Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mini Review - The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri

Salvo Montalbano is now 58 years old and beginning to wonder if he's going to live to be 59.  Bones creak, he forgets things, and his wonderfully irascible personality is becoming even more crusty.  In this 14th episode of Camilleri's amusing, entertaining and well-written series about crime in Sicily, Salvo finds himself totally head over heels enamored (he would never admit to LOVE!!!) of a young naval lieutenant as they work together to solve the murder of a washed up body.  In addition, there's a huge and luxurious pleasure yacht tied up at the town pier with an elegant and notoriously promiscuous owner aboard and Montalbano smells a rat.  The crime solving evolves with the usual antics from Fazzio, Catarella, Mimi Auguello, and the gang.  Several times, the Inspector even takes exceptional  risks that appear somewhat out of character.  His temper often gets the better of him, and he's not having much luck with the famous Sicilian cuisine either. 
The missing link in this one is Livia. Although by now, readers of the series are becoming used to her cameo appearances by phone from Genoa, they are few and far between in this one.  Salvo spends a lot of time and energy on his new infatuation, and Livia looks like she's going to get short shrift.

NO'll have to read this one on your own.  Like all the books in this series, it is a quick enjoyable, well-crafted mystery with a carefully developed cast of characters, a heavenly setting, and plots that keep us guessing.  The translations by Steven Sartarelli are spot on, evoking all the passion and nuance of the original Italian. The audios of this series are incredibly fun listening.  I've gotten through many a water-aerobics session painlessly because I had these enjoyable stories to accompany me.

Author: Andrea Camilleri
Translated by: Steven Sartarelli
Publisher-Format: New York, N.Y. : Penguin Books, 2012.
  audio: Blackstone Audio, 5 hrs, 22 minutes
Narrator: Grover Gardner
Subject: crime, murder, mid-life crisis
Setting: Sicily
Series: Inspector Montalbano
Genre: police procedural
Source: public library audio download

Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: A Novel
  (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)
      - originally published as These Foolish Things

I don't go to many movies- we might watch one movie a month at home, but generally only grace the local theater once a year. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith together were enough of a draw for us to attend the afternoon matinee last week to see "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" - a marvelous, well-acted, uproariously funny movie that showed us the best and the worst of aging. It was so well done, and so enjoyable that I immediately went on the hunt for Deborah Maggoch's original novel that was the basis for the screenplay. It was not easy to find, but I did locate it for my Kindle, and had an even more enjoyable experience reading the novel.

The story basically portrays the lives and losses of a group of English elders: widows and widowers, divorcees, singles, and a well-traveled couple. For various reasons, most of them economic, these folk have decided (or their less than caring off-spring decided for them) that they can no longer afford to stay in Merry Old England, and accept the offer to move to a new retirement community in India (well after all, they speak English there!) billed as the Best EXOTIC Marigold Hotel.

The Marigold can best be described as a dowager empress....good bone structure, but the skin is sagging, and the bones are creaking. Each of the emigres brings a unique set of expectations, and is dealing with singular losses. How they handle the enormous changes and adapt themselves to a new culture, new food, lack of the plumbing, transportation, and energy standards to which they were accustomed at home, is portrayed with empathy, gentleness and wonderful respect for aging human beings. They eventually form a family unit as they muddle their way through their unexpected difficulties, and expand that family to include new friends from the Indian community.

It's a lovely book, an affirming story that helps us realize that "we're not getting older, we're getting better" and that the model of a society where all the generations live together and the elderly are esteemed and cared for is one much to be coveted.

Do go see the movie if you have a chance, and read the book too. They're different enough that one doesn't impinge on the other. They are distinct and delightful.

Author: Deborah Moggach
Publisher-Format: Random House Digital, Inc. - Kindle edition, 337 pages
Year of publication: 2012
Subject:  aging gracefully
Setting: England and Bangalore India
Genre: fiction
Source: Amazon - I bought it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill

In this latest adventure of the ever-entertaining Dr. Siri Paiboun, national coroner of Laos, the good doctor is "chosen" by the party leaders to accompany his nemesis Judge Haeng as members of a multi-national team going to a remote site in Thailand to find out what actually happened when the son of a US Senator crashed his helo in this unknown village. There are varying versions of how the aviator came to be in the area where his helicopter crashed, and how the chopper wreckage was discovered.  The task now is to find out if the pilot is dead (no human remains have been found), locate the body, or determine what actually happened to him.  To add to the mix, Cotterill gives us a stereotypical pompous US politician in white suit who wants to pop in for a photo op whenever they find the body he is convinced is at the site.

There are the usual and always entertaining contretemps between the Laos, the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Americans, but I think this one is the best of the series.  The mystery is much more developed and coherently unveiled, the characters by now have reached a maturity that enables the reader to concentrate on the person instead of the quirks, although there are several new players who definitely contribute to the story's charm as well as the plot's intricacy.  The young interpreter "Peach Short" is a definite addition and I hope if the series continues that Cotterill can find a way to include her in future adventures.

As the story unfolds, and the clues are revealed, the mystery becomes more involved. The history of the US "non-involvment" in the area during the Vietnam Conflict is well handled and, as with all the previous stories in the series, quite educational.   The ending is well developed, thrilling and unexpected, once again leaving the reader wondering if Dr. Siri will continue to offer his skills to his country, or if somehow, somewhere, he'll be allowed to retire and relax to sip whiskey with his friend Civilai by the side of the river before going home to Madame Deung and her wonderful noodles.

Slash and Burn: A Dr. Siri Mystery Set in Laos 

Author: Colin Cotterill
Publisher-Format: Soho Crime Hardcover, 290 pages
  audio by Blackstone Audio, 8 hours, 11 minutes
Year of publication: 2011
Narrator: Clive Chafer
Subject: recovering remains of Vietnam War MIAs in Thailand
Setting: Laos and Thailand
Series: Dr. Siri Paiboun
Genre: mystery, forensicsd
Source: public library download

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mailbox Monday - June 25th

Some wonderful goodies have arrived these past two weeks.  I've been wallowing in a couple of them already.  In real book form I got:

A review copy I requested via Shelf Awareness. I  enjoyed Julia Stuart's The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise so I'm looking forward to this murder mystery set in Victorian England.  I think it will be a perfect vacation read.
When Indian Princess Alexandrina is left penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor, Queen Victoria grants her a grace-and-favor home in Hampton Court Palace. Though rumored to be haunted, Alexandrina and her lady's maid, Pooki, have no choice but to take the Queen up on her offer. The princess is soon befriended by three eccentric widows who invite her to a picnic with all the palace's inhabitants, for which Pooki bakes a pigeon pie. But when General-Major Bagshot dies after eating said pie, and the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect in a murder investigation.
With her trademark wit and charm, Julia Stuart introduces us to an outstanding cast of lovable oddballs, from the palace maze-keeper to the unconventional Lady Beatrice (who likes to dress up as a toucan—don't ask), as she guides us through the many delightful twists and turns in this fun and quirky murder mystery. Everyone is hiding a secret of the heart, and even Alexandrina may not realize when she's caught in a maze of love.
The publisher's blurb got my attention on this one.  I can't remember if I've ever read anything described as a farce (is that a genre?) and it looks like fun, so I think this one may go in the beach bag also.
The great master of farce turns to an exclusive island retreat for a comedy of mislaid identities, unruly passions, and demented, delicious disorder
On the private Greek island of Skios, the high-paying guests of a world-renowned foundation prepare for the annual keynote address, to be given this year by Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science. He turns out to be surprisingly youthful, handsome, and charming—quite unlike his reputation as dry and intimidating. Everyone is soon eating out of his hands. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the foundation's attractive and efficient organizer.
Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki's old friend Georgie has rashly agreed to spend a furtive horizontal weekend with a notorious schemer, who has characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped there with her instead is a pompous, balding individual called Dr. Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper, and increasingly all sense of reality—indeed, everything he possesses other than the text of a well-traveled lecture on the scientific organization of science.
In a spiraling farce about upright academics, gilded captains of industry, ambitious climbers, and dotty philanthropists, Michael Frayn, the farceur "by whom all others must be measured" (CurtainUp), tells a story of personal and professional disintegration, probing his eternal theme of how we know what we know even as he delivers us to the outer limits of hilarity.
This is one I received via the Early Reviewers' Program at LibraryThing.  I've been reading quite a few books set in India lately, and this one caught my eye.  Who says book covers don't sell books?  Several of my fellow LT members have already had great things to say about this one, so into the beach bag it goes.
Meet Jana Bibi, a Scottish woman helping to save the small town in India she has grown to call home and the oddball characters she considers family
Janet Laird's life changed the day she inherited her grandfather's house in a faraway Indian hill station. Ignoring her son's arguments to come grow old in their family castle in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana Bibi (as she comes to be known) meets her colorful local neighbors—Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press. When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes is born.
This one arrived as a "special delivery" from my daughter when she visited earlier this month.  I'd had my eye on it for awhile.  Daughter (whose book reading opinions are highly valued) says it's a hoot and a must read.
For fans of Tina Fey and David Sedaris—Internet star Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, makes her literary debut.
 Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.
My virtual mailbox contained several goodies I added to my e-readers recently, either as purchases or as review copies from Net Galley.

You'll be hearing about this one soon.  I got this review copy through Net Galley, took a "quick look" last night, and just about haven't been able to put it down.  It's a real page turner, fiction/mystery based on just enough facts to make it a winner.  Review coming within the week. Teaser now:
 A young Jack Kennedy travels to Europe on a secret mission for Franklin Roosevelt as the world braces for war.
It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy.
This is one hubbie and I both wanted, so it went onto our Nooks earlier this month.  It is a slow, steady and fascinating read.  You probably won't see a review until later this year, but if you're looking for a good solidly written book about Islam, I'd recommend you take a look at this one.  Subtitled: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword, gives us a timely look at a very important subject, and is filling  in many of  gaps in my understanding of present day events.  And so's been eminently readable,

And finally, here's one I finished a few days ago..the review will be up next week.  I don't usually read "movie tie-in" books, but I so enjoyed the movie that I had to take a look at its origins, and ended up buying this one for the Kindle.  Don't let the title throw you: this is simply the book These Foolish Things, by Deborah Moggach, reprinted with the Movie Title "Best EXOTIC Marigold Hotel".   Both the movie and the book are worth your time.  Lovely, gentle, insightful.  More to come. 

Enough to whet your reading whistles.......
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. This month the host blog Burton Book Reivew.  Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lazy Summer Days

Summer has definitely arrived here on the coast of Maine. We normally don't suffer from too much heat until early to mid-August, but when the sea breeze fails to kick up in the afternoon, we definitely need to lower the shades, turn on the ceiling fans, pour a big iced tea, and actually stay inside with a good book. We had three days of 90+ temps, and lethargic movements. Today, the breeze is back, and we can breathe again.

After supper (a light Italian antipasto salad) I pulled out the old canning kettle and made up a couple jars of tomato sauce and several jars of strawberry/blueberry jam. Now that the sun is down, I can settle back, enjoy the breeze and a book and look forward to tomorrow's pancakes and jam.

The only problem now is that my stack of "summer reads" has gotten out of control. I have both a Kindle and a Nook, and thanks to Net Galley, there are lots of good reads waiting for my two cents. There are eleven books I can literally reach out and pick up without even leaning over, and there are 12 audio books loaded up on my MP3.

Which to choose? I'm not even going to list my possibilities because then I'll feel obligated to get to them. My current reads, which appear over on the side-bar, are keeping me busy and much of my reading has been chosen for me by the review schedule, book clubs, and group reads I signed up for, so I'm thinking it may be time to drop off the reviewing cycle for a couple weeks, and just plain enjoy summertime while it's here. The serious reading can wait until it cools off. Besides, I can't possibly take all these with me to the beach when I go in August, so I guess I'd better get going.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: The World Without You - Joshua Henkin

The Blurb: 
It's July 4th, 2005, and the Frankel family is descending upon their beloved summer home in the Berkshires. But this is no ordinary holiday: the family is gathering for a memorial. Leo, the youngest of the four Frankel siblings and an intrepid journalist and adventurer, was killed one year ago while on assignment in Iraq. His parents, Marilyn and David, are adrift in grief, and it's tearing apart their forty-year marriage. Clarissa, the eldest, is struggling at thirty-nine with infertility. Lily, a fiery-tempered lawyer, is angry about everything. Noelle, a born-again Orthodox Jew (and the last person to see Leo alive), has come in from Israel with her husband and four children and feels entirely out of place. And Thisbe--Leo's widow and mother of their three-year-old son--has arrived from California bearing her own secret. Over the course of three days, the Frankels will contend with sibling rivalries and marital feuds, volatile women and silent men, and, ultimately, with the true meaning of family.

What I thought:

This one could have been a dreary, dragging soap-opera of a story.  Instead Joshua Henkin has given us an engrossing character study of a family torn apart by grief.  As the individuals come back to the scene of some of their happiest times together, they can't seem to let go of the unhappiness each one feels at losing their brother, husband, son.  Instead of reaching out to others for support, they seem to want to play the "my grief is worse than yours" game, and continue to pile their melancholy and inability to cope on each other.  At first I was angry at being subjected to all this grief, but then I began to see each person as an individual, and Henkin gives us wonderful back stories to allow us into the minds, hearts, and grievings of each member of the family, and helps us to see all the interactions, hopes and dreams  of yesterday as well as the disappointments and unmet expectations of today as we stumble through the three days with each family member.

When I finished I did wish the ending had been more crisp, but then realized that the author intended this to be as close to real life as possible, leaving his characters with some hope, some dread, some dreams, and at least the opportunity to work through the sorrow to a better future.

It's hopeful, graceful, sorrowful, damning and affirming all at once.  A great one for your summer reading pile, and one to return to again after it sits for awhile.  It goes on sale today.  Enjoy.
Author: Joshua Henkin
Publisher-Format: Pantheon, e galley, 283 pages
Year of publication: 2012
Subject: Grief, family dynamics
Setting: Vacation home in the Berkshires
Genre: fiction
Source: publisher via Net Galley

Monday, June 18, 2012

TLC Blog Tour - The Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

Bess Crawford, daughter of an English Colonel, raised in India, now serving as a nurse in World War I, finds herself facing a dead body in a spot where it's not supposed to be, and on its way to be buried with no identification.  Dead bodies usually work well to start off a mystery, but just when she sees this body, she is stricken with a severe case of Spanish flu, becomes delirious and is shipped home to England.  When she awakens, she doesn't know if the body (she knows who the soldier was) was a dream, or if she really did see him dead.  How did he end up where she saw him?  Was he murdered, or did he really die from a war wound? 

Thus begins the fourth book in this enlightening and engaging mystery series. In each of them, Bess manages to find herself in the midst of mystery.  An Unmarked Grave is perhaps the most straightforward of the mysteries in the series, but it is by no means simplistic.  The author(s) continue to expand Bess's personality, enhance her relationship with Simon Brandon (will this develop into a romance in later books?), devise interesting and many layered plots, and provide us with views into the awfulness of War.  Their descriptions of battlefield casualty stations give us a realistic imagery of the horror of the carnage, while at the same time giving us a tribute to the courage of all those working under these unimaginable circumstances.  In addition, their depiction of the ravages of the Spanish Flu adding to the desolation caused by the war itself, serves to paint a realistic and devastating picture of the beginning of the twentieth century.

Sr. Crawford's snooping does at times require the reader to accept a character who is a bit more nosy than one might believe, who has a knack for finding trouble, and an unbelievable amount of luck in being able to call on her father and his aide-de-camp Simon to bail her out, but these escapades make for a well-written story that keeps us turning pages, and leaves us wanting more.  And that's my criteria for a ripping good read!

I've read all of these (there are now four in the series) and I'm not sure I'd recommend starting here if you haven't read any of the previous ones.  That said, the author has done a credible job of giving enough back-fill that it would probably work on its own. 

Author: Charles Todd
Publisher-Format: William Morrow (2012)
Subject: nursing, murder,
Setting: England and France during World War I - 1918
Series: Bess Crawford
Genre: murder mystery - amateur sleuth
Source: Review copy from the publisher for review and participation in TLC blog tour

About Charles Todd

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother-and-son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.

Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great-uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.

Charles learned the rich history of Britain, including the legends of King Arthur, William Wallace, and other heroes, as a child. Books on Nelson and by Winston Churchill were always at hand. Their many trips to England gave them the opportunity to spend time in villages and the countryside, where there’s a different viewpoint from that of the large cities. Their travels are at the heart of the series they began ten years ago.
Charles’s love of history led him to a study of some of the wars that shape it: the American Civil War, WWI and WWII. He enjoys all things nautical, has an international collection of seashells, and has sailed most of his life. Golf is still a hobby that can be both friend and foe. And sports in general are enthusiasms. Charles had a career as a business consultant. This experience gave him an understanding of going to troubled places where no one was glad to see him arrive. This was excellent training for Rutledge’s reception as he tries to find a killer in spite of local resistance.

Caroline has always been a great reader and enjoyed reading aloud, especially poetry that told a story. The Highwayman was one of her early favorites. Her wars are WWI, the Boer War, and the English Civil War, with a sneaking appreciation of the Wars of the Roses as well. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling the world, gardening, or painting in oils. Her background in international affairs backs up her interest in world events, and she’s also a sports fan, an enthusiastic follower of her favorite teams in baseball and pro football. She loves the sea, but is a poor sailor. (Charles inherited his iron stomach from his father.) Still, she has never met a beach she didn’t like.
Both Caroline and Charles share a love of animals, and family pets have always been rescues. There was once a lizard named Schnickelfritz. Don’t ask.

Writing together is a challenge, and both enjoy giving the other a hard time. The famous quote is that in revenge, Charles crashes Caroline’s computer, and Caroline crashes his parties. Will they survive to write more novels together? Stay tuned! Their father/husband is holding the bets.

For more information about this writing team take a look at their Facebook page- there are lots of great photos of England, notes about their journeys, links to other posts about their books, and best thing of all --- excerpts from this latest and greatest in the Bess Crawford series.

And finally, it you'd like a chance to win the whole series, go on over to Criminal Element and enter the giveaway which ends June 21, 2011, 11:59 am ET

Sunday, June 17, 2012

We have a winner! - A Bitter Truth

The third volume in the exciting Bess Crawford series by mother/son author duo Charles Todd is on its way to our winner

Karen B chose her entry from all who followed the rules, and I'll be mailing the book out later this week. In the meantime, be sure to checkout my review tomorrow for the fourth volume "An Unmarked Grave."

Thanks for entering, congratulations to Karen, and happy reading for all.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

It's Save the Bookstores Day!

As I mentioned earlier, today is Save our Bookstores Day. My sister and I had a delightful afternoon in downtown Brunswick Maine yesterday, and dropped into Gulf of Maine Books, owned by Gary Lawless and Beth Leonard. The selection was small but quite varied....something for everybody. I was able to pick up a new book that Mr. Tutu had mentioned he really wanted, and now have Father's Day ready to roll.

Thanks so much to all our Indie Bookstore owners for keeping alive treasures like this store. Yes, I probably could have gotten it cheaper from Amazon, but I would never have seen several of the others that were spread there for my browsing pleasure. My TBR pile grew another 3-4 inches.

Tutu with Beth Leonard (co-owner of Gulf of Maine Books, Brunswick ME). 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Save the Bookstores Day

Tomorrow is National Save Bookstores Day!

I saw this campaign on Facebook the other day linking to a post from a great blog Mystery Suspense extolling the values of our independent bookstores.  Audio and e-books are certainly making a mark in the reading world, but there is still nothing like a good real book.  It's a totally sensual experience--the smell, the weight, the colors, the print, the feel of the paper as you slowly page through and see those words and the ideas they form.

One of my sisters is in town for the weekend, and I think that we two will venture forth today and tomorrow and search out a few indies.  I always try to shop small businesses at least one Saturday a month, and I can do both, enjoy the beautiful weather, and have a good time doing it.  I have a couple of Maine authors I want to buy up - both for my personal library and for our town collection.

I'll post my purchases in the "mailbox" next week. The weather people have promised an absolutely glorious weather week so let's all get out there and save our wonderful precious reading gems, and enjoy some of your local food in the process too!  Lobster rolls anyone?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

She's done it again!  In my opinion, it is difficult to find a better writer of mysteries in the current market than Louise Penny.  I was so fortunate to be the winner of an early review copy giveaway from a contest sponsored on her monthly newsletter earlier this spring.   Those of us who have been following her Chief Inspector Gamache series are not going to be disappointed by this one.  It is different.  It is not set in Three Pines.  The normal cast of characters is missing.  Instead we are presented with Armand Gamache, his deputy and beloved friend Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his arch enemy Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur, and  a group of contemplative monks who have chosen to sequester themselves in the wilderness far north of Quebec.  The monks, who  have taken a vow of silence, use their voices only in the singing of plainchant, the earliest form of Gregorian chant.  They have become world famous for the beauty and glory of their singing.

Suddenly however, the prior (who is also the choirmaster) is found murdered, and the monks must admit outsiders to their world, shattering their silence, their peace and their isolation.  As Gamache and Beauvoir slowly, calmly, and quietly begin the difficult process of determining which of the brothers is in fact a murderer, they must also confront their own demons, particularly the residual effects of the disastrous raid and hostage situation from previous books in the series. The soothing cadences of the chant don't always work enough magic to keep the pain of the past from surfacing.

Penny's strength is in her characters.  By now, if you've read all the book in the series, you feel that you know Armand Gamache almost as well as he knows himself.  But she can still add more to this deeply introspective and compassionate officer.  His protégé Jean-Guy's character is still evolving and not always in the direction we might want.  Penny shines in her ability to portray the depth of emotions and feelings of her characters, allowing them to expand as the story does.  She is not afraid to allow them to be flawed.

While the strength is in the characters, the beauty is in the setting, with its quiet, its secrets, its history, and its mysteries.  The murder mystery itself, of the classic closed room genre, is brilliant.  Everyone is a suspect.  There are only a few pieces of physical evidence, the setting is self-contained and virtually impregnable, and Gamache must help the brothers to accept the fact that one among them is a killer.  Finally, there's the music! Penny writes so beautifully, that the reader can almost hear it. It is the story itself, and the characters, the setting, the plot  provide the backdrop for the story of the music, truly a "Beautiful Mystery."  Even if you haven't read any of the previous books in the series, this one is written with just enough back fill to make it almost a stand alone.

And if you haven't read them, there's still almost 3 months before publication, so what are you waiting for?
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher-Format: Minotaur Books, Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date: August 28, 2012
Subject: Gregorian chant, murder
Setting: monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups,
Series: Chief Inspector Gamache novels
Genre:  mystery, police procedural, closed door murder
Source: ARC from the author

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm

 The publisher's blurb:
Silver Bay, Oregon, a small coastal resort town with nearly a thousand residents, is home to three generations of women: Marnie, the long-widowed owner of a small gift shop; Van, her granddaughter who is about to graduate medical school; and Stef, mercurial, difficult, and a brilliant artist who refuses to sell her work. When Stef discovers that Dale Oliver—the latest husband/paramour in a very long line—is trying to sell her work behind her back, she puts a stop to it and threatens to do the same to him. Shortly thereafter, Stef dies in an accident in her studio, and Dale shows up with a signed contract granting him the right to sell her work. Convinced that Stef was murdered in order to steal her artwork, Marnie and Van—grandmother and granddaughter—decide to do whatever is necessary to see that Dale doesn’t get away with any of it. This includes enlisting the help of the new stranger in town, Tony, a former New York City cop, who might be the only one who can prove it was murder  and bring the killer to justice.

My thoughts: 
I'm normally a big fan of Kate Wilhelm, and grabbed this latest one thinking it was another Barbara Holloway mystery.    It wasn't.  And I must say that I was horribly disappointed.  Wilhelm's latest is a wide departure from her normal tightly plotted, exquisitely page turning mysteries with many suspects, twists, red herrings, etc.  This one was a few steps past chick-lit.  There is a mystery, but the mystery is much more about whether the budding romance between the mysterious Tony and Stef will blossom.  My attention was held just enough to finish it, but I can't say it will be on my favorites list.  It's not badly written, and if I were not familiar with her earlier works, I probably would have been satisfied.  It's just not what we've come to expect from this talented writer.

Author: Kate Wilhelm
Publisher-Format: Minotaur Books (2012), Hardcover, 288 pages 
Subject:  Murder, art theft
Setting: Oregon
Genre: fiction - private investigator mystery
Source:  public library

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Triple dip of Montalbanos

Here's another series that I enjoy immensely. These were perfect Murder and Mayhem reads. Inspector Montalbano is acerbic, sarcastic, intuitive, sympatico, and still dealing with a reluctance to marry, a superior who hates him (the feeling is mutual), and the always present Mafia.

I've been catching up on ones I've missed in this series. They are the perfect short, snappy, funny, twisty plotted, scenes of Sicily to while away a lazy afternoon, to listen to while I swim or sew, or read on the deck enjoying a spring breeze. These three are numbers 6, 11, and 13 in the series. I have only two more to catch up on before the newest one appears later this summer.

Inspector Montalbano and his relationship to his team of detectives and police are the story in all of these. There are varied plots and crimes to solve:

In The Smell of the Night, Salvo Montalbano is faced with a financial crime and a missing person.  An investment guru has evidently milked hundreds of people out of their life savings, failed to pay them their expected dividends  and absconded with the money.   Is it a Ponzi scheme gone seriously awry? The only person who believes in his innocence is his secretary MariaStella and she's too upset and too trusting in her boss to be much help.  Two prevailing theories abound surrounding the accountant's disappearance:  he ran away and is now living the high life on a beach on some far off island paradise, or he somehow failed to pay the expected dividends to some higher up in the Mafia and is now feeding the fish in the Mediterranean Sea to atone for his transgressions.  Montalbano's superiors are ready to blame this on the Mafia and move on.  Salvo has far too many unanswered questions to let it go, and sets off to find the answers.  The ending to this one is well-written and definitely a true shocker.

Montalbano exhibits some of his educational and cultural background as he leads his team in solving the mystery of the murder of a body found buried in The Potter's Field.  The body was dismembered and chopped into 30 pieces.  It has had all identifying features removed, and the only clue Salvo has as to its identity is the partial dental bridge discovered in the deceased's stomach during the autopsy.  At the same time, Livia--Salvo's girlfriend, is driving him crazy by reporting constantly on her conversations with the wife of one of his trusty associates, Mimi Arguello, implying that Salvo is making Mimi work too many late nights.  Salvo knows this is not true but can't decide how to approach the subject with Mimi.  As always in this series, it is the relationship Salvo has with his team, as well as his relationship with Livia, and his deep sense of right and wrong (as opposed to legal and illegal) that makes him such an attractive and popular protagonist.

Finally, in The Wings of the Sphinx, Montalbano is feeling his age.  He is 56, beginning to ponder his own mortality, experiencing some minor physical reminders of the need to slow down, questioning his long-term relationship and failure to seal the commitment with Livia, and now must solve the murder of a young girl whose only identifying mark is a butterfly tattooed on her left shoulder.  When he learns the mark is not a butterfly but a specific type of moth, he is able to trace the young lady to a mysterious and secretive organization connected with the Catholic Church.  Here is where Montalbano shines.  He is not afraid to take on those in power, even when told to back down by his superiors.  This one isn't as light as some of the others, but it's a well-plotted mystery with many complex characters holding it together.

The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries
by Andrea Camilleri
translated by Stephen Sartarelli
narrated in audio by Grover Gardner
source: public library

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Three Pack of Dr. Siri's

One of the highlights of my reading this year has been making the acquaintance of the fictional Dr. Siri Paiboun, in the ever entertaining series by Colin Cotterill.  During May's Murder and Mayhem reading  I managed to finish several, and since the settings and the characters are all alike, I'll just give you a brief glimpse of the plots so you won't get spoilers. With all of these,  I'm learning and laughing at the same time. These are not big on plot in that there are not a lot of twists and turns, but the characters and the setting more than make up for lack of great mystery. They remind me so much of the "1st Ladies' Detective Agency" series....great big wonderful characters, gorgeous history, culture, and geography lessons, some of the local religion thrown in, ghosts, love and did I mention laughter? 

Disco for the Departed  is #3 in this fabulous series. After Dr. Siri and his nurse Dtui get called to investigate a mummified arm protuding from some recently excavated concrete, there is a plenty of paranormal activity, which for a 73 year old who is channeling a 1000 year old shaman is to be expected.  In this one Dtui takes the lead and Cotterill establishes her as a major character in the series. A note: I am extremely claustrophobic. One evening, I was really tired from a long swim, but thought I could finish listening to this audio before I fell asleep. I climbed into bed with my MP3 attached to my ears around midnite. At five in the morning, I awoke with heart pounding, panting for breath, clammy skin, etc. I had just come out of a dream where I was enclosed in an underground theatre whose walls, ceilings and furnishings were all made of pale blue styrofoam board. No exits, no sound, no people, and no way out..... When later that morning I went back to see where I fell asleep, I discovered that poor Dr. Siri had found his "Disco for the Departed" in an underground cave!!!.....SCARY..........

The sixth book The Merry Misogynist is one of the best I've read so far.  It is a much more straightforward mystery involving a serial killer, a prime suspect, an established MO, and Dr. Siri off to find the killer before he can wreak more havoc. The good coroner's knowledge of the people throughout the country, his empathy and ability to understand different languages, dialects and customs helps him ferret out the truth.  Even through the cruelty of watching the next victim being set up, we are given amusing, entertaining dialogue that is side-splitting funny as Siri and his wife Daeng go crawling through the underbrush for instance in hot pursuit of the killer.  Cotterill gives us a surprise ending to resolve the mystery but it's the characters we come away remembering.

Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, #7 in the series, was a bit harder to follow.  The book opens with Dr. Siri manacled to a lead pipe in some sort of tortuous prison setting.  It took me a while to figure out whether the author was giving us a flashback, or whether Siri was channeling again. It evolves into an exposè of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge as Siri investigates the deaths of three young women, each skewered by a fencing epèe.  Again his wife Daeng and Nurse Dtui fill the roles of side-kicks helping uncover and bring the perpetrator to justice.  A bit darker than the previous in the series, but still satisfying.

Dr. Siri Paiboun Mysteries
by Colin Coterrill
Soho Press
audio narrated by Clive Chafer
source: public library

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weekend Cooking-- Review: Cooking from the Farmer's market

Last week, I reviewed a digital cookbook. This week however, although I got it from NetGalley in digital format for review, I've been going through one actually published by Williams Sonoma as a hardback.  And that's a good thing, because the layout looks like it would be terrific in print, but is somewhat hard to handle in the e-format.  Perhaps it would work on an iPad, but in other tablet forms, and even using an Adobe digital reader on my laptop, it just wasn't clear or large enough to make me want to drop everything and start cooking. Nuf said about the format.....let's look at the content.

Our local farmer's market just opened last week, and I'm dying to get down there. I also have a CSA share in a small farm here in town where I get fresh eggs from "my own" chicken, and will be able to get some fresh lamb (yum!) later this fall. There are three other wonderful farm markets with 10 miles of my house - a perfect spring/summer/autumn drive (especially if one has a good audio book in the player) away. We don't grow a lot on our own - we have too many trees therefore yielding too little sunshine. I do love to browse through cookbooks like this one though...they give me a better idea of what to look for when I'm strolling through the markets. So here's what I got from Net Galley: 

Cooking from the Farmers' Market (Williams-Sonoma) by Jodi Liano
Other authors: Tasha De Serio, Jennifer Maiser
Publisher: Weldon Owen (2010), Hardcover, 272 pages

Liano makes it all sound irresistible:
"Do you look forward to the first tender asparagus of spring? Long for summer's juicy peaches? Dream of ways to prepare sweet winter squashes? Enjoying a farmers' market meal is only three steps away: shop for what's fresh; cook with inspiration from these pages; and eat the delicious results. This lavishly photographed book, filled with more than 245 inspiring recipes, drives home the notion that when you choose the best-quality ingredients, little effort is needed in the kitchen to help them shine."
There are almost 300 hundred pages of gorgeous photos, well thought out groupings of recipes, lists of what to look for each month of the year, and exciting new concepts in cooking/eating/combining local produce, meats, fish, and other agricultural products.  There were several that jumped out at me to try out later when I can get the correct ingredients:

"Turnip, Apple and Potato soup" - a great one for the cooling days of autumn.
"Watermelon Radish with Avocado Vinagrette" - I'm not sure I'm going to find either of those ingredients locally grown in Maine, but I'm sure going looking for them.  Avocados we get from California, but Watermelon Radish?  It looks really gorgeous, and since I love radishes, I can't wait to find and try this one.

The "Celery, Parsley and Prosciutto" salad is such a simple idea, but I'd have never thought to combine those yummies together.  A perfect dish for lunch with a cold tomato soup and some fresh bread?

And what farmer's market cookbook is complete without great eggplant recipes?  There are three in here -
"Smoked roasted Ratatouille"
"Rolled eggplant with sausage and mozzarella" ( a sort of involtini)
"Soy Glazed Broiled Eggplant"

Incidentally, the book is arranged by individual food.  Each section begins with a small piece about the fruit or vegetable for example, gives advice about what to look for when buying, the best time of the year to buy, how to handle and then gives at least three recipes to give a range of eating experiences.  And did I mention  the photography is gorgeous?  The picture of the pan-seared scallops with sauteed oranges made me want to get in the car, head for the seafood market, and grab a variety of oranges at the produce stand.  The picture had me wanting that, but in an e-format, I had to struggle with reading the recipe...

There are so many beautiful photos of figs, pomegranates, persimmons, rhubarb, chard, tarts, and other unusual combinations of fresh and baked goods.  It certainly looks like one that will be worth checking out.  I'm really curious to see this one in person, but if you have a Net Galley account, and an iPad, I'd love to hear if it works that way too.

Many thanks to Weldon Owen publisher for a chance to review this one.

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.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster

Author: Sara Foster
Publisher-Format: St Martin's Minotaur Books, e-galley,  311 pages
Publication date:  June 5, 2012
Subject: search for missing husband
Setting: Yorkshire
Genre: Thriller, gothic suspense
Source: Net Galley

Australian Sara Foster's debut novel is a knockout! Set on the wind-swept moors of Yorkshire, the ambiance is one of modern day juxtaposed with ancient ghosts, legends, family feuds, and long-buried secrets. Her main character, a young mother named Grace has returned to her husband Adam's  family cottage where they were living at the time of his disappearance almost a year ago.  She is determined to find him, or else find out what really happened to Adam. Did he run away, abandoning Grace and his adored daughter Millie? Did he meet with foul play?  Is he alive somewhere?  If not, where is his body?  Grace is ambivalent about staying in the cottage and begins the onerous task of cleaning it out and packing up, although she has no idea where she'll go. In the meantime, she must trust a local handyman, and deal with extraordinary occurences.

Secrets seem to abound in this sleepy village, and no one there seems willing to help Grace pursue her quest for answers.  She searches the cottage's hidden nooks including the dark mysterious basement and the attic, and then begins asking questions about the locals and their relationship to her husband's family.  When her sister and another old friend come to stay with her over the holidays, and a snowfall cuts them off from the outside world, her strange dreams and ghostly encounters increase, driving the story toward a inexorable conclusion and putting her and her daughter in deep danger.

Foster draws her characters well, letting us see just enough motivation and history to make all of them suspects, but she also keeps us asking "was there a crime?"  She paints the setting in broad colors, invoking strong winds, and deep contrasts of light and dark.  Lastly, she gives us a plot that keeps us turning pages.  I began this late one night, and found it almost impossible to put it down to go to bed. It's a stunner, and I look forward to more from this very talented author.

Many thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur publishers for making the review copy available.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Bitter Truth - A Teaser and a giveaway

Author: Charles Todd
Publisher-Format: William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins, paperback, 340 pages
Year of publication: 2011
Subject: WWI nurses, orphans, amateur detectives
Setting: London and environs
Series: Bess Crawford #3
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Source: Wm Morris publisher for giveaway

 Although this is the third in the Bess Crawford series, I think all of these can stand alone.  In this one, Bess is home for Christmas from nursing on the front during World War I.  As she alights from the train, she finds a women hiding in a doorway, shivering, quaking and obviously trying not to be found.  Our Bess steps up to the plate to find out what is wrong, and immediately becomes enmeshed in a very convoluted plot.  Her altruism leads to her being accused of murder, and it is only through some excellent plot manipulation, and a bit of suspending belief that we get to a reasonble resolution.  A good story, with great scenes of the era.  The characters in this series are being fleshed out with each new addition to the saga.

I'll be reviewing "An Unmarked Grave" #4 in the series as part of the TLC Blog Tour on June 18th, but in the meantime, if you want to get a jump on the series, I have one copy of #3 "A Bitter Truth" available for a quick giveaway.  Easy rules and quick turnaround.

Just send me an email at with "Win Bitter Truth" in the subject line.  Give me your mailing address (US only- PO Boxes OK!!!!) and send by June 15th.  I'll announce the winner on the 17th.

And do leave me a comment letting me know you sent the email....that way I'll be sure to look for it.