Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review: The Lotus Eaters

Author: Tatjana Soli
Format: hard cover 400  pgs; (I also listened to sections of the audio)
Narrator: Kirsten Potter
Characters: Helen Adams, Sam Darrow, Nguyen Pran Linh
Subject: war
Setting: Vietnam
Genre: historical fiction
Source: ARC from St. Martin's Press
Challenge: War through the Generation

I found this a difficult read, not because of the writing, which was extraordinary, but because of the subject matter.  I am of the Vietnam generation, and the subject matter is still, after almost 40 years, difficult to confront.  The book opens at the end of the war, a devise I often dislike, but it works well in this story. After the first chapter, we return to the beginning of the war, where the main character, Helen Adams, arrives in Vietnam to work as a novice free lance press photographer, eager to find out more about a war that has killed her brother and a country that no one seems to know much about.

As Helen moves through her days, she finds a solid job with a news magazine, and falls in love not only with another member of the press, but with the country and the people of Vietnam.  Helen's story is Vietnam's story, and Soli presents it in stunning, action-packed, but slow-paced prose, allowing us to drink in the scenery, the mind-set, the culture and the history.

We are able to see some of the background of the French occupation of the country and the origins of the  the war, the treacheries wrought by each participant in the conflict upon the other sides, and upon the long-suffering people of the villages.  It is here, in the descriptions of village life, that the book really shines.  By focusing on the impact of military actions on the villagers who are the victims, as well as the soldiers participating in them, we are given a mind-searing picture of what war is.

Helen's personal story--the love affairs, as well as the mental and physical anguish she endures-- is the framework on which Soli hangs the well researched story of troop maneuvers and military strategies: the life and death moments that emerge as photos in Helen's dark room, blooming as the picture bursts forth in our minds like toner in developing pans. They are pictures that still haunt those who really participated in the conflict.

In addition to the print edition which I received from the publisher, I was able to listen to the audio version of this beautiful novel.  I am a reader who much prefers the audio format due to some physical limitations.  This one is superbly done in audio, read with exquisite insight by Kirsten Potter. In both versions, the reader is able to experience the beauty, the horror, the sounds, the sights, the smells of a country and a conflict known simply as Vietnam.

The ending to Helen's story  is one that, like the war, was not totally acceptable to any of the participants, but did provide a framework that allowed everyone to stumble forward with life.

Many thanks to St. Martin's Press for providing a review copy for which I received no other compensation.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Salon


This Sunday, we braved the trip back from Eastern to Western shore of Maryland across the infamous Chesapeake Bay Bridge where traffic has been known to back up for 8-10 miles, and were truly blessed to find NO TRAFFIC!!!  We've completed the first part of our vacation - spending two weeks with grand-daughter both in Maine, and then this past 4 days at Ocean City MD.  I hadn't been to O'City since I was a kid, and it certainly has changed.  The ocean part is still the same.  The gorgeous wide beach, the crashing breakers (made a tad more scary due to rip currents being kicked up by an off-shore hurricane), the soft sand, the shore birds, the para sailers, the sand forts, and lots of sun.

The boardwalk is much more developed with tons of rides, hundreds of food establishments, and enough ice cream establishments that one was never more than 100 feet from the frozen delights.  The best part though was just spending quality time with kids and grand child, a blessing we don't get too often anymore given everyone's busy schedules and distance in residences.

So the grandchild has been returned to parents, and we are spending a quiet Sunday evening watching the SOX and eating take-out Chinese at my sister's house in Northern Virginia.  On Tuesday, we're off to California now for the second part of the trip, so again, the blogging will be limited.  I've been reading, and taking some notes so I can post when I do get to a computer, but frankly friends, posting reviews is not a high priority right now.

I brought a spare suitcase with books, but I'm not making much progress.  I'm not sure if it's the vacation mind-set, but I've started several that just didn't click.  For instance, I'm determined to read Tony Hillerman, but couldn't get past the first 20 pages of  The Blessing Way.

I also have book marks in (and can't seem to get to far with)
The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace
The Day the Falls stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Fitzgerald's Ruse - a mystery I really want to read by Mark de Castrique
This is Not the Story you think it Is by Laura Munson (so far it sure isn't and I'm not sure it ever will be.)
All Over the Map by Laura Fraser  (really all over the place, and I can't find a comfy spot in it to grab.)

I've got several on my MP3 to listen to in audio:
Bel Canto by Amy Pratchett
The Island by Elin Hilderbrand (my current "ear-read"--and a true beach book!)
Rituals of the Season and Winter's Child both by Margaret Maron - one of my favorite mystery writers
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolf, read by one of my favorite narrators, Doneda Peters - a classic I've been trying to get to for years.

The only ones I'm definitely loading in hard copy for now are:
Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny's newest one
The Good Psychologist - my current read and a very good one!!!

Two or three others will probably make the cut, but it will depend on room in the suitcase and my mood.  Stay tuned to see what I end up with.  I feel sorta like I'm choosing American Idol here.  It's making the decision to break down soon and buy an e-reader much more likely.

For now, it's back to the Sox.  Happy Sunday, happy last week of summer, and happy reading.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives

Author: Lola Shoneyin
Format: hard cover 288 pgs
Characters: Baba Segi, Iya Segi, Iya Trope, Iya Femi, Bolanle
Subject: Life in a Polygamous society
Setting: Nigeria
Genre: Fiction
Source: Early Review Program from LibraryThing.com
Challenge: ARCs completed

An unusual look at life in modern day Nigeria, using the theme of polygamous marriage as the setting.  Baba Segi is a small time merchant who, because of the success of his marriages, thinks he is a big timer.  His first wife, and ex officio major domo of the household, has presented him with two daughters and a son.  He is unaware that she is also the source of his wealth (his mother and her mother having conspired to settle a large sum on the wife in return for the marriage).  Life goes along, he brings home wife #2, whose background has sufficiently cowed her so that she is grateful for a nice house, a shared husband, and the chance to braid hair for all the children.  When wife #3 comes along, there is a bit more turmoil, since she is one who likes to look pretty, does no housework, and just wants to enjoy the good life.  In spite of their differences, the three wives eventually settle into a routine each can live with, they enjoy their children and their status and Baba Segi is living the high life.

The apple cart is upset, however, when wife #4 joins the party.  She is young and HORROR OF HORRORS--she is University Educated.  She tries to teach the other wives and the children to read, she goes off on her own during the day to shop, she takes her turn at the household  (and marital) chores, but isn't allowed by 1-3 to really become assimilated into the group.  They despise her, and begin plotting to have her removed (hopefully by forcing her to leave on her own.). She simply refuses to be intimidated.  When wife #4 is unable to conceive, a wise medicine man suggests to Baba Segi that he take her to a hospital, since she would be much more likely to listen to the educated doctors, then to tribal medicine men.  The test results are surprising, and will ultimately threaten not only marriage #4, but 1,2 and 3 also.

The ensuing happenings are by turn tragic, comic, and surprising.  I'm not sure if the author was trying to give us an anthropological picture of life in modern day Nigeria, or use this to form the basis of an African sit-com. The characters seem almost to be stereotypes, and  I found it hard to follow the constant change of POV that occurred with each chapter.  I wish the author had given us  more indication at the beginning of each change so I could see who was actually speaking, but in the end, it did not substantially detract from my ability to follow the story.  It's not going to win any prizes, but the average reader will be able to finish and enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review: Backseat Saints

Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Format: audio approx 13 hours, narrated by the author  352 pgs equivalent Characters: Rose Mae Lolly, her mother, her husband Tom Grandee
Subject: abused spouses, parental relationships,
Setting: Alabama, Amarillo Texas, Berkeley California
Genre: fiction
Source: audio book won in Hachette Giveaway

Joshilynn Jackson writes so realistically that the reader is instantly in the story.  Rose Mae Lolly is a character we first met in Jackson's earlier novel Gods in Alabama. In that work, Rose Mae plays only a small role.

Here in Backseat Saints, we fast forward about ten years to find "Ro"(as she now calls herself) married and living in Amarillo Texas.  Her husband, Tom Grandee, a big strapping brute who learned his manly behaviour at his father's knee, badly needs some anger management help. Rose has convinced herself that she is able to handle her life as an abused wife.  She knows all about how to recognize the signs from watching her parents in their inglorious relationship. That is, until an airport gypsy told her she had to kill her husband.  Either she killed him, or he was going to kill her.

Rose began her life as a victim when her mother just plain disappears and leaves seven year old Rose to fend with a drunken daddy. At 18, she left her father in a drunken stupor passed out on his favorite couch.  She never looked back, and waitressed her way across the south, through abusive relationship after abusive relationship.  When she meets Tom, she thinks this may be the path out of this life. She doesn't have to be Rose Mae Lolly anymore.  She can be "Ro Grandee" and leave that old life behind.  She has a job at her father-in-law's gun shop (so does her husband), she has her own hand-me-down car from her mother in law, she has a sweet little house which she keeps spotlessly clean (as much to avoid any trigger for Tom's anger as her belief in the godliness of cleanliness).  She even has a devoted mutt of a dog - Gretel, who will play a prominent role in the story.

When she drives her elderly next door neighbor to the airport, she is just recovering from a rather brutal beating and finally beginning to fear for her life.  As she helps carry luggage into the airport, she meets the gypsy who insists on 'reading her cards.' For some reason, Rose Mae seems to think the gypsy is her long lost mother and can't decide whether to follow the advice or not.

NO SPOILERS, but from there, the story really takes off, pulling the reader relentlessly toward what we think will be the inevitable ending. Other characters from Gods in Alabama appear briefly, but it is not necessary to have read the first book to fully understand and appreciate this one.

The ending is a stunner, and like her previous one, it leaves the reader breathless. It's definitely worth the time and trouble to track this one down.  The audio was especially well done, read by the author who grew up in the south, and reads with exquisite inflection and accent.  It was a joy to listen to.

Many thanks to Hachette Audio Group for making these available for giveaways, and thanks to Karen (aka "Bingo") for hosting the contest.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Let the Great World Spin

Author: Colum McCann
Format: audio book 15+ hrs, 400 page equivalent
Subject: life in all its aspects
Setting: New York - 1970's
Genre: Fiction
Source: Public Library
Challenge: Support your public Library; audio books

Winner of the National book Award

I haven't always liked books that come with this or that Award sticker on the front.  But this one came with high praise from several people whose reading taste I respect.  The first available copy I could get my hands on was the audio, and it did not disappoint.  Read by 13 different voices, they really brought the story to life.

The story theoretically is pinned to Phillipe Petit's famous tightrope walk across a wire stretched between the Twin World Trade Center Towers in April 1974.  But it really highlights the lives of a variety of people living down below.  We see the Judge who will eventually have to arraign Petit after he is arrested at the completion of his walk.  We watch his wife and her grief group as they meet together to try to cope with the loss of their sons in Vietnam.  We see the lives of prostitutes and their pimps, spray painters in the subways, a priest working with the prostitutes, as well as his brother who has just arrived from Ireland, artists high on drugs and low on money, and single parents working to support their children. We see blacks, whites, Christians, wealthy, poor, educated, illiterate, atheists, jews, and hispanics, all inter-related in a city of millions.  The brilliant writing eventually ties all of these lives together through thought-provoking acts of redemption and humanity.

I recently attended a workshop where the speaker said "When talking about the characters in a book, remember that Language itself can often be the leading character."  This book is lusciously obese with language. The imagery, the emotions, the seemingly disconnected fragments that mesh so seamlessly are brilliantly sewn together with words so simple and exquisite that the reader is often compelled to sit back and take a deep breath.

While I did not intend that this one be counted toward my reading for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge, I found that the Vietnam experience and the emotional impact it created, was another major player in the story. The survivors, the protesters, the draft dodgers, are all present, and the national psyche's open wound is apparent as life spins along in this colossal city.  My one regret is that I do not know the city of New York better.  I did not have the experience I know others had who are well acquainted with the various geographic locations depicted in the story.  In the end, the vast panoply of personalities is the true story.  Life goes on down on city streets, and in the subways, even with tight-rope walkers up above.  In fact, the wire walker is in the end a rather minor character.  I guess that really says it best -- when a man walking a rope stretched  between the Twin Towers is only a minor story, you know the rest of it is really special.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chocolate Week in Maine

Beth Fish Reads sponsors this weekly meme where we foodies can chat about cookbooks, cooking gadgets, recipes, or anything else gustatory. Be sure to stop over there to find other terrific weekend cooking posts.
Here in Maine we are recovering from Lobster week, and now fully into celebrating the wild blueberry which is enjoying a bumper crop this year.  However, in this household, this has been chocolate week. We celebrated hubbies birthday on Thursday with a chocolate cake, with chocolate fudge filling with chocolate chips, heath bar crunchies, and chocolate fudge frosting.  Granddaughter and I had a great time gussying up a cake mix cake. We even had chocolate ice cream to go with it.

Then yesterday, we were downtown at the Farnsworth Museum and in their gift shop we got a copy of  The Official Whoopie Pie Book - Making Whoopies,  published by DownEast press. We had a wonderful time leafing thru this one and remarking on the many variables of this wonderful treat.  Both Pennsylvania and Maine claim to have originated this delicacy and frankly I don't care where they started as long as they are available. There are as many variations of ingredients as there are lovers of the pies.  My grand-daughter's other grannie LOVES whoopies and we are trying to decide which ones to make her for her birthday later this fall. 

My personal favorites are the ones that have a butter creamy filling as opposed to the marshmellow fluff variety, and I love the pumpkin cake ones.  This book is a fun volume with history, local variations, and lots of recipes. Grand-girl especially loved the 4th of July specials with one blue cake, one red cake, and the white middle. I was in awe of the Whoopie Pie Wedding Cake, trimmed in lavendar and topped with a top hat looking cake.  That one was made by Two Fat Cats bakery in Portland ME.

Incidentally, the typical whoopie pie has less calories than a Dunkin Donuts Chocolate Coffee Coolata, so we therefore can eat them with impunity ---right?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: War on the Margins

Author: Libby Cone
Format: Hard cover 245 pgs Duckworth Press, UK
Subject: Nazi treatment of Jews
Setting: Jersey Islands, 1940-1945
Genre: Historic fiction
Source: review copy from the author
Challenge: ARCs completed

From the publisher: France has fallen to the Nazis. Britain is under siege. As BBC bulletins grow bleak, residents of Jersey abandon their homes in their thousands. When the Germans take over, Marlene Zimmer, a shy clerk at the Aliens Office, must register her friends and neighbours as Jews while concealing her own heritage, until eventually she is forced to flee. Layers of extraordinary history unfold as we chart Marlene's transformation from unassuming office worker to active Resistance member under the protection of artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, who manage to find poetry in the midst of hardship and unimaginable danger.
Drawn from authentic World War II documents, broadcasts and private letters, War on the Margins tells the unforgettable story of the deepening horror of the Nazi regime in Jersey and the extraordinary bravery of those who sought to subvert it.

There's good news and there's bad news with this one.  The good news is that this is a well-written, well-researched, easy to read but hard to forget story about the hardships endured by Jersey Islanders during World War II, particularly those of Jewish (whether real or suspected) descent.

The story is told from the perspectives of several residents, particularly  Marlene, a clerk in the Aliens Registration Office and Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, surrealist Jewish artists and lovers-real historic figures-who fled France, and became part of the Resistance movement on the island.  Their letters form the basis for much of the novel.

Other characters are developed well to represent the population who starved, hid (and hid their neighbors), listened hopelessly and hopefully every night on their forbidden and concealed wirelesses and prayed to be liberated. The stories of imprisonment and  trials of the Resistance members, and the eventual despair of soldiers adds to the perspective.  Ms. Cone gives us a small but stunning view into the minds of those involved in this oft forgotten aspect of the war.  If you enjoyed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you will find this adds another and very different dimension to the story.

While it could easily have been just another novel about people enduring torture, starvation, and privation, about the Holocaust, about man's inhumanity to man, it wasn't.  The story of bravery, treachery, and the effect of all of this (good and bad) on the human psyche, how every act-whether well-intentioned or not- has an impact that is often unforeseeable is the real story.  It is a story very well told.

Now, the sorta bad news: This book was originally self-published in the UK, and later picked up and published overseas by Duckworth Overlook. It was originally slated for paperback release in the states this month, but so far is only available in the Kindle edition.  You can get it from Amazon UK or through the Duckworth site.  Bloggers were largely credited in the UK with getting this one promoted, and I think we can do the same here.  It's a great little book that deserves to be on the shelves for readers here in the US.

Thanks so much to Libby Cone for providing this copy to me for review.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Another step backward!

DISASTER ! ! ! Who me? A drama queen?

As many of you know, I am an audio book addict. I spend at least 4 hours a day listening to books on tape via my handy little MP3 player given to me by a very perspicacious daughter almost 3 years ago when I first developed crippling arthritis in my hands and couldn't hold a book.

Last saturday I flew to Baltimore to pick up my granddaughter who is not quite old enough to fly to visit Tutu unaccompanied. We had a delightful lunch with my son and daughter in law, and then flew back to Portland.

OK so far............

I need to point out that I am a 2+ hour drive from Portland, and that my AM plane left at 6:00AM, so I had to get up at 2:30 to get to the airport in time for my flight. I was trying to save money and this was the cheapest way to do it. By the time we arrived back in Portland at 6:30 PM, I was really drowsy, and NEGLECTED TO PICK UP MY MP3 Player from the seat pocket on the plane. It was only when we got home and I was getting ready for bed that I realized I had lost it. A call to the airlines confirmed my greatest fear: Somebody now has a nice MP3 player with over a dozen audio books loaded on it. I was stocking up for my coming trip....

Bless the darling man I'm married to -he said for me to get a new one quick. I think he didn't want to hear me bitch about not being able to listen to my books. It arrived today (I love Amazon sometimes) and I'm going to be busy seeing how many of the books I can recover. SIGH.....

I was really p o'd because I had only 2 discs left to listen to Let the Great World Spin and had hoped to finish it by now. But I did get War on the Margins almost finished during our 4 hr R/t to the Wild Animal Park today.

One step forward, 2 back....such is life.

Rant over....back to reading...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

One step forward, two back

I love reading and reviewing, but this is the time of the year when I seem to suffer from what my husband calls "Eyes bigger than stomach" disease. Or just plain greed. I see all these fabulous books I want to read and I love to review, but the pile is growing higher, and the clock seems to be going much faster.

With Granddaughter arriving Saturday and then a vacation at the beach with son, d-i-l and g-babe later this month, and then a trip to California 1st week in September to see all the hubby relatives in Modesto and wedding in Los Gatos, and a presentation to give at Maine Library Assn conference in early October, I'm not sure how much reading I'm going to get or stay caught up. So...I'm going to have to sit on my hands and not request any new ones, and not accept any offers for about two months, until I can catch up. This means the contests will have to be run by somebody else also...I'll try to keep the sidebars up-to-date, but can't promise. I almost wish I had an e-reader, but the books I need to read for review probably aren't yet available in e-format anyway, so it probably wouldn't help much. It sure would be easier to drag some of these along on my trips tho....

I'm currently reading The Lotus Eaters for my Vietnam Challenge, and listening to Let the Great World Spin-just because I want to.

Sometime by end of September I have the following I need to read/review:

Way over due - like-- already published:

This is Not the Story you think it is by Laura Munson
Lost Love Found by Tim Gomes
Remembering the Ladies - a book about US first ladies written by a Brit-Ann Covell. I'm really curious about this one.
The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer
Swimming Pool by Holly Lecraw
All over the Map by Laura Fraser

Just out this month

The Doctor and the Diva - by Adrienne McDonnell
War on the Margins = out in UK, but I'm not sure when it's coming in US
Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives - an Early Reviewer book from LT
The Good Psychologist by Noam Shpancer
Rules of Betrayal by Christopher Reich

and coming soon
Ape House Sara Gruen's newest due out in Sept
Keep the Change by Steve Dublanica not due out until Nov

and I just did an ARC swap yesterday at my library workshop to get the newest Louise Penny. If I'd stop being so greedy and agreeing to accept free books for a review, maybe I could get caught up, but then, I'd be feeling like I was missing a good chance to read something exciting....

Going off to grab a book and take a deeeeeeeep breath

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: A New Mystery series for me!

A few weeks ago I started reading a book by Nevada Barr, mainly because a) it was on the shelf at the library as I walked by, and b) it seemed like everybody I know loves her books.  Well, I happened to pick one that was not part of the Anna Pigeon series, and subsequently abandoned it.  My sister and friends encouraged me to try again, so when this latest in her series popped up on the audio shelf, I grabbed it.  And I'm really glad I did.

Hard Truth
Author: Nevada Barr
Format: audio 12 1/2 hours; 336 page equivalent
Characters: Anna Pigeon
Subject: polygamy, wife/child abuse, murder
Setting: Rocky Mountain National Park
Series: Anna Pigeon Mysteries (#13)
Genre: police procedural
Source: Public library

This is a series where I'm definitely going to go back to the beginning so I can catch up. Anna Pigeon is a fascinating character--a 50 something Park Ranger, who's in great shape, has spent her life outdoors, but is still concerned enough to take care of her skin!  A role model for us elder ladies!

In this adventure, she's recently married but has left her new husband back in New Orleans when the call came to take this post in Rocky Mountain National Park. It appears to be a good career step and they agree to take one year to decide whose career will be the one driving where the couple will ultimately live. I sense plenty of room for future tension in that aspect.

When Anna arrives at her new post, she is briefed on an ongoing case of three missing girls from some sort of church campout. When two of those girls emerge from the woods dehydrated, filthy, almost naked, and suffering from 'amnesia' about what happened to them and where they've been for the past two weeks, Anna is skeptical. Church and family elders do not want to pursue the adventure, and if it weren't for the fact that one of the girls is still missing, would not allow any questioning at all.

Add to this mix the fact that the two girls were discovered by a young paraplegic in a wheelchair who is camping in the park with her 80 year old auntie who happens to be a physician, and you have a delicious mix of motivations and characters. This one has a great plot, lots of suspects - not too many too track of though--a gorgeous setting which Barr describes well, and some well developed characters.

Although I have not read the previous 12 in the series, I had no trouble following with the limited backfill. While I am curious about some of the previous adventures (who the husband is and how they met for instance), the lack of knowledge did not detract from my enjoyment of this story. The plot makes a very steady climb to an especially chilling and thrilling climax. I don't usually like "scary in the dark woods" kinds of stories, but I found this one quite believable and was sufficiently grabbed that I had to stay up long past my bedtime to finish it. It is a true cliff hangar. (Read the story and you'll see that is no pun.)

I'm definitely putting the rest of these on my TBR list. A great series with a strong female protagonist, entertaining ancillary characters, believable and thrilling plots, and spectacular settings. Isn't that a recipe for a great read?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: A Favorite Series

If you've visited here with Tutu before, you know that I LOVE a good mystery series. I'm always looking for new ones, while trying to keep up with my favorites. Because so many of these are also available in audio (my favorite format), I find them easy to 'read' while I'm going about my increasingly busy days. I also find them relaxing in the evening, when I don't want to concentrate on a heavier book. This past week, while I was swimming, sewing, and traveling to an out of town library workshop, the audios were a godsend. I continued on with one of my favorites.

Acqua Alta

Alternate Title: Death in High Water
Donna Leon
8 hrs, 30 min; 288 page equivalent;
Guido Brunetti
stolen art objects; murder
Commissario Brunetti (#5)
Police procedural
Public library

I've been reading or listening to various books in this series for almost two years now.  I decided to go back and read them in order to watch Leon's progress as a writer, and Brunetti's development as a character.  These stories don't disappoint even at the beginning.  (I've yet to get to the very first one).  Brunetti and his wife Paola (a college English professor) are urbane, educated, sophisticated and have inherited wealth. Their enjoyment of literature, good wine, travel, and opera adds a degree of sophistication one doesn't always find in the ordinary gumshoe series.  At the same time, Brunetti has to deal with an pompous 'if it's not my idea it won't work' boss who wants to know everything, take credit for everything good and who disavows anything that goes wrong;  two teen-aged off-spring (who needs to say more?)  and the Italian criminal justice system, which does not always work the way the ethical Brunetti would like it too. Guido is too much the practical Italian though to let little things like disregard for the law get in his way.

This episode concerns a ring of antiques dealers/museum curators who are not happy when their theft of precious art objects and substitution of fakes is discovered by an American professor.  The subsequent crime spree that follows as they try to rid themselves of witnesses and evidence is set against the background of the "Acqua Alta"--a periodic Venetian weather phenomenon that occurs when the rains and winds combine with high tides to produce floods of various heights, making getting around the city difficult if not impossible.

As she tells the story, Leon weaves into the plot the antipathy of Venetians for southern Italians, the homophobia of Italian males towards two of the women in the story, and every parent's fears of discovering a teenager who may be engaging in unhealthy/illegal activity.  Nothing more to say---I don't want to spoil it.

If you've always wanted to visit Venice, if you love sophisticated protagonists and a good mystery, this is a must read series for you.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wishlist Wednesday

My weekly wrap-up to highlight great books I've heard about on other blogs, or newsletters, or from my fellow librarians or readers on LT. This will help me keep track of books I see that I want to read, and give me some clue in the future about why I said I wanted to read them!

by Susanna Daniel

I saw this one on Shelf Awareness last week, and read an excerpt at the Harper Collins site.  I'm absolutely hooked, and I'm going to have to get my hands on this one by the end of the year.

America's Women
400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines
Gail Collins
 This has gotten some buzz among my LibraryThing friends, and I've put in on the list.  I love just about anything Gail Collins writes.
Well researched and well written, America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines is a powerful and important book. Starting with Pocahontas and Eleanor Dare (the first female colonist), this lively and fascinating history records the changes in American women's lives and the transformations in American society from the 1580s through the 2000s.
A history of the oft-marginalized sex must often draw from diaries and journals, which were disproportionally written by whites; as a result, African-American and Native American women are not as well represented as white in the earlier chapters of America's Women. However, Gail Collins writes about women of many races and ethnicities, and in fact provides more information about Native Americans, African-Americans, and Chinese, Jewish, and Italian immigrants than some general U.S. history books. She writes about rich and poor, young and old, urban and rural, slave and slave-owner, athlete and aviatrix, president's wife and presidential candidate--and, of course, men and women. And some of these women--from the justly famous, like Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman, to the undeservedly obscure, like Elizabeth Eckford and Senator Margaret Chase Smith--will not only make any woman proud to be a woman, they will make any American proud to be American.
Second Time Around
by Beth Kendrick

I saw this one on Lesa's Book Critiques this past Sunday.  Her review about four college graduates who are given a 2nd chance to do their lives over made this one a definite 'go find it and read it.'

Service Included
Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
Phoebe Damrosch

Peter of Kyusi Reader reviewed this one on his blog this week.  It looks like something right up my alley.  Who wouldn't want a good memoir sprinkled liberally with food?  Peter suggests this one.
Read this book if:
  1. You've been a waiter at one point in your life.
  2. You like eating out.
  3. You're unfazed when you read a menu in a foreign language.
That's why it ended up on my list.
Let's take the Long Way Home
Gail Caldwell

Another one from Shelf Awareness, I was so bowled over by the excerpt on the Random House page that I ordered it---it should arrive today or tomorrow, and I can't wait.  It's a memoir, a tribute to a best friend.  The first chapter pulled me in, made me smile, cry, laugh, and want more.  Do check it out.  I think it's going to be a biggie.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Island-The Audio-The Winners!

The Winners!!!!!
The Island
audio book

Well here's another case where we have a winner who slid in just under the wire.  See it pays to come back and add extra entries.  Our winners this time are

Mia J.

The emails have gone out, and the winners have until Friday evening, August 13 to get me their mailing addresses.  If I don't hear from them by then, I'll have Random.org pick another winner.

My copy of this tantalizing audio book arrived today.  I've got a long trip this weekend with lots of dead time, and I'm hoping to be able to listen to much of this one.

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who stopped by to enter.  

Many thanks to Hachette Audio for offering these great audios for the contest.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme, begun by Marcia at The Printed Page. Mailbox Monday is touring through blogs in the upcoming months. In August it will be hosted by Chick Loves Lit.   Just as the post office or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.  This has been a bonanza week for Tutu.  My daily trek to the Post Office proved well worth it.  Here are the four I got:

The Good Psychologist
By Noam Shpancer
 An ARC from Henry Holt and Company - due out this month.  I saw this one on Shelf Awareness last week, and am anxious to be among the first to read this on.
Noam Shpancer's stunning debut novel opens as a psychologist reluctantly takes on a new client—an exotic dancer whose severe anxiety is keeping her from the stage. The psychologist, a solitary professional who also teaches a lively night class, helps the client confront her fears. But as treatment unfolds, her struggles and secrets begin to radiate onto his life, upsetting the precarious balance in his unresolved relationship with Nina, a married former colleague with whom he has a child—a child he has never met. As the shell of his detachment begins to crack, he suddenly finds himself too deeply involved, the boundary lines between professional and personal, between help and harm, blurring dangerously.
With its wonderfully distinctive narrative voice, rich with humor and humanity, The Good Psychologist leads the reader on a journey into the heart of the therapy process and beyond, examining some of the fundamental questions of the soul: to move or be still; to defy or obey; to let go or hold on.
 Keep the Change:
A Clueless Tipper's Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity
by Steve Dublanica
published by ECCO imprint of Harper Collins pub date 11/2010

Another interesting pitch from Shelf Awareness got me interested in this.  Thanks to Rachel Bressler, the publicist at ECCO for the ARC.  Her blurb:
For the many fans of Steve Dublanica's debut, the New York Times bestselling Waiter Rant, KEEP THE CHANGE is a natural foll up with all of the humor, wry observation and flat out honesty Steve's writing has come to be known for.  In this book he turns his sights on a subject rife with secrecy, confusion and general nervousness -- tipping.

In America, more than 5 million workers depend on tips to make a living, and Americans spend $66 billion dollars in tips each year.  That's right - billions. But who feels comfortable when it's time to leave a tip, and who knows how much is enough, not enough, or too much?  Dublanica aims to assuage all fears in his quest to become (as he calls it) The Guru of Gratuity.

I read the first 10 pages (the prologue) and I'm gasping for breath I'm laughing so hard.  This one is definitely going into the "read it quick" pile.  I know I'm going to love it!

Eighteen Acres 
Nicole Wallace

This is an ARC I received from the Atria Galley Grab, pub date Oct 19,2010.  From the back cover:

To the world, it is simply know as "The White House."  To the staff who regularly clock twelve to fifteen hours a day there, it's the "Eighteen Acres"....Melanie Kingston, the White House Chief of Staff; Dale Smith, White House Correspondent, and Charlotte Kramer, the nations' 45th President, have made it to the top only to see all the accomplishments jeopardized by deception, infidelity, and one tragic mistake.  At the moment that the White House should have been securing the President's re-election, Kramer's administration implodes under rumors of her husband's secret love affair and a grave error of judgment on the part of her closest national security advisor....

After spending....five and a half (years) working in the White House, Nicolle Wallace is uniquely qualified to have written Eighteen Acres.....not just a story of a presidency, it is a study of a family, of relationships conducted under the bright lights of fame, and of the corrupting influences of ultimate power.
 I love political novels, and can't wait to get started on this one.  Thanks to ECCO for the ARC.
and finally................how fun................an audio book I won in one of Bookin With Bingo's many giveaways.  Be sure to click her button over on the left hand side bar to enter and win something on your own.  I got
BackSeat Saints
Joshilyn Jackson
I really enjoyed Jackson's Gods in Alabama, and I understand that one of the main characters in this one was introduced back then.  I loved her then and really can't wait to get to know her better in this one.  It is going to be the perfect book to listen to as I sit on the beach for three days in Ocean City, MD watching my granddaughter dig sand castles.  I can't wait.
Many, many thank you's to Karen (aka Bingo).

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Weekend Cooking

 Beth Fish Reads sponsors this weekly meme where we foodies can chat about cookbooks, cooking gadgets, recipes, or anything else gustatory. Be sure to stop over there to find other terrific weekend cooking posts.  This week I found what I thought would be an interesting book ABOUT food.  I'm really trying to support local farmers and not only eat more healthily, but more responsibly, so this really caught my eye:

Just Food:
Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly
  by James E. McWilliams.

Once I got past the first 20 or 30 pages though, I only skimmed it. It has lots of numbers, some interesting concepts, but it's very dry reading. Like day old bread, it could have used a good soak in olive oil and some tomatoes on top. I think I would have been able to embrace more of his arguments, e.g., eat less meat, use fewer chemicals, farmed fish is OK, etc., had they been presented in a less academic fashion. Pardon the pun--there is certainly food for thought here--but the author has not learned that part of the joy of food is presentation. If you are into food science with a vengeance, there is much here for you. If you're simply a 'foodie' like me, there are many more interesting ways to get your facts. If nothing else, read the first and last chapters, and you'll get a good condensed feel for his arguments.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: Luncheon of the Boating Party

Author: Susan Vreeland
Format: Hardback 420 pgs
Subject: Impressionist art; Auguste Renoir
Setting: Paris 1880
Genre: Historic Fiction
Source: Public Library
Challenge: Book club reads

One of the book clubs I belong to is trying to read a different genre every month, with historic fiction being the genre du mois. I admit, I didn't have much interest when the book was selected, but one of the reasons I like this club is that it expands my horizons. This one was slow getting started, with five different POVs, and about 15 characters to keep track of.  It is essentially the story of how August Renoir came to paint this painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party, and the people he chose to include in the painting.  Along the way, the reader is treated to French history, art history, culinary scenes guaranteed to make you hungry, art lessons, and an engaging view of la vie moderne.

Book club members had various reactions, several (including moi) found it suffered from a gigantic case of TMI (too much information) and that many of the descriptions --particularly of boating scenes could have been cut out or shortened without destroying the story at all. The lone gentleman in the group felt it presented a demeaning picture of women, in that Renoir is portrayed as unable to paint any woman he doesn't love, and he's only thinking bedding them while he's painting.

There were 14 people in this painting, including Renoir's future wife, and it was hard at the beginning to sort out who was who.  I was able to get a 'map' of the painting from the Phillips Collection website (in Washington DC where the painting now lives).  With that in hand,  I was able to enjoy the author's framework...she tells the story of how impressionism was under attack at the time, how the artists had to resort to various painting endeavors to make enough money to live on, and were always in debt. The lives of boaters, restauranteurs, mimes, seamstresses, actresses are all told as vividly as the painting. 

We also learn how the painting is constructed from the time the canvas is stretched until it is finished.  Included is the story of the beginning of the modern art gallery dealer model we still have today. A definite read for anyone who is Renoir fan.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: I Shall not Want

Author: Julia Spencer-Fleming
Format:  audio - approx 15 hours; 336 pgs equivalent
Characters: Clare Ferguson; Russ Van Alstyne, and many others
Subject: Migrant workers, drug smuggling, Romance, murder
Setting: fictional town of Millers Kill NY
Series: Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery
Genre: police procedural mystery, a thrilling cozy
Source: public library

The author's web page calls this series "Novels of faith and murder for readers of literary suspense."  This one is all that and more.  In this the sixth one in her series, Julia Spencer-Fleming gives us more of two of my favorite characters: Clare, the episcopal priest/Army National Guard helo pilot, and Russ - the recently widowed Chief of police/retired Army MP.  In this episode Clare becomes involved with Sr. Lucia, a nun who is sponsoring an outreach to migrant Mexican farm workers who have come to the area to work on the dairy farms (one of which belongs to Russ' sister Janet and her husband).  When Sr. Lucia's van is shot at and crashes, several of the migrants who were passengers run into the woods, and Russ and Clare begin a search for them to be sure no one is hurt.  When the discovery of the first body is followed by several more, the story escalates into a full-blown mystery thriller with many suspects (is there a serial killer hiding somewhere?), some of whom are really nasty characters.  All the while, life goes on in Miller's Kill.  Clare has to placate her vestry, her new deacon, and her bishop.  The police force has to deal with auto accidents, domestic violence complaints, and fraternization. Russ has to figure out if (at 50 years old) he really wants to go on living with his mother. 

Fans of the series know that is not all there is.  Clare and Russ have been romantically attracted to each other all along, but until the death of his wife in the previous book, they've managed not to act on the attraction.  Now as they are try to recover from the events of the previous winter and their individual feelings of guilt, they still are uncertain whether they can or should trust themselves and their feelings as they go forward.  I think it is almost impossible to understand this one unless you read at least #5,  All Mortal Flesh, first.  The series is truly best when read in order, something I've just completed since this spring.

The romance is strong, convincing, funny and but respectful.  In addition to Clare and Russ, Spencer-Fleming introduces a new romantic couple - Hadley Knox, a 32 year old divorcee with 2 kids, and Kevin Flynn, a 24 year old innocent - the two youngest police officers on the force.  Their relationship is touching, funny, and leaves us hopeful that they will be able to work out their differences, and that Hadley will decide to stay with the police force.

SLIGHT SPOILER ahead: In the end of this one, after the crimes are solved,  Clare's National Guard Unit is called up (she receives the call on Christmas night) to go to Iraq for a year.  She has only two weeks to get ready to leave.

The Christmas night love scene in the rectory is positively one of the most erotic I have ever read.

There is not a single word which doesn't fit.  JSF sets a tone of reverence, love, longing, hope, forgiveness and pure joy that leaves the reader panting for more as Clare and Russ finally come together only to face being apart for a year. It is not sultry or salacious, but beautifully portrayed, with just a touch of self- deprecating humor sneaking in.

The next book (#7: One was a Soldier) has had publication delayed until April 2011.  It will be my Lenten penance to have to wait that long.  But if you haven't read the series, then you have time to get them, read them in order, and luxuriate in a great series of mysteries, make friends with the inhabitants of Millers Kill, and get reading for the adventure of spring 2011.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: Rules of Deception

Author: Christopher Reich
Format: Hardback, 356 pages
Characters: Dr. Jonathan Ransome, Emma his wife, and a small nation of others
Subject: Espionage, deception, terrorism
Setting: Switzerland
Series: Jonathan Ransome
Genre: Thriller
Source: Public Library

There are lots of adjectives for this one!  Thrilling, stunning, astounding, heart-pounding, and just plain great.

Jonathan Ransome, a surgeon working for Doctors without Borders is skiing in the Alps with his wife Emma, when she is killed in a horrible accident.  He then discovers she is not who she appeared to be, and as he tries to discover who she really was and what she was doing with her life, he is pulled into an elaborate web of deception, espionage, murder, double agents, and finds himself in mortal danger.

There were almost too many plot twists for my brain to handle. There was also some techno-speak which the author handled very deftly.  I had to pay attention, but I was able to understand what was happening and why. My husband loves these kinds of stories and was driving me crazy to finish it so he could read it.

I actually read this one because I have an ARC of the next one RULES OF BETRAYAL sitting here in the TBR pile.  When I read the blurbs, it seemed like I really needed to read this one first.  All I can say is that it is a true page turner, I was hooked from the first 3 pages, and although at times my brain was spinning from all the twists and turn, and although very few people in this one turned out to be who the reader thought he/she was, it was a very satisfying read that definitely will delight those who love the thriller, spy novel genre.

I'll try to get to the sequel by the end of the month while this one is still fresh in my brain.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Set Sail for Murder

Author: Carolyn Hart
Format: paperback 320 pgs
Characters: Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins, Jimmy Lennox
Subject: Family jealousy and murder
Setting: Cruise ship in the Baltic Sea
Series: Henry O mysteries
Genre: Amateur sleuth, semi cozy
Source: my own shelves
Challenge categories: Read from my Shelves, Book Club Reads

I'm not a huge fan of Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand Series, so when our mystery book club scheduled her as the featured author of the month, I chose to try one of her others from the Henry O series because it had been so long since I gave up on the DODs, I had no desire to re-visit Annie Darling, and this one had been sitting forlornly on my shelf waiting to be read for well over a year since I brought it home from a used book sale.  I was mildly and pleasantly surprised.

"Henry O" is an investigative reporter. She has brains, makes intelligent decisions about what to become involved in, and when to involve authorities, and is a thoroughly likeable protagonist. She is asked by a friend (and former lover) to help him figure out which members of his current wife's family is trying to kill her.  There's a lot of money at stake (not for friend or wife, but for the kids --making a great motive). The book is still definitely a cozy--there's no overt violence, the characters are filled out just enough for us to infer their motivations, the plot moves along in a pretty straight line, the cruise ship setting was well delineated, and anyone who reads mysteries more than twice a year can figure out by about page 200 "who dunnit."  Still in all, it was a pleasant and quick read--the sort one needs when one waits until the day before book club to gobble down something so as to be able to discuss the author intelligently.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme sponsored by Marcia at The Printed Page.  Just as the post office or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.

Ape House by Sara Gruen
 An ARC from Random House.  I loved Water for Elephants, and cannot wait to dive into this one.  The Great Ape Trust blogs about this one..
Truth and fiction are closely aligned in Gruen’s Ape House, a story centered on a fictitious family of language-competent bonobos living in a fictitious language laboratory. The similarities to the language research program at Great Ape Trust – based on the 40-year research corpus of Dr. Duane Rumbaugh, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and William M. Fields and seeking to understand the effects of rearing culture on bonobos' cognitive abilities – are no coincidence.
Gruen’s book addresses head-on the idea that bonobos reared in a culture where spoken language and symbolic representation are the norm acquire language the same way human children do: by being exposed to it.
To be published in September 2010
Language God Talks by Herman Wouk
I won this one in a contest on Metroreader: Reading one Mile at a Time
"More years ago than I care to reckon up, I met Richard Feynman." So begins THE LANGUAGE GOD TALKS, Herman Wouk's gem on navigating the divide between science and religion. In one rich, compact volume, Wouk draws on stories from his life as well as on key events from the 20th century to address the eternal questions of why we are here, what purpose faith serves, and how scientific fact fits into the picture. He relates wonderful conversations he's had with scientists such as Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Freeman Dyson, and Steven Weinberg, and brings to life such pivotal moments as the 1969 moon landing and the Challenger disaster. Brilliantly written, THE LANGUAGE GOD TALKS is a scintillating and lively investigation and a worthy addition to the literature.
Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott
A volume I got from the Atrium Galley Grab earlier this year in my capacity as librarian for our small town.   I'm going to have a quick look before I pass it on though because the BOOKLIST *Starred Review* says:
This splendid debut mystery has everything going for it—and a bit more, if you count sly Scottish charm. Scott’s writing is engaging, and her plotting Macbethian. The setting is a village in the Great Glen (roughly encompassing what the author describes as the “fierce and stunning landscape” between Fort William and Inverness) in the Highlands of Scotland. The time, 1956, is fairly calm but close enough to WWII to have residents still recovering from its devastating effects. The main characters cluster in the tiny newspaper offices of the Highland Gazette, a local weekly that is supposed to concentrate on livestock prices, auctions, and obits. Scott brings back the sounds of a precomputerized newsroom, the smells of ink and acid, and the feel of banging out stories (with copy paper!) on an old Underwood. When a little boy is found murdered in the canal just outside the village, the newspaper’s new editor in chief recruits the part-time typist, whose daughters know the murdered child, to help him investigate the case. They uncover a host of secrets and a number of people with a vested interest in keeping the mystery of the boy’s death unsolved. The characters of the crusading small-town newspaperman and the part-time typist (a battered wife at home) are skillfully drawn and will have readers rooting for them unequivocally. This is the first entry in a projected series, and it is captivating on every level. --Connie Fletcher
And finally, sometimes when you wish upon a star, the dream comes true.  In one of my Wednesday Wishlist posts, I said this one looked like a winner.  I was thrilled when a review copy  of  The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell arrived from Pamela Dornan books, a member of the Penguin Group.  It is at the top of the TBR pile and I hope to get to it by the end of the week.
It is 1903. Dr. Ravell is a young Harvard-educated obstetrician with a growing reputation for helping couples conceive. He has treated women from all walks of Boston society, but when Ravell meets Erika-an opera singer whose beauty is surpassed only by her spellbinding voice-he knows their doctor-patient relationship will be like none he has ever had.

After struggling for years to become pregnant, Erika believes there is no hope. Her mind is made up: she will leave her prominent Bostonian husband to pursue her career in Italy, a plan both unconventional and risky. But becoming Ravell's patient will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Lush and stunningly realized, The Doctor and the Diva moves from snowy Boston to the jungles of Trinidad to the gilded balconies of Florence. This magnificent debut is a tale of passionate love affairs, dangerous decisions, and a woman's irreconcilable desires as she is forced to choose between the child she has always longed for and the opera career she cannot live without. Inspired by the author's family history, the novel is sensual, sexy, and heart-stopping in its bittersweet beauty.
It was a great mailbox week...how about you?  Did you get anything interesting from the postman this week.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Salon - the Perfect Summer Day


  Last weekend, we went touring with friends along the Midcoast of Maine.  We stopped in the beautiful town of Camden Maine, home of many of the Maine Windjammers.

The library sits on a hill overlooking the harbor - and I don't know which is more beautiful the view up the hill or down.  You can be the judge.

This Sunday, we're hoping to give up the deck for a jaunt 'downtown' to the Farnsworth Museum.  We have a membership there and I like to check out what's new.  Right now there are four different exhibitions we really want to see: Homer to Hopper, American Watercolors; N.C. Wyeth: Poems of American Patriotism; Rug Hooking in Maine; and The Wyeths' Wyeths.  The Museum is world renowned for its collection of works by the Wyeth family of painters and there's always something new to see.  Then we can come home, lounge on the deck, pop the top on the pop, grill something to go with the tomatoes, and have some blueberries for dessert.  Who could ask for more?