Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Mailbox - No Tricks, Just Treats

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently, but here's a warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting  this month by Savvy Verse & Wit has been an absolute treat.  Be sure to stop by to see what others got in their Trick or Treat mailboxes this week.

This is a consolidated Mailbox list for Tutu covering the past few weeks.  I've been traveling and have tried to keep down review requests piling up at the Post Office while I'm away, so some are virtual arrivals in my NOOK.

From Macmillan Audio comes a copy of Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides' latest.  This one should get me through many long hours of needlework in the upcoming winter.
"There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel." — Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers

Madeleine Hanna was the dutiful English major who didn't get the memo. While everyone else in the early 1980s was reading Derrida, she was happily absorbed with Jane Austen and George Eliot: purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. Madeleine was the girl who dressed a little too nicely for the taste of her more bohemian friends, the perfect girlfriend whose college love life, despite her good looks, hadn't lived up to expectations.

But now, in the spring of her senior year, Madeleine has enrolled in a semiotics course "to see what all the fuss is about," and, for reasons that have nothing to do with school, life and literature will never be the same. Not after she falls in love with Leonard Morten--charismatic loner, college Darwinist and lost Oregon boy--who is possessed of seemingly inexhaustible energy and introduces her to the ecstasies of immediate experience. And certainly not after Mitchell Grammaticus--devotee of Patti Smith and Thomas Merton--resurfaces in her life, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

The triangle in this amazing and delicious novel about a generation beginning to grow up is age old, and completely fresh and surprising. With devastating wit, irony and an abiding understanding and love for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides resuscitates the original energies of the novel while creating a story so contemporary that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.
No....nothing is wrong with the picture.  This small 110 page photo essay arrived in my mailbox just before I left for Florida.  I had ordered it based on recommendations from LibraryThing friends.  It wasn't exactly what I'd expected--a little sparse on the storyline,  but it will certainly be a discussion starter when left on your coffee table.

Hurricane Story is a spellbinding odyssey of exile, birth and return told in forty-six photographs and simple, understated prose. This first-person narrative told through dreamlike images of toys and dolls chronicles one couple’s evacuation from New Orleans ahead of the broken levees, the birth of their first child on the day that Katrina made landfall, and their eventual return to the city as a family. Shaw’s photographs, at turns humorous and haunting, contrast deftly with the prose.

This clothbound hardcover edition includes an introduction by Rob Walker, author of Letters From New Orleans and former “""columnist for The New York Times Magazine.
BOOKS that landed on my NOOK

Blood Safari is a harrowing novel from internationally acclaimed thriller writer Deon Meyer, an expert storyteller whose wickedly fast narratives reveal the heart of his enthralling country.In Blood Safari, Emma Le Roux, a beautiful young woman in Cape Town, sees her brother named on the television news as the prime suspect in the killing of four poachers and a witch doctor. But it can’t be possible: Emma’s brother is supposed to be dead, having disappeared twenty years ago in Kruger National Park. Emma tries to find out more but is attacked and barely escapes. So she hires Lemmer, a personal security expert, and sets out into the country in search of the truth.
A complicated man with a dishonorable past, Lemmer just wants to do his job and avoid getting personally involved. But as he and Emma search for answers from the rural police, they encounter racial and political tensions, greed, corruption, and violence unlike anything they have ever known.
The first in a series of Cork O'Connor mysteries, Iron Lake looked too good to pass up when Barnes and Noble offered it for their Friday special. This is one series I'm itchin' to get into.

Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, Corcoran "Cork" O'Connor is the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota. Embittered by his "former" status, and the marital meltdown that has separated him from his children, Cork gets by on heavy doses of caffeine, nicotine, and guilt. Once a cop on Chicago's South Side, there's not much that can shock him. But when the town's judge is brutally murdered, and a young Eagle Scout is reported missing, Cork takes on a mind-jolting case of conspiracy, corruption, and scandal.
As a lakeside blizzard buries Aurora, Cork must dig out the truth among town officials who seem dead-set on stopping his investigation in its tracks. But even Cork freezes up when faced with the harshest enemy of all: a small-town secret that hits painfully close to home.
Then through Net Galley, I received publisher's ARCs for these:

Pub date:  11/01/2011
From the author of Home in the Morning comes the sweeping story of a father and son, and of the loves that transform them amid the turbulence of the American South.

Bernard Levy was always a mystery to the community of Guilford, Mississippi. He was even more of a mystery to his son, Mickey Moe, who was just four years old when his father died in World War II. Now it’s 1962 and Mickey Moe is a grown man, who must prove his pedigree to the disapproving parents of his girlfriend, Laura Anne Needleman, to win her hand in marriage. With only a few decades-old leads to go on, Mickey Moe sets out to uncover his father’s murky past, from his travels up and down the length of the Mississippi River to his heartrending adventures during the Great Flood of 1927. Mickey Moe’s journey, taken at the dawn of the civil rights era, leads him deep into the backwoods of Mississippi and Tennessee, where he meets with danger and unexpected revelations at every turn. As the greatest challenge of his life unfolds, he will finally discover the gripping details of his father’s life—one filled with loyalty, tragedy, and heroism in the face of great cruelty from man and nature alike.
A captivating follow-up to Mary Glickman’s bestselling Home in the Morning, One More River tells the epic tale of ordinary men caught in the grip of calamity, and inspired to extraordinary acts in the name of love. 
Mary Glickman is a writer, public relations professional, and fundraiser who has worked with Jewish charities and organizations. Born on the south shore of Boston, Glickman studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. While she was raised in a strict Irish-Polish Catholic family, from an early age Glickman felt an affinity toward Judaism and converted to the faith when she married. After living in Boston for twenty years, she and her husband traveled to South Carolina and discovered a love for all things Southern. Glickman now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, with her husband, cat, and beloved horse, King of Harts.
 Pub date: 11/08/2011.  I started this's fairly hefty, but really pulling me right in.
Set in Madrid, Tetuan, and Lisbon before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War through the Second World War, The Time In Between follows the life of Sira Quiroga, a poor seamstress from Madrid who, after being abandoned in Algiers by her lover, forges a new identity and becomes the most sought-after couturiere in North Africa for the idle rich and the wealthy wives of German Nazi officers. But she is soon embroiled in a world of spies and counterspies and passes information on to the British Secret Service through a secret code stitched into the hems of her dresses.

The Time In Between 
is one of those rare, richly textured novels that, down to the last page, keeps you hoping it won’t end.  Written in splendid prose, The Time In Between moves at an unstoppable pace. An exceptional debut, it is is a thrilling adventure through ateliers of haute couture, the glamourous elite, political conspiracies and obscure secret service missions blended with the unhinged power of love.
Penguin Audio sent an electronic copy of The End of Normal  for my review.  It's one I'm really excited about - an audio and a memoir.
An explosive, heartbreaking memoir from the widow of Mark Madoff and daughter-in-law of Bernard Madoff, the first genuine inside story from a family member who has lived through- and survived-both the public crisis and her own deeply personal tragedy.
I'm thinking these are going to be more than enough to add to my already toppling pile of books to be savoured, but they are each singing to me for different reasons, so I'm always going to have something that will fill my unquenchable thirst for good reading.  What was in your mailbox recently?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I'm not too fond of lifting things from other people without attribution, but this is publicly available on YouTube. It's a fun video that brings back memories of the many scary books and movies those of us who are chronologically advantaged enough to remember from days when we could still have loose candy, homebaked cookies and real apples (sans razor blades) in our pillow cases (AKA Trick Or Treat) Bags, when we could still eat candy without the food police screaming at us, and when it was just plain good scary fun.Thanks to my friend Megan Johnson for posting on her Facebook page so I could "borrow" it from her.

Let's all hope this is the year that Charlie Brown finally sees the Great Pumpkin and everyone has a good scary fun-filled evening.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Memoir: Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Author: Gail Caldwell
Publisher Format: Random House (2010), Hardcover, 208 pages
Subject: Friendship, alcoholism, death, grieving
Setting: Cambridge Massachusettes
Genre: Memoir
Source: my own shelves

This brilliant tribute to friendship has been sitting here on my TBR shelf since the day it was published last year.  I had intended to include it in my Month of Memoirs last year, but life kept happening.  I'm so glad though that I finally got to it because it is definitely worth reading, and like the friendship it describes, cherishing.

Gail and Caroline met as they were walking their dogs.  Both writers, both women who valued their solitude, they met everyday to walk the dogs, and as the friendship grew, to teach each other the finer points of their chosen sports: swimming and rowing.

Caldwell frames this relationship with a look back at her personal struggles with alcoholism, and shows us how she was able to remain sober with the help of Caroline, who had overcome her own problem with anorexia, but who was struggling to stop smoking.

The premature end to their friendship when Caroline died of lung cancer at the age of 41 did not end the memoir.  Caldwell gives us a quiet, calm, and somber reflection on how she was able to continue life while missing her best friend.  The last part of the story is as much a story of her relationship with her dog who helped her through the grieving period.

Although many have claimed this is a tear-jerker, I found the story heart-warming, inspiring and a beautiful tribute to the true meaning of friendship.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Friends-- How many do we need?

Instead of a regular Sunday Salon post these week, I want to talk a bit about friends.These days it is fashionable to have lists of "friends" everywhere. There are friends we've never met, friends of friends who become our "friends", people who think we're "friends" because we met at the bus stop or the checkout line at the grocery, stores where we shopped who claim we're now their "friends" just because somewhere we said we "liked" them, and pop stars who claim us as their "friends" because we once bought a ticket to one of their movies or concerts, lots of people we barely know (if at all!) who have "friended" us to be able to keep track of our lives, and often, to intrude on them.  The word has lost its meaning and is being used in place of acquaintance, colleague, associate, or simply contact when it's used as a noun, and good grief - the trouble we find ourselves in when we convert that once meaningful noun to a verb!

On the other hand, those of us raised in more traditional (some say uptight times?) still lean to the definition found in The Oxford English dictionary:
a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations
 Or Webster's definition:
One who entertains for another such sentiments of esteem, respect, and affection that he seeks his society and welfare; a wellwisher; an intimate associate;
Last week, when we visited Florida for a few days, I was reminded of what the real meaning of the word  is. We had the beautiful and all too rare experience of being able to spend an entire day with two very very dear friends, whom we've known since 1969. As often happens with military folks, our friends are torn from us time and again; but time and again, we find a way to stay in touch, to meet up, to share not just memories but dreams, not just successes but aches and pains, accomplishments and sorrows.

Spending time looking back on our shared memories, filling each other in on family members, jobs finished, ongoing projects, unmet expectations, dashed dreams, exciting new adventures, and the pros and cons of living in opposite extremes of the weather this country has to offer, we found ourselves talking about BOOKS. In fact, we spent hours lingering over a wonderful lunch sitting on the deck by the inter-coastal waterway in St. Augustine watching water birds pull fish out of the water, and talking about all the different books and writers we'd discovered since the last time we got together over two years ago. We left with promises to send longer lists to fill in what we shared that afternoon, and with the glorious elation that comes from knowing that our liberal arts educations were not wasted, and our aging brains were still capable of rational analysis, debate, and consensus.

I don't need a blog or Facebook, or twitters or tweets or MySpace, to stay in touch. These are people that we know will always be there for us and who understand who we are and what we are about. We may go months without hearing from them, but when one or the other calls, it's like we were never apart. Our shared lives are rich in the love and understanding we've had over the years, and that's what true friendship is all about. I'll never have to worry about being 'unfriended.'

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review: Port City black and white by Gerry Boyle

Author: Gerry Boyle
Publisher/ Format: Down East Books (2011), Hardcover, 355 pages
Subject: street crime
Setting: Portland Maine
Series: Brandon Blake Mysteries
Genre: police procedural mystery
Source: ARC from publisher

Police recruit Brandon Blake, along with his partner Kat, are called to calm down a noisy party.  While there, they discover the occupant is drunk, high on drugs and has no idea where her six month old baby is.  She thought he was asleep in the bedroom, but he seems to have disappeared and she can't remember anything.  Brandon, who has arrived at adulthood with unresolved abandonment issues of his own from his alcoholic mom, is merciless in his pursuit of the missing child. 

Although he is new to the Portland police force, he is not new to violence.  He is well known throughout the city, and the police force, from an incident in which he killed a man who was holding his (Brandon's) fiancèe at gunpoint.  The police accepted him into the police academy after this incident, but many consider him too quick on the trigger, and too rigid in his attitude to make a good cop.  His fiancèe Mia, is having a hard time adjusting to his inability to check his job at the door (or in this case on the dock, since they live on a boat in the Marina). She is spending more and more time with her best friend Lily, whom Brandon describes as a "trustfunder" and Lily's boyfriend Winston, a restaurant owner who hails from Barbados.  Something about the pair doesn't sit well with Brandon, and his attempts to investigate Winston outside of official channels get him in more hot water with the brass.

This is the 2nd book featuring Brandon Blake and I'd have liked to have read the first one before this, but Boyle does a good job of just enough backfill to help us get to know this interesting young man without having to read the previous volume.  The plot develops in a quick, sharp and straight line.  The characters give the reader a well-drawn portrait of the ethnic tensions that are building in this small but charming seaport town, and a view of a small but professional police force.

Although I live in Maine, I don't get to Portland too often.  I felt though that the descriptions of the town, the routes taken by police cars, the landmarks, etc, brought the city to life for the reader who has no knowledge of the city. It's a good solid police story, with lots of room for the main characters to expand (should we look for Brandon to make detective early in his career?) and excellent writing.

Thanks to DownEast books for providing a review copy.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Author: Arundhati Roy
Publisher/Format: Harper Perennial,trade paperback, 333 pages
Year of publication: 1988
Subject: Women's lives in India
Setting: Kerlala India
Genre: fiction
Source: Public library

The winner of the Booker Prize in 1997, this exquisite novel about women's role and lives in India in the 1960's and onward, is part of an ongoing series we are reading at our library showing the roles and stories of women in a variety of cultures.  This one blew us all away both from the story itself, and from the pure beauty of the language.

The story of a multi-generational family features a grandmother who manages a Pickle factory (actually what we think of as chutney), who is almost completely blind, who plays the violin, and who endures incredible beatings from her husband every night after he retires and has nothing to do. It is only after their son Chacko returns to the area having been divorced from his English wife and threatens his father with dire consequences that the old man stops beating his wife.  Mammachi (the grandmother), while she certainly doesn't like being beaten, doesn't seem to feel there is anything out of the ordinary about it, and certainly doesn't feel empowered herself to end the beatings.

Then there is the daughter Ammu, divorced mother of the "two-egg" twins Rahel and Estah, who engages in an illicit affair with an untouchable, a man adored by the children.  She has not given the twins a last name because she is considering going back to her maiden name, but feels between her father and her abusive husband, there's not much to choose from and so doesn't want to be associated with either.

There's another auntie who converted to Roman Catholicism so she could be close to a priest for whom she had fallen, even going so far as to enter a convent.  When she realized he was not going to leave the priesthood and marry her, she leaves the convent, returns to the family home, and adds to the general mayhem.  Religion doesn't seem to play a major role in her life and she is livid when she discovers the good Father has left the RC priesthood, converted to hinduism, and taken a hindu wife.

  The story actually opens with a funeral.  Sophie "Mol", Chacko's daughter, and her English mother have come for a visit at Christmas time.  Sophie Mol drowns, and the story starts with her funeral and progress backwards and forwards from there.  The time line is somewhat difficult to follow at first, but the lyricism of the words strung together and made up with perfect precision to describe a thought makes the reader forget any problem with story line.  Every page has sentences and often paragraphs of prose that is so fantastic that it is difficult for us mere mortals to describe it.  I could give a quote from every page and not cover all the beauty of this writing.

Here are a few examples:
"Rahel's new teeth were waiting inside her gums, like words in a pen."
"Margaret Cochamma climbed into the advertisement (the family car with signs painted on it) with her brown back-freckles and her arm-freckles and her flowered dress with legs underneath."

Ammu flew through her dream on heavy, shuddering wings, and stopped to rest, just under the skin of it.  She had pressed roses from the blue cross-stitch counterpane on her cheek.  She sensed her children's faces hanging over her dream, like two dark, worried moons, waiting to be let in.

"D'you think she's dying?" she heard Rahel whisper to Estha. 
"It's an afternoon-mare," Estha-the Accurate replied.  "She dreams a lot."
 This is a book that belongs in the library of every serious lover of literature.  It's one I certainly plan to read again, and again.  As a cultural exposè it is excellent.  As an all you can eat buffet of exquisite language, it's indescribable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey

Author: Kwei Quartey
Publisher Format: Random House Trade Paperbacks (2011),e-galley 352 pages
Subject: street crime
Setting: Accra Ghana
Series: Inspector Darko Dawson mysteries
Genre: mystery- police procedural
Source: Publisher via Net Galley

The publisher tells us: 
In the slums of Accra, Ghana’s fast-moving, cosmopolitan capital, teenagers are turning up dead. Inspector Darko Dawson has seen many crimes, but this latest string of murders—in which all the young victims bear a chilling signature—is the most unsettling of his career. Are these heinous acts a form of ritual killing or the work of a lone, cold-blooded monster? With time running out, Dawson embarks on a harrowing journey through the city’s underbelly and confronts the brutal world of the urban poor, where street children are forced to fight for their very survival—and a cunning killer seems just out of reach.
My reaction:
I've been a fan of Darko Dawson since Quartey published his first book "Wife of the Gods" in 2009, so I was excited to be able to get an early review copy from Net Galley of the next in the series.  I was not disappointed.  Quartey has given us an even more developed character and an excellent plot.  The misery and poverty endured by these children is quite perceptively portrayed and the reader has no difficulty imagining the smells, the noise, the agony of hunger and the terror of facing death at every turn that Quartey shows us as he has Dawson tracking the killer(s?) of this group of murders.

By giving us a portrait of Darko the happily married man with a son who has definite and life threatening medical problems, a wife who is independent and educated and thoroughly devoted to her husband, and a mother-in-law whom he barely tolerates, we definitely feel that we know this man, that we want him to succeed, and we can excuse his occasional lapses in judgment or behavior.

Darko is human, lovable, irrascible at times, and definitely a good cop.  Quartey is a good writer who looks to improve with each volume. I'm looking forward to more of these adventures.

About the Author: Kwei Quartey was raised in Ghana by an African American mother and a Ghanaian father, both of whom were university lecturers. Dr. Kwei Quartey practices medicine in Southern California, rising early in the morning to write before going to work. He is currently writing his next novel.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy 236th Birthday US Navy!!!

The Naval Academy Chapel

With fond thoughts for all those who never returned from their voyages to keep us free and strong, and with best wishes for all those who have served and are still serving around the world. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Louise Penny does it again!

Author: Louise Penny
Publisher Format: Macmillan Audio,11 hrs, 44 min
Narrator: Ralph Cosham
Subject: Murder, Alcoholism
Setting: fictional village of Three Pines outside Quebec
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache novels
Genre: Mystery-police detective
Source: gift from a friend

Louise Penny is so DAMN good that it's impossible to describe how delicious her writing is. I actually went to Google tonight to discover that it's only a 5 1/2 hour drive from here to Quebec. I'm ready to jump into the car and go spend a weekend wondering around looking for the village of Three Pines. Ms. Penny really does spoil the genre for anyone else. I will have to dive into some non-fiction to 'cleanse the reading palette' because trying to read any mystery or even literary fiction is going to be difficult after this one. Maybe a graphic novel....

The entire cast of characters from the Three Pines series is here, continuing to develop. There's a murder in a garden, and every single person in this cast of characters is allowed to rise to the top of the suspect pile for the reader. Her nuanced presentation of the psyches of these characters gives us as much meat as the physical forensic evidence when it comes to solving the crime. She weaves the themes of vengeance and forgiveness into the palette of the workings of the world of art and all the various players in the making and marketing of paintings, and overlays that with a stunning depiction of Alcoholics Anonymous and its workings.

The writing is so gorgeous. There are phrases that have so much descriptive power the reader has to stop to catch a breath. There are no extra words, but at the same time, she allows her characters the luxury of thoughtful contemplations that give us incredible insights into their motivations. Minor characters from earlier books in the series are growing in importance, and crusty, lovable, irascible ones are becoming more so. By this time in the series (this is #7) we feel these people are our friends, our neighbors, and we want life to be good for them. We want to go have a drink in Gabri and Olivier's Bistro. We want to walk around the park. We want Gamache and Beavoir to heal.

Although this is #7, Penny gives us a story that can stand alone, and a mystery that resolves itself only at the very end of the story, while leaving us with enough lingering questions about what's next for several of the characters that we're already panting for #8. Ralph Cosham gives us a melodic and cultured narration that allows us to absorb the unique cadence of Quebeçois.

If you haven't started this series, what on earth are you waiting for? If you're a fan, then grab this one...they just keep getting better.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Third Quarter Wrap-up: 114 and counting!

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of reading/reviewing about 150 books- about 3 per week. I'm running only slightly behind that pace, but I didn't aniticipate being named the Library Director either.

I'm skimming a lot more books to make selection decisions, but I'm not reading quite as many as I intended to be able to do full reviews. I'm also finding I'm not willing to invest a lot of time in a book that doesn't grab me either in the first 50 or so pages, or by the end of the first hour of audio.

This recent quarter I decided to slow the brain pace a bit and dive into a pile of 'cozies' that had been accumulating over the past two years. I'm glad I did. I found some gems for our library, found some new series to follow, and also found that while I can enjoy some of this lighter reading, I cannot take a full diet of it. So I'll be sprinkling some throughout my reading from now on.

There's been a great upsurge of interest in e-books and e-readers here in town, and in September I attended a great full day workshop sponsored by the wonderful supportive team at the Maine State Library: E-Books and the Library.
We had a chance to play with the toys, we heard from very dynamic speakers from around the country, and we heard from our peers how they were using, buying, lending, and loading up the e-readers for their patrons. It was an eye-opening day for our staff, and one that has given us lots of new items on our 'to-do' list.

So here's the recap of Tutu's reading from July-September

40 Books completed:
  • 17 print
  • 10 ebooks
  • 13 audio
31 Fiction
  • 1 short story collection
  • 18 cozies/mysteries
9 Nonfiction
  • 3 memoir
  • 4 cookbooks
  • 1 graphic format - history
Best Fiction of the Quarter:
  • The Beautiful One has Come
  • Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore
Best Non-Fiction:
  • I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
So what's on tap for the last quarter?
There's a partially read fon-fiction I hope to complete  on the Nook:
  • Absolute Monarchs - A History of the Papacy
Some great audios are awaiting including:
  • A Trick of Light by Louise Penny
  • Turning the Tide: How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic
And then I have good fiction including:
  • The God of Small Things by Arandhati Roy and
  • Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga --both for my Book club. 
Several other great new mysteries/novels, and literary fiction await me both on my nook, and piled up on my bedstand....I think I'll suprise you (and maybe myself) when it comes time to choose what comes to the top.

So stay tuned, Tutu's going on a short road trip to Western Maine late this month, and will be reading all the while.  I might not make the 150 benchmark, but I'm having a good time on the way to wherever I land.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A new series (for me) - Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Publisher Format: Penguin Books (2004), Paperback, 320 pages;--- also audio - BBC Audiobooks America, 10 hours
Narrator: Rita Barrington
Subject: women's role in 1st half of 20th century; gentle detective work
Setting: English countryside
Series: Maisie Dobbs
Genre: cozy mystery
Source: public library

Many of our patrons here in small town Maine are absolutely delighted with the character of Maisie Dobbs.  I tried other 'classic English' mystery writers such as Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie earlier this year, but I found the writing stilted, the mysteries quaint, the font too cramped,  and the pace way too slow.  So why oh why was I so enchanted with Maisie Dobbs? 

In this first of a many volumned series, I thought I was going to have another "deja vù" moment as Maisie meandered through the grand opening of  M. Dobbs, Trade and Personal Investigations in the first chapter and the ensuing first case.  She is asked by a well-to-do gentleman to ascertain where his wife goes when she leaves the house for the day.  He wants to know whether she is being unfaithful.  We see Maisie following the lady in question to a cemetery, we are presented with Maisie's questions about whose grave she's visiting and why, and only then do we get a flashback into her earlier life and pick up the pace - a story within the story which takes up a good chunk of the book. 

Maisie is placed "into service" at an early age, where her insatiable curiosity and keen intellect are noticed by her employer Lady Rowan Compton,  a brave suffragette do-gooder who places Maisie under the tutelage of one Dr. Maurice Blanche.  Her education progresses, she's admitted to Cambridge (quite a coup for a woman in 1915 and quite an eye-opening experience for Maisie).  As England becomes more entrenched in the war, Maisie determines to do her duty, and enlists as a nurse trainee, lying about her age to do so. After meeting the love of her life during her training in England, she is shipped off to France to work in a field hospital.  When she returns, she is a much more mature, wise and worldly woman who goes on to complete her education and decides to use her formidable deductive reasoning skills to help others.  Thus (and I admit that for me it was a giant leap) the opening of the detective agency.  I'll not spoil the story by revealing the outcome of the romance.

Of course, one must remember that the whole time Maisie is solving her puzzles, her mentors Lady Rowan and Maurice Blanche are there in the background as safety nets.  But in spite of that, I found the story fascinating if for no other reason than it provided a crystal clear look into the life and culture of the era: the changing roles of women, the total devastation of the European male population -either in outright death, or lingering wounds both physical and mental.  Nowhere do we hear the words PTSD mentioned, but with the insight gained in the 21st century, we are certainly able to see its foreshadowing a hundred years ago.

Maisie is a gutsy, bright, determined and lovable protagonist, and I can see why my readers like her so much.  I'm certainly going to check out the next two or three to see if her character develops enough to merit all the hype.

A note on formats:  I both read and listened to this one-- Rita Barrington's clear, crisp British accent lent a great deal of authenticity to the audio version.  This is one series that does well in audio.  The plot is not so convoluted and there are not too many characters to track, so it lends itself to a gentle afternoon of knitting by the fire while ear-reading a good story.  A definite addition to my list of series to follow.

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Absolute Stunner - I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Author: Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui
Publisher/Format:Broadway (2010), Paperback, 188 pages
Subject: arranged marriage, child abuse, women's rights
Setting: Yemen
Genre: memoir
Source: public library

This book left me speechless.  It was recommended by one of my LibraryThing group participants, and when I saw the cover, I was struck by the shy expression on this young lady's face that was so similar to my 10 year old grand-daughter's.

Thank the good lord that my grand-daughter lives in a country that  would never knowingly tolerate the abuse this young woman suffered. At the age of somewhere between 8 and 10 (there are no official birth records in poor villages where babies are born unattended at home), Nujood was married to a man in his 30's.  Her father signed the contract, claiming that the groom promised he would not touch the girl sexually until she reached 13 or puberty.  Ripped from the school and the childhood friends she loved, she was taken miles away to an isolated village, where she was immediately raped by her "husband" with the support and encouragement of his mother and the rest of his family.  For months she begged and pleaded to be left alone, to go back home to her parents (even though her mother had not prepared her at all for what would be involved in "being married" and her father was the one who put her in this position to begin with.)  Finally the husband took her back to visit her parents, where she daringly left home one morning when her mother asked her to go to the corner store, hopped a public bus, then used the bread money to pay a private taxi and asked to be taken to the court.

When she finally came before a judge, and was asked what she wanted, she answered "I want a divorce." The ensuing story of her journey through the legal system, her befriending by a prominent female attorney and ultimate triumph are a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.  Overnight, she became somewhat of a media darling (see for instance articles from the Los Angeles Times). Her life has improved, and she hopes by telling her story that other women will never have to suffer the trauma she went through.  She is back in school now and says she wants to become a lawyer to help other girls.

The book itself was published awhile ago, and her story may not be front page news in FOX or CNN land anymore, but the story is still compelling.  The writer Delphine Minoui who helped Nujood by putting her words onto paper did a splendid job of capturing the anguish of the young girl without making it a soap opera tear jerker.  It's factual, depressing, but hope filled.  It's short, clear text makes it easy to read in one sitting, but impossible to forget.  It's a must read.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Cooking - Emeril's Latest Yummies

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.  

Continuing on with our look at egalleys of cookbooks, I'm doubling up this weekend.   I've been drooling over another great one I wouldn't mind having on my shelf.  It's

Sizzling Skillets and other one pot wonders

Author: Emeril Lagasse
Publisher/Format: William Morrow Cookbooks ARC - egalley 304 pages
Year of publication: 2011
Subject: One pot cooking
Genre:  Cookbook
Source: ARC from publisher via Net Galley

Once again, the engaging Emeril Lagasse gives us a menu of amazing gusto from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  They range from simple combinations of ingredients that most will have on hand, to more intricate mixtures of spices and techniques that may be new to users.  In all instances, he gives tips about using different ranges of the same ingredient with indications of how those will impact a recipe. As an example, he points out that different brands and types of blue cheese will each yield a very specific flavor and that some are much stronger than others.  He wisely advises the cook to use a blue cheese you like.

The culinary influences include Creole, Cajun, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese.  He features some of my favorites, but each has a new twist that has me aching to try them out.  Among those are  the southern style chicken & dumplings where he uses a different blend of ingredients but the same technique for dumplings in a recipe that I've used for over 35 years; his Braciole which he suggests doing in small individual rolls instead of the one huge rolled round steak I've been used to.  I love his take on lasagna - using wonderful fresh ingredients that are perfect for this time of the year -- butternut squash and Italian sausage.  The Portuguese pork and clams is going to be a hit in our family -- we love pork and we love clams, but who would have thought about putting them together.  And speaking of Portuguese (I do often...I married one!) the recipe for Chorizo and Potato Quesadillas will be particularly tasty made with the portuguese version of Choriço.

To me, one of the strengths of the book is the layout:  recipes are divided by the cooking vessel to be used.  All too often, I find myself looking at a recipe, paying lots of attention to the ingredients, and then realizing too late that I don't have a pot the right size to make the one that has just struck my fancy.  In this volume you begin by seeing how it will be cooked, and then looking to see what goes into the pot.  Different, but at least to this cook, a great perspective to have. There are recipes for Skillets and saute pans, Casseroles and baking dishes, Dutch Ovens, Big Pots, Woks, and Slow cookers. In short there's something for everyone in this one.

The recipes are clear and easy to follow. Emeril's little asides are priceless--it's like having him right there next to you as you cook. The photography is outstanding, and even shows up well enough on a black and white e-reader. In color, the shots are yummy. The only problem with the book is that I will never be able to decide which of many recipes to make. We can only eat one at a time, and I'd like to make at least 10 of them right now!

Another great one to put on your Christmas list, or to gift to your favorite cook.
Thanks to publisher William Morrow Cookbooks for the opportunity to review via Net Galley.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Weekend Cooking and a Cookbook Review - The French Slow Cooker

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 weekend, there's another one of those fabulous Net Galley e-book reviews: The French Slow Cooker.
Author:Michele Scicolone
Publisher/Format: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, e-book, 237 pgs
Year of publication: 2011
Subject: French cooking
Genre: cookbook
Source: electronic ARC from publisher via Net Galley

It seems a shame to waste the precious short Maine outdoor grilling season we have, so I've been pushing this one to the side waiting for the right weather. Therefore, it's taken me a while to get through this marvelous cookbook, and it's another one that is going onto my Christmas wishlist.  I do a lot of winter cooking in the slow cooker, and found myself wishing for some cool foggy days to try out some of these recipes.   This past week, while winging my way back from the heat of California to a forecast in the low 50's in Maine, I spent some time with my NOOK taking a good look at this one.  Michele Scicolone has another winner here.

The author seems to have hit a perfect bulls-eye target audience: those of us who love the flavors of the French countryside, but who have neither the time, talent, array of pots and pans, or over-sized kitchen to indulge in Julia Child type 8 hour cooking marathons but would love to be able to serve some of these classics at home.  She really resonated with me when she talked about the first time she made a cassoulet and the three day marathon it involved.  Many of us have "been there, done that" and found the results nice but definitely not worth doing again.    And who would have ever thought about doing souffles, fish and other delicacies in a slow cooker?  Not I, but I certainly intend to try out a few of these over the upcoming dark days of Maine's snowy "wintah".

In additon to the recipes, she points out the many ecological and economical benefits of these most friendly appliance: it uses less energy, it allows us to use less expensive (read tougher) cuts of meat, it doesn't heat up the house when it's warm outside, and it doubles as a 'keep it warm' buffet server -  I use mine a lot for mulled cider!  The tips for cooking in a slow cooker, plus the discussion of how to shop for one and the many new features available are invaluable to both new and veteran slow cookers.  And the glossary and explanation of basic French cooking ingredients are a definite plus for those of us who are willing to admit that we would never pass "Julie and Julia".

I actually got inspired earlier this week to do a version of the Sunday Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Lemon and Thyme.  It was yummy and it was wonderful to be able to throw the ingredients into pot, turn on the switch and walk away to do other things.  Being able to smell that melange of melding flavors while I was reading and blogging made it an afternoon to remember.  There are several lamb and pork recipes just waiting for the right moment to whip up.

This one will be a definite addition to any cookbook shelf.
  My thanks to Houghton Mifflin for the opportunity to review it.