Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday - 24th The First Sunday of Spring

Early this week, the calendar said we had turned from winter into spring.  However, you'd never have guessed that if you work up here in MidCoast Maine that first morning of spring 2013. Here's what we saw when we pulled open the curtains!! We had between 10 and 12" of new gorgeous heavy snow coating everything.  The sunshine was brilliant, the sky was pure blue, and fortunately the wind was almost non-existent.  The intrepid members of our book discussion group refused to let me cancel book club, so Mr. Tutu and another librarian's hubster volunteered to shovel off the steps and walk, the plowman came and cleaned up  the parking lot and we met to discuss Geraldine Brook's wonderful book Caleb's Crossing.  If you click on the link you can see my review from last year.  To a member they all enjoyed the book, and agreed that we were happy we kept to our schedule.

I'm still doing a lot of deep reading for a Maine state reading project I'll tell you all about next month.  In the
meantime, I'm trying to sprinkle in some ARCs from Net Galley but those reviews have to be released at pub dates - all of which are in the next month or so.  In between, I turn to my favorite comfort reads - mysteries and cozies to give my brain some time to decompress, relax and enjoy a good twisty turny who-dunnit.

I read another Cork O'Connor - Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger
I've only read two so far, but am now sufficiently hooked that I can simply say that if you like Tony Hillerman, Nevada Barr, Margaret Coel, or any other Native American, off in the wilderness, semi-police-game warden-local sheriff-boy meets bear kinda stories, with strong women characters, some very green story lines, and wonderful scenic backgrounds, this series will appeal to you. I'm certainly enjoying them, and watching the relationships ebb and flow, the crooks get caught, and reacting strongly to surprise twists and turns. As Mikey used to say in the cereal commericals: "Try it---you'll like it."

 I also just downloaded the third in Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series, so I'll be listening to that in the pool this week.

And today is Palm Sunday in the Christian Calendar, so I'll be spending almost my entire week at church since I'm in the choir.  Not too much reading is going to get done but I'll be feeling good about doing something worthwhile that I like.  Perhaps, spring will really burst forth for Easter!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gallows View: An Inspector Banks mystery

A new series for know by now how mysteries are my favorite comfort read genre and once I find one that has a promising kick-off I'm usually lining up for more.  One could almost call this one a cozy-- set in England where Detective Inspector Banks has moved from London to York in search of a less hectic workload and lifestyle.  There are lots of things to like about this book:  there is a wide range of characters, from the peeping Tom to an attractive police psychologist who is called in the help solve some of the crimes.  Banks gets along well with his boss, who seems a nice enough chap, he adores his wife, he's committed to solving crimes, and all around we see people and relationships that work.

The plot revolves around two different crimes - the peeping Tom and a murder (or is it a series of crimes?)  At times, Robinson leads us to believe that they might be connected.  And when Bank's wife becomes a victim, the action really picks up.  The York setting is pleasant, but very much in the background.  All in all, this series looks like one that has potential to catch and hold a reader's attention for at least 2 or 3 more books, without causing lack of sleep or great anxiety.  The series currently has over 20 volumes, so if I go for the whole set, I think I'll be reading these for awhile.  I have the 2nd one primed to listen to in audio later this month, and will let you know if it lives up to expectations.

Title: Gallows View
Author: Peter Robinson
Publisher: Scribner New York (1990) 225 pg.
Genre: mystery - police procedural
Subject: murder, peeping toms
Setting: York England
Series: Inspector Banks Mystery
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now?  It was recommended by a friend

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Billy Lynn's Long Half-time Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Flynn's Long Half-time Walk, by Ben Fountain - a finalist on the 2012 National Book Award list was not at all what I thought it was going to be.  I'm not sure what I expected.  I think I was expecting yet another "shoot 'em up" war book.  So this was a (dare I say?) delightful surprise.   Billy Lynn is a member of Bravo company, a group of young soldiers currently on a "victory tour" around the United States to celebrate their now famous actions in a fire-fight in the war in the Middle East.  Their unit just happened to have a FOX news reporter embedded and his footage and report of the battle made instant heroes of this band of brothers --so says the publisher's cover flap blurb.

A story of growing up, not a war story, but a novel of exquisite sensitivity about how heroism and  patriotism can be very different entities when viewed through the lens of the hero and patriot as opposed to the eyes of the grateful nation's stay at home, football fanatic, rock star worshipping citizens of the good Ole U. S.of A.

We meet Billy and his buddies as their victory tour draws to a close, when they are slated to be part of the half-time show on Thanksgiving Day at the Dallas Cowboy football game.  Billy, a Silver-Star recipient for his part in the battle, and a Texas native, has just finished a 2 day visit with his family and is struggling to reconcile his sense of forboding about returning to the war, along with his desire to take his sister's offer to help him run-away with a pacifist group who promise to hide him safely from legal action.  He's had a chance to reflect on conversations with his best friend, who died in his arms.  He's unimpressed with the Hollywood agent's offer to sell their story for $100K each - especially when the deal never seems to be quite finished.  In short, he is fine tuning a healthy cynicism and skepticism about everything happening in his just beginning to form adult world.

At the stadium, the group is introduced to a plethora of Texas big-wigs, a gorgeous born-again cheerleader, and some rather clueless football players.   Ben Fountain's incredible writing has kept this group from becoming cardboard stereotypes of both sides of the patriotism coin.  Billy and his buddies soon realize they are propoganda pawns, and that no one is really interested in them as individuals, except their Sergeant who tries to keep them together physically and mentally.  Billy and his cohorts react to this emotional and philosophical overload by drinking, fighting, and generally acting like the scared but brave heroes they really are.

This is a raw and unvarnished devastating look at an unpopular war.  Fountain manages however, to separate the issues of those who fought the war from the issues of war itself.  Many have compared this to Catch 22, and M.A.S.H. where the combatants and participants are looking at events through totally different lenses than the planners, plotters, and politicians.  The novel is certainly destined to be regarded as a classic, and will be one I'll re-read more than once.  It will absolutely be one of my top ten reads of this year, and should be on any list of top books of 2012 (the year it was published.)

Title: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Author: Ben Fountain
Publisher: ECCO, an imprint of Harper Collins (2012)  307 pages
Genre: War fiction
Subject: Psychological damage of war
Setting: Dallas Texas
Source: Review copy from publisher

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Shout-Out: St. Patrick's Day

 Happy Saint Paddy's Day!

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.

During my few minutes of free time in the past several weeks, I've been listening to a couple of my favorite mystery writers. 

I finished the Rose Connor series featuring attorney Marty Nickerson.  False Testimony was every bit as good as the earlier three in the series.  I haven't seen any information that there are any more forthcoming, but I would certainly welcome another.  Marty Nickerson is a sharp, empathetic, decidedly human defense attorney.  Her relationships with her staff, her clients, her adversaries are sharply described and deftly handled by this talented author.  In this story echoing a famous case in DC in the past several years, a US Senator is a "person of interest" in the disappearance of a young female aide. Marty must tiptoe through the legal minefield while trying to figure out what really happened.  Several plot twists along with a very realistic dialogue make this one a winner.

Last fall I was introduced to Elly Griffiths' exciting Ruth Galloway mysteries.  I finished the first one and vowed that I would keep reading in the series.  I put #2 on hold at the local library for an audio download, and finally got that one available in my account in February.   The Janus Stone was very cleverly done.  It definitely builds on the first book, but provides enough back fill to help any reader who starts with this one.  Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist who specializes in bones.  The author is skillful in mixing old Celtic and Roman history with modern day technology, dating methodology, and historic research.  In this story, there is an unidentified headless skeleton that obviously is that of a murdered child.There are several possibilities for the identify, and several suspects from different areas of the country, from different time periods, and with different motivations. There are gory theories, but little actual gore.  There are scary claustrophobic episodes, but they are not enough to turn off this queen of the claustrophobics.  I especially like the way Ruth's private life is highlighted, but not allowed to get in the way of solving the murder and the mystery.  In fact, the timing of events in her life is such that I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series, because something has to give soon. Even with a very thoughtful and thought-provoking ending that seemingly resolves many of the issues Ruth is dealing with, there is still plenty to look forward to in the next book in the series. I've already got it on reserve.

For next week I've got several in the mix:

I'm reading a fun Brit-lit....Constance Harding's (Rather) Startling Year originally published in Britain in 2011, now coming to a bookstore near you.  This is laugh-out-loud fun. I needed something to lighten the mood from some of the others I just finished earlier this week (reviews to come).  Written in the format of a series of blog posts (how fun is that?) it captured me immediately.  Just perfect for quick reading in short spurts, and incredibly amusing.

I've got a delightful ARC on my NOOK : What My Mother Gave Me by Elizabeth Benedict.  It's a memoir about mother/daughter relationships. I've just started it, and I'm enchanted.  It's due out in April, and the publisher says

In What My Mother Gave Me, women look at the relationships between mothers and daughters through a new lens: a daughter’s story of a gift from her mother that has touched her to the bone and served as a model, a metaphor, or a touchstone in her own life. The contributors of these thirty-one original pieces include Pulitzer Prize winners, perennial bestselling novelists, and celebrated broadcast journalists.
      Whether a gift was meant to keep a daughter warm, put a roof over her head, instruct her in the ways of womanhood, encourage her talents, or just remind her of a mother’s love, each story gets to the heart of a relationship.
I'm listening to (and reading the hard copy) another best seller - Canada by Richard Ford  This is a fairly hefty one but it's going pretty well being able to go back and forth, so I'm not losing too much time when I can't be sitting down reading (like driving, swimming, folding clothes, etc).  Of course, I just got to page 200 (Part II) where the word CANADA is finally mentioned. It was a slow but steady build up to this point...a really engrossing read.

I'm  making some progress on my Lenten reading - although Real Life keeps getting in the way.  I did find that  Dermaid McCullogh did a series for the BBC based on his Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years that is available through Netflix.  We've watched the first installment, and have the second one scheduled for this week. It is making me more than ever want to snuggle down into this work. I've finished about 70 pages and find it fascinating but it's daunting to think about almost another 1100 to go!

Well we have been promised a Sunday Without Snow (doesn't that sound like a book title?) even though the temperature is supposed to be rather frigid.  I'm looking forward to a short walk in the fresh air, and then an afternoon in front of the fire with the corned beef, cabbage and potatoes in the slo cooker, and the Irish Soda bread warming in the oven. 

Enjoy your St. Paddy's Day!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Shout Out - March 10th

Wow, I can't even seem to get a weekly post done on time.  This one's been sitting half done for over two weeks.  I have been reading, but as I mentioned in January, I knew this was going to be a busy couple months.  I got the library's annual report done, I started on my taxes, I'm working diligently on compiling the high school class's memory book for the reunion in April, and I'm holding down the fort at the local library.

I'm also involved in a huge reading project that I can't say too much about yet, but it's consuming a lot of my reading and listening time.  In the meantime, here's some of what's been on my book menu lately:

Last week our book club met to discuss Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral, the story of a woman who plans her own funeral before she dies, makes all the arrangements and then has her ashes and instructions sent to her best friend who must then contact four other close friends to conduct Annie's traveling funeral.  I read this one several years ago, and found I had a different perspective the second time through.  Our book club discussed whether the reaction to the book is based on the age of the reader, or it just wasn't as deep as I initially thought it was.  It was chick-lit with a bitter-sweet message.  As I read of friends reminiscing about their experiences together, I was also reading through short bios my classmates have been sending for our memory book.  One of the questions we asked the members of our class was to tell us their fondest memories.  There were some eerily similar outlooks in those bios with the vignettes in Annie Freeman.  This is a book worth picking up if you come across it.  There are laugh out loud parts, and grab your kleenex moments.  But then, isn't that what life is all about?

I also spent some audio time listening to the next installment in William Kent Krueger's Cork O'connor Series: Boundary Waters. This is going to grow to be a series I'm not going to want to stop too soon. A bit too many twists and turns, but still good enough to keep me marching on with reading this series. It was difficult to follow in a couple places since I'm not a kayak/canoe/cabin in the woods/thousands of rivers and lakes person. The characters were well drawn, the plot was quite suspenseful. All in all worth the time. In fact, I just downloaded #3 Purgatory Ridge as my next swimming read.

For about a week, I wallowed in the glorious prose of Jumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories: Interpreter of Maladies. This is one of my favorite genres, and this book has been on MT TOOBIE way too long. There have been reviews galore written about it, so I won't waste your time with the details. Suffice it to say, they are exquisite short but well-developed character studies of Indian immigrants, or children of immigrants, living in America, struggling to reconcile the traditions of their culture with their desire to fit in and become American. A book that will remain in my permanent collection and be picked up for another look-see in the future. I've already added several others of Ms. Lahiri's works to my ever-growing pile of reading delights to look forward to.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Review: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Title:  The Burgess Boys
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publisher: Random House (pub date Mar 26,2013) 336 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Family relationships
Setting: New York, Maine
Source: Publisher ARC from Early Review Program at  
Why did I read this book now?  Love the author and couldn't wait.

Elizabeth Strout's newest story The Burgess Boys is, if possible, even better than her Pulitzer winning effort Olive Kitteridge.  She based her story on an actual incident that occurred in Lewiston Maine in July 2006 where someone threw a frozen pig's head into a mosque full of worshippers.  The perpetrator claimed it was meant to be a joke, and the police treated it as a misdemeanor.

Strout frames her story on the Burgess family - adult brothers Jim and Bob, both attorneys, sister Susan (Bob's twin) and Susan's son Zach who throws the pig. The authorities are determined to bring hate crime charges against Zach. As the issues of assimilating Somali immigrants into the community swirl, and as the family becomes embroiled in resolving deep seated sibling rivalries, ruined marriages, and the different perspectives of various family members: Mainers vs those who are "from away" we get a true picture of life in Maine today.

Jim, a highly successful New York corporate attorney, wants nothing more to do with Maine.  Brother Bob plods away as a public advocate in New York, basking in his brother's light, enjoying family life vicariously through Jim's family, but remaining in touch with his ex-wife.  Neither brother wants to return to Maine, and neither is in close contact with sister Susan who ekes out an existance as a single parent (her ex lives in Sweden) in their hometown of Shirley Falls Maine.  Zach, a recluse and troubled adolescent, inadvertently sets a firestorm of family emotions into action when his actions lead his mother to call on her brothers to help keep Zach out of jail.

Elizabeth Strout has given us an deeply moving portrait of a family dealing with painful and buried memories, of a community dealing with a diversity of cultures unknown to heretofor all white Maine, and of legal issues that can become exacerbated by misunderstanding, lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown.  The characters in this one are even more sharply drawn than those in Olive Kitteridge.  The story is clear, crisp, at times bluntly cruel, but always empathetic towards the feelings and issues swirling around having a large group of "different" people suddenly inserted into a community that was not prepared for them, and for which they (the refugees) were also unprepared.

How the Burgess boys deal with their sister, their painful childhood memories and  their failing marriages, how the community deals with issues of racial, religious and cultural diversity, and how a single mom deals with a troubled teen-ager are inter-woven threads of a magnificent novel. I consider Elizabeth Strout one of Maine's treasures. I want to own and read anything she does. Her prose is like a painting of Maine: painfully blunt, colorful, windy, soothing, sunny, rainy, etc. Exquisite.  It's sure to make of the best of the best lists of the year!

Many thanks to Random House for making this available through's Early Reviewer program.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

An insightful look at the issues facing teens in America today: diversity, security, cyber-bullying, racism, sexism, substance abuse, overbearing parents. In fact, these are issues that are also being dealt with by the adults in our world which is precisely why I hesitated to catalog this book in the Young Adult section. I'm ready to get another copy and shelve in the adult section too.

In addition, while I love the Maine setting (and know that the story is based on very true situations here in Maine) this could be a story happening anyplace. Tom Bouchard, a high school senior, from a working class family of Franco-Americans who were themselves immigrants, is captain of the soccer team, all-around All American,  a girl loving white teenager who explains the problem early on:
 You gotta wonder who the genius was that came up with the plan to put a bunch of Africans in Maine, the coldest whitest state in America. Ok, maybe Alaska is colder, but not whiter.....our town wasn't ever anybody's first bright idea.  We'd gotten what's called a "secondary migration".....Anyway just about the time a bunch of Muslims took out the Twin Towers, a bunch of  Somali Muslims started seriously secondary-migrating here. (pp. 8-9).
This isn't just a book about how white teen-agers deal with "others".  It's also about issues faced by young adult Muslims trying to live, learn, and settle in post 9/11 America in a town that was totally unprepared to help them. It wasn't necessarily a lack of desire to learn or help on either side.  The issues were timing, resources, and a huge information gap. The story is not just about religious differences, it's about intolerance learned from parents, it's about a town coping with chance happening faster than can be handled.  It's about friendship, cultural diversity, poor parenting, good parenting, coaches, mentors, role models, fear of the unknown, bullying, courage, and the coming of age of an entire community - black and white.  It shows a town with all its warts, all its strengths, and offers hope for the triumph of wisdom and humanity over prejudice, ignorance and mean-ness.

The story is wonderfully crafted, sensitively written, heart-breaking, funny, affirming, discouraging and grand. The sports settings, high school pranks, hallway antics are all entwined with religious celebrations, teenage rites of passage, and encounters with the criminal justice system.  It is a book destined to be on many high school reading lists next year.  I just wonder if there isn't a way to require the parents, and all thinking adults to read it.  Although written and published as a Young Adult book, it's definitely worth a grown-up read.

Title: Out of Nowhere
Author: Maria Paladian
Publisher: Random House Children's Books (2012)  348 pages
Genre: Young Adult Fiction - coming of age
Subject: Diversity, racism, Muslim refugees
Setting: Enniston Maine
Source: e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley
Why did I read this book now? I was offered a review copy and was attracted to the setting.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The actual book cover glows in the dark! Too bad I can't get it to do that on the blog! This is a weird book. I'd say it's "Harry Potter meets the DaVinci Code" weird. I read the whole thing. I kept reading to see if somewhere along the line I'd get it. But I didn't. I think it's the story of a young man, Clay Jannon, recently laid off from his advertising job, who starts out working the 10PM to 6AM shift in Mr. Penumbra's book store. When he is hired, he is told that under no circumstances may he open or look into any of the books. He must keep a journal/log of EVERYTHING that happens while he is there. And borrowers (not buyers???) must have a membership card.  Nights are long, alternating between boredom and absolute lunacy.

Coming from a web design and advertising background, Clay decides that Mr. Penumbra isn't getting enough business and trys to find ways to attract more customers. Having grabbed one of his "e coupons" while she was waiting for a bus at the corner, geek girl Ashley enters his life. By then Clay and another friend have also taken an illicit peek at the contents of this multi-storied - accessible only by ladder- book collection and decided there is something secret and coded going on with the "members" of the book store and the strange volumes with only roman numerals on the spine.   Ashley works for Google, and together with an entire cast of "today" characters, and secret forays into the code busting capabilities of Google's machines, they set out to discover Mr. Penumbra's secrets, and help him.

I wish I knew what they were helping him with.  It was at this point I got lost. I suspect that readers who are into Google, Microsoft, code, web pages, and secrets will love this book.  I suspect that it's one you either get or you don't.  The writing is fun, clear and if you understand the plot, you won't have trouble with it.  If you enjoy fantasy, and perhaps some contemporary science writing, you'll love this.  There appear to be several layers, focusing somehow on the war between digital and print publishing, between paper and ebooks. I suspect it may take some of us more than one read to get everything out of it, and I intend to give it another try sometime in the future. For now, I'll let others delve into the story and perhaps explain it to me.

Did I mention that the cover glows in the dark?

Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 304 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Subject:Books, technology
Setting: San Francisco, New York
Source: Public library