Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: the Home Place by Carrie LaSeur

A bold well-written novel featuring the trendy theme of successful family member who has left the hometown and is pulled back into a family disaster/drama she thought she was well out of. In this case, the setting is a bleak, rundown rural town in Montana. With the exception of the main character Alma Terrebone, the family is underemployed, under-educated, dysfunctional, and struggling to recover from a series of poor choices, bad luck, and outside villains.  The publisher tells us:
The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she’d left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.
The story is deeply emotional, offering insights into the basic human need for forgiveness, for family, and for a place that holds the roots of our grounded-ness.  There were a few sections where I almost lost interest, but on the whole, readers will find this an excellent debut novel with a story worth reading. I look forward to more from this author.

Title: The Home Place
Author: Carrie La Seur
Publisher: William Morrow (2014), Advance Reader's Edition, egalley, 304 pages
Genre: literary fiction, mystery
Subject: family secrets,
Setting: Montana
Source: egalley via Edelweiss
Many thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

This one is bound to please Titanic fanatics, romance readers, and historical fiction fans.  It's was a bit tear-jerky for my taste, but it's well-written, gives us good insight into the main characters, and provides enough detail that the reader definitely can feel the disaster as it happens.
Ireland, 1912, Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Seamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again. Chicago, 1982, Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about Titanic that she's harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction, and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.
 I found the ending rather contrived, although I disappointed myself in that I hadn't seen it coming.  It's still a book worth spending some time with.  Not a barn burner, but a good comfortable read - either for these last weeks at the beach, or to settle down with as the autumn creeps in and days grow shorter.

Title: The Girl Who Came Home
Author: Helen Gaynor
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (2014),  egalley 384 pages
Genre: historical fiction
Subject: travel on the Titanic
Setting: Ireland, onboard Titanic
Source: Net Galley

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Series Fun -Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James Mysteries

Earlier this summer I was offered a chance to review the upcoming To Dwell In Darkness, #16 in this very exciting series.  I had read (or listened to) several of them over the past 10 years, but hadn't kept up with the series.

Since I'd so much fun re-reading all the Louise Penny Chief Inspector Gamache series earlier this summer, I decided to do some catch up on Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. 

These are every bit as good as I remember them.  Like Penny, Crombie uses dynamic characters to catch our interest, involves them in well-plotted murder mysteries, and gives us a good sense of modern day London and its environs.

As crime fighting partners - he's a Superintendent at Scotland Yard, and she's the Sergeant Detective assigned as his partner - Duncan and Gemma bring different skills to the team, but both have a professional respect for each other's competencies.  They also each carry a load of emotional baggage from their previous marriages, and as the series begins at least, Gemma is struggling with all the logistics and financial issues plaguing many single custodial parents while Duncan is dealing with the sudden and depressing realization that he has no life apart from his work.

These are great mystery reads with enough clues to allow the reader to say "Aha....I should have known", heart-warming romances, and well-written fiction, all told over a series that has not waned in its quality.  I can't wait to get the newest one which I'll be reading and reviewing for TLC Blog on October 1st, so you (and I) will get a good peek at what's way ahead.  In the meantime, I'm going to continue to sprinkle the rest of this series into my ongoing reading.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite series to recommend?  Let us hear about them, and what keeps you coming back.   Over the rest of August, I'll be commenting on a couple of other series I've been trying to catch up with, and why I love reading about characters who have such staying power in our reading.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley

Sam Gardiner is a Quaker preacher.  He's timid, he's perfectly content to spend the rest of his life pastoring a meeting in his hometown of Harmony.  When he inadvertently attends and prays for a newlywed couple as a favor for the sick Unitarian pastor, he creates an uproar as it is revealed that the couple is lesbian.

As the furor builds, Sam retreats to lick his wounds.  Now that their two sons have graduated from high school and left the nest, his wife Barbara takes a job as the assistant librarian in the town, and is not in the mood to let Sam feel sorry for himself.  Nevertheless Sam quits and finds that no other Quaker congregation will have him.  Suddenly the Gardiners are at a crossroads in their lives. 

When the Quakers in Hope (about 2 hrs away) offer a position to Sam, he jumps and Barbara tags along to investigate the chance to start anew.  The congregation is tiny, the physical facilities are gorgeous and in spite of some trepidations, the couple decides to move on.  At this point, the author begins pulling more rabbits out of the hat, and the story spins off into fairyland.

This is a sweet non-pretentious book with a "happily ever after" feeling, in spite of the wimpy main character, and the delightful feistiness of his wife.  It's a perfect read for an afternoon when the breeze is blowing, or the snow is falling, or the fog is rolling in: in short, when nothing will do but curling up with a cup of tea, a snuggly pet, and a non-controversial and heart-warming story.  My copy included the first chapter of the next book in the series, and for fans of the Jan Karon "Fr. Tim" series, this one will be quite welcome.

Title: A Place Called Hope
Author: Philip Gulley
Publisher:  Center Street (2014), e-galley 256 pages 
Genre: Christian fiction
Subject: perils of pastoring
Setting: fictious midwest towns
Source: egalley from the publisher via Net Galley
Why did I read this book now? The cover attracted me!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Stranger Room by Frederick Ramsay

This is another series where I've been catching up. I read my first Ike Schwartz murder mystery last year as a freebie on my Kindle, and when I had a chance to grab another from the library, I did so. I've not been reading these in order. There's enough back fill in the four that I've read that the reader doesn't feel the need to go back to number one and go in order.

This one is an especially good mystery. Here's what the publisher tells us:
Elderly Jonathan Lydell III is proud of his family history and his house, which he is committed to restoring to its antebellum configuration, complete with a stranger room. Found in many family homes in the 1800s, an attached room with its own entrance, separately locked and kept for use by unknown travelers, it was intended to protect the family from unsavory guests. Nearly 150 years ago, an inexplicable murder took place in the locked stranger room of the Lydell house. The murderer was never caught. But when a new, identical murder is committed in the same room, not even sheriff Ike Schwartz and FBI agent Karl Hedrick can explain it. Why would history repeat itself? What could explain these identical murders? Could the Lydell family history hold the key?
I had never heard of a Stranger Room before, but it makes for a very engrossing mystery read.  The  main character, Ike Schwartz is not only the town sheriff but a retired CIA ageny who keeps having pieces of his previous life reinserted into his "retirement." His significant other is the local college president. They haven't quite figured out their relationship yet - in large part due to the constant back and forth of Ike's roles.  It's a fun series, well-written, and I plan to read more of them.  There are three more stacked on my e-reader, so look for more comments in the future.

Title: The Stranger Room
Author: Frederick Ramsay
Publisher: Blackstone Audio Books (2008)
Narrator: Lloyd James
Genre: Mystery police procedural
Subject: Ancient mystery mirrored in current
Setting:  Western  Virginia
Series: Ike Schwartz
Source: Public library audio download

Monday, August 18, 2014

A new one from Colleen McCullough

Years ago I read The Thorn Birds and fell in love with the book, the characters, and the setting. So I was excited to get a review copy of what I hoped would be another big bold family saga set in the big bold continent down under.  What a disappointment. I expected much more from this author.

I come from a family of four girls.  I understand sisters and the relationship formed by four related but distinct women. In this novel, two sets of twin sisters make their way through the cultural upheaval of post World War I and the Great Depression.  But the story of each sister, while well developed, does not a novel make.  Each sister is an individual, well defined, with definite motivation and ambitions.  Each individual story works.   But, there is no real plot, there is a constant feeling of "where is this going?" and even at the end, the reader is left with a feeling of "what on earth did I just achieve by plowing through this?"  Their is no cohesion except for the fact that they are sisters.  SO???

The writing is certainly not up to the standards of a great  or even very good novel. It's poorly edited, the sentence structure is often fractured and difficult to read.

Overall, it's an interesting book that pulls the reader from the beginning to find out what happens to each sister, but which becomes a slower read about halfway through. A good beach read but nothing to rush right out for.

Title: Bittersweet
Author: Colleen McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014), Hardcover, 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: women's roles in the early 20th century
Setting: Australia
Source: egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We have a Winner!!

Tutu has been quite remiss in her blogging lately. I've been having so much fun reading and traveling, that writing about any of it has slipped on the time table. Today we'll jump start things by announcing that

Anita is the winner of a copy of 

I have notified her by email and will send out a copy as soon as she sends me her mailing address.  Thanks to all you loyal readers for your patience and support.   Keep stopping by for more reviews and a look at our recent trip to Quèbec City. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Southern Fiction is one of my favorite genres - especially when it's well written, when the author is steeped in the culture, when it's summer time for me and I can imagine myself in the languid palm-tree filled South while I read it. The publisher enticed me:
Spanning decades, generations, and America in the 1940s and today, this is a fun-loving mystery about an Alabama woman today, and five women who in 1943 worked in a Phillips 66 gas station, during the WWII years. Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her three daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with now is her mother, the formidable and imposing Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, never an easy task. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a shocking secret about her mother's past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.
In this surprising novel, Fannie Flagg once again delivers a story with believable characters who bring us an inside look at the meaning of being a "lady" in the person of Sookie Poole of Point Clear Alabama, who must deal with the mother of all mothers, Lennore Simmons Krackenberry.  It is Lenore's mission in life to ensure that women know how to dress, drink, talk, work (as in supervise the help), dine out, and raise her grandchildren so that civilization can be saved from going to you-know-where in a handbasket.

This whole premise could have easily become a very corny caricature of  Southern women.  Instead, Flagg turns this into a mini-mystery and a wonderful exposè of a chapter in US history during World War II concerning the WASPS, women pilots who ferried military planes around the world to free up male fighter pilots for the war effort.   These are some spunky women.  These are heroines.  Their quirky, laugh-out-loud predicaments may have some readers shaking their heads in dis-belief, but for those of us who were raised by southern ladies, and who served in the military, this one rings true, rings fun, and rings proud.   A delightful way to spend some summer time reading.

Title: The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion
Author:  Fannie Flagg
Publisher: Random House (2013),  Hardcover, 368 pages
Genre:  Southern fiction; historical fiction
Subject:  Women in military service in WWII
Setting:  Alabama, California
Source:  Public Library

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Series update - Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke

"They" say hope springs eternal. And when you're talking about Hannah Swenson, owner of the Cookie Jar Bakery in Lake Eden Minnesota, the hope is usually on the part of the reader.  Will she choose Mike the cop or Norman the dentist?   Will she actually be able to get through a whole volume without being entwined in a murder investigation?  Or without becoming a possible murder target herself?  Will these books ever change the formula, or ever resolve the slight (very slight) sexual tension between Hannah and her two beaux?

This is actually the third book in this very popular series that has been around since 2001.  Blueberry Muffin was originally published in 2002.  It was available as a public library e-book download, and it was a convenient way to test an app on my new tablet.

If you enjoy lots of sweets with your cozy reading, if you like goodie goodie people with no true villains, if you like being able to read along without engaging very many brain cells, while at the same time, not having to scream about poor sentence structure, unconnected plot elements, or slightly developed characters this series is for you.   There are actually about 18 of these sweet-tooth specials, complete with well documented recipes for all the treats mentioned.   I read about one every 20-30 months.  That's more than enough brain candy for me.   They're fun, but a steady diet is not what I can handle.

Title: The Blueberry Muffin Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke
Publisher: Kensington (2011), Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
Genre: cozy mystery
Subject: cookies, murder,
Setting: Lake Eden Minnesota
Series: Hannah Swenson mystery
Source: public library e-book download

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

I wish I could start this off by saying "Here's another favorite author and favorite series."  Alas.........

I really want to say that the title refers to the story of an evil act, but the book is replete with evil acts, evil intentions, and unethical choices.

However......the true evil act is the editor's lack of cleaning up a mess and foisting this 700+page monstrosity on the series' fans.

In some ways, it's vintage Elizabeth George, but mostly it's overblown, way too long, insulting to readers. Periodically, authors will take well-known and well-developed characters and  move them to a new and "out of the comfort zone" setting. That keeps a series fresh, and adds a new perspective to the character. In this case, the crime scene and investigation moved to Italy, where Italian police procedure is quite different from that normally expected in New Scotland Yard.  If the author had helped clarify what crime was being investigated by whom and why, we might have been more disposed to follow along.

As it is, a non-crime occurs when Barbara's next door neighbor, little Hadiyyah Azhar is taken by her mother to Italy without the father's knowledge or permission.  Let's remember that Daddy is not on the birth certificate, is not married to mommy, and in fact not only has this paragon of fatherly virtue (as far as Havers is concerned) never divorced his first wife, he's had no contact with her OR hisTWO OTHER CHILDREN in over a year.  Barbara Havers is stuck in London, working for a new boss (not Lynley) and is frantic to get to Italy to "help".

At least in the beginning, we get vintage Havers - impulsive, slovenly, damn-the-torpedoes, misguided, and in this book, totally blinded to her own motivation. Thomas Lynley is nearly an afterthought throughout this book.  If he hadn't spoken Italian, he'd have almost no part in the story, except to be starting what appears to be a new romance with a roller-derby veterinarian.

The plot is contrived, the dialogue is stilted and very difficult to follow since the author has entire paragraphs of words spoken in Italian WITH NO TRANSLATION. This is a language I can usually follow along thanks to my grandmother, but the excessive use of Italian was way over the top.  I found myself constantly going to translation tools because I wasn't comfortable enough with my assumptions to feel sure I understood what was happening, and whether it was important or not.   (And if it wasn't important, it sure didn't need to be in a book that was over 700 pages long).  I guess we're supposed to feel the frustration Havers feels at not being able to understand the language, but all I felt was frustration that the story was being hijacked by the author's showing off her supposed knowledge of the language, and dragging us along for about 200 pages too much.

There are so many plot lines and sub-plots that I got dizzy trying to keep up.  Is it kidnapping?  Is it a custody fight?  Later is it murder?  And who's working the case?  And who's responsible? 

The book is even worse in audio.....usually one of my favorite formats.   I had the large heavy and awkward print version that was driving me crazy and decided to download the audio to see if Davina Porter - normally one of my favorite narrators -could help make more sense of this mess.  That was a horrible mistake.  Ms. Porter's very clear, clipped and normally understandable British accent does not do well at all with was absolutely painful to hear.  I constantly had to stop the audio to go to the print to see what on earth she thought she was saying in Italian.

There is so much not to like about this book....the choices all the characters make,the stereotyped sleaziness of the characters, the convoluted plot(s), the implausible and almost incredible (meaning NOT credible) ending - one of those "Oh, I guess I need to wrap this up because I have a deadline and it is getting a tad bit long."   In addition, this really should have been at least two, and probably three books.   Maybe that's a good thing if you're a fan.  You can purchase an entire trilogy for the price of one book.  Anyway if you're interested, here's the publisher's blurb about the story:
 Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is at a loss: The daughter of her friend Taymullah Azhar has been taken by her mother, and Barbara can’t really help—Azhar had never married Angelina, and his name isn’t on Hadiyyah’s, their daughter’s, birth certificate. He has no legal claim. Azhar and Barbara hire a private detective, but the trail goes cold.

Azhar is just beginning to accept his soul-crushing loss when Angelina reappears with shocking news: Hadiyyah is missing, kidnapped from an Italian marketplace. The Italian police are investigating, and the Yard won’t get involved, until Barbara takes matters into her own hands. As she attempts to navigate the complicated waters of doing anything for the case against her superior’s orders, her partner, Inspector Thomas Lynley, is dispatched to Italy as the liaison between the Italian police and Hadiyyah’s distraught parents.

In time, both Barbara and Lynley discover that the case is far more complex than just a kidnapping, revealing secrets about Angelina; her new lover, Lorenzo; and even Azhar—secrets Barbara may not be willing to accept. With both her job and the life of a little girl on the line, Barbara must decide what matters most and how far she’s willing to go to protect it.
I still like this series and these characters.  Let's just hope that Ms. George can get them back to London, and can tighten up her propensity to verbosity and give us some more good solid detective work without all the extraneous HUH?  And without going over about 500 pages!

Title: Just One Evil Act
Author: Elizabeth George
Publisher: Dutton Adult (2013), Edition: 0, Hardcover, 736 pages
Audio format:  Penguin Audio; Unabridged edition (October 15, 2013) 28 hrs downloaded
Genre: mystery,
Subject: international parental kidnapping
Setting: London; Tuscany Italy
Series: Inspector Lynley detective mysteries
Source: ARC from publisher, & Audible download 
Why did I read this book now?  I try to keep current with this series.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Cozy Summer Read - Dead and Berried by Karen MacInerney

Last month I reviewed A Brush with Death  one of the later volumes in this Gray Whale Inn Mysteries series. I was doing a test of my tablet download capabilities and saw this earlier one available and said "why not?" It's Maine, it's a cozy mystery, and the foggy summer day was perfect for the read.

Like most cozy mysteries, this one relies on a lovely setting - Cranberry Island off the coast of Down East Maine, a likeable protagonist (and sometime amateur detective) innkeeper Natalie Barnes, a local law enforcement officer (in this case a romantic interest of the innkeeper's), and villainous villains who are threatening to convert the idyllic village into a high-scale resort.  There's the obligatory murder and Natalie feels honor-bound to
help identify and capture the perpetrator, while dealing with needed repairs to the Inn, a reappearing and less than welcome ex-fiance, and a cooling friendship with her previous best bud.

As seems to be almost de rigeur these days for New England mysteries anyway, the story includes several delicious sounding recipes. Both the ingredients for the goodies and for the mystery are bound to make this a treat for cozy lovers who want to spend a day in Maine, even if it's only in the pages of a book.

Title: Dead and Berried
Author: Karen MacInerney
Publisher:Woodbury, Minn. : Midnight Ink, 2007, ebook.  
Genre: cozy mystery
Setting: Cranberry Island Maine
Series: Gray Whale Inn Mysteries
Source: Public Library ebook download