Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mini Review: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Title: Bring Up the Bodies
Winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize

Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company (2012) 432 pages
Alternate format: Macmillan Audio 14hr, 35 min
Narrator: Simon Vance
Genre: Historical Fiction
Subject: Oliver Cromwell
Setting: England in the reign of Henvy VIII
Series: second book in Wolf Hall trilogy 
Source: personal purchase of audio -through Audible, contest win of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies from Henry Holt
Why did I read this book now? arrival of the winning hard copies made them too appealing to resist

I really enjoyed Wolf Hall, the first of Hilary Mantel's trilogy about Oliver Cromwell, but this one is even better.  I can't possibly say anything in a review that hasn't been said by the hundreds of reviews posted.  Continuing the technique she employed in Wolf Hall, Mantel has the story told from the point of view of Cromwell, as he threads his way through the intrigues of Henry VIII's court, the maneuverings of rival families to maintain control through the women closest to Henry, and the ultimate downfall of Anne Boleyn.

The historical detail and the dialogue ring so true to the period.  Mantel shows us Cromwell as he manipulates people and opportunities to advance Henry and himself.  She does not spare the sensitivities of her readers, giving us an unvarnished glimpse of the brutal, bloody, and traitorous mores of the Tudor Court.  It is historical fiction at its best.

If you haven't had the chance yet to read these books, run out and grab them. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Shout-out - January's abandoned books

As I get older and have more time to read, I am also finding it easier to abandon books that are not holding my interest. I used to feel that I was morally responsible for completing every book I started.  However, there are just too many good to outstanding books on the shelves (both physical and virtual) for me to feel anyway obligated to complete something that I'm going to end up labeling a big "MEH."  So far this month, I've completed 11 books ( 5 audio, 6 print) and am more than 1/2 way through another three.  The ones I've completed have all been fun to read, and two of them are going onto my definite keeper shelf. The others I'd describe as "glad I read them", and I wouldn't be uncomfortable recommending any of them to the right person to read, but none were jumping out screaming "Pulitzer!"

And then there were those that got "Pearled" - after Nancy Pearl's rule that says read the first 50 pages if you're under the age of 50, but as you get older you may subtract your age from 100 to find the number of pages you must plod through before abandoning your reading.  I always try to read 50-75 pages, so I can be sure that I'm truly not enraptured.  Here are two that didn't make the cut for me this month.

1. The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano. I suspect this is one of those books not meant for me to read in the dead of the dark dark cold cold winter. It's very dark, very depressing story of two different children with troubled (very troubled) childhoods, who, if I read the reviews correctly meet up in adulthood and >>>>>blah, blah, blah. I gave it 65 pages and it wasn't working for me. I confess I picked it up at the library because of the interesting title (remember I was a math major). Maybe later.....

2. The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. This may be one worth pursuing, but not until I have time and can find it in print. I downloaded the audio from the library and while I normally like this format, the author chose to do her own narration, and I suspect she does a great injustice to the story. I wish authors who are not trained readers/actors would stick to writing and let the pros do the talking. It was painful for me to listen, so I decided to stop after just one disc (about 40-50 pages) and keep my eyes open for a print/e copy.

Perhaps I should, like Will Schwalbe's mom in The End of Your Life Reading Club" jump to the end of these about to be Pearled books to see if the ending is OK enough for me to push through. What do you think? Do you ever read the ending first to see if it's going to be worth your while? Does that make reading the book (particularly a mystery) less inviting?

There was another book I abandoned mainly because of a formatting and file problem with a Net Galley download.  When I complained and filed my non-review with the publisher, the author was as distressed as I was, and has offered to send me a copy so I can read it and do a decent review.  As we used to say in my family: "The squeaky door gets the oil."  I always say it does no good to be irked at someone or something if the person with the problem isn't given a chance to correct it.

It's been wicked cold up here in Maine for the past week, so I've not been going out much.  However, those projects I mentioned at the beginning of the year, particularly the High School reunion project, have really eaten into my reading time.  I'm hoping to settle in today and finish "Bring up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel.  I am really loving this one (it will most certainly go onto the keep it shelf) and want to finish this part of the trilogy.  Next week I hope to have a few reviews for you of some of the Net galley ARCs I've been leafing through.

Stay warm friends.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Missing Piece to the Puzzle? Crawlspace by Sarah Graves

During the week I've been listening to audio books while I was scanning photos for our high school reunion memory book. I really enjoy Sarah Grave's Home Repair is Homicide series set in Eastport Maine, so I settled in to listen to this one.  It was a bit scary for me since it involves people being trapped in small dark spaces, and I'm extremely claustrophobic, but it's still well done enough and  just cozy enough that one knows it will all work out in the end, so I soldiered on.  Sarah Graves not only knows her old houses, she is also well-versed in boating, tides, and off-shores islands.

HOWEVER,.....there is one small item that doesn't make sense to me, and I had to go get a print copy to make sure I hadn't missed something while I was listening to this.  In fact, one of my on line fellow Mainers over on LibraryThing, looked it up for me and reported that yep!  There is a huge discrepancy about the rescue of one of the characters who is captured and restrained by the bad guys.  I really can't go into it without posting a HUGE spoiler and I don't want to do that, but Sarah Graves,  if you're listening,  could you post a comment on how I can ask you what happened?

Title: Crawlspace
Author: Sarah Graves
Publisher: Bantam -hardcover, 288 pages, 2009: Audio - Audio Go
Genre: Cozy mystery, amateur sleuth
Subject: psychotic killlers
Setting: Eastport Maine
Series: Home Repair is Homicide Mysteries
Source: Public library download
Why did I read this book now?  I am a fan of this series and was in the mood for a cozy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Shout-out - some great reads off the shelves.

It was a quiet week, started with lots of fog as the temperatures really warmed up and melted some of the snow but the warm air meeting the cold ground always causes lots of fog for us.  HOWEVER, by Wednesday, the temperature plummeted and the snow fell again....all day.  It was glorious.  A heavy snow that prettied up all the ugly car-exhausted snow banks and made driving just iffy enough to postpone our book club and close the library early, so we could all go home and read.

Then I got hit by the nasty flu bug, although the case I had was is probably considered  fairly mild...I'll spare you the details.  Just felt "icky" and off my feed for several days. I'd had a flu shot back in early November, so I'm sure that helped keep the really bad symptoms down. I did choose to stay home for a few days so I didn't spread it to anyone else, and that gave me a good chance to do some wonderful fun reading from my own shelves.

I finished my ARC of Elizabeth Strout's newest book, The Burgess Boys and enjoyed it immensely. She so captures the ethos of living in Maine, her characters are so believable, and her prose is stark and descriptive. I just can't get enough of her.  Like her earlier Olive Kitteridge, this one will make a wonderful discussion book for our book club.  Watch for my review in the coming weeks.  Publication date is March 26, 2013.
I'm a huge fan of Alexander McCall Smith's 1st Ladies Detective Agency series and have read and listened to every one of the books in the series.  On the other hand, I never really got bitten by the bug to read some of his other series, but decided last fall to have another go at two of his series.  So I loaded the first of each of these onto my MP3, intending to listen to them while we were at the beach.  As time would have it, I just never got to them.

While I was lying in bed, not wanting to open my eyes for fear I'd get dizzy and nauseous again, I tuned into 44 Scotland Street, and reacquainted myself with all the delightful characters living in that flat. I'd forgotten how delightful McCall Smith's writing is.  The gentle, slow pace of his writing is perfect for a slow afternoon when nothing else is going to happen.  He develops his characters slowly, tantalizing us with the psyches of a very disparate group of residents.  I'm particularly fond of little Bertie, the precocious saxophone playing, train loving 5 year old with an absolutely obnoxious mother. Bertie just wants to find another 5 year old friend, and detach from his momma - not learn Italian and all the other silly things his mom has in store for him.  I definitely want to follow these adventures to see what happens to Bertie.   I finished this in two afternoons, and am now anxiously awaiting my next trip to the library to pick up the second in the series.

In the meantime,  I've started listening to another series of his, the Sunday Philosophy Club.  I'm not sure this bunch is ever going to "click" with me, but I'm determined to finish the first book, and then take a stab at the second before declaring them "not for me."  McCall Smith is just too good a writer to give up too soon.

To top off the week, I  finished a short Chick-lit book for TLC book tours (review to be posted on Feb 6th) - The GodDaughter by Melodie Campbell,  and a wonderful Maine cozy, Crawl Space from Sarah Graves' Home Repair is Homicide series

Finally, I spent a few hours looking through a preliminary list of 2012 books to be featured in a Maine library program later this year.  It was a fun project, even if it did add another 15 books to my reading pile for the spring!!  More to come on this one.

In the meantime, I'm settled in for a winter of good reading.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Dinner with Churchill by Cita Stelzer

Title: Dinner with Churchill
Author: Cita Selzer
Publisher: Pegasus Books, 2013, 336 pages
Genre: Biographical sketch 
Setting: various locations, mid 20th century
Source: Net-galley, ARC from publisher
Why did I read this book now? Interest in Churchill and the period

Dinner with Churchill, published last week, is a delightful look at one of the world's most powerful figures.  Volumes have been written about Winston Churchill: his official biography with all the relatives, his education, his life adventures in the military, as a journalist and as a politician; his philosophy; his politics, etc.  In this book, Cita Stelzer chooses to present Churchill in one of his most eloquent and oft experienced roles - at the dinner table.  In fact, the sub-title, Policy Making at the Dinner Table explains her focus perfectly. 

Spotlighting Churchill's diplomatic conferences and meals during the World War II period, she takes us to the sight of  many meetings of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin as they planned and executed their countries' responses to Germany's ongoing military attacks.  Many of these gatherings included the top military and diplomatic minds of the day.  She quotes heavily from notes made by personal secretaries and aides, by translators, and then gives us even more insight from butlers, cooks and housekeepers.

We are shown the elegant printed menus from events such as the secret meeting of Churchill and Roosevelt on the USS Augusta off the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941; we catch glimpses of personal railroad cars, small intimate dining rooms, large dining tables both circular and rectangular.  We visit the White House where Churchill stayed for several weeks after Pearl Harbor, spending Christmas with the Roosevelts (somewhat to Eleanor''s chagrin I suspect), meeting Stalin in Moscow in August 1942, traveling and dining in Adana, Tehren, Potsdam, Yalta, and Bermuda.  In each visit, Selzer shows us the preparations, the meal, and the personalities attending.

After these chapters, she then focuses on the food itself (and Churchill's predilection for beef), the wines (particularly Churchill's love of champagne,) the signature cigars, and the whole subject of rationing.  She also gives the reader a clear understanding of Churchill's background so that we come to see how Winston viewed good food and camaraderie as a part of the diplomatic life.  At the same time, we see a Prime Minister who is emphatic about making sure that he is gathering and using ration coupons to obtain needed items, making substitutions if the course he wants is not available, and making sure that the ordinary people of Great Britain share equally in the food that is available.  Of course, he accepts gifts from friends and admirers (even the King sent him some birds shot on his estate).  In the end, however, Churchill never allows his preferences for good food and wine to interfere with the main emphasis of his dinner parties: that of good conversation, bonhommie, and choosing the correct mix of people to meet and become better acquainted.  The food and wine acted simply as the fuel to stoke the engine of his hospitality.

This is a short, enjoyable book that gives the reader a touch of history, an insight into a fascinating giant of public life, and some interesting menus not normally seen by Americans in this day and age.  It's certainly worth the read.  The photographs of the dining scenes, the menus, and the historic figures add much to the enjoyment of the read.

Many thanks to Pegasus books for making the e-galley available through the Net Galley program.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Sound-off: World War I Challenge Wrap-Up

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  Did they forget my favorite "Bloviate"?  

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.

As many of you know, last year I participated in a very challenging read sponsored by the wonderful owners of the War Through the Generations blog, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric and Serena of Savvy Verse and Wit : the World War I reading challenge.  I had just gotten started reading the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear and those books had piqued my interest in the period, so I accepted the challenge and embarked on one of the most gratifying years of reading in my lifetime.  History has always interested me and having the incentive to delve into a period about which I knew all too little was too good to pass up.  I ended my challenge  last week when I finished Vera Brittain's glorious memoir Testament of Youth.

Here's the list of what I read (links are to my  previously posted reviews).  Items marked with an * also made by Best of the Year list.

*The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
*The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
*To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
World War I: History in an Hour by Rupert Colley
Singled Out: by Virginia Nicholson
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter
***Testament of Youth (finished in 2013)

 The Paris Wife by Paula McClain (in my mind not necessarily a WWI read, but good for period setting)
Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear               
Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear               
Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear               
Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear               
Incomplete Revenge By Jacqueline Winspear               
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear       
An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd               
*Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
*Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

I will be continuing my reading this year by looking at some books that cover the period between the two World Wars.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: The Invisible Ones - Stef Penney

 Finally!!!   this is another one I've been listening to for two weeks.  It was interesting enough, but slow on the uptake.  I kept "getting lost" and having to rewind and listen again.  This is one of the few books I suspect I'd have preferred in print.

I originally was notified that I had won this from the Early Reviewers program back in Nov 2011, but never received my copy.  I loved Penney's earlier book The Tenderness of Wolves and was really anxious to read this one.

Invisible Ones is about gypsies, their peripatetic life style, and the myths and prejudices that have built up around this ancient group of people.  It's fiction, there's a mystery (and a rather good one at that) that had me guessing until the end when I discovered I had figured it out all wrong.  It is difficult to tell how much research Penney did before writing this, so one doesn't know whether to take on board any of the issues, traditions, life styles portrayed, etc as the way things really were.

The story is told by two voices - Ray Lovell is a private detective who is hired by a father to find his missing daughter.  The daughter had married a gypsy.  Lovell's mother was from 'the family' so he had an entrè into the trailer court of the family where the missing girl had lived.  The other narrator is "JJ" a young teen living with all his extended family in the trailors.  There are many secrets, many many characters each with a story that is often told from both narrator's perspectives.  I think the huge number of characters and the telling /re=telling was what made it difficult to follow in audio, a format I normally like. 

Finally, not only do we have two different voices giving us the story, we have Ray Lovell's recollections wavering between a drug-induced coma in the hospital and the pre and post events of his hospitalization.  The book clearly indicates at the beginning of each chapter who is talking and where they are, but it required some real mental gymnastics to keep up with what was happening.

I'd love to read this in print later when I have more time.  The mystery in the story is really a good one, so I would recommend it, just not in audio unless you have 11 1/2 straight hours to sit and listen.

Title: The Invisible Ones
Author:Stef Penney
Publisher: Penguin Audio 2012
Narrator: Dan Stevens
Genre: Mystery
Subject: gypsies, missing persons
Setting: England
Source: Audible audio books (my own files)
Why did I read this book now? I liked the author's first book and was interested in the subject matter.
Rating ★★★ 1/2

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

A staggering work of beauty, sadness, insight, introspection, and intelligence, Vera Brittain's memoir, Testament of Youth, ended my year of World War I reading on a pinnacle. As a relatively privileged member of pre-war Society (her parents had servants, she had lovely clothes and the opportunity to advance her studies), she still had to win a battle with her parents to allow her to attend Oxford and study English Literature.

While I didn't quite understand all the different ins and outs of the British educational system, it was still clear enough that this entailed quite a bit of extra study and effort on her part to be accepted into the program.  She settled in to her studies, and to a world of philosophical explorations with her brother Edward and his cronies.

When war broke out, Vera's generation was caught up in the emotional hysteria of the time.  Those like herself, her brother ( a talented musician) and Roland Leighton, her about to become fiancè, suddenly faced decisions that would affect not only their own lives, but the lives of their loved ones, and ultimately their nation.  Edward and Roland immediately presented themselves for service.  Vera was left behind, wondering if she would ever see them again, and whether her studies of English literature were really what the world needed.

Ultimately, she left school, joined the V.A.D. nursing corps and worked overseas in field hospitals as a nurse. Her sense of accomplishment and achievement as a female in a still very constricted society was immense. After Roland is killed early in the war, she stoically continued her nursing, and in her descriptions of that life she offers us some of the most poignant and descriptive writing of the era. When her mother is no longer able to cope at home because of war shortages and a lack of servants, Vera's father insists she return to the family home to take over running the household. While that move may not have been the seed of her later support of the women's movement, it certainly provided the impetus to make it grow. Shortly thereafter, Edward's death in Italy was the final blow to her emotional balance.

Brittain published this memoir of those war years (and those immediately before and after) in 1933, after she'd had the opportunity to reflect and process her feelings about the events she writes about, and after she'd become very active in the peace movement (speaking often on behalf of the League of Nations) and in the drive for women's rights.  The book is so powerful  because she kept very detailed diaries and had access to letters of the principles, thereby giving us a look into her soul at the moment the thoughts were captured.  She did not need to try to re-create the feelings.  As she writes this, she is still young enough, and wounded enough to give us a raw glimpse inside her psyche. She writes from her soul, and includes lyrical passages of poems from her own, her brother's and her fiancè's writings.

After the war, she returns to school and studies History in an attempt to come to grips with the cataclysm that has befallen her world. She finds herself in the generation of single women not necessarily interested in marriage, but still being pushed by family and tradition to aspire to a "normal family".  Her poem, "The Superflous Woman" is a masterpiece.  In fact, the whole book is.  It's a must read for anyone wanting to understand war and the havoc it wreaks on human beings.

 The Superfluous Woman
Ghosts crying down the vistas of the years,
Recalling words
Whose echoes have long died,
And kind moss grown
Over the sharp and blood-bespattered stones
Which cut our feet upon the ancient ways.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
But who will look for my coming?

Long busy days where many meet and part ;
Crowded aside
Remembered hours of hope ;
And city streets
Grown Dark and hot with eager multitudes
Hurrying homeward whither respite waits.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
But who will seek me at nightfall?

Light fading where the chimneys cut the sky;
Footsteps that pass,
Nor tarry at my door.
And far away,
Behind the row of crosses, shadows black
Stretch out long arms before the smouldering sun.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
But who will give me my children?

V.B. July 1920
pg. 535

There are hundreds of quotable thoughts in this book.  I have over 7 pages of notes to remind me of the beauty and the sorrow of her experience.  Many thanks to my daughter for lending me her copy of this best of the best books.  It was a great way to end my World War I reading, and an even better way to post the first book of the New Year.

Author: Vera Brittain
Publisher: Penguin Books, 1989,  661 pages
Orig publisher: Victor Gallancz, London, 1933
Genre: Memoir
Subject: personal reflections on war and women's roles/rights
Setting: Europe 1914-1925
Source: borrowed from my daughter
Why did I read this book now? part of my War Through the Generations challenge.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Sound-Off - Jan 6th- The Reading Life

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
Did they forget my favorite "Bloviate"?

Welcome to Sunday Sound-Off, a series of  regular weekly postings about my reading life, my other than reading life, and life in general in Maine. I still plan to post reviews for much of my reading but will probably confine that function to books provided by publishers, or those I find so compelling that I must shout out.  I also encourage you to drop a comment sounding off about your week, your gripes, your reading life, etc.

To help me in organizing my life, this year my family decided NOT to get me any more books or gift certificates for Christmas.  Instead I got tools.   There were new nibs for my favorite fountain pen.  I'm still a fan of fountain pens, and must confess that it's really the only writing instrument I feel physically comfortable with if ink is required.  I'm a mechanical pencil addict for crosswords, sudokus, and plain old notes (not to mention the occasional sinful 'tick' in a book that I may own).

My darling daughter--she who inherited my reading lust and tastes--also gave me some refills on my book checkout kit, so I have actual date due cards and pockets to keep track of books I loan to friends and family,  and two packs of Levenger's wonderful bookmark note cards.  I'll be going through these by the time Mother's Day rolls around I'm sure (hint, hint family). Not sure if you can see all the topics, but there's even a row across the bottom to select a rating.  I filled four of these for the Vera Brittain book.

Since we returned,  I've gotten the library's annual budget submitted, got the template set up for my HS reunion booklet, and spent an exasperating 4-6 hours trying to get my Nook re-linked with the Adobe Digital Editions(ADE) on my computer.  It wasn't a NOOK problem. Somehow ADE got "unauthorized" and after trying everything suggested on Adobe's distinctly UN-user friendly web page "help", I bit the bullet and clicked on the "live-chat" button where a very helpful Adobe person got my logon reset within half an hour.  Of course, I then had to reload all those Net Galley and library books still available for download,  thus my actual reading time was almost non-existent this week.

So today I'm luxuriating in a slow day off.  I finally finished my first book of the New Year (although I started it way back on December 1st) and will get you all a review of Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain sometime later this week. I'm determined this afternoon to finish the 2 hours I have left on the audio of Stef Penney's The Invisible Ones while I sit in front of the fire, smell a nice stew bubbling away on the stove and finally get to some cross-stitching all the while watching the pretty snow fluffies provide some comfy gorgeous scenery. And I'll get a chance to try out the awesome clip on magnifying glasses I got in the Christmas stocking.

Enjoy your Sunday......and don't forget to "sound off" about anything that floats your boat.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: A New Year, A New Reading Paradigm

Tutu is looking forward to a very active 2013 but I'm not thinking there's going to be too too much organized reading because in 2013 I have the following challenges to take up my time:

1. Editing and supervising the production and printing of a memory book for our high school's 50th reunion scheduled for April 20th. Gathering information and pictures from 67 women (over 1/2 of whom don't even have an email address) is going to be a huge challenge.

2. Planing and executing a WEST COAST (central California) family reunion for Mr. Tutu's 70th birthday this summer. Remember we live in Maine, and have to round up family from Virginia, Oregon, Washington State, Maine, and California and find a spot we can all (or most) afford that is within driving distance of the old homestead in the San Joaquin valley.

3. Shameless pimping here!!!! Help Mr. Tutu with marketing his first book due out in April. Stay tuned for more details, but Tutu actually likes it!!! We may even be doing a giveaway so keep in touch.

4. Continue working as town librarian.

5. Continue 3-4 weekly pool sessions.

5. Juggle other travel to two different ship reunions in April and October.

Somewhere in there, I'm supposed to find time to read??????

So - my current plans are to do a weekly post, usually on Sunday. If you're afraid you'll miss the fun, why not subscribe to the email feed. Then you'll be sure to keep up with all Tutu's adventures. I'm hoping to hit my blog reader every Sunday and stop by each of you wonderful followers at least once a month. How else will I know what terrific books you'll have found for me to add to my TBR pile?

In the meantime, many best wishes to everyone for a wonderful 2013.