prose make this a compelling page-turner. It is a five star read, and the reader needs no road map to enjoy the journey.

many many thanks to LT Early Review program for making this copy available.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review: The Body in the Cast

Author: Katherine Hall Page

Format: 275 pages, hardback
Characters: Faith Fairchild, Penny Bartlett, Tom Fairchild
Subject: murder, catering, movie making
Setting: fictional town of Aleford, Massachusetts
Series: Faith Fairchild Mysteries
Genre: mystery- amateur sleuth
Source: public library

A well-developed mystery featuring amateur sleuth, Faith Fairchild.  This is the fifth in the series, but the first I have read.  Although there are references to previous episodes, the story stands alone quite well.

Faith Fairchild, married to the local minister, mother of two pre-schoolers, runs a catering business "Have Faith."  She is hired to provide food to the cast and crew of a big Hollywood movie being filmed in their small town outside of Boston. The film is to be a modern take on The Scarlett Letter. At the same time, the town is having an election with an unheard slate of three people running for one vacancy on the town select board.  One of the candidates is royally detested by most people in town.

As the filming begins, bodies start turning up, discovered by Faith.  Her black bean soup seems to be the culprit in a mass food poisoning that hits the entire crew. And everytime these incidents occur, filming must be delayed, and the director goes into a frenzy over his budget.

There is a cast of typical hollywood divas, under-appreciated crew members, spoiled children, all harboring enough secrets to keep NSA busy decoding for a year.

I enjoyed this book and will certainly look for at least one more in the series.  Faith seems to be a tick above the standard amateur sleuth.  She is helpful, thoughtful and quite intuitive, but does not strike off on her own, put herself in danger, or forget to involve the local police.  A thoroughly pleasant book with the added feature of recipes for several of the offerings from "Have Faith" catering.

Challenges: Audio Books, Thrillers-Suspense-Mystery,  Support Your Local library,

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: True Blue

Author: David Baldacci
Narrator: Ron McClartey
Format:  12 discs (hrs) - equivalent 372 pgs
Characters: Mase Perry, Beth Perry, Roy Kingman
Subject: murder, national security,
Setting: Washington DC
Genre: Thriller, suspense
Source: Hachette Audio contest prize

This is a scary book.  The plot is scary, the characters scare the living blankety blank out of me, and the premise is nightmarish because it is so real.

It has a well developed, tightly written plot with many twists, surprises, and heart-stopping developments. Within the first 5 minutes of this audio, we have a US attorney murdered and his body stuffed in a dumpster by ??? --- are they good guys or bad guys??? This question will drop to the bottom of the dumpster with the body and only reappear much later in the book.  In the meantime we have a female prisoner being molested by a guard and threatened by other inmates while she's trying to hold on for 3 more days until her release.  And we have a high powered, big money corporate attorney discovering the body of a colleague in his office refrigerator when he goes for cream for his morning coffee.  So much for trying to come in early to get work done!

It has characters whose actions sometimes require us to suspend belief, (what would you do if you were facing a gang of hoodlums with automatic weapons??---I won't spoil it, but I'm not sure my choice would have been the one written). Our heroine is constatly ignoring common sense, speeding off on her Dukati, and getting into all kinds of trouble, but like WonderWoman, she manages to extricate herself---all without a gun, and often without the help of her sister the Police Chief or her buddy the lawyer !!

The good guys are almost stereotypical--the blond female Washington DC police chief Beth Perry; her sister Mason (Mase)--a cop wrongly accused of dealing drugs who has recently been released from prison and is trying to clear her name and get her badge and gun back; Ron Kingman, a college basketball star turned corporate attorney who befriends a homeless Vietnam vet by giving him shoes, twinkies, and keeping tabs to be sure he's ok.  Cap'n (the homeless vet) is one of the most fun characters in the book.  He provides a few sad but comic moments in a very intense book.

The bad guys are numerous and often masquerade as good guys.  The good guys aren't above a little law breaking if it serves their purpose.  In fact, one of the scariest aspects of this book is that it's hard to tell who's who----good guy? bad guy?

The story is almost a political commentary on the state of US national security today and the scariest premise of all is that this kind of activity is going on in the name of national security, and none of us will ever know, or could do a thing about it if we did know.

As an audio, it is well served by Ron McClartey's crime reporter voice.  I just wish that Hachette would not have included all the sound effects that seem to be de rigeur in today's MTV world.  I listen to audio books because I find it difficult due to physical limitations to hold books for long periods of time, and my eyes are getting 'old' and tired.  So I want to listen to the book.  I don't want a stage production.  My mind still works and I want to be able to IMAGINE the bullets zinging, the motorcycles zooming, the cars crashing.  And  Please............the "dum dah, dum dah, dum dah" music used to fade into and out of scenes reminds me of JAWS.  I almost expected a shark to pop up.  It will be bad enough when they make this a movie (and you know they will!) and we have to see all this.  Until then, I'd rather paint my own mental pictures thank you.

Challenge: Books Won, AudioBooks, Thrillers and Suspense

Many thanks to Hachette for making these available for blog contests.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: Key Lime Pie Murder

Author: Joanne Fluke
Format: audio - 12 hours, 374 pg equivalent
Characters: Hannah Swenson, Norman Rhodes, Mike Kingston
Subject: murder at the country fair
Setting: Lake Eden, Minnesota
Series: Hannah Swensen myseries (#9)
Genre: cozy mystery- amateur sleuth
Source: public library

These stories could never be described as great literature, but by this time (#9) in the series, the characters are like old friends, and we now read them as much to find out if Hannah will ever make up here mind and choose between the two gentlemen vying for her hand: Norman, a suave, gentle, geekie, cat-loving dentist, who normallytreats Hannah like a china princess; and Mike, the local sheriff, who manages to come and extricate Hannah from the traps she gets herself into trying to solve murders that seem to occur on a regular basis in Lake Eden Minnesota.

Norman's tendency to play knight errant to Hannah means that he often finds himself being rescued by his rival.  Hannah's mother and Norman's mother (who are in cahoots to marry their offspring to each other) also continue to muddy the waters, and her sisters continue to help out.  Nothing new, but still fun and easy to read.  And the recipes still make the series worth a set of cookbooks.

Challenge: Audiobooks; Thrillers, SuspenseMysteries; Support Your Local Library

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: The Book of William

Author: Paul Collins
Format: hardback, 247 pgs
Subject: Shakespeare's First Folio
Setting: England, New York, Washington DC, Tokyo
Genre: non-fiction
Source: Bloomsbury Publishing, review copy

Paul Collins writes an entertaining and enlightening tale of the First Folio of William Shakespeare. I am by no means a Shakespeare scholar, although like most educated Americans, I've been exposed to his works both in high school and in college. So I was unsure whether this would really interest me or not.  I am however interested in books, and how they are printed, published and distributed.

The story of how his works were published, and the tortuous journeys of these volumes is fascinating and presented with a clear and somewhat humorous narration.  Collins follows the folios throughout the world, tracking ownership, explaining the differences in different editions, and painting word pictures of these archival masterpieces, including the gravy stains and tea cup circles left on the (now) precious pages. I was especially interested in two aspects, the collection at the Folger Library in Washington DC, and the collection owned by the Japanese and held at the Meisei University in Tokyo.

I did my library science graduate work at Catholic University in Washington DC, growing up in that area, and living there for over 20 years of my adult life.  Shamefully, I must admit that I have never been to the Folger, and felt the loss as I read Collins' descriptions of the physical plant, and the incredible holdings.  The Folger is at the top of my list for places to go the next time I visit the area!

We lived in Japan for almost 5 years, although before the Meisei's massive collection of Shakesperiana was begun.  I found the descriptions of the area quite true, and also was intrigued by his descriptions of Japanese theatre and how Shakespeare has been adapted to it over the past hundred plus years.  I am familiar with kabuki, and with the marvelous Japanese puppet shows: Bunraku.  He explains:
Along with such alien notions as soliloquies, the poetry, the English system of meter and accent, didn't make much sense in Japanese. ...Japanese words are consonant-vowel, and because of the confoundment of R and L, Hamlet became Hamuretto, and Shakespeare himself turned into Sheikusupia.
Puppets provided an excellent solution to the problem.

Collins' love of early printing, and the Folios in particular, is evident throughout the book.  It is well researched, and provides additional resources at the end. I just wish he'd presented a bit more framing up front so I could have figured out earlier what he was attempting to tell us.  It took me almost 100 slowly dragging pages before the light went on and then the story snowballed. For book lovers and students of Shakespeare this volume will provide hours of enjoyment.

Challenge: ARC

My thanks to Bloombury Publishers for the review copy.