Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: The House in Amalfi by Elizabeth Adler

The ideal ending to a wonderful summer of reading.  I loaded this one on my MP3 before I left on vacation, but just got to it this week.  Elizabeth Adler is known for her lush portrayals of Mediterranean romantic getaways, and this one certainly provides it all-- romance, scenery, and a hint of mystery

Although it could have been stereotypical-- more girl is disappointed with first love...Girl runs away to "be alone" and "discover herself"...Girl meets boy and boy's father...Girl is looking for her father...Girl looks for happiness in the land (and house) of her childhood...Girl falls in love--Adler manages to avoid the hackneyed and gives us a character with some depth, and a love story with a bit of mystery.

Lamour Harrington, a recent widow and certified landscape architect returns to the house where she grew up with her less than orthodox and now dead father, a famous author.  She intends to restore the old house and find happiness being independent.  She also wants to find out "the rest of the story" surrounding the meager facts she has been given about her father's death.  Was his death an accident?  Was he murdered?  What really happened and why won't anybody talk about it?

She doesn't figure on Italian men, and their perception that "independent woman" is an oxymoron.  Her romanticized memories of the past are not meshing with the realities of today, and her struggles to achieve her dreams provide the reader with a lovely warm and fuzzy read when something not too heavy is called for.

Adler's descriptions of the Amalfi coast area and her discussion of Italian cuisine always rate high with me, and her portrayal of the emotional roller-coaster ride of the main character is equally satisfying.  The audio version is well-done by Carrington MacDuffie.  I was able to follow the book easily as I sat outside in the beautiful Maine summer working on my needlework.  As I said, a wonderful way to start the summer wrap-up.

Author: Elizabeth Adler
Publisher-Format: BBC Audio Books America, 2006, 9 hrs
Narrator: Carrington MacDuffie
Subject: Finding love in one's roots
Setting: Amalfi Coast of Italy
Genre: Chick-lit, romance
Source: Public library audio download

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza's family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future. 
So begins the advertising blurb.  I should have loved this book.  My grandparents came from Italy and many of my childhood memories are of Italian meals, Italian celebrations and superstitions and festivities.  The publishers stress that this is Adriana Trigiani's tribute to her grandparents, and tout it as a magnificent work of homage to her heritage.  There are paragraphs upon paragraphs written about the depth of the affection shown in the writing, and the wonderful way she plumbs the psyches of the characters with their love of Italy, love of family, and devotion to their children.

It's a good story, it's a good romance, and the historical detail about the immigrant experience in New York and then in the mid-west rings true.  But there's just way too much of it.  If I hadn't wanted to see whether Enza and Ciro ever get back to their roots in northern Italy to see the old country, I'd have given up about half-way through.  It took them forever  to find each other, and then it takes the author forever to develop each new happening in their lives.  The emotional introspection often goes on for pages, and slows the progress of the story, making it an excruciating read.

I wondered if this could be seen as the prequel to her VValentine series, although that was never mentioned.  If you're a fan of Trigiani, and are used to her lengthy emotional blatherings, then you'll love this one.  If you like your writing crisp and clear, just be advised this one is frothier than that.  It's got enough meat that I wouldn't call it chick-lit, but I'd have to be in a chick-lit/romance frame of mind to take it all in one dose. And I'd have preferred it to be about 100 pages shorter.

Author: Adriana Trigiani
Publisher-Format: Harper 2012, 496 pages
Subject: Italian heritage, immigrants, shoemaking
Setting: Italian Alps, New York City, Hibbing and Chisolm Minnesota
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Source: Public library

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Back in the dark ages, when Tutu was in high school, I vaguely remember that we were assigned selected readings from the Iliad and the Odyssey.  If I read them, very little stuck, and I remember them as boring and without any meaning for me.  These were myths, legends, and everything happened so long ago, that what did it matter?  Now along comes Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles.  Would it change my mind?

Several members of my reading group on have praised this one so eloquently and loudly that I had to read it.  Still, I approached it with great trepidation.  In fact, I had downloaded the ebook through the library's program because I was sure I wouldn't want to waste a lot of time or money on this one.  I had a preconceived notion that Greek mythology wasn't going to cut it. So I didn't even open the downloaded book until I had only 3 days left on the check- out!! It was a race to the finish line to complete the story before the downloaded file expired, and it's now on  my list to purchase for my permanent collection.  I was so wrong and I'm happy to say so.

Madeline Miller's debut novel, winner of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, is an absolute knock-out.  From the minute I started reading, I couldn't put it down.  Written from the point of view of Patroclus, an exiled prince who becomes the companion of Achilles, Miller  treats us to a detailed, lavish view of life during the golden glory days of Greece. We meet those legendary figures from our high school anthologies: Odysseus, Agamemmon, Menelaus, and Achilles' mother the sea-goddess Thetis who despises mortals, and is especially antagonistic toward Patroclus.   Miller's writing brings all of them to life, showing their relations to events, and giving us new glimpses of the myths we remember.

The story follows Patroclus and Achilles as they apprentice themselves to the centaur Chieron, learning both survival and military skills. As they reach young adulthood, we get a ring-side seat at the Trojan war, when men of Greece, who had sworn a blood oath to rescue her, were called to Troy to rescue the fair Helen.  I can't really compare this telling to those of my mid 20th century high school curriculum.  I can only say it was a compelling story, told in a narrative that holds the reader's interest and presents the age old tale of the Iliad in a new and gripping version.  It even made me want to go find a good translation of the original to see where the story got started.  There's no doubt in my mind that it deserves all the hype and awards.  Highly recommended.

Orange Prize For Fiction 2012
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher-Format:  Harper Collins, Ecco; epub , 352 pages
Year of publication: 2011 (UK)
Subject: Story of Achilles
Setting: Ancient Greece
Genre: mythology, historical fiction
Source: Public library download  but soon to be a permanent purchase for my personal collection.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

This one opens on the steps of a courthouse, and the reader immediately must shift the expectation away from a lifeboat drifting with survivors, to a landlocked scene.  Here we meet 22 year old Grace Winter who appears to be on trial for her life. We soon discover that Grace is also a widow, a survivor, and a strong woman who gives us the story of how she and her fellow survivors endured  life on the high seas.

Grace and her husband Henry were sailing from England to America to escape the impending war.  At the same time Grace was sailing toward a mother-in-law who was not going to approve of Henry's wife.  When the ocean liner exploded, those who survived found themselves in severely overcrowded lifeboats adrift in the Atlantic Ocean with no compass and no idea where they were. In Grace's case, her husband was missing, and the boat she was pushed into was "captained" by John Hardie, the only member of the crew on the boat.  Under his austere leadership, they managed to survive on limited rations of food and water, thinking that distress signals had been sent before the ship sank, and that they would be soon rescued.

When the weather turned ugly, and the ocean became much more turbulent, it was obvious that the boat would sink unless the load was lightened. So began a battle amongst the castaways among themselves, and with themselves.  Through the pages of Grace's diary which her defense lawyer and psychologist have asked her to write, we see the intense inner struggle she and many others go through.  We are introduced to many of the participants in the drama, and develop favorites.  The horror of the dilemma facing each passenger is presented starkly, and with gripping finality.

In addition to relating the horrors of the lifeboat, Grace interweaves her personal story, causing the reader to ponder how much this background influences her decisions on the fateful journey.  This novel is hypnotic and gut-wrenching.  The story is a classic one, often used in ethics and morality classrooms to force people to examine moral choices and accept the inevitable.  How Grace survives the ordeal, only to face a trial for murder is an underlying theme throughout.  By opening at the end, Rogan lets us know that at least some passengers survived.  It is the telling of the voyage and the rescue along the way that make it impossible to put this one down.

I predict that this one is going to be one of the all-time top picks for book club discussions in the coming year.  It is especially powerful as an audio book, and the narrator Rebecca Gibble gives an outstanding performance, mastering many accents and dialects to paint us vivid audio pictures.

Author:  Charlotte Rogan
Publisher-Format: Hachette Audio 2012, 7 hrs 47 min, 288 pg equivalent
Narrator: Rebecca Gibble
Subject: survival, abandonment, morality
Setting: a lifeboat adrift in the Atlantic, 1914
Genre: historical fiction

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review: Scone Island by Frederick Ramsay

Here's another one that was a surprise.  I didn't realize when I downloaded the ARC via Net Galley, that it was #8 in the Ike Schwartz Mystery series.  I only saw Maine, Coast, Lighthouse, island, and I thought "Perfect for a vacation read!"  I'm so glad I didn't pay any attention to the publisher's blurb before I read it, because after I saw their recap, I wondered if I'd read the same book.  I'm sure you can find their skinny on the Poisoned Pen Press website, so I'll just give you my Two Cents on this one.

First of all, it can be easily read as a stand-alone, although I am now motivated to go back and find earlier ones in the series.

Secondly, it's definitely a police procedural with some clandestine espionage from Ike's previous life coming back to haunt both the good police sheriff of Picketville Virginia and his wife Ruth who is recovering from injuries suffered before this book takes place.  If you believe the PPP folks and their marketing blurb, you'll think this is about settling an estate and the FBI.  If you believe the opening page of the book itself ("Dear Readers") you'll be more inclined to think you're going to read a story about Ruth and Ike going to Maine (no electricity, no cell phones, a true rustic adventure) to rest and recuperate from Ruth's injuries, and being pursued by Ike's former colleagues at the CIA. When you read the book, it doesn't really matter....just that Ike and Ruth don't get the relaxing vacation they bargained for.

Anyway, there are bodies galore, mysterious deaths, great scenes of how to cope in the modern world without modern machinery and weapons (or do they?) and a rip-roaring, fun, old fashioned who dunnit.  I really enjoyed this book.  The sense of place is spot on.  The characters are lovable, quirky, and of a certain 'over-the-hill' age that is welcome to see in this day of well-buffed anorexic, egoistic body-builders; there's a well-developed plot,that while it has twists and turns, does not leave the reader in a knot.

Although I haven't read the earlier ones in the series, I suspect this one is a worthy addition.  Just read the book and don't believe anything anybody tries to tell you about the story (even Tutu).

Author: Frederick Ransay
Publisher-Format: Poisoned Pen Press, (2012) egalley 268 pages
Subject: mysterious murders
Setting: fictional island off coast of Maine
Series: Ike Schwartz mysteries (#8)
Genre: retired crime fighter cozy mystery
Source: ARC from publisher via Net Galley

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review : Tigers in Red Weather

 The press release says
Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha's Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House.  In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their 'real lives': Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war. 
This one was a really pleasant surprise. I grabbed it from Net Galley and loaded it on my Nook just before we left on vacation earlier this month and I'm really glad I did.  I was prepared for a fluffy beach read, and instead was treated to a brilliantly written story of family intrigue, dark secrets, a spectacular sense of place, and well-crafted characters.  Klaussmann tells us the story from each of the five main characters' point of view, and the result is breathtaking.  It's five stories, all bound together, about expectations, marriages gone awry, romances dying on the vine, with each story clearly labeled in place and time so we are always at ease with where we are on the journey. The deeper into the book I got, the less I wanted to put it down.

The marketing blurb continues:
 Soon the gilt begins to crack.  Helena's husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over.  On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena--with their children, Daisy and Ed--try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.

Even the genre is difficult to put a label on.  It can be a mystery but the mysterious elements aren't the driving force; it could be a romance but those relationships, while important, aren't pulling the train either; for some readers it will be a coming of age novel; others will view it as historical fiction- particularly those who want to re-live summers spent on Martha's Vineyard, World War II coming home stories, and growing up in the Eisenhower days; some will find it very dark but others will be able to ignore the dark parts and see it simply as a tale of generational  and psychological drama.  However you read it, what it is NOT is boring.  In fact, I didn't quite get it finished before we left Ocean City so I told hubby he had to drive first, because I was going to finish this book before it got dark and I couldn't read in the car!

Little Brown  tells us
Liza Klaussmann worked as a journalist for the New York Times for over a decade. She received a BA in Creative Writing from Barnard College, where she was awarded the Howard M. Teichman Prize for Prose. She lived in Paris for ten years and she recently completed with distinction an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, in London, where she lives. She is the great-great-great granddaughter of Herman Melville.
Let's hope Ms. Klaussmann has more elegant story-telling to share with us.

Author: Liza Klaussmann
Publisher-Format: Little Brown and company (2012), e-galley 368 pages
Subject: Family relationships, secrets
Setting: Martha's Vineyard 1945-1969
Genre: fiction
Source: ARC from publisher via Net Galley

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review : The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Harold Fry is recently retired from working in a brewery.  He is bored. He and his wife Maureen have been married for 40 years.  To put it mildly, their marriage has grown so stale that it is only the fact that they both give the same address and eat at the same table that corroborates that legal status.

Then Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, with whom he worked at the brewery, but who has not been heard from since she left town 20 years ago.  Queenie writes to say that she is dying and is in a hospice in Berwick upon Tweed.  She wants simply to say "goodbye."

Harold, pens a proper reply on proper stationery, and leaves the house dressed in dock-siders, shirt, tie, jacket, dress slacks, to walk to the corner to post his letter.  When he gets to the post box, he realizes he's missed the last pickup of the day, and decides to walk up the road to the next box.  Thus begins the journey of Harold Fry to save Queenie Hennessy.  A series of chance encounters early in his walk convince him that he should visit her personally, and that she will not die as long as she is waiting for him to arrive.

He has no cell-phone, no map (and he hasn't the vaguest idea of where Berwick on Tweed is in relation to where he lives in Kingsbridge), no protective clothing, no good walking shoes.  He has only an inner compulsion to see Queenie again, to keep walking.  When he starts out, he's not sure why.  He's not sure where he's going (physically or metaphorically), he's only sure that he must keep going.  He does have some spare change, and his debit card with him, so along the way he buys food, and simple sustenance items. He does call his wife after a bit tell her what he's doing and endure her less than encouraging responses.

Harold's journey is a story of the human spirit.  He meets people along the way, and is able to learn from all of them.  It also becomes Maureen's story, as the author shifts periodically back to Kingsbridge to show us the other side of the marriage, and how it came to the point where it is.  Harold's journey is not a straight path: he jigs, jogs, stops, starts, hesitates, falters, but in the end he accomplishes his goal.  He gets to Queenie's  

The symbolic elements in this book are too numerous to list.  The writing is elegant.  The characters are spot on.  Rachel Joyce has given us a heart-warming, heart-breaking story of life, of dreams (both fulfilled and long-abandoned), of hope and forgiveness.  It is a story to be treasured and  savored.There's a lot for discussion and I venture it will become a favorite of book clubs across the country. 

And by the way, my ARC did not have a map (the empty page indicated it was to be included in the final edition).  I googled to find a map of the UK, and kept it open as I followed Harold's journey.  Google Maps pegs it at 467 miles if you go on the M5, but Harold's 87 day on-again, off-again trek took him 627 miles.   The ending is dramatic, cathartic, and endearing.

This is a book you want to last 87 days, so you can take that walk with Harold and Maureen.  It will definitely be on my top of the year list. Don't miss it.

Booker Prize Long list
Author: Rachel Joyce
Publisher-Format: Random House, 2012, ARC 336 pages,
Subject: marriage, grief, introspection, journey
Setting: present day England
Genre: contemporary narrative fiction
Source: ARC from the publisher

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Mailbox - August 20

I've been cutting way back on review copies since I'm also trying to deal with real life and read some other books that have been sitting on my shelves way too long.  So while I was gone on vacation, I only received two--both of them contest wins.

Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder series is immensely popular at our little library, so I was delighted to win this giveaway held by Caite at A Lovely Shore Breeze.  This is one of my favorite blogs, so be sure to stop by.
In the newest chilling thriller from New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo, Chief of police Kate Burkholder is called upon to assist when an Amish teenager disapears without a trace.

A missing child is a nightmare to all parents, and never more so than in the Amish community, where family ties are strong. So when a body turns up and another young girl goes missing, fear spreads through the community like a contagion. Kate and state agent, John Tomasetti, delve into the lives of the missing teens and discover links to cold cases that may go back years. But will Kate piece together all the parts of this sinsiter puzzle before it's too late? Or will she find herself locked in a fight to the death with a merciless killer. has a wonderful giveaway program called Early Reviewers.  This month they chose me to get an ARC: David R. Gillham's City of Women.
It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men taken by the army, Berlin has become a city of women. And while her husband fights on the Eastern Front, Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.
But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former Jewish lover, who is now lost in the chaos of the war.
Sigrid’s tedious existence is turned upside down when she finds herself hiding a mother and her two young daughters—whom she believes might be her lover’s family—and she must make terrifying choices that could cost her everything.
I downloaded several possibilities from Net Galley, and actually read two while I was on vacation.  I'll be posting reviews before the end of the month.

And then there are the books we added to our Nook and our Kindle.  Most were freebies that looked interesting enough to grab and peruse as time permits, but both hubbie and I decided to add Stephen King's latest 11-22-63 to our permanent collection.  We were both in college then, and still recall every detail of that day and the weekend that followed, so we are anxious to read this "What if?"  It sounds irresistable.

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas,
President Kennedy died, and the world changed.
If you had the chance to change history, would you?
Would the consequences be worth it?
Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.
Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently. Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are rotated every month. Jennifer at 5 Minutes for is hosting Augusts's postings. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Change of Plans! Winner number Two

Anita has contacted me to let us know that she has already won a copy of Pigeon Pie Mystery in another drawing.  So...................... has chosen Chèli to receive the copy.  I have already contacted her and she is eagerly awaiting her copy.  Congrats to Chèli and thanks to everyone for entering.

Monday, August 13, 2012

And the Winner is......

Anita Yancy has chosen Anita's entry to win a copy of

 by Julia Stewart

I have emailed Anita, and she has until midnite August 17th to send me
her mailing address.  If I don't hear from her by then,
we'll choose another winner.
Congratulations Anita!!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mini Review: Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

There have been numerous formal reviews of this latest collection of Anna Quindlan's work, so this one will be just a few comments to provide my insights in case you're still on the fence.

This is a perfect vacation read for us over-50s. It's definitely a woman's book that can have some appeal to women of all ages, but those of us who emerged from girlhood in the 60s and 70s can particularly appreciate her musings on life: liking oneself, wanting to change, changing, and finally ending up really liking oneself again. I listened to the audio version of this, read by the author, and was instantly transported back to my mid-Atlantic East Coast, catholic school upbringing.

Yes, it may have rambled on, yes it may have said in 200 words what she might have said in 150, but that's how I often think and talk too. When you get to our age, you're entitled to ramble and repeat.  It's relaxing, uplifting, re-affirming. Just the thing to start off on a trip back to girlhood summers with the family. It would also make a wonderful gift for a BFF today.

Author: Anna Quindlen
Publisher-Format: Books on Tape, audio 7 hrs
Narrator: Anna Quindlen

Year of publication: 2012
Subject: growing up female
Genre: memoir
Source: public library download

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

From the publisher: Only a few years before becoming a famous actress,  fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita to make it big in NY. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle is a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip. She has no idea what she's in store for: Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob and bangs, is known for her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will change their lives forever. For Cora, NY holds the promise of self-discovery, and even as she does her best to watch Louise in a strange and bustling city, she embarks on her own mission. While what she finds isn't what she anticipated, it liberates her in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of the summer, Cora's eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.
A wonderful surprise!  I think I expected this book to be about the famous Flapper, Louise Brooks. But this novel is much more complex than the publisher's blurb would lead us to believe. The parallel stories of Cora and Louise go only through the first part of the book.  After that first five weeks together in New York, their paths split, and the story becomes Cora's.  Her role as chaperone serves only to provide the beginnings of a transformation that will continue throughout her life.  Louise continues to appear, but only in cameo roles.

After her return to Witchita, the life changing events Cora endures (often unexpected) and her ability to adopt to them is affirming, both for herself and her family.  The variety of relationships, of changing social and cultural mores of the Roaring Twenties and pre-war era all serve as opportunities for growth, showing us a strong woman willing to take chances, often willing to defy society, while at the same time able to operate inside the structure of the accepted woman's role.

It's difficult to talk about everything that happens without spoiling an outstanding story.  Moriarty gives us in excruciating detail the life of an upper-middle class woman of the era, as well as the changes bombarding her from the social, financial, medical, political, and religious circles in which she moved.  It's a compelling story, and one that is sure to engage both women and men of all ages.

I listened to this one in audio, and while I normally enjoy this format, I did find the Kansas accent adapted by the narrator Elizabeth McGovern a bit off-putting.  I don't think I realized that Kansans have that strong a a twang. Other than that small nit-pick however, it was an enjoyable story, a well-told narration, and a book that deserves a good look by many many readers.

Author: Laura Moriarty
Publisher-Format: Penguin Group Audio; 13 hours, 15 minutes
Narrator: Elizabeth McGovern
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: women's roles
Setting: Witchita Kansas, New York City
Genre: Historical fiction,
Source: public library download

Sunday, August 5, 2012

August 5 - an Anniversary and Time again for the Ocean

It's our anniversary today.
45 years of love, fun, travel and incredible adventures.
We got married on a Saturday, and our first married Sunday found us at Shea Stadium watching Mr. Tutu's beloved San Francisco Giants playing the Mets.  We then went on to the beautiful beaches of southern Maine where we instantly decided we had to come and live someday. Whenever possible since then, we've celebrated our anniversary at some beach or other.  We've done San Diego, Huntington Beach and Monterey California, Quoddy Head Maine,   Mayport FL, Galveston TX, Lewes DE, Pearl Harbor HI (several times) Singapore, Penang Malaysia, Newport RI, etc etc etc. And then one anniversary we actually sailed ON THE OCEAN for a couple weeks.

We  love the beach: the ocean, the rocks, the crashing waves, the sun rising and setting on the horizon, the treasures of shells and flotsam to be found walking through the sand. In fact, we both still would say that there is no better exercise for the body or soul than a good long stroll on the beach- no matter what the weather.  Summer sun is especially nice, but we've strolled beaches all over the world in all seasons, and all kinds of climatic conditions. 
This week, we're spending an entire week in one place, just enjoying the ocean life here in Ocean City Maryland.  I'll be posting pictures later when we get a good internet connection.  Our condo does not have internet, so I'm doing this post ahead of time.  I'm actually excited about unplugging for a few days.   We have a list of things to do, but nothing is set in concrete. Our "maybe we can..." list includes
  • Walking the Boardwalk -so son and grand-daughter can ride the rides, we can eat pizza and ice cream, and get salt-water taffy, and get our pictures taken, and play arcade games, and listen to free concerts.
  • Eating Maryland crabs.  Let's be clear about this one.  Lobsters come from Maine.  Crabs come from Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.  No substitutes allowed.  And I'd be hard pressed to tell you which I like better, except to say that when in Maryland I eat crabs.  When I'm in Maine, I eat Lobster.  End of discussion.
  • Girl's shopping day at the outlet mall about 1/2 hour up the road.  If we time it right, we may even be able to get Great grandma (my mom) to go with us.   Grand-daughters always need new "stuff" for school, so this year, Tutu will get to be the shopping fairy.
  • Family picnic on the beach.  My Baltimore family is HUGE. My dad was one of 8 boys, and although all of Dad's generation is gone (my mom and one other Aunt are the only ones left) most of my cousins still live in Maryland. One of the them (the oldest cousin of my generation - now known as "the Patriarch") actually lives in the OC area.  The whole family usually gets together for a week in OC every summer, and we just happened to have hit the week. So we're definitely planning to meet up with a ton of cousins to enjoy food, games and fun in the sand.  It will be really nice to get together without having to do it at a funeral.
I wish you warm (but not broiling) sunshine, gentle breezes and a chance to relax for the rest of the week.

Oh yes....I plan to do some reading.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Weekend cooking.....on vacation...

Here they are--golden, moist, bursting with crab meat. The signature dish of my home town --the Chesapeake Bay crab cake!  No recipe, just a quick report.  Vacation is wonderful....I won at Scrabble tonite, have done little reading, a bit of shopping, a lot of driving, and tomorrow we head to the beach.

Hope you all are having a wonderful time watching the Olympics!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Susan Vreeland's ability to show us the intricacies of various art forms and the world of those artists is well known. I've read all her books, and I think this one is definitely her best.

By choosing to focus on the woman who led the "Tiffany Girls" who were responsible for the design and manufacture of the famous Tiffany glass lamps, she has given us not only the story of the glass, but the story of changing women's roles in the early part of the twentieth century. She has also given us a lesson in the glass techniques and in the Tiffany Glass company culture, particularly Tiffany's hard and fast rule that the company would not employ a married woman.

From the 1893 Chicago World's Fair where Louis Comfort Tiffany originally attracted the public's attention, to the middle of the next century, Vreeland paints the picture of Clara Driscoll, as she struggled to maintain and enhance her position in the company, to protect the jobs for the women in their own division, and to gain acknowledgement of her role and talent as the designer and main artistic inspiration for much of Tiffany's famous work.  In spite of her complex and close relationship with Mr. Tiffany, she eventually was faced with standing up to the management, and ultimately leaving the company.

Vreeland uses Clara Driscoll's letters as the basis for the story of her artistic and managerial achievements at the Tiffany Glass company.  That alone would have been an interesting story. However, the author's ability to breath life into her personal relationships with a very bohemian group of fellow roomers at the boarding house where she lived most of her life.  Her early marriage (and subsequent widowhood which allowed her to return to working), her exotic love affair with Edwin Booth, and her lifetime relationship with Edwin's gay brother added color and depth to the story.  Vreeland is also excellent at giving us a picture of the bone-crushing poverty of the average immigrant living in the tenements of New York.  Clara is often able to find young women who have the native talent to learn the work and her ability to provide them with steady employment often meant the difference between living and starvation. 

It's a well-crafted, well-researched story that is sure to please art-lovers, and fans of women's fiction.  My experience was especially enhanced by  Ms. Vreeland's post Discovering Clara on her webpage.  Be sure to check out the breathtaking photos of the stained glass.

Author: Susan Vreeland
Publisher-Format: Random House (2011), Hardcover, 432 pages 
Subject: Tiffany stained glass, women's roles
Setting:  New York City
Genre: historical fiction
Source: Public library

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Ever since I read Lisa Genova's saga of an Alzheimer's victim, "Still Alice", I've been anxious to get to this one.  Although written as fiction, the story of this more common than we realize neurological condition known as "Left Neglect" is compelling, frightening, encouraging, discouraging, depressing, and uplifting all at once.

The main character, Sara Nickerson, is portrayed as an over-achieving, multi-tasking, high powered executive, mother of three who thinks she can have it all--and almost does, until a momentary lapse of judgement (trying to dial a cell-phone while barreling along a crowded turnpike at 70mph) results in a horrific accident, and a traumatic brain injury.  When she awakes in the hospital, she is confronted with the fact that the entire left side of her experience is missing.  She can't see on her left, she can't use her left arm or leg, she can't hear on her left--in essence, she is missing half her reality.  She can't dress, bath or toilet herself, she can't read, she can't use a computer, she can't walk, she can't feed herself, and the outlook is less than optimistic for a full recovery.

For about 60% of this book, I wanted to smack this woman.  She is obnoxious, arrogant, demanding, selfish, and totally unlikable.  But..............she is suffering an incredible challenge, and an almost impossible obstacle course to recover her previous life, so I continued reading, praying for a change of heart. On top of the physical issues she had to deal with, she is confronted with having her mother moving in to her household to help out with day to day chores, with her daughter's physical needs (dressing, bathing, moving etc) and with childcare - particularly for the toddler. Apparently, Sara has not been on speaking terms with her mother for most of her adult life, and the psychic energy she must expend on re-building (or tearing down) that relationship is an additional trauma to her system.  On top of everything, the family has to face a precipitous drop in its very affluent life-style if Sara is unable to return to work.

Genova has given us a powerful portrayal of the physical, mental, psychological and spiritual challenges of this type of injury --not just to the victim, but to the family and friends who also are impacted by its devastation.  In the end, it is a story of the power of the human spirit to rise above adversity and get on with life.   It is a story that will stick with the reader for years.

And I promise, I'll never use a hands-on cell-phone while driving.

Author:  Lisa Genova
Publisher-Format: Gallery Books (2011), Paperback, 352 pages
audio by Simon and Schuster, 9 hr, 15 min
Narrator: Sarah Paulson
Subject: neurological damage from traumatic brain injury
Setting: Massachusetts, Vermont
Genre: fiction
Source: public library