Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Reunion at Red Paint Bay by George Harrar

Reunion at Red Paint Bay has a lot going for it. There's the small town, coastal Maine setting, there are really believable characters, there's a mystery that sneaks in little by little, until the plot explodes in the final pages of the book in a finish that leaves the reader totally drained of emotion.

Sam Howe, who left Red Paint Bay  to go to the big city to work in journalism, returns to his hometown and buys the weekly newspaper. There is seldom anything exciting to report about, but his family life is solid, the town is a picturesque study in "life the way it should be," and Sam finds himself looking forward to the upcoming high school reunion.

Then he hires a recently released convicted felon to work at the paper.  When his social worker/therapist wife discovers the new hire was convicted of rape, she makes her displeasure known. At about the same time, Sam begins receiving anonymous post-cards with disturbing and often unfathomable messages.  As the story progresses and the suspense builds, the reader is led along a psychological journey of terror from an unknown stalker who seems to know a dark secret about Sam's past.

The story resolution is quite wrenching.  To say more would be to spoil a good read. It's a great read in that the mystery is there at the edges and only blossoms into full bloom at the end.  All along, the reader knows something more is going to happen, that something is missing, and must keep reading until the sudden, unexpected ending.

It's a great tale of moral consequences, ethical dilemmas, differing perspectives, secrets, guilt and absolution.  The newspaper may in fact have a very newsworthy headline next edition.

Title: Reunion at Red Paint Bay
Author: George Harrar
Publisher: Other Press (2013)  e galley - 283 pages
Genre: fiction
Subject: moral consequences
Setting: Coastal Maine
Source: ARC galley from publisher through NetGalley 
Why did I read this book now?  I was invited to review it.
Thanks to Other Press for making the review copy available.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Old series on the shelf, new series for Tutu's list

Title: Iron Lake
Author: William Kent Krueger
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Atria Books (1999)
Genre: Police procedural mystery
Subject: merder/corruption
Setting: Iron Lake, Minnesota
Series: Cork O'Connor #1
Source: My own Nook
Why did I read this book now? It's been sitting on my Nook since Oct/2011, and my sister recommended it.

Barnes & Noble knows what it's doing when it offers the first book in a series for a free download to Nook owners.  I snagged this one back in October 2011, and it's been sitting there since then.  My sister just finished her copy and said she thought I'd enjoy it.  Besides, she and I have been challenging each other to clean out and read some of the books we already own instead of buying/borrowing new ones.

Well........yes, I can cross an old one off my list, but now I'm off to locate the next eleven in the series!  I'm not going to feel guilty about getting these.  I know Mr. Tutu is going to love these too.  They are also available in audio, and I downloaded this one to listen to in the pool, and at the dentist office while I was getting my teeth cleaned, but then I shifted back to the Nook to finish it since I can read it about twice as fast as the narrator does.

Cork O'Connor is my kind of detective/police person.  In this introduction to his character, we see a disgraced de-frocked sheriff, whose marriage is on the rocks, who adores his children, and who suspects that an apparent suicide of a local magistrate is really a murder.  He has no jurisdictional authority to investigate but pushes ahead anyway.  So far that sounds like a straight forward police story.

What sets the book apart is the setting, and the people.  O'Connor is half Irish (white) and half Anishinaabe Indian, who is married to a white attorney. He owns some land on the reservation in up-state Minnesota, and is trusted by the tribal council whose members are wary of talking to the local (white) sheriff about the whereabouts of a missing Indian boy.  Cork sets out to find the missing teen, and tries at the same time to revive his all but over marriage by disentangling himself from his affair with a local diner waitress. 

Krueger uses Anishinaabe folklore, outstanding plotting, and a spectacular setting to weave his story.  I read this during one of the coldest weeks of the year here in Maine.  It was easy for me to visualize the frozen lake, the treks through the drifts, the ice buried vehicles because they were right out my window.  But it was just as easy for me to close my eyes and visualize those elements I didn't have - the black bears, the blizzards, and the tribe's traditional buildings and transportation.

I'm totally hooked and will be reading at least 2 or 3 more of these throughout the year.  I can't wait to see how Cork's character progresses, whether he can repair his marriage, and rebuild his life.  I really enjoy discovering hidden treasure like this "oldie but goodie."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review: Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

In spite of the title, this is not a "Once upon a Time.....happily ever after" fairy tale. Seldom does a book leave me speechless, but when I reluctantly closed this one I was stunned, without words and almost unable to breath.  It's slow, measured, every word carefully chosen to craft a story of a small town, of quiet ordinary people trying to live moral lives, of ingrained prejudices and  lack of education, of Bible thumping preachers and butchers, and seamstresses and secrets and dreams.  It's a story about morals, ethics, cause and effect, truth and consequences.

Goolrick tells us the story mostly through the eyes of an old man who reflects back on his town Brownsburg, a town "where no crime had ever been committed... where the terrible American wanting hadn't touched yet, where most people lived a simple life without yearning for things they couldn't have."  He tells us of an ill-fated illicit love affair between a strong minded and introverted young man Charlie, and the Hollywood obsessed beautiful young wife of the town bully.  As their affair develops, they unwittingly involve Sam, the six year old young son of the town butcher, swearing him to secrecy.  Sam has hero-worshipped Charlie from the day he arrived to work in his father's butcher shop and even now, sixty years later, still seems to be putting together the pieces of what happened as he relates the story.

There are really two stories here.  The author unfolds each slowly tantalizing the reader with possibilities. Charlie's story, which is ultimately Sam's story, is told alongside the life and dreams of Sylvan Glass, a young woman sold into marriage when she was sixteen by a father who wanted security for the rest of his family to to the town bully, a man who wanted a trophy.  Once Sylvan walks into the butcher shop, dressed in movie star finery, and once Charlie sees her, the illicit relationship marches inexorably to a conclusion worthy of the movies Sylvan is so in love with.

Goolrick's prose is spare but poetic; it paints a vivid picture of a seemingly idyllic life resting on secrets, immune to modernity, and destined to hold the reader's attention from beginning to end. To more about the plot or the characters wrapped into it would be to spoil one of the best reading experiences available today. I haven't read Goolrick's earlier work but he is certainly going onto my list of authors to search out.

This is one of over 25 books chosen by our Maine Reader's Choice Award panel for the long list for this year's award.  I read and listened to this in tandem because I could not stop reading.  Norman Dietz has the perfect voice and inflection to tell this story in audio.  With writing this spectacular, he had an exciting script to work with.  Whatever format or medium you choose, this is a must read.

Title: Heading Out to Wonderful
Author: Robert Goolrick
Publisher: Algonquin Books (2012) 1st edition; 320 pages
Audio Publisher: Highbridge Audio, 9:27
Narrator: Norman Dietz
Genre: literary fiction
Subject: small town relationships
Setting: Appalachian Virginia, 1948-49
Source: print: publisher furnished;  audio: Overdrive download
Why did I read this book now? I'm a panelist for the Maine Peoples Choice awards, and this is on the long list.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Catching up on an "old" series by Rose Connors

Years  ago (2009)  I read "Absolute Certainty" by Rose Connors.  At that time, I wasn't writing reviews but did make a note to keep an eye out in case any more by this author appeared.  As with many good intentions, Connors slipped off my radar.  Last month, I discovered the rest of this enjoyable series was available in audio so I grabbed "Temporary Sanity" (#2) in the series.  I gobbled that one up last week while I was at home on a snowy day.  Yesterday, while "watching" the Niners go down to defeat (nuf said) and cross-stitching, I listened to the audio of "Maximum Security".   There is a 4th in the series, "False Testimony" and I'd love to jump right into that one, but I think I'll put it on hold for awhile.  Sometimes when I read too many of a series together, the story and characters begin to wear on me.  Putting some space out there helps to keep them fresh.

These are compelling courtroom drama series.  Set in Cape Cod, they portray the law career of Marty Nickerson who advances from being Assistant DA for the town of Chatham in episode #1, to being a partner in a criminal defense law firm in 2- 4.The Crime stories ring true, the reader is given various clues throughout and can usually "solve" the case a few pages before Ms. Nickerson. The tales are enhanced by a diverse caste of characters: the hard-nosed DA, Geraldine Schilling, the sane and compassionate Judge Long, and Marty's partner in law and in life, studly Harry Madigan.

It sometimes stretches the imagination to see how much crime an author can reasonably dish up for a small town, but the stories are varied enough to avoid repetition.  I notice Ms. Connors hasn't written a new one since 2006.  I wonder if she intends anymore? Or did the crime wave settle down?

The audios were narrated by Bernadette Dunne, one of my favorites.  She really nails Marty Nickerson's smart-aleck tongue-in-cheek comments.  At the same time, she is skilled at giving us just the right intonation so that the listener can differentiate between unspoken thoughts and directly voiced ideas.  A masterful performance.

If you are a fan of crime/court-room/legal mysteries, strong woman protagonists, interesting characters, and a beautiful setting, these may just be perfect for you.  Don't assume because they're "older" that they're out-of-date.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Title: Where'd You Go Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Publisher: AudioGo, 9 hrs. 36 min
Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite
Genre: fiction
Subject: ??
Setting: Seattle, Antartica
Source: Library download

Often as I'm reading (or in this case listening to) a book, I make notes to help me refresh my ancient brain when it comes time to say something lucid in a review.

Let's begin by saying I absolutely loved this book!  I knew nothing about it when I started, in fact, I'd never heard of it, and the cover had caused me to pass right by, thinking it was pure chick-lit, airport quick-read air.  However, it showed up on a list of books for a group I'm participating in (more on that much later in the year) and it also showed up as available in audio on a day when I was headed to the pool.

Now the puzzle.  Here are the notes I made as I was listening (obviously I jot them down when I get OUT of the pool):

Genre - mystery? psychological character study? family drama? soap opera?
Setting - wonderful if you've been there, but confusing if not familiar with Seattle, and who on earth takes a 15 year old to Antarctica?
Characters - whacko composites? believable?  who's the hero? villains? I know that events planner!
Formats - new aged epistulary?  does it work? very innovative, not normal diary/letters
story-line - forced? or farced?

So with all those seeming conflicting and negative notes, how on earth could I love this book?  The simple answer is that Semple, using an unusual format, tells a rather outlandish but basically believable story from the points of view of several of the wackiest and most loveable and/or detestable characters every to grace the pages of a novel and she makes it all work.

Told in emails, letters, FBI reports, newspaper stories, an emergency room bill, psychiatrist notes, this could have been a mish-mash of nothing.  Instead, we are able to see a story unfold from many perspectives as Bernadette Fox - prize-winning architect, mother of Bee, wife of Microsoft gaming wonder Elgin- spins through life in a reality totally out of sync with everyone around her.  She's so phobic about everything in the world that she contracts the daily necessities of life to a virtual personal assistant in India. She does not cook, she orders out, (actually the personal assistant does the ordering) saving the take out containers for building materials to use for an eventual rehab of their rapidly deteriorating house.   She battles with her next door neighbor over blackberry vines and PTA duties, enrolls her daughter Bee in an exclusive private school but prefers to remain uninvolved in any parental activities -even removing herself from the school's email list so she doesn't have to be bothered with them.  She promises Bee a Christmas trip to Antarctica but leaves the planning up to her virtual assistant, and then begins to back out as her phobias kick into high gear. Then she disappears.

The biggest problem with this book is that the reader cannot stop laughing long enough to read it quickly, but cannot read it quickly enough to be satisfied.  Sometimes I had to go back to be sure she really said what I thought she did.   Semple takes a disparate batch of glop and weaves it into a tightly bound package of funny but somehow serious thought, that gives us a glimpse of the corporate culture of a city and a citizenry over the top.  As you can tell from my notes, it's really hard to describe, but it's way harder to put this down once you start it.  It's going to be on my best of list for 2013, and I'm betting many of my readers will love it too.  Let me know.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A fortuitous goof?

A couple weeks ago, I got an early egalley of The Names of our Tears by P. L. Gaus when I thought I was downloading Margaret from Maine by John Monninger. Both are Penguin Group/Plume publications, but obviously the files got misnamed when they were posted on NetGalley, so I got this instead of that. What a lucky break for me! I was unfamiliar with this series, and would probably not have picked this up. I usually avoid anything labeled Christian lit, not because I'm anti-Christian (quite the contrary) but because the genre tends to be too gooey sweet for me.

The Names of Our Tears is a first rate murder mystery, evidently part of a series (Ohio Amish Mysteries). The religious connection comes from its setting and its characters. The victim is a young Amish girl who appears to have become somehow involved in drug-running between Florida and Ohio. How the local sheriff goes about solving the who and why makes for a riveting story. Gaus holds the reader's interest, adds plots twists and new elements, all the while weaving in a respectful description of Amish mores and precepts.

I've gone back (via the NetGalley feedback button) and asked Penguin for some publicity files (cover shots etc) for the Gaus book, and if I get it, I'll publish a more formal review closer to the pub date in May. In the meantime, put it on your radar's not the first in the series, but can easily stand alone. A solid 3 1/2 stars.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snowy Sunday Sound-off

Merriam Webster: 
 Sound off: to voice one's opinions freely with force;
Synonyms: pipe up, shoot, sound off, speak out, spout (off), talk up 
Related Words:  bawl, bay, bellow, call, cry, holler, roar, shout, sing (out), thunder, vociferate, yell; articulate, enunciate

Welcome to Sunday Sound-Off, a regular weekly posting about my reading life, my other than reading life, and life in general in Maine. I also encourage you to drop a comment sounding off about your week, your gripes, your reading life, etc.

Wow...we are still hunkered down enjoying the beauty of mother nature. As of late Saturday, we still have power, we have plenty of food and firewood and we have auxiliary heat/cooking with propane gas, so we're spending a lovely weekend cut off from the world, sitting in front of the fire, cat-lapped and reading.

I spent a very productive book week getting caught up on reviews. Later this week you'll see reviews for a great 2012 Book ("Where'd You Go Bernadette"), and a couple of older (pre 2012)series by Rose Connors and William Kent Krueger I recently re/discovered. I also wrote and saved for later, reviews for books with upcoming pub dates in March and April. The publishers have requested that we hold reviews until we're closer to the pub date.

It's hard to believe that Ash Wednesday is this week. I usually try to focus my reading during Lent on at least one more spiritual book than my normal diet of cozies, mysteries, fiction and bios. This year I'm going the history route.  Two years ago I discovered Diarmaid MacCullough's chunkster Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.  I downloaded a sample on my Nook, really liked it, but just felt like I didn't have the time to devote to the 1138 pages!  Then audible had a sale, I had some extra credits, so I bought the audio but at 46 hours and 35 minutes, I didn't want to start it until I had some serious listening time to devote.  Now Amazon has made the e-book available in Whisper-Sync with the audible version.  So, although I detest the Kindle's lack of page numbering (my mind doesn't work in "locations"), I think I'm going to spring for the full e-book and work my way through at least the 1st thousand years.  Before I commit to that next $18.99, I'm trying out the e-book as a library download.  I listened to and read along the Introduction - the first 48 pages - and it's really well done, easy to understand but not dumbed down, thoroughly fascinating, and as far from a proselytizing religious tome as one can get. It's serious history and I'm looking forward to this one.

At the same time, I really want to make a dent in another fascinating history book I purchased for our Nooks last year: In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire by Tom Holland.  I started this one last fall, and also got through the introduction (part I), but put it aside waiting for a period when I have more time to digest it.  I'm going to take some time to read at least another 170 pages to take me through part II.  This one has only 547 pages so I can probably finish it by summer.

I'm going to try to put a separate widget in my sidebar featuring what I call "on-going" reads-- books I don't want to finish in one swoop because they need time to be digested but if I don't keep at them, they'll languish forever.  Stephen King's 11-22-63 is one such, as well as 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

And finally this week, I'm lazing through two ARC from Net Galley, both set in Maine:  Reunion at Red Paint Bay by George Harrar and Out of Nowhere - a strong and deep YA book by Maria Padian that is grabbing this adult.  I'm enjoying both and should have some reviews coming up in the next couple weeks.  Red Paint Bay published last week, and Out of Nowhere comes out next week. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snowing and Blowing

While most of my blogging is usually about books, Tutu likes to keep everyone up to date on life in Maine. Unless you have not turned on any communication device in the past 48 hours, you probably know that here in Maine we are experiencing an historic blizzard. We live on the coast, just about a mile upriver from the ocean, so this area (near Rockland on your map) is getting swacked. My kitty is really confused because all of his favorite looking out on the world spots are blocked by snow. The most incredible part has not been the 25+ inches of snow, but the very gusty, gutsy winds. The snow is falling at 2-3" per hour and the wind is gusting over 40 mph. We are safe, warm, and well-fed. Gorgeous views are distracting us from our reading, but we're making a dent. I hope you are all safe and secure, warm and dry. Reviews later.........

 On the river......
Thursday before the storm...........................Saturday during the storm

The driveway....................

Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

I love to discover a new author to rave about. Jenny Milchman is one such writer. Her debut novel grabbed me from the opening sentence, and kept me involved until the very end.  In fact, I hadn't intended to finish it as quickly as I did, but it quickly became apparent that I was not going to be able to put this one down.

Set in the frigid winter of the Adirondacks, the story is about the mystery surrounding the suicide of Brendan Hamilton.  His wife Nora awakes one January morning to find her husband - a member of the Wedeskyul police force - missing, and a sense of foreboding hanging in the air.  When she discovers his body, she immediately calls on his partner and other policemen to help.

As she struggles to deal with Brendan's death, she searches for reasons, all the while facing a stone-wall of hatred from her mother-in-law, and another solid wall of non-cooperation from the police chief and several of his minions. As more and more "accidents" begin to happen to her and her friends, she begins to suspect that something vital is being kept from her.

The reader quickly grasps that there are hidden secrets, there is corruption, that something is rotten here in this small town, but Milchman's skillful writing keeps the suspense building until the very end.  That makes it hard to tell you about the book without spoiling it for you, but it also makes it very easy for me to recommend it highly, and to hope that Ms. Milchman is hard at work on another book. She certainly has shown she has what it takes to give us a good story.

Many thanks to Random House/Ballantine for making the egalley available.

Title: Cover of Snow
Author: Jenny Milchman
Publisher: Random House/Ballantine, (2012) 324 pages
Genre: mystery
Subject: police corruption; family secrets
Setting: fictional town of Wedeskyul  NY
Source: egalley from the publisher via Net Galley
Why did I read this book now?  It was offered to me in the hopes that I would read and review it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Goddaughter - TLC Blog Tour & Giveaway

From the Folks at RAPID READ....and they're not kidding - just over 1 hour.

Title: The Goddaughter
Author: Melodie Campbell
Publisher: Raven Books (2012) 146 pages
Genre: romance, chick-lit
Subject: crime, stolen gems, evading the mafia
Setting: various cities along the New York/Canadian border
Source: e-galley from TLC Book tours
Why did I read this book now? I agreed to do a review for TLC Book tours.

Ok, I'll admit it, it's pure chick-lit but IT'S FUN! It has a handsome stud, some behind the scenes sex, a rather contrived but ultimately almost believable plot, and some FUN characters. It's perfect as an airplane read, or for waiting in the doctor's office, or standing in line at the DMV, or even for snuggling under the covers with a bout of flu (like I did).  At 146  pages with plenty of white space it's just pure FUN.

I'm one of the last stops on this blog tour, so by now the actual plot is well known.  It's a simple story...Gina Gallo (goddaughter of mafia person) is recruited to deliver some stolen gems which are hidden in the heels of her super stilettos. Distracted by an extremely handsome stud, she takes the shoes off because her feet hurt. The shoes are stolen. Stud and girl begin frantic chase across international borders, and to three or four different cities to retrieve shoes.  Mafia relatives show up to "help".  Throw in some drop-dead, laugh out loud funny hotel room and restaurant scenes, and some smart-ass Italian girl remarks (she's a mafia goddaughter don't forget). Bottom line: you find yourself quickly finishing one of the fun-est and funniest books I've enjoyed in years!

I'll add that I don't normally read much chick-lit, and I almost turned down the invitation to participate in this tour. I'm so glad I didn't. Did I mention this book is FUN?

About Melodie Campbell 

Melodie Campbell has been a bank manager, marketing director, college instructor, comedy writer, and possibly the worst runway model ever.

Melodie got her start writing comedy (stand-up and columns). In 1999, she opened the Canadian Humour Conference in Hamilton. She has over 200 publications, including 40 short stories, and has won 6 awards for short fiction. Her third novel, The Goddaughter (Orca Books), is a comic mob caper. Melodie was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer Award (US) and Arthur Ellis Award (Can), and is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.< Melodie was invited into the Toronto Press Club in 1994. There is no truth to the rumor that she once did a somersault off the Press Club billiard table. Connect with Melodie on her website,, her blog, Funny Girl Melodie, on Facebook, or on Twitter.  

Now for the best part....if you're dying to read this one, and you should be, TLC books is offering a freebie to one lucky reader. It's an ebook, in your preferred format. Drop me a comment with your email address, and I'll pick a winner on Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Sound-Off

Sound off: to voice one's opinions freely with force;
Synonyms: pipe up, shoot, sound off, speak out, spout (off), talk up 
Related Words:  bawl, bay, bellow, call, cry, holler, roar, shout, sing (out), thunder, vociferate, yell; articulate, enunciate 

Welcome to Sunday Sound-Off, a regular weekly posting about my reading life, my other than reading life, and life in general in Maine. I also encourage you to drop a comment sounding off about your week, your gripes, your reading life, etc.

While my posted reviews make it look like I'm not doing much reading, I've actually been quite immersed in the world of books for the first month of 2013. During January I finished 13 books, even though the  breakdowns don't always add to 13 because some were in two different categories.  For instance, I both listened to and read Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  So here's the January recap:

Books Completed in January

♪♪= audio
** = ROOT (Read Our Own Tomes)--AKA Books off my shelves (whether electronic, print, or audio- in my possession before 1/1/2013).
Links are to the book page in LibraryThing where you'll see my review if I did one.

1.** Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain .★★★★★
2.**The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney. ★★★ ½ ♪♪
3. Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton ★★★ ♪♪
4.**The Richest Woman in the World by Janet Wallach ★★★ (really more like a 2.8) ♪♪and print
5. Dinner with Churchill by Cita Stelzer. ★★★★
6. **44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith ★★★ ½ ♪♪
7. **The Goddaughter by Melodie Campbell ★★★ ½
8. Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M.C. Beaton ★★★ ♪♪
9. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout ★★★★½
10. Crawl Space by Sarah Graves ★★★ ½ ♪♪
11.**Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel ★★★★★ ♪♪ print and audio (audio is the ROOT)
12. The Names of Our Tears by P. L. Gaus ★★★ ½ ♪♪
13. Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple ★★★★ ♪♪

14. Temporary Sanity by Rose Connors ★★★ ½ ♪♪

Last Sunday, I spent 4 1/2 hours working on my Great Blue Heron cross-stitch, and I plan to do the same today.  I can easily do this while I listen to an audio book, so I can indulge in two guilty pleasures at once.  Our Maine weather has been decidedly wicked this week, temps all over the place, and snow, ice, mud, sun, rain, power outages, and trees down.  Thank goodness nothing lasts longer than a day, so we just sit back and enjoy the variety and the excuse to remain curled up with a good book.

For those of you who will be glued to the tube watching the Super Bowl, best wishes to your team.  Our family is divided right down the middle:  the west coast branch obviously is routing for the Niners (as are Mr. and Mrs. Tutu) but the Baltimore branch of course is cheering on the Ravens.  Whoever wins, it's bound to be a great game.  And yes, I CAN listen to an audio, do my cross stitch and keep an eye on the game at the same time.!!  Happy Sunday.