Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

 With the publication of this 11th book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, Louise Penny continues to delight her many fans.  Each book builds on the previous ones, but can stand alone.  This newest, to be published next week, introduces new characters - something we see in each volume - and a more developed and nuanced view of evil -both from an historic point of view and as it pertains to today's world situation.

For those who are looking for cafe au lait and brioche by the fire in the bistro, and quirky quips from Gabri and Ruth, they are there, but they are more solemn, more philosophical, and not as lighthearted as some readers may prefer.

No true Gamache fan would dare give away a plot, and it was for this reason that I even refrained from reading the little tidbits that Miss Louise doled out over the last couple months.  I wanted to read the entire book cover to cover so that I could feel the building tension, keep my mind spinning with all the marvelous possibilities Penny builds into her stories, and sit back with a grand sigh of satisfaction when the last page is read.  Once again , she does not disappoint.   The characters are the same (but they continue growing), the setting is the same (Three Pines after all is another character), and there is a murder.  But the plot, the motivations, the murder itself, and the side/subplots are just new and different enough to make the reader, and the true fan say "She's still at the top of her game."   It's magnificent.  Don't miss it.

Many thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available.  I ordered a copy of the audio version from Audible, and can't wait to download it on publication day.  The divine Miss P's books are always good for a re--read and a listen.

Title: The Nature of the Beast 
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher: Minotaur Books (2015), 384 pages
Genre: Mystery - police procedural
Subject: crime solving a current murder and a possible future Armageddon
Setting: fictional village of Three Pines
Series: Chief Inspector Gamage Novels #11
Source: electronic ATC from publisher via Edelweiss
Why did I read this book now?  I couldn't wait any longer.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Moving Day!


Today is finally the day when my daughter's "stuff" will get delivered to her new house near Wimbledon. It's been interesting trying to decide (even with a notebook full of measurements, a good measuring tape, and frog tape to mark spots on the floor) where everything is going to go. It will be especially challenging to see how clever the removal persons can be about getting several pieces up to the 1st and 2nd floors. The stairs are narrow and steep. The hallways are narrow and angled. I fear it will be a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng day.

Tutu's job is going to be supervising the Internet installation, ground floor box unpacking and figuring out how to use the all-in-one washer/dryer to do laundry we've been piling up for a week. Last night we ran a mixed load of light cottons, and it took over 4 hours to do the one load. Very different from our US style of getting three loads done in 4 hours.

Must also be sure the kettle is hot and the cups are ready for tea. Stay tuned.  More to follow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fun in Merry Olde England

I'm one of those people who has so much fun sightseeing that I often forget to take pictures. One day earlier this week, I headed off to Foyles, one of the city's largest bookstores just to roam around. Baggage restrictions kept me from buying anything except a couple tour books, but I did jot down a list of books I'd never seen in the US. I don't even think I'd seen them in US book review literature. They will make a wonderful wish list for the daughter to give Tutu for upcoming gift-giving opportunities, or for Tutu to plan into her next packing allowance.

After book drooling and other window shopping, I headed off to find a good spot to grab a bite to eat.  One of the best sights I saw walking around the South Bank and the Thames River walkway happened when I looked up as I was waiting to cross an intersection near Waterloo station. I caught this rather iconic photo of two of the best sights London offers: Big Ben and the London Eye. The weather was perfect, and I even avoided having someone walk directly in front of me as I clicked.  It was a perfect day.  Just enough walking, good sightseeing, good transport (can't beat public transportation in London) and good food. 

I'm looking forward to the weekend, when Lisa and I will be ready to take off for the theatre (we have tickets to see BOOK OF MORMON), dinner and then some more sightseeing on Sunday.   Next week we'll be spending all our time trying to get the house in order before I fly back to US to begin planning my next trip over.  Stay tuned for more.

And I am still reading....just finished the newest Louise Penny novel The Nature of the Beast.  Pub date: August 25th.  My review will post in a couple days.  It's a stunner, so don't miss it.  Now I'm about to dive into a pre pub copy of Elizabeth George's newest Inspector Lindley mystery set here in England.  I love reading these and now being able to say "I've been there!"

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Our souls at Night by Kent Haruf

The world lost an exceptional writer when Kent Haruf died in November 2014.  I think Our Souls at Night, his farewell offering, is by far the most eloquent and bittersweet of all his works. The publisher gives us a detailed description almost as long as the book itself.  I won't quote it, or spoil the story but it begins
In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf's fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have long been aware of each other, if not exactly friends; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis's wife. His daughter, Holly, lives hours away in Colorado Springs; her son, Gene, even farther away in Grand Junction. What Addie has come to ask—since she and Louis have been living alone for so long in houses now empty of family, and the nights are so terribly lonely—is whether he might be willing to spend them with her, in her bed, so they can have someone to talk with.
As the story progresses, Haruf's typical laconic prose pulls us into the arms of Addie and Louis as they negotiate their way through long buried feelings and share their past lives and adventures.  The arrival of Addie's grandson, who is almost "dumped" by her son in the midst of his marital problems, brings an added layer of richness to the elders as they reminisce about raising their own children in earlier days.

In such a small town, it is inevitable that Louis' nightly comings and goings are noted and commented on.  However, most residents adopt a "live and let live" attitude toward the unusual couple.  It is only when Addie and Louis' grown children become horrified at their parents' immoral, shocking, and embarrassing behavior, and try to destroy the relationship,  that the true melancholy of the loneliness of old age becomes apparent.

This is a short book, only 192 pages, but it is beautifully nuanced, and poignantly emotional.  The reader wants it to go on for another 100 pages, but Haruf, in his evocative style, is able to bring the story to a well-paced conclusion, even though our hearts break to read it.

Like all the books he wrote that are set in Holt Colorado, this one is destined to be a classic.  Whether you've read any of his earlier books (they can all stand alone) or this is your first, it will not disappoint.

Title: Our Souls at Night
Author: Kent Haruf
Publisher: Knopf (2015), Edition: First, 192 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Subject: aging, loneliness,
Setting: Colorado
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now?  I love the author's works.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Travel time - off to London

It's been a while since I did a real travel post. Most of our traveling this past year has been to visit various family members who live spread across the country. I'm just finishing a visit with my son's family (and those delightful grand-kids) in the Blue Ridge and this morning I am off to London for two weeks.  I've loaded up my tablet with books to review, and the Walkman has several audios available for quiet times.

Mr. Tutu is staying home to work on his next's been slow going, but maybe he'll be able to make better progress without so many distractions. For Tutu, this is not going to be an actual tourist trip. My daughter is moving to London in connection with her job, and has invited me to help her get settled in her new digs. We decided that organizing and executing 19 moves in 26 years as a Navy wife qualified me to be a helper, and the prospect of some great mother-daughter time together was quite appealing.  Besides,  we can't spend ALL our time unpacking.  There are such things as shopping, shows, food, and sightseeing to cram into the schedule.

I'll be checking in while I'm there, and have scheduled a couple reviews to post for books I've recently finished, so hopefully you'll find something inspiring to read while I'm gone.  Enjoy your August.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: Newport by Jill Morrow

The publisher calls this "A skillful alchemy of social satire, dark humor, and finely drawn characters".  It certainly fills that bill.

Up front, Newport is one of my favorite cities.  My husband and I met there, and subsequently spent several years living there.  We returned there about a year ago for a short reunion trip after an absence of almost 20 years.  It's still glittering, glamorous, and filled with sights, sounds and smells of the ocean, although now one drives across a huge bridge rather than riding the ferry across to Aquidneck Island as we well remember.

Jill Morrow captures that atmosphere using the clever scheme of alternating views from 1898 and the roaring 1920's.   Her main characters, adults who come together to observe a rather unorthodox wedding/will signing, find themselves immersed in contact with other-worldly characters from the past.

In short, the wedding to be celebrated is one that has been directed by the octogenarian groom-to-be's long-deceased first wife, who appears to the prospective bride's "niece" commanding that this wedding must take place forthwith, and that a new will must be signed immediately, leaving all the groom's sizeable estate to the new bride.  Since this essentially cuts the two adult children of the first marriage out of the inheritance, there is some family tension being generated by the interloping new bride.

To add even more mystery, the groom's attorney, who has journeyed from Boston to draw up the new will, appears to have been previously involved somehow with the potential bride.   There's lots of mystery, several seances, plenty of period fluff scenes of stereotypical rich folks enjoying their inheritances, and spending their considerable wealth on frivolity and ostentatious "summer cottages".

It's a well-drawn period piece.  The setting is spot-on, but the characters are a bit over the top for my taste, and the story is way too melodramatic.  That said, it's been a wonderful summertime read, and one that should be quite popular to readers of romance/historical fiction.

Title: Newport: A Novel
Author: Jill Morrow
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (2015), 384 pages
Genre: Romance, historical fiction
Subject: Seances, family secrets
Setting: Newport Rhode Island
Source: Review copy from the publisher 
Why did I read this book now? I received a copy in connection with the Early Review program on and promised a review.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Review: Black River by S.M. Hulse

 The publisher whets our appetite for the story:
When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release.
Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes — undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.
Tutu says: 
If ever a book were written to bring me out of a reading funk, this one is it. S. M. Hulse, in her debut novel, has given us an anguished and compelling tale of love and regret, condemnation and forgiveness, life and death, acceptance and rejection.  She sets the story in the starkness of Montana mountains, leading several reviewers to declare the book to be a "western".  The theme however, is much more universal.  This story of human tragedy could take place in any small town in any part of the country.

Through an alternating series of flashbacks and current narrations, we follow the life of Wesley Carver, his wife Claire, his step-son Dennis, and assorted friends, co-workers, and relatives.  The story of the prison riot and its impact on his life is the center piece.   The theme of faith, forgiveness, goodness and evil provides the underpinnings.  Watching Wes as he works through his grief over Claire's death, his feelings about the impending parole hearing for the prisoner who held him hostage, his relationship with his estranged step-son, and how he deals with the loss of the musical ability he took such joy in gives the reader a poignant tale of heart-breaking beauty.

The writing is clean, poetic, full of imagery and emotion.  The story is short (only 232 pages,) and well-paced, without an extra word, but with the ability to paint scenes that bring us to tears.  Even the ending is exceptional.

This is the best book I've read this year.  I can't wait to see more by this author.

Title: Black River
Author: S. M. Hulse
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015), ebook 240 pages 
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Grief, redemption, personal relationships
Setting: Montana 
Source: Electronic review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now?  It is being considered for the Maine Reader Choices Award.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

It's very hard to rate/review this one.  On the one hand, it's not too well written.  Dialogue is preachy, characters and their time frame go back and forth and are hard to follow, and while there's plenty of racial/family tension, I wasn't quite able to decide whether anything was resolved.

I think all the hype about the book also made it difficult to judge.  I don't think it was meant to be an "enjoyable" read.  I suspect it was definitely meant to be a sociological polemic aimed at the Civil Rights movement of the 60's, and the "interference of the NAACP.   The point of view of the main character "Scout" Finch (of To Kill A Mockingbird fame) doesn't ring true to the Scout we already know and love, Atticus and Uncle Jack are given some decent chances to expound, but other characters are given short-shift.  The whole thing just felt very unfinished, and unworthy of what we know Harper Lee to be capable of.

I'm inclined to believe the suggestions I've seen that this is not a separate novel, but actually the early, very rough and unedited version of what would later (with a lot of good re-writing and editing) turn into the world famous Pulitzer winner.

Title: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Harper Collins 2015
Genre: Fiction
Subject: racism, segregation
Setting: Alabama
Source: Audible dowload

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos

The Publisher says: Sometimes the most powerful words are the ones you’re still searching for.

Charles Marlow teaches his high school English students that language will expand their worlds. But linguistic precision cannot help him connect with his autistic son, or with his ex-wife, who abandoned their shared life years before, or even with his college-bound daughter who has just flown the nest. He’s at the end of a road he’s traveled on autopilot for years when a series of events forces him to think back on the lifetime of decisions and in-decisions that have brought him to this point. With the help of an ambitious art student, an Italian-speaking nun, and the memory of a boy in a white suit who inscribed his childhood with both solace and sorrow, Charles may finally be able to rewrite the script of his life.
Tutu comments:  This is a beautifully written, multi-layered story, written in both third person (Charles Marlow) and some 1st person (Emmy Marlow).  There are letters, postcards, writing exercises, phone calls--in short, every form of oral communication we have at our disposal.  Except....Charles' son Cory has a very severe form of autism and does not communicate with words.  His signing becomes another language art that must be mastered by all with whom Cory has contact.

The story can be difficult to follow at times, but Kallos has a way of bringing us back to the center before we become lost.   There is such a rich cast of characters who add to the complexity of the story, keeping us alert to how each fits into the deeply textured landscape of the lives of each member of this family.  It is a stunning read: introspective, artistic, lyrical, heart-breaking and definitely one worth reading.

Title: Language Arts
Author: Stephanie Kallos
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015) 416 pages 
Genre: Literary Fiction
Subject: Autism, family relations

Series: Source: Why did I read this book now?