Sunday, November 28, 2010

A pair of Brunetti's

 A Noble Radiance

Author: Donna Leon
Format: audio -approx 7 hours 256 page equivalent
Narrator:Anna Fields
Characters: Guido Brunetti, his wife Paola, Count
Subject: corruption, social classes,
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: mystery - cold case police procedural
Source: public library audio download


 Fatal Remedies

Author: Donna Leon
Format: audio - 15.7 hrs,  320 page equivalent
Narrator:Anna Fields
Characters: Guido Brunetti, his wife Paola,
Subject: women roles, spousal loyalty, 
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: mystery-police procedural
Source: public library

It's no secret I'm a great fan of Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti police series. One of the reasons is the character of Guido's wife Paola, and their relationship. Watching these two characters grow as the series gets better and better is as enjoyable as solving the well-crafted mysteries, or luxuriating in Leon's descriptions of everydaylife in Venice and the food.

In A Noble Radiance, Guido finds himself investigating a semi-cold case of kidnapping/murder when a body is discovered in a field, and identified as being the missing son of a Venetian noble. Leon has been gradually developing the ideological angst that Brunetti must endure when facing the social and class structure of the ancient city. This one is a bit shorter than previous ones in the series, but every bit as good.

In both of these Paola plays increasingly important roles. Especially in Fatal Remedies Guido finds himself between the rock and the proverbial hard place-- his beloved, fiery tempered, and morally impregnable Paola has been arrested for throwing a rock through the window of a travel agency well-known for arranging 'sex tours' for Italian men to travel to far off countries where young girls are forced into prostitution. Paola wants it stopped, and Guido is about to lose his job when he doesn't stop her!

These two just get better and better.  I'm hoping to catch up on the rest of the series throughout the coming year.  If you haven't read any of them, treat yourself to one (any one will do) in the next few weeks.  A perfect de-stresser for the upcoming holidays.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Lucky Winners Are........

Diane (bibliophile by the sea)
are the two lucky winners of

They have been notified and have until midnite Tuesday November 30th to email me their snail mail addresses so we can have the publisher send these out to them.  Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone who entered, and many thanks to Liz at Random House/Doubleday for making these copies available.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Author: Tom Franklin
Publisher/Format:William Morrow (2010), Hardcover, 288 pages  
Characters: Larry Ott, Silas Jones (aka "32")
Subject: murder, lost opportunities, poverty
Setting: rural Mississippi
Genre: police procedural, Southern fiction
Source: Early Reviewers program,

Remember when we learned to spell "Mississippi" in grade school. EM eye-- crooked letter crooked letter, eye-- crooked letter, etc etc.?? This one gives us Mississippi in all its crookedness. I've read a lot of 'southern' fiction this year, so I have something to compare when I say up front that the strong sense of place I look for in this genre is definitely here. I've read more than a few mystery/detective fiction books this year, and my requirements for those include strong characters and a plot that keeps me turning the pages. Franklin has given us all of these in this 5 star book.

Set in the rural dirt-poor Mississippi of the 1970's as school desegregation was getting into full swing, and the Civil Rights movement was reaching fruition, Franklin evokes the racial tension and cultural baggage that made small town life in the south so problematic. He adds poverty, alcoholism, spouse abuse, and brain breaking hopelessness to characters who are striving to get through one day at a time. The descriptions of the setting and the life of both poor blacks and whites are as realistic as any I've read in months.

The two main characters grew up together, sharing some secrets (and keeping others private) that return to haunt them as adults. And here is where Franklin shines. He takes the individual stories of each--one black, one white--and carefully strings us along in reconstructing their pasts to arrive at a resolution that is shocking, stunning, poignant, and ultimately more hopeful than the story line would dare allow the reader to be. His mastery of dialogue is exceptional.

I won't do a spoiler on the story which centers around the two estranged friends: one who was suspected (but never arrested or convicted) in the disappearance of a high school girl twenty years ago, and is again under suspicion in connection with another recently missing girl, and the other who is now the town constable who must investigate the happenings. I will say that this is destined to be one of better books of 2010. It will not disappoint anyone looking for a strong contemporary police story written in exceptional prose. It has all three: good plot, good scenes, great characters.

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

On this most American of holidays,

as the leaves flutter to the ground, 
or sun shines, or snow falls,
as we gather round our bountiful feasts with family and friends
may we be thankful for the opportunities given us to share that bounty,
may we enjoy peace, health, happiness
and a reminder that life is a cycle of goodness.
We hope your holidays and you tables will be full.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: My Reading Life

Author: Pat Conroy
Publisher/Format: Nan A. Talese (2010), Hardcover, 352 pages
Subject: Reading, books
Genre: memoir
Source: review copy from the publisher

Pat Conroy has always been one of my favorite authors - I've read everything he ever wrote, and am now determined to re-read all of them again. But nothing he has ever written comes close to being the literary masterpiece this one is IMHO. It's the memoir every bibliophile dreams and lusts after---wishing we could close our eyes and pretend that this was the literary legacy of our past, wishing we could put words together and come up with the luscious, gorgeous, delicious images and thoughts that he does.

When I read books, particularly those I've committed to review for the publisher (as I did with this one) I read with pencil in hand to jot down particularly memorable passages, to make note of special ideas, so I can formulate a somewhat coherent description of what I thought of the book, and not leave out anything important. Had I used this technique with this book I would have simply had to copy the entire thing. Here is just one example of what is so memorable:
"I cheer when a writer stops me in my tracks, forces me to go back and read a sentence again and again, and I find myself thunderstruck, grateful the way readers always are when a writer takes the time to put them on the floor. That's what a good book does---it puts readers on their knees. It makes you want to believe in a world you just read about--the one that will make you feel different about the world you thought you lived in, the world that will never be the same." pg. 329-330.
I especially like the fact that he doesn't just concentrate on books however. He spends a great deal of time and effort introducing us to those people who gave him the lifetime gift of books and reading - his mother, his English teacher, a librarian, a bookstore owner, his students. The book is not just a memoir of his reading life - it's a tribute to all those people who molded that life.

This beautiful volume has put him firmly in the ranks of those who hold sway over the reading lives of the rest of us.  
Many thanks to Nan Talese and Doubleday for making this review copy available.  To enter to win a copy, click on the cover on the left sidebar.  Deadline is Saturday Nov 26th.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Time for another Giveaway - Sea Change

Sea Change
by Jeremy Page
published by Viking/Penguin Press.
This one is scheduled for publication December 6th- that's the week after Thanksgiving. I'm planning to spend the holiday weekend reading it, and will have my review posted by the pub date. In the meantime, here's the blurb
A stunning follow-up from the author of Salt--"thrilling and memorable" (Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times).
After experiencing a devastating tragedy, Guy sets out to sea in an old Dutch barge that has now become his home. Every night, he writes the imagined diary of the man he might have been-and the family he should have had.
As he embarks upon the stormy waters of the North Sea-writing about a trip through the small towns and nightclubs of the rural American South-Guy's stories begin to unfold in unexpected ways. And when he meets a mother and daughter, he realizes that it might just be possible to begin his life again.
Haunting and exquisitely crafted, Sea Change is a deeply affecting novel of love and family by an acclaimed young writer.

NOW...............Thanks to Langdon at Viking/Penguin press I have two copies of this to offer. We'll have the giveaway on December 6th to celebrate publication.

Here' the very simple rules:

  1. Leave me a comment telling me whether or not you've read this author before. Be sure you include your email address. NO EMAIL, No ENTRY.
  2. Leave me another comment saying whether you're a follower or become a follower and tell me.
  3. Blog about this on your blog (sidebars are OK) and leave me the link to your post.
  4. I don't tweet or twitter, so you may leave one extra comment between November 29th and December 6th.  Just say "extra entry".  
  5. US addresses only -no PO Boxes.
  6. Deadline is 11:59PM December 5th, EST.
Good luck and enjoy your holiday week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: The Day the Falls Stood Still

Author: Cathy Marie Buchanan
Format: Voice (2009), Hardcover, 320 pages; also in audio - 11.5 hours
Narrator: Karen White
Characters: Bess Heath, Isabel Heath, Tom Cole
Subject: Niagara Falls, hydroelectric power, dressmaking
Setting: Ontario Canada
Genre: historical fiction
Source:print- review copy from the publisher; audio - public library download

I'm almost ashamed at how long it has taken me to get to this well-written, exciting and educational book.  The author, who grew up in the town depicted in the book- the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, has done her research, and gives us a work of historical fiction in which she takes real characters, re-names them, and then gives us a beautiful love story woven into historical narrative about the early harnessing of the power of the Falls for hydroelectric power.

The main character Bess Heath, had a very privileged upbringing but finds herself deprived of many creature comforts when her father is fired from his job, the servants are let go, she is unable to continue to attend her private girls; boarding school, and her mother is forced to take in sewing to support them.

Set during World War I, with flashbacks to earlier headlines from the Falls (late 1800's) Buchanan  gives us fully fleshed out characters who endure the hardships of separation, suicide, unemployment, and class discrimination.  Married on her 18th birthday against the wishes of her parents, Bess watches as her husband Tom Cole goes off to fight the Great War.  He is gone for more than three years, and returns to meet the son who would follow his father as  "the river man", amid a post-war economy with few available jobs.  This could have become a trite 'love at first site' story but instead we get a powerful tale of young love, early environmental concerns, some interesting sidebars on dressmaking and historically based episodes of the life of the river men. 

In addition to a great story the book is illustrated with actual photographs of the period.  For a reader who has not been to the Falls, the pictures are a great addition to understanding the story.  A first-rate read.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review and More Winners - What a Difference a Dog Makes

Author:  Dana Jennings
Format: hardback - 156 page
Subject: Bon mots from a dog
Genre: self-help 
Source: review copy from publisher

This one almost makes me want to get a dog. Author Dana Jennings has given us a wonderful, warm, sweet and gentle ode to his dog Bijou de Minuit (literally Jewel of Midnight). As he recovers from cancer, he learns to listen to doggie wisdom, and shares it with his readers. It is the perfect gift for dog lovers for the up-coming holidays. Even those of us who do not have a dog in their lives at the present time will find the short chapters and simple stories endearing.

The two lucky winners of this one are  Mrs.Shukra and Debbie.  I've sent them both an email and they have until Wednesday Nov 24th to send me their mailing address.

Thanks to Liz at Doubleday for making these copies available.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Memoir # 7 - American on Purpose

Author: Craig Ferguson
Format: audio - 7 1/2 hours, 288 pages equivalent
Subject: alcoholism, addiction, emigration, patriotism
Genre: memoir
Source: public library audio download
Challenge: Month of Memoirs

Alright, I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a man in a kilt. The cover of this one grabbed my interest; several of my LT friends recommended it highly, and the scottish accent was a big draw.

Craig Fersugon, currently the host of the LateLate Show on CBS, was born in Scotland.  Listening to him read his delightful memoir, one has no doubt about his origins.  He speaks easily, eloquently, poignantly of his childhood and adolescence - his less than stellar record in the educational system, and his early start at drinking alcohol. Needing some type of employment, he joined on with a punk band as a drummer.  The drummer skill set stays with him to this day.

In the story, he takes us through years of drinking, drugging, bouncing from job to job, woman to woman, sleeping on friend's floors to buying a house in the country with a very wealthy woman.  We accompany him through 3 unsuccessful marriages and several other romantic relationships.

He drops many names, not in a name-dropping fashion, but more to establish opportunities received and often blown.  He drifts back and forth from Scotland to London to the US and back again.  Finally, he lands in a very expensive re-hab unit outside of London.  Unlike many other "I found religion when I gave up the bottle" memoirs, he tells this part of the story very matter-of-factly, and without the excruciating detail many such stories subject the reader to. While he is brutally honest about his failures, he is deeply apologetic about the havoc wreaked and the lives injured over the years.  He is justly proud of his now 17+ years of sobriety--it took him over 7 years to pay off debts he owed to a long line of friends.

His career since coming to the US in 1993 has steadily improved.  He is now a writer, an actor, a producer and  director.  He is very proud of becoming an American citizen and speaks powerfully of why he is.  He recognizes that the U.S. is not a perfect place to live, but still wouldn't be anyplace else.  He is even more proud of his life- having his own show on CBS, living a sober life, and being ---finally-- a loving husband and father.  He still remembers with great affection the giant color poster he received from NASA when he was a child and wrote to say he wanted to be an astronaut.  It was this first touch with American in fact, that put the idea into his head that he wanted to go to America.

In short, this is a story worth reading.  The language can be a tad raw, but it is true to who the author is.  If you really want the full flavor, I'd recommend the audio format.  Listening to him read the story truly brings it alive. It is laugh out loud funny, inspiring, and memorable. He explains in the ending paragraphs exactly what being an American means to him.
America truly is the best idea for a country that anyone has ever come up with so far, not only because we value democracy and the rights of the individual, but because we are always our own most effective voice of dissent...we must never mistake disagreement between Americans on political or moral issues to be an indication of their level of patriotism.  If you don't like what I say or don't agree with where I stand, then good....I'm glad we're in America and don't have to oppress each other over it.  We're not just a nation, we're not an ethnicity, we are a  dream  of justice that people have had for thousands of years.

Americans taught me failure was only something you went through on your way to success.  For me becoming an American was not a geographical or even  political decision.  It was a philosophical and emotional one based on a belief in the reason and fairness of opportunity. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Contest winners and a Review

Running the Books
The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
Author: Avi Steinberg
Publisher/Format: Nan A. Talese (2010), Hardcover, 416 pages
Setting: prison library in Boston area
Genre: memoir
Source: Review copy from publisher

I find it hard to describe this book.  When I had finished it, I knew I had been allowed a glimpse of something profound.  But when I started it, I spent the first 100 or so pages wandering through the peripatetic mind of the author as he lets us into his rather jumbled mind and wondering if he was EVER going to get to the point. A self-described refugee from Yeshiva and then Harvard- where he wrote a dissertation on something to do with the symbolism of carrots in Bugs Bunny stories, he finds himself in his early 20's barely eeking out a living writing obituaries for the Boston Globe.  When he sees an advertisement for a prison librarian job offering full-time employment AND BENEFITS, he applies.

The book is full of wonders. The first wonder is that he is makes it through the drug screening and the interview process.  The second wonder is that he is hired.  The third is that he is not killed by any of the inmates.  And the fourth is that he not only figures out what the job is, he also figures out who he is and what he is capable of accomplishing in the job.

The final wonder is that I finished the book and loved it.  I realize now that the book mirrors the author's life...disorganized and wandering at the beginning, questioning and tentative as he begins the job, and finally poignant, moving and inspirational at the end, as he finds ways to bring something positive into the lives of many of his 'patrons.'

There are extraordinarily touching stories in here.  For those of us who are librarians, who subscribe to an ethic of providing service and not passing judgments, this is a frustrating book.  Steinberg never went to library school, he never worked in a library--although as a Harvard grad he certainly was familiar with the library's resources.  In the prison setting, he finds himself faced with rules and regulations that severely impact his ability to provide traditional library service; he is required to distrust, to question, to doubt, and to view each patron as a potential problem.  Somehow, he manages to maintain his humanity while bringing some humaneness to the job and to his patrons.

While the library part of the story is interesting, and gives us a glimpse of the inner workings of a system most of us hope never to encounter, it is in the role of Creative Writing teacher that Steinberg shines.  The prison library is part of the Education Department mandated for prisons.  So Steinberg's job description included teaching this class to inmates.  His Harvard education stands him well here, because he has inmates reading Proust, Plata, Plath and writing, and writing, and writing. One inmate is writing his memoirs, another writes poetry, another a letter to her son.  The ability to express themselves in these classes is often the only way many of them have to communicate what has been bottled up for a lifetime. His mentoring helps them unlace their tightly held emotions.

As I said, when I closed the book, I had to stop and take a deep breath.  It was a powerful, deeply moving story- a view of librarianship that most of us will never experience. It is a VERY GOOD book. It is encouraging to know that such talented and feeling young people are coming into the work force. It helps those of us in our 'golden years' sleep more soundly.

NOW.....we had the drawing and have two winners. They have already been notified by email and responded, so their books are on the way.
The Winners Are:


Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Mailbox - November 15th

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme started by Marcia at The Printed Page. Mailbox Monday is now is on blog tour—this month, it’s hosted by Julie at Knitting and Sundries.  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. So be sure to drop over there and see what everybody else got in the mail.

I got some goodies this week:

The Emerald Atlas by
John Stephens

I don't often read YA books, but I have a grand-daughter who has leapt from Little Bear right into the Twilight series, so I'm becoming much more aware of the YA market.  We also are trying to build up our collection at our little town library. So when I had a chance to get a galley of this one, I jumped to grab it.  Publication isn't until next April--hence the plain green cover--so stay tuned for a review sometime early next year.

I got two more contest wins this week

By Sebastian Junger
We have this in hard cover at the library, but hubbie was thrilled when I won the audio version for us because he wants to listen to it during his daily jog.  The unabridged version even included a CD with a PDF printout of the photos on the hardcover.  COOL!
Thanks to Kim at MetroReader for hosting the contest.

The Love Goddess' Cooking School
by Melissa Senate

This one sounds eerily similar to The School of Essential Ingredients, but with a setting in Coastal Maine and an Italian grandmother running the cooking school, who can resist.
Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.
But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam . . . and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness.
  Thanks to Free Book Fridays for the weekly giveaway contests.

Rounding out the week's deliveries,  I got a review copy of
Sea Change
by Jeremy Page
published by Viking Press.
The cover image draws me right into this one and the publisher's blurb leaves me no doubt that I'm really going to find this a topnotch read:
A stunning follow-up from the author of Salt--"thrilling and memorable" (Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times).
After experiencing a devastating tragedy, Guy sets out to sea in an old Dutch barge that has now become his home. Every night, he writes the imagined diary of the man he might have been-and the family he should have had.
As he embarks upon the stormy waters of the North Sea-writing about a trip through the small towns and nightclubs of the rural American South-Guy's stories begin to unfold in unexpected ways. And when he meets a mother and daughter, he realizes that it might just be possible to begin his life again.
Haunting and exquisitely crafted, Sea Change is a deeply affecting novel of love and family by an acclaimed young writer.
It was a great Mailbox week.  What was in yours?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: The Cookbook Collector

Author: Allegra Goodman
Publisher/Format: Dial Press (2010) Adobe E-pub
Subject: sisters, dot-com industry; book collecting
Setting: Berkley CA, and Boston MA
Genre: fiction
Source: library e-book download

Another e-book I thoroughly enjoyed, although I don't think I'd ever be able to read in this format exclusively.  I dislike being tied to a computer to read, and my eyes absolutely will not handle reading on a smart phone, so I sure hope that Santa gets the hint and there's a NOOK under the tree for Tutu.

This was a pleasant surprise - I didn't expect anything as deep as the story presented here.  At first, I was impatient.  The beginnings of the book were all about the relationship (such as it was) between two sisters who appear on the surface to be as different as apples and artichokes.  It was about the dot-com industry and greed, and people making enough money to finance a third world nation for several years.  I kept waiting for the cookbook part...and page 61, we finally got to a collector, but it took until page 162 to get some of the meat of the cookbook collection.

I was also fascinated by the similarity to another book I'd read recently - The Color of Water, in which the mother was disinherited by Jewish parents.  In this one the mother died when the girls were quite young, and the father has remarried and has pre-school twins.  Each of the older sisters is dealing with a romance that the reader may perceive as inappropriate and there are several peripheral relationships and stories going on in addition to the gorgeous story of the ancient, large, and eclectic cookbook collection which one of the sisters, Jess is hired to catalog.  The story of the books, the notes, the inserts, and the recipes themselves is just so much fun.

The plot could be called the standard boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl has other love interests, yada, yada, yada.  But the character development is much deeper than that and watching the love relationships of both the sisters is by far the best part of the book.  Imagine, a double romance with social studies, environmental issues, rare books, Jewish studies, women's relationships, high finance, and genealogy in addition to marvelous recipes.  It's a very satisfying book.

Two more fun ones

My swimming audios this past week included these two from my favorite authors' list:

Author: Margaret Marron
Format: audio - approx 9 hours
Narrator: C.J. Critt
Characters: Deborah Knott, Dwight Bryant
Subject: getting married, solving murder, proving innocence
Setting: Colleton County NC
Series: Deborah Knott Mysteries
Genre: lawyer as sleuth mystery
Source: public library

I love Margaret Maron’s character Judge Deborah Knott.  This adventure continues her romance with Maj Dwight Bryant – finally planning a wedding.  Of course, this being a Margaret Maron book, there is also a murder to solve – this time a good friend of Deborah’s, and a review of a murder case where the accused murderer keeps claiming she is innocent, and two young law students set out (with Deborah’s help of course) to prove her innocence.

I really enjoy this series and find they work especially well in the audio format.I get a lot of exercise in because I don’t want to stop in the middle of a chapter when I’m jogging away in the pool.I haven’t read all eleven of the series, but don’t feel like I’m missing too much by jumping ahead.
Author: Fannie Flagg
Format: audio - approx 11 hours
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Characters: Elner Shimfissle, Norma Warren, Macky Warren
Setting: Elmwood Springs MO
Genre: fiction
Source: public library audio download

Fannie Flagg is one of my favorite "feel good" authors.  Her characters are always so down-to-earth funny and often remind me of my relatives on my mother’s side of the family (the non-Italians).  Here we have the elderly auntie Elner, whose age is undetermined because her sister destroyed the family bible and no one knows exactly when she was born.  Suffice it to say, Elner is old.  She is also fond of making fig jam, and climbing ladders to pick the fresh figs, thus ignoring any advise from her niece Norma about behaving herself as proper ladies should. Norma isn't so much worried that Aunt Elner will hurt herself as she is about what the neighbors will think.

So of course Elner falls from the tree after being stung by wasps and goes to heaven where she meets one of her heroines--“Neighbor Dorothy” of the famous Midwest radio show of the mid 1900s.  Elner also meets God (aka Raymond), visits with Thomas Edison, and then, much to her regret, gets sent back to earth to tell people to enjoy life and stop worrying so much.

Needless to say, no one believes her, and the interactions and reactions of the townspeople when they find out that Elner isn’t dead after all are priceless. The scene where Elner sits up in the emergency room after five hours of 'flat line' is worth the price of the whole book!  This is a laugh-out-loud funny book with enough message to get it past the fluff stage.  A definite curl up for an afternoon and enjoy the hot chocolate book. Alternately, if you're into audio, this is another great one to keep you going while you're exercising.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home
An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War

Author: David Laskin
Narrator: Erik Synnestvedt
Publisher/Format: Tantor Media audio discs; 416 page equivalent
Subject: Immigrants who served in World War I
Genre: narrative history
Source: public library

I saw Ellis Island in the title and picked up this book because my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island in 1910.  He was 25, single, and his papers said his last residence was Avellino Italy.  I thought it might shed some light on what he went through when he came to America.

So I expected that this was going to be the story of how immigrants who arrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s became assimilated into American society.  Laskin certainly does cover that subject, and covers it very well.  However, in addition to the specific stories of 12 different immigrants he follows from their birthplaces in various countries, their immigration and landing at Ellis Island, their first jobs in America, and then their participation in WWI, to their return to the US, their later lives and their deaths, he gives us a detailed overview of US immigration policy, and the role and influence of immigrants in US society.

As he expounds on the immigration issues, one can't help but draw comparisons to the debate raging in our country today.  In 1914, one in three people living in the US was an immigrant or child of an immigrant.  They did not learn English, they stayed in small enclaves of people who spoke their language, worshiped their same god, ate the same food.  It was not until the US entered the war, and these men joined the armed services (almost all of them willingly) to fight for the US against what was for some of them their native countries, that they became not "kikes, jews, wops, & polacks," but Yanks one and all. The bonding that took place on the battlefield transcended language, religion, and customs; the friendships formed lasted lifetimes.

By following the lives of these twelve men and their families (4 Italians, 1 Norwegian, 1 Irish, and the others Slavs and Jews from Russia and the Russian Pale) he gives us a picture of hardship, loyalty, and determination. We get a history lesson and a humanity lesson.  I think he sums it up toward the end:
The only great thing about the Great War was the scale.  So why did they fight?  The question was especially fraught for America's immigrant soldiers.  To fight for your own country is an inescapable part of the social contract.  In exchange for the  benefits of a secure civil society, we offer our bodies  and, if need be our lives, in time of war. But the foreign born were asked, indeed forced to serve without having executed the social contract in full.   In the streets of America, they were aliens, but in no man's land they were expected to fight as fervently as native born Americans.   And for the most part, they did.    It was that loyalty in action that changed everything.  They righted the imbalance of the social contract not by protesting, but paradoxically by submitting.  Their pride in serving won them, and their families, the status they could never have gained without the war. 
In a war remembered more for senseless slaughter than for courage, the service of the foreign born shines.  Nearly  a hundred years later, it's one of the few things about the great war that still does.
 I enjoyed this book and learned a lot.  I do think however, that I've about gotten to the end of my war reading for's time for a change of pace.

Memoir #5: The Things They Carried

Author:  Tim O'Brien
Publisher/Format: Mariner Books (2009), Paperback, 256 pages
Subject: memories from the Vietnam War
Genre: short stories/memoir
Source: My own shelves
Challenge: Read from my shelves; War Through the Generations

What a way to honor our Veterans today!   This is a book I read for the Vietnam Reading Challenge sponsored by War Through the Generations.  The author, Tim O'Brien, is featured over there this week as he compares the Vietnam War to today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  His thoughts are a good addition to what is featured here.

It seems strange to read a book written about death, mire, dismemberment, fear, and squalor and then call it beautiful.  But it is just that.  O'Brien is truly one of today's most gifted writers, giving us the ugliness of war in beautiful eloquent prose.  As he tells the stories of "A" company and his fellow soldiers humping their way through the killing fields of Vietnam, slogging through marshes, creeping blindly through jungles at night, and hiding in pits, we see them as individuals, we feel their fear, their bravado, their anguish and their emotions.  We also see the author's torment as he tries to tell the stories.  Does he give us bare truth?  What is truth?  Should he embellish?  He says:
The truths are contradictory. It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque.  But in truth, war is also beauty. For all its horror, you can't help but gape at the awful majesty of combat....It's not pretty exactly, it's astonishing. It fills the eye.  It commands you.  You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not.  Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference--a powerful implacable beauty--and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly. (pg. 77).
 Each story is a stand-alone, but together they form an aggregate of emotions that help us feel.  We may never have had to endure what they did, but we at least know what they felt as they went through the experience, because the very first story lets us understand that among the things they carried, the heaviest were the fear, the hope, the love, the nostalgia, the loneliness that each young man took with him as he went to war.

If you never read another book about war......any should read this one.  It is jaw-dropping in its beauty, and that is what is so special: that a subject so ugly can be described in such splendor.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Marines!

Today is the 235th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps

During the American Revolution, many important political discussions took place in the inns and taverns of Philadelphia, including the founding of the Marine Corps. 

A committee of the Continental Congress met at Tun Tavern to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on shore.  

The resolution was approved on November 10, 1775, officially forming the Continental Marines

As the first order of business, Samuel Nicholas became Commandant of the newly formed Marines. Tun Tavern’s owner and popular patriot, Robert Mullan, became his first captain and recruiter. They began gathering support and were ready for action by early 1776.  

Each year, the Marine Corps marks November 10th with a celebration of the brave spirit which compelled these men and thousands since to defend our country as United States Marines.  From: The Marines, the few, the proud

I can't think of a better way to celebrate this incredible organization than to read about some of its most unforgettable achievements.  Last night I finished a very readable and unforgettable book by a Marine who served in Vietnam. This is actually memoir #5 in my Month of Memoirs.


Author: Barry Fixler
Publisher/Format: Exalt Press (2010), advance galley, 320 pages
Subject: war in Vietnam and the U.S. Marines
Setting: Vietnam
Genre: Memoir
Source: signed copy from the author

Barry Fixler was a fun-loving Long Island teenager when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps because his father had admired the Marines so much while he was on duty with the Army during WWII.

Today Fixler is a successful jeweler in Long Island who is the embodiment of the saying "Once a Marine, always a Marine."  His irreverant almost flip style of writing about war actually brings home the horrors he and his fellow Marines endured.  Having lived a rather sheltered and comfortable middle class life, he finds himself enduring the training of Parris Island, Camp Lejeune, and Camp Pendleton before being shipped off to ground combat duty in Vietnam.  He survived 13 months of ferocious and horrific fighting and hardship, including the famous 77 day siege of a hill in Khe Sahn, a battle which many consider one of the greatest battles ever fought by the Marines.

He gives us the raw, unvarnished, gory truth about young men at war. But he also gives us one of the most loving portraits of Marines I've ever read. It is not a book for the squeamish, but he does not dwell on the gore.  He focuses instead on the relationships and lifelong friendships the Corps builds. His engaging style, while earthy, shows why the sub-title is 'fond' memories of Vietnam. The experience is engraved in his mind and heart forever.

Fixler is donating 100% of the profits from the sales of this book (pub date: Dec 1) to help Marines who are combat casualties of today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The story of his life today, and his efforts on behalf of these wounded warriors is only a few short chapters at the end of the book, but they are as powerful as the earlier, easy to read, sometimes laugh out loud adventures of this young and brash teenager who returned home in one piece as a confident mature adult, and who has never forgotten the lessons of comradeship and devotion to duty that were inculcated in him by the Corps.

Thanks Barry for a terrific book, and for showing us that war can be horrible, but honorable service to one's country can build fond memories.  Semper Fi and Happy Birthday!

I received this book as a participant in the War Through the Generations challenge.  Barry Fixler was kind enough to provide a copy for every participant in the challenge.  It's been an incredible year reading about the history, battles, and politics of that conflict, and anyone wanting to understand the role of Marines in Vietnam will enjoy this book.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: The School of Essential Ingredients

Author: Erica Bauermeister
Publisher/Format:New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, c2009. 256 pages
Characters: Lillian, Abuelita, assorted students
Subject: food, cooking and life
Setting:Lillian's restaurant
Genre: fiction
Source: Member Giveaway program on LibraryThing

This is a lovely book, an easy read, and one that is sure to be enjoyed by all but the hardest hearted. There are hundreds of reviews written for this one, so I don't need to add to that corpus. Suffice it to say that it brings together an interesting range of people who are at various stages of life -- from a recent high school graduate who has very low self-esteem and a somewhat manipulative boyfriend to an elderly dear on the cusp of dementia, mixed with a couple recovering from an affair, a mother trying to find herself, a widower still grieving for his deceased wife, an immigrant trying to find the food of her childhood, and a young geek who received the enrollment in the class as a gift from his mother.  They come to a cooking class with a variety of expectations.

Lillian the instructor doesn't teach recipes, she helps her students get through life by introducing them to 'the essential ingredients' - both of food and life. It's a quiet, soothing, gentle but stunning book. It's been sitting on my shelf for over a year - I got it through Member Giveaway program on LibraryThing sometime late in 2009. I'm so glad I finally pulled it down from that shelf to read.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Mailbox - November 8th

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme started by Marcia at The Printed Page. Mailbox Monday is now is on blog tour—this month, it’s hosted by Julie at Knitting and Sundries.  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. So be sure to drop over there and see what everybody else got in the mail.

Once again, I've been blessed with an abundance of quality over quantity.  Here's what the delivery trucks dropped at my door :

The Last Brother by

Nathacha Appahah

This lovely small novel arrived as a result of a request I made after seeing it on Shelf Awareness.  This small non-profit publisher has some gorgeous volumes in its collection, and this one promises to be another winner. The blurb:

In the remote forests of Mauritius, young Raj is almost oblivious to the Second World War raging beyond his tiny exotic island. With only his mother for company while his father works as a prison guard, solitary ever since his brothers died years ago, Raj thinks only of making friends. One day, the far-away world comes to Mauritius, and Raj meets David, a Jew exiled from his home in Europe and imprisoned in the camp where Raj's father works. David becomes the friend that he has always longed for, a brother to replace those he has lost. Raj knows that he must help David to escape. As they flee through sub-tropical landscapes and devastating storms, the boys battle hunger and malaria - and forge a friendship only death can destroy. 
My Reading Life
by Pat Conroy
What a Difference a Dog Makes 
by Dana Jennings
Here are two I received from Liz at Doubleday to review and offer for giveaways. You can enter here to win a copy of that darling doggie and go here for the contest to win a copy of the great new one from Pat Conroy.

I can't wait to read all of these.  Now I need to go see what everyone else got.
What was in your mailbox this week?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Let the Cookies Begin - Weekend Cooking

It's a drizzly, foggy, rainy autumn day here in Maine - perfect for baking cookies.  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.

Today's post is brought to you by the lowly but luscious persimmon.  Many of you are already puckering up your faces because this gorgeous fruit (or berry) is generally perceived as bitter and un-edible.  Think again.  Here's a quick lesson from Wikipedia:
A persimmon is the edible fruit of a number of species of trees in the genus Diospyros in the ebony wood family (Ebenaceae). The word Diospyros means "the fruit of the gods" in ancient Greek.[1] As a tree, it is a perennial plant. The word persimmon is derived from putchamin, pasiminan, or pessamin, from Powhatan, an Algonquian language (related to Blackfoot, Cree and Mohican) of the eastern United States, meaning "a dry fruit".[2] They are high in glucose, with a balanced protein profile, and possess various medicinal and chemical uses.
Now that we have that straight, let's quickly add that for this recipe, I've always used the Japanese Hachiya variety seen here- they are conical in shape as opposed to the Fuyu variety which is more round like an apple. Either variety works, but the Hachiya seems to yield more pulp.
40 some years ago, when I first married Mr. Tutu, his mother (may she enjoy eternal happiness in heaven) gave me this recipe indicating it was among her son's favorites.  To this day, neither of us can pass the produce department anyplace and not pick up persimmons if they're available.  They are generally in the stores in Nov-Dec, so these cookies are a notable feature of any Tutu cookie collection.  Earlier this week two of these beauties arrived at our house and have been ripening  ever since. This morning they were pronounced perfect to go, the recipe card was produced, the cookie sheets coated with parchment paper, and the glorious aroma of cloves, freshly grated nutmeg, and cinnamon began wafting through the air.

The hardest part of the whole recipe is keeping our hands off the just baked cookies until they have cooled enough to avoid burning our mouths. I wish there was someway to have this plate send the wonderful aroma out to the blogosphere. I guess you'll just have to make them yourself. They won't win any beauty contests, but they never stay around long enough to be admired.
The Recipe

1 C persimmon pulp (remove pit and cap, then peel VERY ripe fruit)
1 egg
Put these in a blender and puree 
1/2 C butter (1 stick) 
1 C sugar
Cream these in mixing bowl
2 C all-purpose flour
1 Tsp baking SODA
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Mix dry ingredients together
Add puree and dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture, mix briefly until everything is incorporated.
Stir in
1 C chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts work best)
1C raisins (the golden ones really look great)

Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet (I use parchment paper instead of greasing)

Bake 20 minutes at 325°F.  Makes 5 dozen.  Cool on wire rack before eating.  If there are any left on the plate at the end of the day, store in cool, dry cookie jar.  They freeze well also.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Another Terrific Giveaway - My Reading Life!

Liz at Doubleday must be reading my mind these days!  I'm having such a great time reading memoirs and now comes a memoir on reading from one of my favorite authors - Pat Conroy.  Here's what the publisher has to say about this:

Starting as a childhood passion that bloomed into a life-long companion, reading has been Conroy's portal to the world, both to the furthest corners of the globe and to the deepest chambers of the human soul. His interests range widely, from Milton to Tolkien, Philip Roth to Thucydides, encompassing poetry, history, philosophy, and any mesmerizing tale of his native South. He has for years kept notebooks in which he records words and expressions, over time creating a vast reservoir of playful turns of phrase, dazzling flashes of description, and snippets of delightful sound, all just for his love of language. But reading for Conroy is not simply a pleasure to be enjoyed in off-hours or a source of inspiration for his own writing. It would hardly be an exaggeration to claim that reading has saved his life, and if not his life then surely his sanity.  

Can you blame me for haunting the mailbox for the next week waiting for my review copy?  Anyway, you too could be lucky enough to win one of two copies Liz has made available.  Here's how:

  1. For one entry, leave a comment telling me what your favorite Pat Conroy book is.  If you've never read any of his books, go to the left sidebar on Pat Conroy's page and take a look to tell me which one sounds like the one you'd like to start with.
  2. For an extra entry, leave a separate comment telling me you're a follower (or become one and let me know).
  3. For another entry,  make a separate entry telling me you blogged,( or Tweeted, or any other Social speak you do ) about the giveaway, (sidebars are fine) and LEAVE ME THE LINK to the posting (if I don't get a link, the entry doesn't count).US addresses only, no PO Boxes.
  4. You MUST leave me an email address to contact you.  NO EMAIL, NO WIN.
  5. Deadline is Nov 26th -11:59 PM.
Many thanks again to Liz at Doubleday for making this one available and good luck.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Giveaway Time!!! What A Difference a Dog Makes

Just In Time for Holiday Gift Giving
What a Difference a Dog Makes
Dana Jennings

2 copies available


A must-read for every dog lover—a short, tender, and uplifting tale of a cancer survivor and the life lessons shared with him by his beloved family dog.

Our dogs come into our lives as “just the family pet,” but before we know it they become drinking buddies and fuzzy shrinks, playmates and Cheerios-munching vacuum cleaners, alarm clocks and sleeping partners. And, in their mys­terious and muttish ways, our dogs become our teachers.

When Dana Jennings and his son were both seriously ill—Dana with prostate cancer and his son with liver failure—their twelve-year-old miniature poodle Bijou became even more than a pet and teacher. She became a healing presence in their lives. After all, when you’re recovering from radical surgery and your life is uncertain, there’s no better medicine than a twenty-three-pound pooch who lives by the motto that it’s always best to play, even when you’re old and creaky, even when you’re sick and frightened.

In telling Bijou’s tale in all of its funny, touching, and neurotic glory, Jennings is telling the story of every dog that has ever blessed our lives. The perfect gift for animal lovers, What a Difference a Dog Makes is a narrative ode to our canine guardian angels.

Here are the rules for the giveaway: 
  1. For one entry, leave a comment telling me if you're a dog owner, with dog's name and breed.  If no dogs are in your house, tell about a dog you know.
  2. For an extra entry, leave a separate comment telling me you're a follower (or become one and let me know).
  3. For another entry,  make a separate entry telling me you blogged,( or Tweeted, or any other Social speak you do ) about the giveaway, (sidebars are fine) and LEAVE ME THE LINK to the posting (if I don't get a link, the entry doesn't count).US addresses only, no PO Boxes.
  4. You MUST leave me an email address to contact you.  NO EMAIL, NO WIN.
  5. Deadline is Nov 19th -11:59 PM.
Many thanks again to Liz at Doubleday for making this one available and good luck.