Monday, April 30, 2012

Mailbox Monday - April 30

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 duties are rotated every month. April's wonderful hostess has been Cindy's Love of Books.  If you haven't dropped by to visit her, be sure to pop in.

It's been a slow month at the Post Office box (where I get my mail), and the UPS guy hasn't been to the house too often either.  Things have become busier than ever at the Net Galley mailbox since more and more publishers are seeing the wisdom of sending out review galleys via the e-net, rather than the expense of sending paper galleys.  In some ways that's great since I don't have piles of books sitting around in every nook and cranny of the house, but it does remove any chance we have to comment in reviews on the physical look and feel of the book.  That said, I did still get some "real" books including two from our wonderful publisher DownEast Books:

Maine Beaches: A Pocket Guide.
DownEast Books has put out an entire series of pocket guides that are perfect for quick look-ups of information about a variety of attractions.  This one is crammed full of directions, special events, dates and times of openings, other area things to do, and is perfect for people who have postcard visions of Maine beaches but no earthly idea of how to find the right (and nearby one).  A definite guide for visitors, and a welcome addition to the guest room "library" of locals.

Grandma Drove the Lobsterboat
The redoubtable Grandma—this book is a sequel to Grandma Drove the Snowplow—is at it again. After all her hard work collecting the town’s garbage and plowing the roads, Grandma deserves a day off—and what better day than Labor Day. All she has to do is sit back and enjoy a nice boat ride with her littlest grandson Billy while her sons catch the lobsters for the town Lobster Bake. But what happens when the waves get choppy, the fog rolls in, and all the boats are in difficulty? Can Grandma take the helm and get the lobsters back to shore in time?
More great fun as our intrepid heroine is again placed at the center of small town life and in the middle of a local celebration.   Our town children's librarian is giving this one a test drive at story-hour today, and I can't wait to hear the kiddie's reactions. 

 St. Martin's Press sent an ARC of Donna VanLiere's latest, due for publication in July.

I must confess that this is a new author for me, although her Christmas series is quite popular with many reading friends.  I decided it was time to give her a try, and this one looks like a good place to start.  I'm a devotee of Southern fiction, and the publisher's blurb has me hooked:

From The New York Times bestselling author comes a poignant, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting novel about an unlikely path to motherhood, and of two lost souls healing each other. 1950 Tennessee, a time and place that straddles the past and present. Ivorie Walker is considered an old maid by the town (though she’s only in her early thirties) and she takes that label with good humor and a grain of salt. Ever since her parents passed away, she has hidden her loneliness behind a fierce independence and a claim of not needing anyone. But her mother’s death hit her harder than anyone suspects and Ivorie wonders if she will be alone forever.

When she realizes that someone has been stealing vegetables from her garden—a feral, dirty-faced boy who disappears into the hills—something about him haunts Ivorie. She can’t imagine what would make him desperate enough to steal and eat from her garden. But what she truly can’t imagine is what the boy faces, each day and night, in the filthy lean-to hut miles up in the hills. Who is he? How did he come to live in the hills? Where did he come from? And, more importantly, can she save him? As Ivorie steps out of her comfort zone to uncover the answers, she unleashes a firestorm in the town—a community that would rather let secrets stay secret.
I'm thinking I'm going to start a separate post (maybe even a meme if anyone wants to pile on) listing books I've received for consideration through Net Galley.  There are usually two or three a week, so I have to dream up a clever name (and maybe logo) and we'll see how that goes.  In the meantime, don't forget to link up to Cindy with your mailbox, or leave a link in a comment here.  We'd love to hear about what you received this week.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend cooking - PT 2, Cookies and Sweets

Just to review, I haven't done a weekend cooking post in a while but I got a cookbook to review, I bought another one thinking I was getting a specific recipe and I grabbed a third one from the library just because ....(I'll explain later). I reviewed the first one Naked Foods Cookbook ( no preservatives, no artificial anything, no empty calories (aka sugar) on the previous Weekend Cooking Post .  So now we get to look at two purely fun cookbooks. And all I will say is that our souls, memory banks, and psyches sometimes need nourishment as much as our bodies.

If you've been reading Tutu for any length of time, you know that periodically I read an episode of Joanne Fluke's series The Hannah Swenson mysteries. In the books, when she's not helping the local police solve murders, Hannah is running a tea shop/cafe/bookstore known as "The Cookie Jar". Throughout her stories, Hannah shares the recipes for the yummy treats she serves up to her customers. Alas, the last three of these I've read, I've enjoyed in the audio format and it's a little difficult to jot down the recipes while I'm swimming or driving, so I was thrilled to see this one on the shelves at the local library and picked it up to thumb through. In it Fluke gives us not only the recipes, but the hints that Hannah gives us along the way.  I'm especially grateful when she says DON"T PREHEAT THE OVEN, or tells you just where to position the racks in the oven.  She also gives great hints about substitutions that are acceptable and what one can expect if one uses ingredient "a" instead of "b".

The book includes new - never before published- recipes as well as those we are all familiar with from reading the mysteries.  There's a great table of conversions and  a section on substitutions.  Each chapter opens with an excerpt from one of the mysteries.  I was finally able to get the recipe for Rhubarb Custard Cake (our rhubarb should be ready to harvest in about a month), and for Hannah's famous Doll Face cookies.  I even did the "Points" on these for us Weight Watchers, and these molasses beauties come out to only 1 point per cookie.  WOOT WOOT.

And for those of us who need a little extra potassium, there's always Hannah's Bananas...small rolled cookies that freeze well, use up those over-ripe nanas in the bowl, and come in at only 3 points for 2 cookies.  There are so many good recipes and such good advice in this book, I'm probably going to get one for myself.

And the biggest bonus is the absolutely  fabulous map of Lake Eden on the end papers of the book.  If you're a Hannah Swensen fan, or if you love cookies and treats, this one's for you.

Now my final "cookbook" is one I just got the other day on my NOOK....if you grew up anyplace where Entemann's Baked goods were (or still are) sold, you can relate to this one.  I was looking for the original lemon crunch cake for a friend who could not find it on the West coast.  So I went online, and found that it wasn't available within 150 miles of where I lived either.  (It is still available in my home town down in Baltimore).  But then I noticed that there was a cookbook available electronically, so I downloaded the sample, where I could see that the Table of Contents listed "crunch cakes" as one of the chapters.  HOT DOG thought I, I can at least get the recipe and make one myself.  And the book was only $5 and change so I hit the "buy" button.   WHAT A BUMMER.  When I finally got the book, and paged all the way through to the index in the back of the book, there were four different lemon recipes, but no lemon crumb cake.  There were five crumb cakes but none was close to what I was looking for.

I guess for the price it's still a good book...I did see some recipes that looked interesting and tasty, but the layout of the book drove me nuts (and I'm not talking pistachios here).  There is a table of contents, but is just says for example, Indulgent Cakes and Desserts.  It does not list anyplace what is included in that chapter.  You have to page through each recipe to find the five or six different ones. There is an alphabetical index in the back of the book, but those entries are not tied to chapter headings.  It's got beautiful pictures, clear, easy to follow recipes and I didn't see any exotic ingredients.  It even had notes about substitutions, or using the recipe as a basis for other concoctions.  But it's was not user friendly in finding anything and that's a shame.  Entemann's has a well-deserved reputation for delicious "like your grandma used to make" baked goods, and if they're going to publish a "Big Book of Baking" it ought to be easier to navigate.

So now I just have to figure out what Mr. and Mrs. Tutu are having for Sunday Brunch tomorrow.  I went to the farm today and picked up my week's bucket of fresh eggs, so I know it will be some kind of omelet, and there are plenty of fresh veggies in the bin, and I still have a few blueberries in the freezer from last fall, so maybe some of Hannah's Blue Blueberry muffins, The Naked's  Florentine Omelet, and a plate of oranges, kiwi and bananas.....I'll try to remember to take a picture.

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.

Weekend cooking- PT 1: Losing weight, cooking "Naked"

I haven't done a weekend cooking post in a while but I got a cookbook to review, I bought another one thinking I was getting a specific recipe and I grabbed a third one from the library just  because ....(I'll explain later).  At first they may seem to have nothing in common--- I mean come on!?!? Naked Foods Cookbook ( no preservatives, no artificial anything, no empty calories (aka sugar)) and Entemann's Big Book of Baking  in the same review? And Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook alongside anything remotely healthy?????  So I'm splitting this into Part 1 : nutritional eating, and Pt 2: just plain fun and forget the nutrition.

Now, I'm also going to deviate from my normal "no endorsement" policy and tout  this program.  I joined with my sisters, niece, and sisters-in-law (we're all over the country) and we're able to encourage each other even though we never "go to meeting" together.  Everything is online, and I've been losing weight at the rate of about a pound a week since joining in early January. One of the reasons I love it though is that it isn't a diet, and while following MY plan, I get to eat foods that I like--even coffee cakes and Hannah's cookies. Yes, I'm trying to eat more natural "naked" foods, a commitment I made last summer, and since that time when I decided to forget about calories, diets, and forbidden foods, I've actually lost 33 lbs.  I love food, love to cook, and have found - for me at least - that by choosing healthy foods, in respectable portions, life still has room for pure unadulterated fun food with little or no nutritional value. Hence the WeightWatchers Points Plus Program.  I love it.  Here's the first food book I've been combing through for the past couple weeks.

Naked Foods Cookbook:
subtitled Easy, Unprocessed, Gluten-Free, Full-Fat Recipes for Losing Weight and Feeling Great
An E galley from New Harbinger Publications via NetGalley
Publication scheduled May 1, 2012

The publisher's blurb says
Why go out to eat? Cooking at home is easy, healthy, delicious, and affordable—and with the right techniques and ingredients, preparing a home-cooked meal can be quicker than picking up take-out. The Naked Foods Cookbook, the anticipated follow-up cookbook to Margaret Floyd’s Eat Naked (2011),shows readers how they can create whole, organic, and fresh “naked” meals that maximize the natural nutritional value of food. Unlike commercially available prepared foods and restaurant dishes, naked meals contain no harmful additives, preservatives, or empty-calorie fillers. Because cooking naked is well-suited to people who need energy for busy lifestyles, this cookbook is organized around the time it takes for readers to prepare each type of dish: “in a rush” recipes take ten minutes or less, “every day” recipes take twenty minutes or less, and an “impress the neighbors” section offers more time-intensive recipe selections.
I accepted this for review because I was curious and have been trying to eat as "naturally" as possible. I especially like the emphasis on not using artificial ingredients, but must admit, I'm not yet ready for many of the naked food techniques such as culturing and single-minded emphasis on avoiding anything but pure unadulterated food.  That said, there were many recipes I did like and plan to include in my repertoire--particularly as soon as the spring crop of kale and lettuces come in. I love the home-made mayonnaise.  I'm a mayo freak - one of my favorite lunches is a sandwich made of whole grain bread slathered in 2 tablespoons of may, a big juicy sliced tomato, 4 or 5 slices of cucumber, some paper thin slivered red onion, and a huge mountain of various lettuces.  Their recipe for mayo is easy to make in the blender, and uses olive oil - one of nature's great gift to foodies.  It's yummie, healthy, and makes an incredible sammie.  There's a version that uses Whey powder to extend the refrigerator shelf life, but we use it up fast enough not to worry about it.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day - I could eat breakfast 3 times a day. The Florentine omelet, the sweet potato hash (which we make with turkey portuguese sausage) and the curry egg scramble are all outstanding recipes that fit well within my Weight Watchers plan for points. The eggplant basil salad recipe looks so good, I'm just about to run out and buy some imported (no not local not naked) Holland eggplant just so I can try it now instead of waiting for summer.  Although I lived in Japan for five years, and tasted more than a mouthful of various seaweeds, I'm still not going near the Seaweed salad recipe.

There are very helpful tables featuring a week's worth of menus and prep tips both for hurry up cooking and leisurely (I have all day to spend in the kitchen) meal prep.  There are also guides to finding foods that meet the various definitions and terminology used throughout the book.  

In short, this cookbook reinforced my ideas about many of the dishes and techniques I concoct in my own kitchen.  I think it would be very helpful, if one were to use this cookbook, to have read the underlying volume published by the author last year.  And my fondest dream (ALL COOKBOOK Publishers take note): I wish the authors had provided some nutritional analysis of their recipes making it more helpful for those of us who, for whatever reason, want to track various aspects of our eating.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - "Just Plain Fun and forget the nutrition."

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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: The Big Cat Nap by Rita Mae Brown

Author: Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Publisher-Format: Random House, 2012, ppbck ARC, 220 pages
Subject: Insurance/auto repair fraud, murder
Setting: Crozet Virginia
Series: Mrs. Murphy Mysteries
Genre: cozy mystery
Source: Early Reviewer program from LibraryThing - publisher provided

Although this is #20 in this long-running series, readers who are unfamiliar with early episodes can meander into the Blue Ridge mountain town of Crozet and not feel they're missing anything.  I hadn't read one of these in several years, and I could notice big changes in character's lives but only because I'd read the earlier stories.  Rita Mae Brown still gives us Mrs. Murphy, the striped tabby cat, Tucker the Corgi, and luscious chunky Pewter, the "fat cat" who are devoted to the protagonist Happy Hairsteen, former postmistress now full-time farmer, now remarried to Fair, the local veterinarian.  We catch up with Harry's friend Susan, her pastor Rev Herb, her friend Coop the deputy sheriff, and we are treated to lively animal discussions among the critters who try to keep their human's overly active sense of curiosity from getting her into too much trouble as she discovers bodies, ponders anomalies in car accidents, and fixes tractors and trucks belonging to various members of the community.

There are indeed murders, there are indeed bodies and violence, but the southern ambiance of the small town, the glorious celebration of Flag Day, the description of small family owned farms and their attendant problems, the friendly cooperation of amateur sleuth and police professionals makes this a cozy with lots of meat.  It's an easy, comfy read, there are plenty of suspects, and solving the mystery of who killed all these young men who work at the auto repair shop is always just a few pages further than this reader could quite pin down, but it continues the series in its usual sharp, fun-loving tradition.  For fans of animals, farms, fast cars, and gentle southern manners.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick

 Nothing to Envy
 Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Author: Barbara Demick
Publisher-Format:Tantor Media, audio, 12.5 hr
Narrator: Karen White
Year of publication: 2010
Subject: Lives of North Koreans who defected to South Korea
Setting: various venues in North and South Korea
Genre: investigative reporting
Source: Public library

Ever since North Korean Communist dictator Kim Jong-il's death in December 2011, I realized I knew little about that country.  I had visited South Korea twice in the late 1980's and enjoyed the energy and unbridled enthusiasm for capitalism that I saw, but North Korea remained a mystery.

Barbara Demick, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, was assigned to Korea for several years, and found the North Korean enigma difficult to crack.  Unable to get any North Koreans to talk to her, she changed tactics and located defectors from North Korea who had managed to escape to safety in South Korea.  Her stories of the famine, the lack of work, electricity, transportation, clothing, basic health and opportunity, the lack of color and culture, the terror felt by ordinary citizens about anything and everything, the flourishing black market, the absolute lack of trust in anyone and the total control of "the party" over every phase of  everyday life painted a very clear but bleak picture of the lives of North Koreans from the end of the Korean War to the present.

She has chosen six different people to follow from their younger days in North Korea to their now settled lives in the south.  Their stories of escape, capture, imprisonment, and final flight to safety through China was every bit as engrossing as the first part of the stories when we see how utterly awful life was for people with no hope.  By detailing the process of repatriation to the south, through de-briefing, and a forced enculturation experience we are able to see how totally deprived the people of the north were. In the north, where most had never seen a telephone, they had no mail service, books, very little transportation, no writing paper, and basic hygiene articles were not easy to acquire.  Even a top engineering school graduate had never used the Internet before he was able to escape to the south.  Radio and TV (when electricty was available) was limited to a few pre-set and government approved channels.

This is not a pretty or easy book to read.  It is gut-wrenching, appalling, and frightening.  It is also totally engrossing, and for me at least, very enlightening.  I was so anxious to read it that I grabbed the audio book that was available at the library.  I do intend though to get the print version, because there are illustrations that should enhance my mental picture of this 5 star report.

Demick was awarded the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction in 2010.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny

Author: Regina O'Melveny
Publisher-Format: Little Brown, e-galley 307 pages
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: women as doctors, 16th century medicine
Setting: Venice, Switzerland, France,Holland, Scotland, No.Africa
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: publisher via NetGalley

Although it took me a while to get into this book, the well-crafted words and images made me continue.  Suddenly, the story clicked, and I found myself eager to continue reading.  I'm not a reader who enjoys a lot of fantasy, and there is that element in the telling of this story but it does all seem to come together in the end.

Essentially O'Melveny spins us a colorful, emotional tale of a young woman doctor, Gabriella Mondini,  who sets off on an extraordinary quest beginning in the year 1590.  Having been born and raised in Venice, she was taught the art and science of medicine by her father, and was considered by the authorities in that city to be a Dottoressa in her own right.  When her father suddenly leaves on an unexplained journey, she is left with no sponsorship, and is not able to work as openly.  Ten years go by, confusing letters from Dr Mondini arrive about once a year, and Gabriella can no longer wait.  She begins to fear her father is going mad, and will never return.

Taking her two faithful servants with her, she embarks on a lushly described mission to find her father and bring him home. Following the trail of his letters, she jouneys from Venice to Switzerland (Germany?)  to France, to Holland, to Scotland (where she meets the handsome Hamish) and then on to North Africa.   Woven into the travails of the travelers are poetic excerpts from her encyclopedic journal of diseases and cures-- a work she and her father had begun before his abrupt departure so long ago.  The handsome Hamish provides a veiled hint of romance to add to the mystery of what happened to her father.

Throughout her ramblings, (there is a good desciption of the trip and a map of her travels on the author's homepage) O'Melveny manages to weave in tid-bits of history about the attitudes of various countries and governments toward women doctors. I found much of the story disjointed, although I enjoyed the descriptions of the dress, food, housing, and medical treatments of the era. I finished the book with a sense of satisfaction, but cannot say that I understood everything that was going on with father and daughter. If you are a fantasy reader, this book will rate very high on your enjoyment meter. If you are a more literal reader like me, you might have more of a struggle. Do check out the webpage....there are some beautiful illustrations, and short descriptions of the places visited.

 My thanks to Little Brown for the opportunity to read and review.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review : Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch by Nancy Atherton

Author: Nancy Atherton
Publisher-Format:  e-galley (ARC) Viking Adult, 240 pages
Year of publication: 2012
Subject:  Sorting out village fables
Setting: The village of Finch, in the Cotswolds, UK
Series: Aunt Dimity
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Net Galley

Although I really don't care for most paranormal adventures and stories, there's just something about Aunt Dimity that always manages to tickle me.  In this latest entry in the series, Nancy Atherton continues her tale of a transplanted American, Lori Shepherd, who lives with her American husband and twin sons in a cottage inherited from her "aunt Dimity" -a friend of her mother's.  Lori and Aunt Dimity are able to communicate "across the divide" by means of an old blank diary....Aunt Dimity's "conversation" magically appears whenever Lori opens the book and settles down and begins talking to it.

That premise sounds really weird, and it is, but it works in this delightful series of cozy mysteries in a stereotypical town of nosy busybodies, the always competent and compassionate Vicar (and his ubiquitous wife), a gay couple running the local pub, a variety of shop keepers, a horse loving farmer, and Lori's father-in-law-- a rather well-to-do widower who lives down the road, and for whom several of the town "maidens" have set their caps.

The story opens when the village gathers in the pub early one morning to cran their nosy noses at the window to watch the newest resident's goods unloaded from the removal van directly across the street.  When two of the watchers indicate that this new resident isn't who she claims to be, and that her arrival in the village spells doom, gloom and the end to civilization as they know it, Lori's curiosity gets the better of her, and we're off to find out the who is she, why is she here, and what about all these weird occurrences that begin with her arrival.  And is she really after Will Sr?

It's lots of fun, a light read, but somehow it works.  Many thanks to Viking for making the ARC available through Net Galley.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: The Darlings by Cristina Alger

Author: Christina Alger
Publisher-Format: Penguin Audio Book, 12 hrs, 24 min
Narrator:  Jonathan Fried
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: lives of rich and fallen
Setting: Manhattan, Long Island
Genre: fiction
Source: audio download review copy from publisher

Since audio is one of my favorite formats, I grabbed the ARC when it was offered to me, downloaded it and began listening right away.  Usually when I get an audio, I like to listen to the first 20-30 minutes (sort of like leafing through a book) to get a feel for the cadence, the characters, and a gist of the plot.  At the 2 1/2 hour point, I had to force myself to turn off the audio so I could at least have a human conversation at the dinner table!  I was hooked from the beginning.  I spent the next day doing a lot of driving, swimming, and just plain lazy listening to this one.  I literally could not stop!

Although I thought at first this might be a  re-hash of the same kind of story I'd read last year by Stephanie Madoff Mack recounting her tribulations being Bernie Madoff's daughter-in-law, this did not turn out to be anything like that. What Alger has done is to give us a psychological, edge of the seat "who's going to screw whom" mystery!  The setting is pure New York upper-crust, high society glitz. It has it all--the designer clothes, expensive jewels, flashy cars, doormen, weekend homes in the Hamptons, weekday co-ops in town, poorly paid minions, overworked secretaries, society matrons: a good glimpse into the world of the 1%.  The characters will be loved by some, detested by many others.  The story is familiar to anyone who has read a newspaper or listened to a talk show in the last decade.  But the marvelous evil plot twists have the reader clinging to every page, waiting to see how (or whether) the principal character is able to emerge a free man after he becomes unwittingly enmeshed in the inevitable back-stabbing, shark infested waters of Wall Street hedge fund managers and their uber expensive lawyers.

Alger blind-sides us with a fantastic and unexpected ending (she had me pumping my fist and yelling YES!) and then ties up the story with an epilogue to satisfy our "But what about?s"  It is an altogether satisfying read that is especially well-suited to the audio format, and the sonorous tones of Jonathan Fried's narration.
CRISTINA ALGER received her BA from Harvard College and her JD from New York University Law School. She has worked as an analyst at Goldman, Sachs, & Co., and as an attorney at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale, & Dorr. She was born and raised in New York City, where she currently resides. This is her first novel.

Many thanks to Sarah Jaffe at Penguin Audio for making this available.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Ernie's Ark by Monica Wood

Author: Monica Wood
Publisher-Format: Chronicle Books, kindle edition ebook
Year of publication: 2002
Subject: effects of unemployment and mill shut down
Setting: small town in Maine
Genre: short stories
Source: Amazon kindle

One of my reading goals for 2012 is to read more Maine authors.  Monica Wood is one of our best.  In this poignant collection of stories, reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Wood explores the devastating impact of a long-term union strike against a paper mill in fictional Abbot Falls Maine.  Residents of this town, who have depended on the mill and its earnings for generations are suddenly faced with making decisions they have never considered before.  By using several different characters, we are able to see the consequences of this year long drag on the local economy, on individual lives, and on the extended community.  So much more insightful than any reality TV you'll ever see.

Central to the book is Ernie Whitten, a pipefitter at the mill who is only 3 months short of retirement when the strike begins.  He now faces not only the loss of income, and the loss of his pension, but the loss of his wife who is in the terminal stages of cancer.  Their only son lives in California, and is rarely in touch.  To satisfy a seemingly random suggestion from his wife, Ernie begins to build an ark in the side yard.  Throughout the book, the image of the ark pulls other characters into the saga.  If God could work a miracle once, why not again?  Perhaps if he could just get it finished and get his wife on the ark, she wouldn't leave him.

Various members of another family, the Little's, are woven in as ex-spouses, town officials and strikebreakers.  The CEO and owner of the mill makes an appearance early on as he tries to deal with his own problems---not just striking mill workers, but a distant and headstrong adult daughter whose own life is falling apart.

The shining stars are middle-schooler Francine and her step-mother Cindy Love (ex wife of a Little) and owner of Showers of Flowers.  Francine is determined that her father and Cindy will hold their marriage together and will go so far as to hide her father's infidelities to avoid losing another mother (her birth mother dumped the kids and went off to London).  Her brother Kevin, surly, hurting high-schooler hates everyone, everything, and only wants to become another Thoreau living in the woods.  Cindy wisely plays referee between father and son, and gives Francine the attention and mothering she's never enjoyed before.

These nine stories are gems.  The writing is as snappy as the breeze on a crystal clear Maine lake in the spring.  I'm not sure how I ever missed this one.  It's a sparkling diamond, and I'm really glad that Amazon has brought it back digitally.  Grab it anyway you can and rejoice that there are still writers who can bring this much joy out of this kind of sadness.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Sunday Reading Survey

Periodically my 75 in 2012 Challenge Group on starts circulating some fun surveys or memes.  This one got started this week, and I found it a great way to sit back and reflect on where my reading life has taken me, and where I'm pointed for the future.  I'd really love it if someone can let me know where it really started...I'm sure it's on the internet someplace, and would love to credit the originator.
  • Hardback or trade paperback or mass market paperback?  I actually prefer audio or e-book.  I don't like holding books in my hands for too long.
  • Amazon or brick and mortar? Unfortunately, living in a small town, I don't have a lot of choice.  There are two indies in town, but they don't have a huge selection, and they're mostly hardbacks. So I do a lot of library borrowing (I have cards from 4 local towns) and online ordering, but more from B&N than Amazon.
  • Barnes & Noble or Borders? I own a NOOK, and Borders is no this is a no-brainer.
  • Bookmark or dogear? Bookmarks - I collect them, and often have 5 or 6 in a book to mark pages I want to go back to.  But I do love the ability to highlight and make notes in e-books.
  • Alphabetize by author or alphabetize by title or random? Paperbacks separated into Mass Market and Trade, shelved alpha by author.  Others by subject as much as possible, allowing for the exigencies of size.  We have over 4500 books so it's mostly wherever we can shelve them.
  • Keep, throw away, or sell? NEVER. EVER. Sell.....I do sometimes donate to library, loan to friends, but mostly just hug and hold onto.
  • Keep dust jacket or toss it? Keep and cover with mylar.
  • Read with dust jacket or remove it? If mylared...keep it on.  If not, put aside and cover with stretch cloth cover until finished, then replace dust jacket.
  • Short story or novel? Both! I read more novels, but love them both.
  • Collection (short stories by same author) or anthology (short stories by different authors)? Don't care for anthologies too much.
  • Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket? Harry
  • Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks? Try to keep eyes open til the chapter ends.
  • "It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"? Both turn me off.
  • Buy or Borrow? Try to borrow until I decide it's one I really want to own and mark up.
  • New or used? Whatever I can get my hands on....and depends on how long I'm willing to wait.
  • Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation or browse? All
  • Tidy ending or cliffhanger? Doesn't matter--each has it's place.
  • Morning reading, afternoon reading or nighttime reading? Anytime
  • Stand-alone or series?  Love them both.
  • Favorite series? Don't make me pick! My FictFac account shows me following over 100.
  • Favorite children's book? A marvelous out of print story "Do Not Open" by Brinton Turkle.  It's now a very expensive collector's item, so if you see it and have a special child in your life, and can cash in some stock, grab it..
  • Favorite book of which nobody else has heard? "Our Lady of the Lost and Found" by Diane Schoemperlen or "Our Lady of the Artichokes" by Katherine Vaz
  • Favorite books read last year?  Fiction: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Cloud Atlas, Night Circus, One was A Soldier, and Trick of the Light.  Non-fiction:  The Social Animal (by David Brooks), American Nations: A History of Eleven Regional Rival Cultures, and Unbroken.
  • Favorite books of all time? Confederacy of Dunces, God was an Englishman
  • Least favorite book you finished last year?A tie between Great House and The Reading Promise
  • What are you reading right now? Print: Cove by Ron Rash;  e-book: an ARC of The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny; audio: Nothing to Envy Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
  • What are you reading next? Whatever jumps off the pile at the time I'm reading to start.  I have about 15 audio books loaded, 30 or more on the Nook (several ARCs that need reviewing) and a 39" high pile of real books all screaming "Pick Me, Pick Me."  It's so much fun.
What about you?  Are your answers different than mine.  I'd love it if you posted this, and then left a comment to link back so others can see what you'd answer.  In the meantime, have a wonderful restful reading Sunday.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: The Cold Light of Mourning

Author:  Elizabeth J. Duncan
Publisher-Format: Minotaur Books, 304 pages,  ebook
Year of publication:
Disappearing bride, murder
Penny Branigan Mysteries
Cozy, amateur sleuth
mine, Google E-books (bought from Longfellow Books, Portland ME)
yes - definitely for cozy readers

Another new cozy series for me!  Hooray! Elizabeth Duncan has chosen a quiet, picturesque setting in Wales, given us a transplanted Canadian as the protagonist, and has helped the genre immensely by getting us out of the bake shops, catering, cooking business and planting her amateur sleuth in a small one-woman manicure shop.

The town's most eligible bachelor is scheduled to wed a young woman "from away" and who is certainly not too well received by the local ladies.  Penny Branigan, the manicurist, is mourning the death of her dearest friend whose funeral is scheduled the day after the wedding, so she is struggling to be pleasant when the bride to be arrives the morning of the wedding to have her nails painted.

When the bride later fails to appear for the wedding, it is Penny's observations from this "last sighting" that help the local Police Detective Chief Inspector Davies  to accept that this may not be a case of  a runaway bride. In the meantime, Penny meets and forms a friendship with a new visitor to town, a fellow Canadian Victoria.  Together they embark upon looking for the missing woman, and of course (it's a cozy after all!) they ultimately crack the case.

The ending is almost saccharin, but fits the story perfectly, and leaves us knowing that this is only the first of many adventures of Penny, Victoria and DCI  Davies.  I'll definitely be looking for the second in the series.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: The Sisters Brothers

Author: Patrick deWitt
Publisher-Format: audio-Dreamscape Media, 7 hrs, 41 min
Narrator: John Pruden
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: hired hands in the Wild West
Setting: Northern California, San Francisco gold fields
Genre: Western
Source: public library download
Awards: Man-Booker Shortlist, Governor General's Literary Award (Canada)

I'm not normally a fan of westerns.  That said, if there were ever a book that would convert me to the genre, The Sisters Brothers is it!  From the very clever cover, to the head-turning title, I was drawn in.  In this Booker Prize short list nominee, the narrator of the tale, Eli Sisters and his brother Charlie are hired guns.  They have been sent by "The Commodore" to find someone, get back what was stolen from him, and of course, make sure this thief is not left in a position to steal again.  (Or so we believe).  The actual tasking is only slowly revealed as the brothers go from place to place looking for their prey, and defending their honor and lives in the meantime.  Their adventures bring us a panoply of characters at once dastardly, colorful, and
utterly lovable.  They are just so much fun!

Yes, there is violence, and much of it is probably gratuitous, but it is told from the viewpoint of the times.  The dashing, daring-do of their antics and the wild-west scenarios are splendid.  There's definitely a movie buried in here.  Yet, while the action scenes are well written, with just enough detail to paint clear pictures, but not too graphic to sicken, it is the dialogue between the brothers, their victims, and their cons, that is either "roll on the floor laughing " funny, or so philosophically sophisticated that you almost have to stop and say "Wait.....did they really talk like that?"  I reflected that many educated men of that era had the "classics" as their text books, so the rather archaic and complex grammar and vocabulary did in fact come naturally to them.  It just sounds a bit over the top at first.

It's definitely a book about violence, about vengeance, and about revenge, but it is also a book about self-knowledge, reflection, and forgiveness.  I'm not sure I'd call the ending redemptive, but it certainly was more than appropriate to the story.  Even if you've never been a western fan, give this one a try.  Think Hawaii 5-0 in the gold mining territory of Northern California.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Trio of Brunetti- finishing the series

Last week I posted a review of the latest book in the wonderful Commissario Brunetti series, Beastly Things, by Donna Leon. I indicated that I didn't think it was one of Ms. Leon's better offerings. My disappointment in that book did not deter me from a marathon of finishing several of the previous episodes I'd missed along the way. These are exceptionally well-written mysteries with a cast of characters who have grown as the series progressed. Any one who has read several can feel confident in picking up one of these and experience that warmth that comes from visiting with old friends. I was fortunate enough to be able to obtain all three of the ones I hadn't read in audio to get me through a very stressful two week period of choir practice, lenten baking, etc etc etc. Those daily swims where I could settle back, exercise and listen to a good story, kept me sane. Please don't let my lack of enthusiasm for #21 keep you from enjoying 1-20. I've now finished the whole series and will gladly read them all again. Here's a re-cap of the three that completed the set.
Publisher-Format: audio- AudioGo,Kingston RI 2011, 9 hrs
Narrator: Stephen Crossley
Subject:  Nazi crimes, art theft, murder
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: police procedural mysteries
Source: public library

When one of Paola Brunetti's students approaches her to enlist her assistance in getting Brunetti to obtain a pardon for her long dead grandfather's crime, Guido finds himself digging into Nazi art thefts during World War II, and ultimately into the young student's murder.  As usual, the trail of inquiry into the mystery leads to more mysteries, more murder, and the constant dilemma of dealing with corrupt authorities both in the past and in this case.  Classic's well plotted, with lots of involvement by all the principles.

 Publisher/Format:AudioGo,Kingston RI 2011,8 hrs,8 mns
Narrator: David Colacci
Subject: murder - selling contaminated fish/clams
Setting: Venice, Pellestrina
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: police procedural mysteries
Source: public library

Here, once again, Leon has Brunetti confronting corruption not only of officials, but of his beloved city, its many canals, and calles, and the seafood that comes from those waters.  Brunetti and Vianello are called to Pellestrina, a tiny fishing village on the edge of the Adriatic Sea across the Laguna from Venice, to investigate the murders of two fisherman whose boat exploded and sank in the harbor, taking them down with the boat.  Once again, Brunetti uses his family ties, and childhood friends to gain information.
But it is from Signoria Eletra that he gains most of his clues, and Brunetti is growing ever more uncomfortable with the secretary's underworld and underground web of acquaintances she uses to gather these for Brunetti.
When Sra Electra "goes on vacation" to visit her aunt in Pellestrina, another whole dimension of intrigue and violence  is added to these stories, and Brunetti must face his latent feelings about the Signorina.

A real cliff-hangar, probably one of the most action packed of Leon's stories.  If you can only read one or two, I'd put this one on the list.

Alternate Title: Quietly in Their Sleep
Publisher/Format: Blackstone Audio Books, 2000,  8 hrs, 36 min
Narrator:  Anna Fields
Subject: murder, kidnapping, Catholic Church, pedophilia, Opus Dei
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: police procedural mysteries
Source: public library

This one was fascinating, particularly since I was finishing listening to it on Good Friday as I drove to Church!  Brunetti's kids, Raffi and Chiara are extremely vocal in this story about their lack of enthusiasm for religion classes and in particular for the priest who is teaching them.  When Raffi finally confides to his father that the good padre has been at least verbally indiscrete with many of his female penitents, Brunetti's fatherly instincts almost overrule his legal ones.  At the same time, he is trying to determine if there is any merit to a claim by one of the nuns (now an ex-nun) who worked at the nursing home where his demented mother is being cared for, that several of the patients may have been assisted to their heavenly reward earlier than nature intended.  Leon does an excellent job of weaving innuendo with fact, of having Brunetti and Vianello tracking down the truth of her allegations.  

 Paola's mother, the Contessa Donatella Falier, provides us with some of the most amusing dialogue this series has produced, but it is ultimately good police work by Brunetti, Vianello and Sra Electra that gives  Paola the ammunition she needs to "take care of things."   The ending is worth every minute you spend with the book.

 One last note about audios - as you can see, each of these is narrated by a different reader.  In the previous editions I've listened to, David Colacci has been the narrator, and I vastly prefer his renditions.  He has a deep and rich voice that allows the dialect of the Italian and Venetian phrases that are so prevalent in Leon's works to ring true.  Anna Fields does an admirable job also, but somehow, I really prefer the masculine narrator for these.  Stephen Crossley is an outstanding narrator, but his distinctly upper crust British accent just doesn't cut it for these stories.  I had a hard time listening to that one, and at one point decided if the print version was readily available, I'd grab that instead.  By the time I got around to looking for print, I'd just about finished the audio.  I noticed that Leon has returned to David Colacci for the newest one.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review and a Winner! The Good Father by Noah Hawley

Author: Noah Hawley
Publisher-Format: ARC  Doubleday, 320 pages
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: father son relationships
Setting: New York, California
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: ARC provided by publisher
Recommended? Absolutely - will be on my best of the year list.

In this intense psychological examination of parental angst, Noah Hawley helps us crawl immediately inside the mind and skin of Dr. Paul Allen, a noted diagnostician whose 20 year old son from a former marriage, and with whom he has not been in close contact for many years, is accused of killing a popular US Senator, considered a shoo-in to become the next president.

The father immediately goes into denial - NOT MY SON -- and sets out to prove his innocence.  But Hawley also gives the reader an eye-opening look into the mind and motivation of the son. The story alternates between the two points of view, portraying how the life-long separation has impacted both of them. The exquisite, aching prose shows us all the emotions each man is confronted with as they work through their ambivalence toward each other.  At the same time, we feel the strong inner struggle of the father as he tries to come to grips with the overwhelming evidence that his son did in fact kill another human being, and his disillusionment with his own inability to use his superb diagnostic skills to get to the WHY.

As the story marches forward, we are drawn in and cannot put it down.  Riding the roller-coaster of emotions leads to an inevitable ending that the reader can see coming, but which we are as reluctant to accept as the main character.  It's tightly plotted,  with intensely drawn characters.  The setting is almost incidental, but there is nothing extra in this one.  Every word is accurately and intentionally chosen to present us with a story any parent hopes will only ever be fiction.

So who are the lucky ones to win a copy of this fantastic read.

I've sent them an email with the good news, and they each have until midnite Friday nite (April 13th) to send me their mailing address.  If I don' t hear from them by then, I'll have to ask to pick another winner.

Many thanks to Doubleday for making these copies available.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Greetings

To my many wonderful readers and followers, whether you celebrate Easter or not, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of you a spring full of beauty, blessings, health and happiness. May the victory over death Christians celebrate today help bring this world to a new age of peace, prosperity and respect for all peoples.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review and a Winner - Calico Joe

Author:  John Grisham
Publisher-Format: Doubleday (2012), ARC galley, 208 pages
Subject: Baseball, fathers and sons
Genre: fiction
Source: ARC from publisher

We have winners and so does John Grisham in Calico Joe.  I've always enjoyed Grisham's legal thrillers, and I found myself learning to love football when I read his "Playing for Pizza," so I was not surprised to find another rip roaring tale of manly pursuits.  The surprise however was the story itself.  Yes it's about baseball, but it's so much more.

The story is based on a pitcher/hitter duel - hard charging rookie super-star hitter against aging, has-been, over-the-hill pitcher, and the pitch that made history.  That's the baseball story.  But the father-son story is woven into and around the baseball story, giving us a moving portrayal of a cantakerous, some might say abusive, old man and his hard-headed, determined-not-to-forgive son.  It's high drama, but it's also a quiet, soothing and introspective look at how the relationship between a father and son can be redeemed even after years of neglect--especially if baseball is the glue that can seal the break.

It's a great book for the baseball lovers in your life, and a wonderful book for fathers and sons. I won't spoil a really good story by telling you anymore about it.  I loved it, I know my husband (who played baseball up to age of 65!) will love it, and my children will also love it.   I'd sure take a look at this one for the Father's Day gift list. without further ado, here are the lucky winners of the giveaway

Joanne P.

I've contacted them to have them send their mailing info.  If I don't hear from them by midnight Tuesday nite, April 10th, I'll have to ask to pick another winner.

Thanks to all who stopped by to enter.  If you didn't win, there's still hope. You can stop by some of my fellow bloggers whose contests are still open: Gaby at Starting Fresh, Billy at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer, Alison at Alison's Book Marks, Drey at Drey's Library, and Seduced by a Book.

Good luck and congratulations again to Joanne and Debbie. 
Many thanks to Doubleday for making these copies available.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: Beastly Things by Donna Leon

Author: Donna Leon
Publisher-Format: Grove Atlantic e-galley
Year of publication: 2012 (April)
Subject: crime, meat processing
Setting: Venice Italy
Series: Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries
Genre: mystery - police procedural
Source:  Net Galley (e-file from publisher)
Recommended? for mystery fans, lovers of Venice, and devoteès of the series

The latest Brunetti adventure. Donna Leon has been subtly (maybe not so subtly) leading up to the subject matter of this one for awhile: the safety of the beef being marketed, and the treatment of the cattle being slaughtered.  As we listened in to dinner conversations in the Brunetti household in previous episodes, we have become very aware of Chiara and Raffi's vegan leanings, and their outrage over practices in the industry, we've watched Paola and Guido roll their eyes over questions of what food is safe to eat, and whether the kids are over-reacting. We've agonized with Brunetti over the increasing pollution in the sacred canals of his city.   In Beastly Things, the latest in the series, Commissario Brunetti is called on to solve the murder of a well-loved veterinarian who was working part-time as a meat inspector at a local beef processing plant.  Leon manages to give us just enough gruesome detail to make the abattoir venue real, without gagging us with gore.

The plot is singularly uninspiring however, and I found myself asking "Is that all there is?"  Leon seems to be running out of gas.  The story is formulaic, the main characters certainly aren't advancing.  Brunetti, in spite of his horror at what he sees in the beef packing plant, goes right out and eats meat again.  In fact, he and Paola seem almost not to want to discuss the subject--sort of if we don't talk about it, we won't have to deal with it. We continue to watch Brunetti wrestle with his conscience over Signorina Eletra's ongoing tip-toeing around the law to find information by sometimes shady means, but other than that, we see little of the other characters in the Questora-- no LT Scarpa, only a brief appearance by Patta,  no in-laws, and very little even of the family.  Those of us who are fans of this series have come to look forward to the family dinners, and the husband and wife give and take over politics- both academic and office.  Obviously Brunetti, with Vianello's help,  is going to solve the mystery, but the story is one that seems carved out of cardboard, lacking in the charisma we expect from Guido Brunetti, and singularly uninspiring.

If you haven't read this series, I'd sure start with one of the earlier ones, and let's hope if Leon is going to take on other burning issues in Venice, they are woven into stories more in the mode we have come to expect.  A real disappointment.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Review: Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke

Author: Joanne Fluke
Publisher-Format: Recorded Books, 2011, 9 hr 30 min
Narrator: Suzanne Toren
Subject: who killed the band member?
Setting: Lake Eden, Minnesota
Series: Hannah Swenson Mystery
Genre: murder mystery - amateur sleuths
Source: public library

This is the latest in what I've often called the "sweet tooth" mystery series.  I 'd given up on them for awhile because I got tired of our heroine, Hannah Swenson's complete inability to make up her mind about whether or not to marry, and then to choose between two equally eligible (and willing) gentlemen.

Cinnamon Roll Murder is a great improvement over earlier books in the series. The mystery is much more tightly plotted with lots of red herrings to throw the reader off the track of the real killer; the main characters are all involved and engaging, including the cats.  Hannah is actually showing some leanings toward one of her beaus (no spoilers), and while we are treated to descriptions of some yummy treats, we are not (at least in the audio version) overwhelmed with a seemingly endless recitation of recipes.  Of course, there are a few that sounded so good, I'll be digging out a copy of the print edition to get my hands on the recipes.

Hannah and her sister Michelle are on their way to deliver cookies to an event when they witness a chain-reaction accident involving a bus belonging to the Cinnamon Roll Band.  The driver and one of the bank members end up dead and Hannah immediately concludes that murder is involved. Essentially, Hannah, along with her sisters Michelle and Andrea, and her mother Delores, band together to form a quasi-official private detective agency to prove their theories and bring the murderer to justice. Using their relationships to the town sheriff, the town coroner, and a deputy, they are able to ferret out information about the current decendent, discover his true identify, and ultimately flush out the murderer.  In the meantime, they also uncover some unsavory information about Norman's current fiancèe and help him decide whether to marry her or return to his courtship of Hannah. 

If you're a fan of the series, you'll love this one.  If you've not read any before, this one could easily stand alone.  And one of these days, I'm going to have to get me a copy of Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund

An Intimate History of the First World War
Author: Peter Englund
Translator: Peter Graves
Publisher-Format: Knopf, Epub,560 pages
Year of publication: 2011
Subject: World War I
Setting: Eastern Front, Alps, Balkans, east Africa, Mesopotamia, Paris
Genre: History, letters and diaries
Source: owned - purchased for Nook
Recommended?  ABSOLUTELY

As a participant in the War Through the Generations 2012 Reading Challenge, I've been immersing myself in books set before, during and immediately after The Great War.  In the non-fiction realm, I began with  Barbara Tuchman's epic The Guns of August where we could see the major players - politicians and generals who drew up and "executed" the war plans.

This is not a book to be enjoyed in the sense of bringing pleasure or smiles to the reader, but it is a book to be savored and remembered and celebrated.  In this work, the author gives us the Great War, not as a series of battles, blunders, and victories, not as the bloviations of politicians, kings, tsars, potentates and generals, not as compilations of maps, charts, statistics, and bureaucratic mumblings; rather he gives us the people who fought, lived and died this war. These are the people who had to carry out the ill-fated plans and decisions of the higher-ups.   He gives us their hopes and dreams, their frustrations, their fears, their boredom and hunger, their cold and wet, or hot and arid (but always hungry) lives that resulted from the bureaucratic and autocratic decisions made miles and worlds away.  We are given poverty - not of spirit or money, but of supplies, medicines, machines, ammunition, food, basic shelter, and even the simple tools needed to bury their dead.  At the same time, we are given soaring and enriching insights into the resilience of the human spirit and the hopefulness that can exist in spite of such dire situations.

We mutter at the vast spread in treatment of POWs - from nightly card games and decent food served in the "officer's mess", to brutal marches and confinements with little or no food, water or sanitation.  We gasp, we wipe away tears, we sit back to draw deep breaths because to read this is to feel, and to realize how little comprehension we have of what the real experience of the war was.  We begin to see how little the individuals involved knew about "the big picture."

In trying to explain the breath-taking and stunning impact of this book, I found myself again and again returning to the list of Dramatis Personnae (and their delightful pictures)- there are twenty of them, male and female.  The youngest and oldest were females--a 12 year old German school girl) and a 49 year old Scottish aid worker); in between, there are other women and men who represent almost every country participating in the war - Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Australia, the US, New Zealand, Italy (including an Italian American who returned to Europe to fight for the fatherland), Russia, an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat living in Poland, a Dane serving in the German army, and a Venezuelan soldier of fortune in the Ottoman army.  They were infantrymen, cavalrymen, ambulance drivers, civil servants, civilians trapped in a world of diminishing food and shelter, alpine climbers, fighter pilots, well-diggers, telecommunications linemen, artillerymen, field surgeons, nurses, officers, enlisted, POWs--all of them at the mercy of their superiors--all of them ignorant of what was happening anyplace but where they stood.  Englund draws on diaries, letters, and other original source materials in many languages to bring us their first person observations.

A note about the author: (p 503)

Peter Englund is a Swedish historian, who has received numerous prizes in his own country and whose words have been translated into fifteen languages.  He has been working as a war correspondent in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Englund is a member of the Swedish Academy (which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature) and in 2008 was appointed its new permanent secretary, an office he still holds.

In his introduction, Englund tells us better than I would even attempt to what this book is and isn't:

To the Reader: (pg. 9-11)
As a historian, I have often longed to be present where and when events happen, but...I discovered be right in the middle of events is no guarantee of being able to understand them.  You are stuck in a confusing, chaotic and noisy reality and the chances are that the editorial office on the other side of the planet often has a  better idea of what is going on than you do--just as a historian, paradoxically enough, often has a better understanding of an event than those who were actually involved in it.

...This is a book about the First World War.  It is not, however, a book about what it was--that is, about its causes, course, conclusion and consequences--but a book about what it was like. In this volume the reader will meet not so much factors, as people, not so much events and processes as feelings, impressions, experiences and moods.

.....I wanted to depict the war as an individual experience, to go beyond the usual historical and sociological categories, and also beyond the usual narrative forms in which, at best, people such as these appear as no more than tiny specks of light, flickering by in the grand historical attempt to deconstruct this utterly epoch-making event into its smallest, most basic component--the individual, and his or her experiences.

As a historian, and as a writer, he has succeeded beyond anything we have a right to expect.