Sunday, September 30, 2012

September Series - A Track of Sand by Andrea Camilleri

Ending my September Series reading with another of my favorite mystery series and detectives....the incomparable Commissario Salvo Montalbano.  These are light but not cozy, intricate but not too convoluted, funny but not 
 insulting, and often worthy of a post on weekend cooking.  Salvo loves to eat and between Adelina his housekeeper and Enzo who runs the local trattoria, we are constantly being treated to gustatory temptations.

In this adventure, involving a dead horse, Salvo investigates (illegal) horse racing and its possible ties to the Mafia.  He has his house ransacked, goes through tremendous angst over growing old and slowing down, and finds himself dallying with the  sumptuous owner of the dead horse in an effort to prove himself still a good functioning Sicilian male.  He has to determine if the horse (who disappeared after the body was discovered) is in fact the Senora's missing steed, and what if any relation the horse murder has to do with his house being tossed.  And then he has to come to grips with his increasing need to wear reading glasses!!

The usual cast of characters is in evidence.  By now after reading 10 of these, I feel the gang is like family.  We know Mimi, and Catarello and Livia and Ingrid.  In fact in this one, Ingrid plays a much larger role than the long-suffering Livia.

This is a series that always delights.  It's best taken in small doses - the stories are all short (never more than 270+/- pages or 5-6 hours of audio) and do tend to start sounding alike if too many are read together.  They are also stories that can be read independently and don't necessarily need to be read in order.  If you love visiting foreign settings, enjoy a good crime filled mystery with not too many plot twists, salivate over descriptions of incredible food, and want a cast of loveable quirky characters, this series should delight you.  They are also available (with sub-titles) on DVD at many local libraries--especially delightful if you're a visual learner.

Author: Andrea Camilleri
Translator: Stephen Sartarelli
Publisher-Format: Blackstone Audio 5 hr, 26 min
Year of publication: 2010
Subject: murder, aging
Setting:  Vigata Sicily
Series: Commissario Montalbano
  police procedural mystery
Source: public library audio download

Saturday, September 29, 2012

September Series: Choker by Frederick Ramsay

I read another mystery in this series (Scone Island) earlier this summer and really enjoyed the characters of Ike Schwartz and his love Ruth Harris in that adventure set in Maine.  That was #8, and I wanted to go back to see how the series got started.  I saw this audio available, and grabbed it.  Sometimes it's better to start in the middle of a series rather than the beginning to get a feel for whether the character has developed enough to sustain ongoing episodes.

In this story, Ike, who is a retired CIA agent now serving as a small town sheriff in western Virginia, decides to take a real vacation staying in a house on the beach in Delaware.  No sooner does he get settled in however, then he is tracked down by his old CIA buddy Charley and asked to go investigate the disappearance of Charley's niece's fiancè when the airplane he was flying disappeared off the radar over the Chesapeake Bay.  Just before he lost contact, he had called his fiancee and told her to call her uncle.  What did he see before he crashed?  Ike reluctantly agrees to check into the "crash" and  is soon sucked into an intricate plot, on the trail of what may be a terrorist plot against the US.

In the meantime, back home, his deputy is dealing with a Satanic cult.................and it was here that Ramsay lost me.  At first I thought this cult was going to get tied into the terrorist story, but if it did I missed it.  The whole satanic thing was nothing but pure distraction.  I wonder if the author felt he didn't have enough in the main plot to carry a full-length book?  The main story was great and didn't need the side-bar that periodically popped up.  I hope that none of the others in the series have these kinds of "extras."

I enjoyed the main story, found it well-plotted, fast-paced and unfortunately, chillingly believable.  Trying to figure out whether the plane crashed or was somehow "brought down", trying to figure out what the pilot was frantically calling about before he was lost, who was responsible and whether Ike would come out of this adventure alive, kept me reading all night. Even with the satanic diversion, it was good enough to have me looking for another in the series.

Author: Frederick Ramsay
Publisher-Format: Blackstone Audio  8 hr 33 min
Year of publication: 2009
Narrator: Lloyd James
Subject: espionage, terror, satanism
Setting: Delmarva, Chesapeake Bay area
Series: Ike Schwartz Mysteries (book 5)
Genre: mystery, thriller, government agents
Source: public library download

Weekend Cooking --Boneless clams

Believe me, fried clams are a definite treat - and they are in fact already "boneless". We stopped at this little dinner last weekend on a road trip, and had a wonderful time with the two young gents who ran the place in coastal New Hampshire. The owner assured me they got a lot of business from the sign, because people would come in scratching their heads, looking embarrassed and asking if clams really did have bones. At least we knew our leg was being pulled.....

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.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: A Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer

One of the most powerful, thought-provoking books I've read this year.  Our book club chose this one for its setting and to a person agreed that the setting was a large contributor to the depth and richness of the story.

Hannah is an artist who has come to live on Ten Acre No Nine Island which she inherited from her uncle Arno.  She hasn't been to the island in 8 years since she'd spent summers with her uncle.  Now that he's dead, she wants nothing more than to be left alone so she can paint and sculpt.  That's who she is--at least that's who she thinks she is. As the story opens, a scruffy old mutt who has obviously fallen into the water someplace offshore, manages to beach himself on her island.  When she discovers him, she cannot figure out what to do with him, reluctantly names him "Driftwood" and allows him into her life.

As the months progress, others arrive on her island and each time, Hannah must decide whether to allow them to stay, how to relate to them, what they ultimately will mean to them.  She continues to paint and to sculpt, but finds the constant stream of people in her life are gradually skewing her perception of solitude.  Was she lonely?  Or did she just want to be alone?
She'd read somewhere that there were three things worth doing in life: making something new, caring for something old, and finding something lost. Her art was new; the house was worthy of care. What had been lost? It was like asking what had been forgotten. You didn't know until you remembered it. She wouldn't know what was lost until she found it. (pg. 150)
The story of Hannah, her dog, her friends, the townspeople on the mainland, her half-sister,  a runaway teen fleeing an abusive father, and her uncle are all intertwined in a beautiful tale of life and loss and caring and sharing. Coomer gives us a wide panoply of characters who represent the whole spectrum of life in Maine.  There are warring lobstermen, hard working high school students, disabled veterans, demented elders, beached whales, tourists, and homeless relatives.  How and whether Hannah allows each of these into her life, into her heart,  is the story.  It's a glorious story, beautifully written, with simple words, complex thoughts, and all the beauty life on the rugged shores of Maine can provide.

One of my ten best of the year.

Author: Joe Coomer
Publisher-Format: Graywolf Press (2007), Paperback, 304 pages
Life, loss, growth
Setting: Isolated island in the Gulf of Maine
Genre: literary fiction
Source:  My own shelves

Thursday, September 27, 2012

September Series: Heaven is High by Kate Wilhelm

The Barbara Holloway series is one I always enjoy.  Practicing law in a restaurant booth in Eugene, Oregon, concentrating on people who can't afford high powered high priced practitioners,  Barbara is a loner defense attorney who periodically teams up with her father, one of the area's most noted defense attorneys to work on some seemingly hopeless cases.  Kate Wilhelm has managed to hold our interest throughout the series by constructing interesting scenarios with an assortment of both clients and crimes.

In Heaven is High, her client is Binnie, the mute wife of a retired NFL player. Binnie has come to the US illegally to escape enslavement in her native land.  The problem is that no one can prove which country --Belize or Haiti -- is her country of origin.  There is no documentation, no relatives, nothing to prevent this woman from being deported to a certain death.

At first Barbara, having no experience in the Immigration services area, declines the case.  But when she is unable to locate a competent attorney to take the case on short notice, she decides to do some preliminary work herself.  Fans of the series know what that means--preliminary quickly turns to full-blown!  She's off and running, pulling in her investigative team, and trying to collect evidence to prevent Binnie's deportation.  It's an exciting story, with several plot twists, and a satisfying ending. Barbara is certainly moving toward a new chapter in her life, moving away from her father's practice, but will that separation continue in future chapters?

The father-daughter partnership is one I've thoroughly enjoyed in past books of this series, and one that I hope will re-surface in the future, but this one continues the capable, competent and feisty Barbara Holloway we're used to, and is another definite winner.

Author: Kate Wilhelm
Publisher-Format: Blackstone Audio, 8 hrs. 51 min
Narrator: Carrington MacDuffie
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: immigration, drug dealing, international kidnapping
Setting: Oregon
Series: Barbara Holloway novels, book 12
Genre: Legal mystery
Source: public library download

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

September Series: A Dublin Student Doctor by Patrick Taylor

This is a series I've enjoyed over the years, and I didn't even realize a new one had been published until a friend mentioned it. I saw it on the library's audio download and nabbed it to listen to while I was doing my hours in the pool.  Besides, it fit right in with the September series theme.  The pool was the only reason I persevered with this one. At 15 hours, it was about 5 hours too long. Taylor's books have each gotten more verbose, less well edited as the series goes on.

As a doctor writing about doctors, he seems to think we're all really interested in all the nitty gritty of medical diagnoses and treatments. While we may be interested, we don't need a graduate level course. This story--actually a kind of prequel to the series-- takes us back not only to the beginning of Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly's illustrious career in medicine but also the inception of his romance with nurse Kitty O'Hallorhan.  It was delightful backfill for those of us who'd read all the others, but it dragged.  Oh my did it drag.

The whole book, which is 496 pages in hardback, covers his medical studies in excruciating detail.  Not much more to say. There are some lovely scenes with his Ma, and some scenes with Kitty where you want to crack him upside the head and tell him to get on with it, but that's about it.  If you're a fan of the series and have nothing better to do and are dying to get the backfill, go for it.  If you love the series, but have something else you want to read and can accept on faith that Fingal graduated from medical school and fell in love with Kitty, then on with your life, you won't miss this one.

Author: Patrick Taylor
Publisher-Format: MacMillon Audio,  15 hr, 30 min
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: life at medical school in Ireland
Setting: Dublin, 1940's
Series: Irish Country #6
Genre: folksy fiction
Source: public library download

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: More Than Sorrow by Vicki Delaney

Do not start reading this book unless you can stay up all night to finish it!  Once you begin, everything else will be put on hold.   I originally asked for a review copy because I am a fan of Vicki Delany, and I thought this was going to be another of her Constable Molly Smith novels.  So I was only momentarily disappointed to find it was a stand alone.  And believe me, the disappointment quickly turned to fascination, involvement, immersion, and absolute awe.  It is always uplifting to see authors who are able to branch out from established series to try new characters, settings, and plots. Delany doesn't disappoint.

Ostensibly a murder mystery, this book is so much more.  It is a multi-layered, multi-genre, multi-facted story that appears to set up quickly, but then slowly and inexorably pulls the reader into the deeper layers of the story.  It is the story of 3, no - 4, no! - 5 women:  Hannah Manning- a Candadian journalist who has suffered Traumatic Brain injury from an IED explosion while covering the war in Afghanistan; Maggie MacGregor - widow of a Tory soldier who died in the American Revolutionary war and who, in the late 18th century, was one of the original inhabitants of the house where Hannah is staying; Hila, an Afghani woman living in the farmhouse down the road; Lily - Hannah's 12 year old niece; and Rebecca Mansour, Hannah's neurologist.

The hard-scrapple farm where Hannah is staying belongs to her sister and brother-in-law.  It was his family's farm for generations.  It's small, and the couple is determined to eke out a living by producing organic and locally grown food for the family and for local families, eateries and stores.  Low wages, transient workers, and never-ending back-breaking work are the norms that form the framework for the story.   There's a scruffy dog, an attic full of old family mementos,  an obnoxious mother-in-law, some horses, and OH! Did I mention a murder? There are men of authority whose identity is predicated on controlling women throughout the stories of all the cultures and generations of these various women.

While we certainly want to find out all the details of the murder, the real story is the unfolding realization by all the women of how much control they do or do not have over their own destinies.  All the competing stories could have resulted in a scrappy patchwork quilt of a story.  Instead, Delaney deftly weaves all the threads together to form a beautiful tapestry of women's roles, women's plights, and women's strengths over several centuries, and in several different cultures. Yes, the murder is solved but that's all the spoiler you'll get from me.  The real story is how each of these women's lives are impacted by violence, friendship, male dominance, enslavement, and love, generosity, hope and forgiveness.

This is way more than your basic mystery story.

Many thanks to Poisoned Pen Press for making the review copy available.

Author: Vicki Delany
Publisher-Format: Poisoned Pen Press, e-galley 312 pages
Date of publication:  Sept 4, 2012
Subject: Traumatic Brain Injury, women's rights, cultural differences, murder
Setting: Prince Edward County Canada
Genre: fiction, mystery
Source: e book from publisher via Net Galley

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review..The Parties vs. the People by Mickey Edwards

Did you know that the constitution does not specify that the Speaker of the House be a congressman?

Did you know that a Senator who filibusters is not required to speak to the subject he is attempting to block?  He or she can recite Julia Child's cookbook if they want to.  All they have to do is keep talking to block legislation from ever coming to a vote.

Did you know that when members of Congress rise to address the body, they must go to the lecturn designated for their political party?  There are two different lecturns!!!

The Parties Versus the People is a well thought-out dissertation on the current gridlocked government in the US today.  The author, a former Republican Congressman, has expanded an article originally published in The Atlantic Monthly (Jun-July 2011 (How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans - an insider's six-step plan to fix Congress). 

Edwards focuses on the role that political parties play in running elections, managing the flow of legislation through Congress and distorting (and destroying?) democracy as it was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  Many facts presented were surprising and it is an indication of just how cynical we have become that my reaction to many of his suggestions for improving were of the "good luck Charlie" variety.  I sincerely hope his proposals have some chance of working.

His suggestions--clear, concise, short, easily readable and straight-forward-- include:

Reforming the election system
  • Break the power of partisans to keep candidates off the general-election ballot.
  • Turn over the process of redrawing congressional districts to independent, nonpartisan commissions.
  • Reduce spending, increase competition.
 Reforming the governing system 
  • Establish non-partisan Congressional leadership.
  • Restore democracy to Congress. Allow members of any party to offer amendments to any House bill and—with rare exceptions—put those amendments to a vote.
  • Eliminate the trappings of partisanship.
  • Fill committee vacancies by lot. Choose committee staff solely on the basis of professional qualifications.
  • Longer work weeks, more interaction.
  • Eliminate one-party White House strategy sessions.
  • Sign no pledges, stand up to bullies.

"We have partisanship, incivility, unwillingness to compromise because our system itself is designed to encourage conflict..the system in which we have wrapped our democracy engenders conflict over party label, over which club one belongs to, over who might gain an advantage in the next election.  This does not celebrate democracy, it destroys it." (pg. 135)
 "The Oath of Office requires loyalty to the Constitution--not to the president, to a political party, or to any outside organization demanding fealty.  No man or woman should enter Congress with divided loyalties.  It is time for every candidate to refuse to sign any pledge, or take any oath, other than to "fully discharge the duties upon which they are about to enter.  So help me. God" (pg. 156)

It takes no genius to understand why things are the way they are : we have created a political system that rewards intransigence.  Democracy requires divergence and honors dissent, but what we have today is not mere divergence and does not deserve the label "dissent"; it's a nasty battle for dominance, and it's often not the dominance of an idea or a great principle but of a private club that demands undeviating fealty. (pg.171-172)

All is not doom and gloom.  Edwards has painted a realistic and depressing picture of where we are, how we got that way, and how difficult it will be to change things.  He does however offer concrete suggestions to get things moving toward his vision of a more democratic government where ordinary citizens once more will be able to trust that their elected representatives will be able to govern for the good of the citizenry and not for political gain.

There is no more urgent task in American politics than to make fundamental change in how we govern ourselves. (p. 175)

Author Mickey Edwards spent 16 years in Congress and 16 years teaching at Harvard and Princeton. He is a director of The Constitution Project and wrote Reclaiming Conservatism 
Publisher-Format: Yale University Press 2012, 232 pages
Subject: Party politics
Genre: Non-fiction, political science
Source: e-galley from publisher via Net Galley

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Mailbox -Sept 17th

Thank goodness the mail was slow this week...I'm getting behinder and behinder on the ones I already have. Only two this week - one in the snail mail and another in my Nook mail box

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal was a  gift from my sister.  I recently nabbed a review copy of the second in this series when she mentioned that she'd mistakenly gotten two of the first one and would I like it.  The series looks like it's right up my alley - mystery, and historical fiction.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. ...Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass....Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.&

It's been a few months since I finished my last Presidential biography but since I'm determined to complete the challenge of reading a biography of each before I die, I figured it was time to get with it.  I thoroughly enjoyed Harlan Unger's "The Last Founding Father", a biography of James Monroe so I was really excited to see his newest book John Quincy Adams published earlier this month and grabbed it for my NOOK.  JQ Adams was next in line in my Presidential reading queue, and I don't expect this one to be anything but splendid.

In this masterful biography, award winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals Quincy Adams as a towering figure in the nation’s formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history, which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage.

A magisterial biography and a sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, Unger’s John Quincy Adams follows one of America’s most important yet least-known figures.
I'll be taking my time with this one, but I'm sure I'll be enjoying every minute of it.

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. Kathy at Bermudaonion's Weblog is our host for September. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Monday, September 10, 2012

September Series - Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Last month, I won the 4th book in this series so I decided I'd read at least the first one before diving in to #4. Sworn to Silence is the first of a very popular series featuring Kate Burkholder, an Amish woman who leaves her family and religion and is then shunned by them. 

After a stint in the "big city" and graduation from the police academy Kate returns to her hometown in Ohio as the police chief of the force of four.  I wasn't sure I'd get past the prologue to this book.  It is gruesome and graphic, but gripping.  It appears that a vicious serial killer who last killed 16 years ago has returned, and Kate is having nightmares about her last encounter with this monster.

Make no mistake, there's a lot of blood in this one--too much for my taste.  The story itself is exceptionally well told.  The characters are so well-developed, and the plot so well drawn that,  in spite of the gore, I had to keep going.  In fact, I'll probably want to read at least one more in the series to see how (or whether) some of the personal relationships expand, and whether the Amish community will continue to hold to its long held tradition of limited communication with "the others."

If you're not put off by blood, guts, and violence, this is one series that promises to be a long running, well-written one for lovers of the genre.

Author: Linda Castillo
Publisher-Format: Minotaur, Hardcover (2009) 336 pages
Subject: violent murder, secret keeping
Setting: Painters Creek Ohio (fictional town)
Series: Kate Burkholder mystery
Genre: police procedural mystery
Source: public library

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weeding, Withdrawing, & Recycling

Our little town library operates from our Village Schoolhouse - a whole 936 sq ft. Into that space, we've managed to cram almost 6000 books, movies, audios, 3 public computers, a staff work space, and a children's play area. We have a huge Maine collection (books by Maine authors, books about Maine, books set in Maine). However, we have to be vigilant about allowing items to remain on the shelves when others are waiting their turn.

About once a year we weed. We have a committee of three and it takes 2 votes to remove a book from the collection. In the past, we tried having book sales to pass them on, but have found that if they didn't circulate from the shelves, they weren't going to sell either. So we have a freebie shelf, where we put books that we think still have appeal, and tell people they can make a donation if they wish. We also have established a freebie shelf at the local County airport terminal (there is no bookstore there) so people can grab something to read before getting on a flight. And finally we put a shelf of freebies in the town office, so people can browse while they wait to fill out papers for car tags, pay taxes, get building permits, etc. These have been a big success. Large print books go to the nursing home, and the rest (alas!) are destined for recycling (ssh...that means the town "transfer station" aka-the dump).

As we have been sorting, I've grabbed some of those books that I've been staring at for the past 5 years. These are ones that often fall under the heading of  "I want to read that someday".  So I brought them home for a temporary reprieve.  As I get them read, they'll go on to find life on one of our freebie shelves.  In the meantime, I'm going to have to find a "freebie" shelf (or some designated area) for these treasures:

 - Some "Maine Books":
  • The Baked Bean Supper Murders by Virginia Rich
  • The Nantucket Diet Murders by Virginia Rich
  •  Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons
 - Some I've been wanting to read for years:
  • Sarum by Edward Rutherford
  • Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo
  • Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman 
- Some series fill-ins:
  • Murder in the House by Margaret Truman
  • Murder on K Street by Margaret Truman
  • Murder at the President's Door by Elliott Roosevelt
  • and three by Diane Mott Davidson:
    - - Fatally Flaky
    - - Catering to Nobody
    - - Chopping Spree

Thursday, September 6, 2012

September Series: Poppy Done to Death - Aurora Teagarden Series

I'm often rather harsh in my assessments of amateur detectives, but Aurora Teagarden doesn't get any flying arrows from me.  I love this character.  First of all she's a librarian.  She's bright, she's funny, she's mature, and she's smart enough to know when to involve the professionals.
In this latest episode of the series, Roe as she's known,  discovers the murdered body of her step-sister-in-law Poppy when Ms. P misses her induction into the Uppity Women club; that same day she accepts custody of her runaway 15 yr old half-brother Phillip, who arrives unannounced for Thanksgiving (she thought he was in California); she confronts her own feelings about parenting, extra-marital sex, and her current relationship to Robin Crusoe the author, all while trying to figure out why Poppy was murdered, and then why Poppy's house was trashed AFTER the police finished investigating the crime scene.

All the regulars are there, with new and introspective insights into their characters and motivations.  It's an easy cozy read, but has plenty of meat to the plot.  I didn't have that AHA moment until nearly the end, and that's the way I enjoy mysteries --- the plot building to a surprise ending, lots of suspects being ruled in/out one at a time.  I enjoy most of Charlaine Harris' work but must say I think this series is one of my favorites.  I was quite pleased to see that the story left the door wide open for more adventures and a new phase in Ro's life.

Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher-Format: Recorded Books, 2009,  8 hrs
Subject: unsolved murder
Setting: Laurenceton GA (fictional town)
Series: Aurora Teagarden mysteries
Genre: cozy mystery - amateur sleuth
Source: purchased audible from

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tutu's Inheritance

Last month, while we spent some time with my Mom, we were 'awarded' our bag of books from my father's library. Dad died in 2007, and the following year, as I was helping my Mom sort through stuff, I discovered We used it to catalog Dad's small collection, and then invited his four daughters, grandchildren, and sons-in-law to go into the account and put a note in the comments section if they wanted the book.

Using that listing, Mom has been sorting out the books into bags, and is now able to distribute books to people she knows will "love them." Several of the books the Tutu household garnered were for Mr. Tutu's naval/military collections, and several are books I wouldn't have touched in a used book sale, but the sentimental value of these means they will stay on my shelves for a while until I'm sure I can let go. Here's what was in my bag (links are to the work in my LibraryThing catalog):

The Etruscan by Mika Waltari
A Kind of Anger by Eric Ambler
Time of Peace by Ben Ames Williams – tween the wars
This is Rome by H.V.Morton
The Game of the Foxes by Ladislas Farago
Nelson the Commander by Geoffrey Bennett
We, The People the story of the US Capitol by US Capitol Historical Society
American Vignettes - a Collection of Footnotes to History by John I. White
Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
Ramage by Dudley Pope
Crimson Desert Indian Wars of the American Southwest by Odie B. Faulk
A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy by Paul S. Dull
The House on Garibaldi Street by Isser Harel
The Purple Quest by Frank G. Slaughter
The Last Plantagenets by Thomas Costain

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman

Author: Betsy Woodman
Publisher-Format: Henry Holt & Company (2012), ARC 302 pages
Subject: Life in India
Setting: Hamara Nagar India
Series: Jana Bidi
Genre: cozy fiction
Source: Early Reviewers program of

Billed as the "first of a charming series" and reminiscent of the 1st Ladies Detective Agency series, Gail Fraser's Lumby series, or Ann Ross's Miss Julia series, Woodman re-visits the land of her childhood and gives us a charming, eccentric, thoroughly modern widow - Janet Laird (aka Jana Bibi), her parrot Mr. Ganguly, and her maid Mary.  The book also brings to mind the characters and adventures of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" - the characters are as quirky and the setting is enchanting.

Jana Bibi has inherited an old ramshackle house (the Jolly Grant House) that she lived in as a child.  It has been years and a lifetime of (mis)adventures since she's seen the place, but she is determined that this is where she will live out her golden years.  She immediately sets out to refurbish the house and get to know her neighbors - an assortment of people representing a large swath of Indian life - Hindus, Muslims, English and American ex-pats from every socio-economic level. When the townsfolk become aware that the government is planning to build a dam in the area and intends to flood their town forcing them all to relocate, they decide to take matters into their own hands to save the town and cancel the dam.

Almost every review of this delightful book uses the word "charming" to describe it and the characters in it.  I'd add captivating and enchanting to the list.  There is nothing heavy, it starts out a bit slowly, but the reader is immediately lost in a dazzling culture that is portrayed with love and respect.  It almost needs a "Once Upon a Time" and a "happily ever after"  to make it perfect, but even without them, it's a magical and pleasant reading adventure.

Woodman also explains the setting with a short author's note at the beginning, gives us a very well-written and easy to use glossary of terms, and then adds some "etcetera" - extra features about the characters  and some of the setting designed to enhance our understanding, and definitely whetting our appetite for more of the series.  A well-done debut.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday Mailbox - September 3rd

This week has been one where tons of books came into my personal library:
  •  I finally started unpacking a bag of books I inherited from my Dad.  There'll be a separate post on that one.
  • We've been weeding like crazy at the town library, and there were several books that were withdrawn that I just could not bear to let go until I've had a chance to read them.  A separate post on weeding/withdrawing and book lust is on the boards for sometime this month!!!
  • Books in the Virtual Mailbox that landed on my E-readers
  • Real paper/print books that arrived in my old fashioned mailbox (or its equivalent here in Maine - the front door.)

Let's start with the Virtual Mailbox:

 - Books downloaded on my Nook - weekly freebies or low priced volumes.
 Two that I've had on my radar for awhile that fit the September series bill:
  • Murder on the Cote D'Azur by Susan Kiernan Lewis
  • Mad Dog and Englishman by J.D. Hayes
- Books from Net Galley - Review copies that grabbed me:

Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator's.

Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 "blackberry winter" storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways...

Net Galley provided another September sequel.  This one is the second in Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope series that began with  Mr. Churchill's Secretary - another series I'm anxious to get into.
As World War II sweeps the continent and England steels itself against German attack, Maggie Hope, former secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, completes her training to become a spy for MI-5. Spirited, strong-willed, and possessing one of the sharpest minds in government for mathematics and code-breaking, she fully expects to be sent abroad to gather intelligence for the British front. Instead, to her great disappointment, she is dispatched to go undercover at Windsor Castle, where she will tutor the young Princess Elizabeth in math.

 - In the Pony Express Mail (or the UPS pony) I got
  • From the Early Reviewers program on I received this biography of Hetty Green.  Biography is one of my favorite genres, so this one is definitely going right onto the teetering Mt. Toobie. 
  No woman in the Gilded Age made as much money as Hetty Green. At the time of her death in 1916, she was worth at least 100 million dollars, equal to more than 2 billion dollars today. A strong believer in women being financially independent, she offered valuable lessons for the present times.
  • And then Amazon delivered a book I ordered in hard copy:
We've started a Mah Jongg class at our library, so of course I had to audit and be sure it was something we wanted to continue to sponsor.  I got hooked on this fun game, and now look forward to our weekly sessions of the clack of the tiles.  This book, by Elaine Sandberg is one of the best I've found to explain the rules and the strategies of this ancient game to those of us who are clueless.  Since our instructor is leaving to winter in Florida later this month, the rest of us wanted to be well-armed with help so we can keep going during those long winter afternoons.  A welcome break from reading, groups like this one prevent me from becoming a total recluse - a state I'm not quite ready for yet.
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. Kathy at Bermudaonion's Weblog is our host for September. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September Series and Sequels

My 75 Book reading challenge group on LibraryThing has decided to throw another challenge into the wind, and this is one I can easily handle.  September has been declared the month of Series and Sequels.  Many of us need no extra encouragement to read good books in a series, and we are constantly bemoaning the discovery of another series to follow because we know how addicting good ones are.

A series is like a family.  You find a place you like - either because the setting is someplace you've always wanted to visit and haven't gotten there yet, or it's someplace you're very familiar with personally, or it's a place you've been to and long to return.

Then you get introduced to characters who become more and more like friends or members of the family.  Some are evil and loathsome, but you find that if they don't continue to be awful and hateful that the series loses some of its appeal.

And finally, you enjoy the stories, the adventures, the mysteries, the day to day reporting of these lives in these settings and find yourself almost mourning when the current book comes to a close.  Those that are especially beloved - Louise Penny and Julia Spencer-Fleming are my favorites- leave us panting for more the minute we finish the latest one.  In fact, last year I re-read all of JSF prior to diving into the latest one.  This year I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Penny's Beautiful Mystery (out this week), and have since then been re-reading all of the Three Pines/Inspector Gamache series.

Some of the possibilities sitting here on Mt. Toobie that fit the Series and Sequels criteria are:

Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman (first of a new series )
Body in the Boudoir (A Faith Fairchild Mystery) by Katherine Hall Page
Poppy Done to Death ( an Aurora Teagarden mystery) by Charlaine Harris
Grandad there's a Head on the Beach (Jimm Juree mystery) by Colin Cotterill
A Fistful of Collars ( a Chet and Bernie Mystery) by Spencer Quinn
Bring up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel (sequel to Wolf Hall)
Track of Sand (Inspector Montalbano mystery) - Andrea Camilleri
Chocker - Ike Schwartz mystery - Frederick Ramsay
 and I'll be continuing with a Louise Penny - I think I'm on #5 "The Brutal Telling"

I'm also going to be reading in my series of Presidential biographies - I'm up to John Quincy Adams - and will continue with my World War I books.  So I'm thinking that September will be a busy reading month.

Do you have a favorite series you want to catch up on?  How about a new one you want to start?

Tutu's Fifty Shades

Blue heron - before

Blue heron - updated....

Last month, I mentioned that I wanted to spend some time working on my own Fifty Shades of Grey - my counted cross-stitch canvas of a Great Blue Heron.  While I was counting and stitching away on vacation and then out in my gazebo this glorious August summer month, I was heard to remark that I was getting so tired of all these different shades of grey/pewter grey/blue grey/silver grey, etc etc etc.  Everyone who heard me muttering started calling this Tutu's Fify Shades.

As you can see, I've made some progress, but I suspect it will take me until at least next year's vacation to get anywhere near completion.  In the meantime, this project is an excellent way to keep my hands occupied while I'm listening to audio books. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mini Review: Elegy for Eddie

I'm a great fan of this series.  With each new volume, I almost dread reading it because I'm afraid the story will get stale, or the characters won't be able to continue to expand.  Jacqueline Winspear has so far avoided both those traps.

In this one, Maisie Dobbs is called upon to look into the unexpected death of a young man, Eddie Pettit, she's known since her childhood.  Was is murder? An accident? and what about all the ensuing unusual deaths  of people connected to Eddie?  And why was her assistant Billy Beale assaulted while he was investigating this?

In addition to the current mystery, Maisie continues to struggle with her new status as a wealthy woman, while remembering her roots as a servant in the mansion she now inhabits. She is growing more and more anxious about her relationship with James Compton.  Will they marry?  Will James demand that she give up her private investigating business?  Will she be able to maintain her sense of self?

Frost these two layers of the cake with an excellent discussion of the political atmosphere in England during the second half of the decade (1930s) as the world watched Adolf Hitler grab power and re-arm.  Winspear has given us another great mystery, some well-researched historical facts woven in the fiction, and managed to continue the romance without resolving the ultimate question.  There's definitely room for more of this delightful series and protagonist. 

Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Publisher-Format: Harper (2012), 352 pages
    also Audio from Hachette Audio 10hrs 10min
Narrator: Orlagh Cassidy
Subject: morality, rise of Hitler, mystery surrounding several deaths
Setting: London, late 1930's
Series: Maisie Dobbs (#9)
Genre: mystery- private investigator
Source:  Hardback : a contest win from Audra at;  
      Audio download from public library