Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Challenges = Part II

Many of us here in bloggerville can't seem to resist the challenge of the challenge. That is -- one of us says "I'm going to read 350 comic books this year, how many can you read? Let's have a challenge."

Well Tutu joined a lot of these challenges for 2010, and they were in fact a lot of fun. They were also a lot of work to keep track of and I'm not sure I linked to all the linkies and posted all the appropriate info at the right time. To my fellow bloggers who hosted and posted, thank you for making my reading experience such a full one this past year, and my apologies if I didn't fill in all the blanks correctly. Here's how I did on the challenges that were limited to this year.

Support your Local Library

Goal - "Just my size" - read 50 books from the library
Finished reading - 104
I read so many from the library that I just never got over to J. Kaye's blog to repost.  Thanks so much for hosting this for so many folks!

TBR Challenge
Goal - read 12 in my possession (and on a list) January 1, 2010
Actually read - 3
I obviously didn't do as well on this one--- too many new ones kept creeping into my mailbox and library bag.  I'm going to keep trying to whittle down the TBR list, but it's like the loaves and fishes....I seem to put 2 new ones on the list for every one I take off.  I have a solution I'm going to try on this for 2011, so stayed tuned because I'll be talking about it in January after I figure out exactly how I'm going to handle the ever growing pile.

War through the Generations
Goal-- originally set at "dip": 5 books
Actually read --I got to the "wade" level - 7 finished
This one really scared me.  I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish anything about war, but found when I got into it, I really appreciated having a framework to use to learn more about this important chapter in our history.  The 2011 challenge to read about the civil war doesn't have as much appeal for me, but I do have two or three other Vietnam books I intend to read this year.

Audio books
Goal - obsessed level - 20
Actually read -70
also downloaded 5 "epub"
Royal Reviews hosted this one, and I can tell you for me it was a no-brainer.  I love audio books, and really enjoyed playing in this one.

Thriller-Suspense mystery
Goal - 12 books in 12 months
Actually read - 57
Book Chick City hosted this one.  It was the first one I completed .  My first twelve mysteries were done by February. I truly love mysteries in almost all of the 38 different genres involved.  I will certainly be continuing these throughout 2011.

Advanced Reading Copies/Early Review challenge
Goal - 12
Actually read - 47
Thanks to Teddy Rose for hosting this one.  And many many thanks to all the authors and publishers who honored me with review copies.  I'm just sorry I couldn't get to each and every one of them I received.

Reading from my Shelves
Goal - minimum of 20
Actually read - 20
Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea hosted this last year and is doing so again for 2011.  This is the only challenge I'm tempted to join for the new year because it helps push me to read more of all those yummy books that continually scream 'pick me, pick me!' every time I walk into my office/library.

Medical mysteries
Goal= 6
Actually read - only read one - Completely abandoned this one early!!!  I just couldn't get into this one, and I don't know whether it got crowded out by all the others or whether I just wasn't getting the right books, or I just wasn't looking. Wendy of A Novel Challenge is hosting it again this year if anyone is interested.

Typically British Reading challenge
Goal -"Gordon Bennett" level- read 4
Actually read -12
Another great challenge hosted by Book Chick City....I originally joined just because I couldn't resist the bull-dog on the button.  Lots of fun, and I read I lot more than I thought I did at the end.  As with the others, I just plain forgot to go post my linkies...

Books Won Reading challenge
Goal - read 6
Actually read - 9
Another hosted by Teddy Rose at Rose City Reader

So the year of the challenge is over. Even though I'm not entering any formal challenges for 2011, I do have a reading plan laid out for next year.  I'll be discussing that one tomorrow.

Enjoy your evening festivities, stay warm, dry and safe, and we'll see you in the New Year.

Glitter Graphics

2010 Challenges - How'd we do?

This was the year of the challenge...and I really got carried away. I enjoyed each and every one of them, even those I abandoned. I read books I might never have read, I cleaned a few off the TBR shelf, but I suspect like most of you, there are now more books then ever on the growing out of control list of those I'd like to read.If there is any truth to the saying that God created me to accomplish a certain number of tasks before I die, and if one of those tasks is reading the books I want to read, then I'm going to live forever!!

Because I had so many challenges, and reporting on them will involve a lot of linking, I'm going to break up this end of year stats report into several posts:
  1. Basic stats for the year
  2. Limited to 2010 Challenges
  3. Ongoing lifetime challenges
So here's the basic Stats:  199 books picked and begun.  186 completed
  • Print 124
  • Audio 70
  • Ebooks 5
  • From library 104
  • My own         95 (includes ARCs received)
  • Fiction          138
  • Non-fiction     43
  • YA/Juv             5
  • Abandoned     13
All in all it was a pretty good year.  I have put 6 of the abandoned books back in the TBR pile for another look later on.  The others were hopeless.

Next up I'll give you the scoop on how I did with my challenges.  Keep on reading!

Last memoir of the year - a Review: Here if You Need Me

Author: Kate Braestrup
Publisher/Format:Little, Brown and Company (2007),Paperback, 211 pages; also audio read by the author
Subject: grief, Maine Game warden service, dealing with death
Setting: Maine - various locations
Genre: memoir
Source: my own shelves- paperback; audio from the library

Kate Braestrup, one of the first chaplains ever appointed to the Maine Warden Service, only became a chaplain after her husband, a Maine state trooper, was killed in a freak auto accident.  It had been his intention to become a Unitarian Universalist chaplain when he retired from active police work, so following his dream, she enrolled in Bangor Theological Seminary, and was eventually ordained to the ministry.

Her exquisitely written memoir entwines a portrait of widowhood with the story of the Maine Warden service and presents the reader with a hopeful, vibrant, and uplifting story.  Using altered names and locations, she relates stories of searches for missing persons-both young and old; rescues and recoveries of those trapped below the ice or lost in the vast Maine wilderness; and heart-wrenching scenes of notify next-of-kin about deaths.  Throughout, she weaves stories of helping her four young children progress to young adulthood.  The story of learning that her son could play drums, and hearing him in the band at school, was such a delight--any mother who has ever raised a teenager through the band phase of life will be able to relate easily.

Her explanations and stories about the Maine warden service are exceptionally informative.  Many people don't realize that Maine game wardens have law enforcement duties in addition to tending to Maine's gorgeous wildlife and scenery.  The image of this petite woman with her clerical collar and keflar vest under her LL Bean jacket brought a giant smile.

She offers her insights not only from the perspective of  "chaplain" but from that of wife, mother, friend, and member of the law enforcement community.  It is not a long book, but it is one to be re-read and savored.  It brings hope with the tears, soothing with anxiety....just what one would expect from a chaplain.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Christmas Mourning

Author: Margaret Maron
Publisher/Format:Grand Central Publishing (2010), Hardcover, 304 pages
Characters: Deborah Knott, Dwight Bryant and a zillion kissing cousins
Subject: teenage drivers, drugs, booze, homicide
Setting: fictional - Colleton County North Carolina
Series: Deborah Knott Mysteries
Genre: law enforcement/crime solving
Source: review copy from Hachette Book Group

This one arrived just before Christmas, and since it belongs to one of my favorite series, it had the word Christmas in the title, and I had recently finished another Deborah Knott book, I dove right in.  Like the previous ones in the series, the reader is immediately returned to a family of convoluted and epic proportions. Maron's inclusion of a family tree in the beginning of the volume is an enormous help in getting each character in place quickly.

After a popular cheerleader is killed while driving home one evening, controversy swirls when her father refuses to believe the coroner's report showing alcohol in her system.  Shortly after this accident, two young men who had frequent flyer status with the local law enforcement establishment are found murdered.  Is there a connection between these two happenings?  Deborah and her husband Dwight (the local sheriff) sacrifice a planned for romantic evening celebrating their first wedding anniversary to investigate leads about what really happened. 

It's a well written, well plotted, enjoyable read.  While it is set during the Christmas time period, it is not necessarily a holiday story and can be enjoyed at any time of  the year.  I'm looking forward to reading the others of the series I haven't yet gotten to.  Stay tuned in 2011.

Another Brunetti Mystery

Through A Glass, Darkly

Author: Donna Leon
Publisher/Format: Audio Partners Publishing Corp -audio; 272 pg equivalent
Characters: Guido Brunetti, Inspector Vianello, Signorina Elletra
Subject: ecological ethics, murder
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti mysteries
Genre: police procedural detective mystery
Source: public library

A truly different story for Guido Brunetti.  This one is almost more concerned with illegal dumping of dangerous chemicals by the glass making factories in Murano than with solving the murder of the night watchman at the factory.  Brunetti, the urbane sophisticate with a professed (and almost disdainful) ignorance of any and all scientific or modern technological information, must get up to speed on glass-making and hazardous waste disposal. While giving the reader short courses on these subjects, Leon also has Brunetti exploring Dante's Inferno for clues. The juxtaposition of the old with the new, in a centuries old setting, makes for a very different story than previous ones in the series.  Brunetti has always had more of a social conscience than others of his profession, though he seems to take his time acknowledging that. Less food, less banter with Paola, but definitely another well-done episode in a series that continues to delight me.

I'm gradually working my way through this delightful series--this is #15 of 19, so you'll be seeing a few more during the new year.  I somehow got out of order and need to read 10,11,12 and 19, but that is one of the delights of this series in that the individual books can be read in any order without the reader feeling disoriented.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tongue in Cheek Weekend Cooking - The Gallery of Regrettable Food

The Gallery of Regrettable Food

Author: James Lileks
Publisher/Format: Clarkson Potter (2001)Hardcover, 192 pages 
Subject: Advertising in cookbooks
Genre: humor, cookbook critiques
Source: public library

I laughed so hard, my sides hurt! This is an absolutely SNL-like expose of all that 'interesting' food those of us growing up during the Ozzie and Harriet days experienced in our youth. It is actually difficult to describe or review because it's really the pictures that make the book.  The author has an absolutely smart-ass take on the descriptions, ingredients, and attitudes that can be found tucked into all those food pamphlets our mothers, grandmothers and aunties collected after 'the war.'  I actually have several of these in my personal 'collection' --they were the building blocks of a cookbook collection for the proper 1960's bride.

Lileks' book makes for great weekend browsing although I'd never want to cook anything I saw in there.  And with the exception of the jello items, I don't think my mom ever cooked any of them either.

My personal favorites include Balls on Picks from the booklet "500 Snacks - Bright Ideas for Entertaining"; the chapter about Aunt Jenny explaining the miracle of a product called "Spry" (I think something like Crisco?); and the pictures and comments on "Victory Meat Extenders" - a pamphlet published during WWII featuring "Creamed Brains on Toast", "Tongue Rolls Florentine" and "Ham Shanks and Cabbabe" (described by Lileks as "Pig Ass with the Bones Still in It. Or, perhaps Chunker Cheeks"

The very best is a picture of some sort of pie type casserole from the Good Housekeeping Casserole Book called Monday Pie. Lileks comments:
"The recipe calls for lamb, gravy, and MSG. What an excellent start to the week eh? Fried Strips of albino flesh cunningly blended with Scottish terrier testicles. "
 Hmmm....I was looking for a recipe to use that leftover lamb from our Christmas dinner.  I wonder............

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Greetings!!

Just in case you didn't notice, Tutu lives in the mid-coast area of Maine, near this gorgeous tree in the lobster capital of Maine (and we like to think the world!).  Almost every one of my neighbors has a pile of lobster traps in the front yard, strings of buoys hang in the trees, and lobster trucks pass us on the main road every day. 

So, it is not at all unusual that the town chooses to erect this spectacular tree made from those traps every year in the Marine Park.  It is lit at night from inside the pyramid, the buoys are contributed by local lobstermen (and women) and king lobster bestows holiday cheer to one and all from high atop the "tree." We have horse drawn carts roaming with carolers, lighted floats in the Annual Parade of Christmas lights, merchants offering hot chocolate and cookies, and kids making and stringing ornaments.

We have chosen the more traditional tree for our home, although I can't help but smile every day as I drive by this one.  It really gets me in the holiday spirit.  The weather has cooperated, and we have a nice coating of snow for a White Christmas with more expected early next week, along with visitors from down South.  YEAH!

So as the last frantic package wrapping, carol singing, cookie baking, and firewood piling get finished, Mr. Tutu (aka Bob) and I head off to sing joyously at two Christmas Eve masses - (our 'parish' now consists of 7 different churches).  We will be praying for blessings on each and every friend and family member.  May your holidays be peaceful, your New Year be healthy, your celebrations joyous. Thanks to all my faithful readers who have graced us with your comments this past year.  My visions of sugar plums are actually piles of books to read and share with you during 2011.

Profile GraphicsMay your wishes all come true when you wake this Christmas morn.  May all of us in this world struggling to achieve the peace we were promised on this wonderful day, have a New Year in which that struggle ends.  Blessings and best wishes to all of you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: You Know When the Men Are Gone

Author: Siobhan Fallon
Format: Advanced galley from  Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam , 225 pages
Subject: Military life during deployments
Setting: primarily Ft Hood Texas
Genre: Short stories
Source: Publisher via LibraryThing Early Review program

This book struck close to home.  As a military wife, I spent 29 years watching my husband go off to sea, waiting endlessly for letters or phone calls and for the day the ship would return to port.  So I could relate very personally to Fallon's stories about military life during our country's current war on terrorism.

At the time my spouse was on active duty, we did not have women serving in combat, so my relations with deployed spouses were single sex. Now the military family group is more diverse, although the spouses featured in this volume are mainly female.

Fallon writes exquisitely of the loneliness experienced by those left behind, and by those who serve.  Those at home are afforded the 'luxury' of going home to family to wait out the deployment, they have a never-ending series of outings, potluck suppers, craft classes, and in some cases, civilian employment to fill the days.  The present day military has gone to great lengths to provide support groups, Family Readiness groups, and mentors for new spouses.  Still, nights are harder, and all too often may be filled with mind-numbing substances to escort a lonely soul to the next dawn.

Those who are serving can be just as lonely, and often have fewer outlets to assuage the loneliness.  The soldiers on watch, on patrol, the sailor looking out to sea at night, the airman with her eyes glued to an instrument panel, cannot go home to family to wait it out.  They often cannot escape annoying company mates, or obnoxious buddies. Their minds must blank out loved ones for hours on end and learn to cope with the buddies who may ultimately be in a position to save their lives.

The short story format used in this book is an exceptional one  to show the many facets of family trauma being experienced now and the future effects of PTSD incidents we will be looking at for years to come.  Her stores are believable, melancholy, tightly plotted, and offer us characters that could inhabit any military base in America today.   They also could have inhabited any military base in the last century.  Not much has changed in the past 50 years at least.

The stories are particularly powerful in that Fallon does not try to politicize her stories at all.  She speaks to the lives of the characters as they are without commenting on the whys of military deployments.  Military families learn early on that questioning why is counter-productive to getting through the night.  By including stories about the deployed servicemembers as well as their families left behind, we are given a fascinating glimpse of both sides of the family dynamics involved.

This is a book that can be appreciated by anyone who ever served in the military as well as those who have not but want to learn more about that very honorable and distinct way of life. Fallon's prose is strong, clear, and superb, making this a book that is readable, compelling and sure to be talked about both in and outside the military.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cozies for holiday de-stressing

The past week has been quite of my favorite Aunts died, so we had to make an unplanned trip from Maine to Baltimore for her funeral,  a warm loving affair where we got to see dozens of cousins we only ever seem to see at weddings and/or funerals anymore.  After staying with my mom for the first three nights, we then managed to squeeze in early Christmas visits to children and grandchild, a visit to another sister recovering from surgery, and then tore back to Maine to beat a threatened storm that fizzled out. At least I had done almost all my Christmas baking before I left, so I was able to deliver the cookies in person instead of mailing them. Now we have only to put up the tree, and bake some biscotti and we're ready for Santa.

At least the long drive (11 hours each way) was good for reading time, but after some of the more intense books I'd been reading, I knew that I needed something light and up-lifting. These two were perfect to put me in a warm and fuzzy mood.

Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher/Format: Berkley Hardcover (2010), Reissue, Hardcover, 304 pages; also audio narrated by Teresa Plummer
Characters: Aurora Teagarden, Robin Crusoe, Arthur Smith
Subject: murder in a small town
Setting: Georgia
Series: Aurora Teagarden Mysteries
Genre: mystery- police procedural
Source: public library

Another mystery in the Aurora Teagarden series...A few weeks ago, I read the 2nd book in this series and was interested enough to want to go look at the beginning of Aurora's amateur career in solving murder mysteries.  In this debut episode, Aurora Teagarden, a librarian by day, belongs to a group of mystery aficionados known as the Real Murder club.  Every month, members meet and take turns analyzing  old mysteries, either real or fictional, looking at victims, murder weapons, who-dunnit, etc.  When actual murders begin occurring in the town, and each murder seems to be a copy-cat of a murder previously happening someplace else, attention turns to the members of the club.  Is one of them purposely acting out murders they've studied?  After an attempt on Aurora (or was her mother the intended victim?) and several other strange 'clues' begin appearing, "Roe" starts to feel she may be the target.

In addition to  the murder aspect, Roe finds herself juggling two different romantic interests in the person of author/professor Robin Crusoe and detective Arthur Smith, who also happens to belong to the Real Murders group.  The surprising climax was one that pre-disposes the reader to look for more.  There are  nine altogether, so I know there are more fun adventures that I can reach for when I want a good mystery, with little violence, some interesting but fairly innocent romance, and a feel-good ending.

I was very pleased to have this one in audio, because there is so little daylight these days, that I didn't lose any reading time after it got dark!

Another great cozy read I indulged in this week is the 2nd of Gail Fraser's terrific Lumby series:

Author: Gail Fraser
Publisher/Format: NAL Trade (2007), Paperback, 329 pages
Characters: Pam and Mark Walker, monks of the St Cross Abbey, Dana Porter, Charlotte Ross
Subject: life in small town USA
Setting: town of Lumby, Northwest US
Series: Lumby
Genre: fiction
Source: personal copy

The saga continues. In this particular volume, the story centers around a stolen painting, a stolen barn (trust me! the barn disappeared overnight), a midnight bovine Iditarod, and a hostile takeover bid for the monk's rum sauce company.  Got your attention yet?
I continue to be enthralled with the characters of this delightful town.  The setting, the people, the quirky characteristics of the inhabitants (human, bovine, equine, feline, plastic, etal), are reminiscent of a combination of the town ofThree Pines in Louise Penny's books (without the murders), the old TV series Northwest Exposure, and the solid feel-good humanity of the Mitford series.  You know a trip to Lumby will be time well spent.  A few hours of life in this town can lower anyone's blood pressure, put a smile on your face, and calm any stress from too much shopping, too many cookies, unmailed cards, and icy roads.  If you haven't tried this series, please give yourself a gift and try them.  I've yet to find anyone who doesn't want to go to Lumby.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Journal

Author: Jendine Nolen
Publisher/Format: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, e-galley-160 pages
Characters: Eliza,
Subject: slavery, Underground Railroad
Setting: Virginia, Maryland, New York, Canada

Genre: fictional memoir

Source: Advanced e-galley from Publisher (publication date slated 1-4-11)

This book is specifically written for young adults about ages 9-12.  I wanted to see if it was something my grand-daughter, who is 10, would be interested in and able to read.  It's perfect!  Eliza is an 11 year old slave living in Virginia when she begins her diary. Taught to read by a very enlightened mistress who was losing her sight, she begins the journal as a way of coping with the loss of her mother who had been sold to another plantation.

She gives us a simple but realistic picture of what life was like for young slave women in the period 1855 to 1867. While her mistress is gentle and kind, the master is not, and Eliza lives in constant fear of being ripped away from her remaining friends. The author uses the journal genre to show the process by which the "Friends", led by Harriet Tubman,  were able to lead many escaped slaves on a journey from Virginia north to freedom in Canada via the 'underground railroad.' The process involved many dangerous escapades, much privation, and all too often, the painful lifetime parting from friends and relatives.

Before her mother left, Eliza's mother gave her daughter a picture quilt containing 12 squares.  Each of the first 10 squares contained a 'story' which she told her daughter, and which Eliza repeated many times to reinforce it in her memory and to relate to others.  The final two squares were left blank, so that Eliza could complete them with her own story when she got old enough.  Her mother even left her a piece of blue satin cloth -material to be used to show a 'freedom-blue' sky.  Eliza telling of these stories is interspersed throughout the book, and serve as examples of how slaves coped with their lives. For instance Eliza used the story of the fox and the rooster in a barnyard to help quiet a young boy's fears about a fox getting into a henhouse, and whether he'd be blamed.  Another square shows Moses leading his people away from Pharoah to the promised land, a story often repeated and relished by American slaves.

The story is perfectly written for young adults who can relate to the emotions of the age. It will help them become acquainted with the hardships endured by earlier citizens of this country, and the bravery of many to overcome this institution. Additional material in the book includes synopses and background of the stories Eliza weaves into the material, and several other suggested readings to help young readers learn more about the era.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster Galley Grab for making this available. Please note that the cover shown here may not be the final cover on the release.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Columbine

Author: Dave Cullen
Publisher/Format: e-book Hachette Book Group 1st e-book edition, 441 pages; also audio book (Blackstone Audio) 14 hours
Narrator: Don Leslie
Subject: Killings at Columbine High School
Setting: Jefferson County Colorado, April 1999
Genre: news reporting; non-fiction
Source: both formats were downloaded from public library

Unlike many momentous events that have occurred in the past 20-30 years, I don't specifically remember where I was or what I was doing when the Columbine massacre occurred.  I think I was probably out of the country on a business trip, because I can't believe that I wouldn't have been glued to my TV had the opportunity presented itself to me.

Dave Cullen was one of the original on-site reporters who covered events, and realized that the whole story, the motives, the people, the aftermath, have never been comprehensively put together for the public.  Many of the police reports were withheld, many important witnesses or others involved had never been interviewed or given the opportunity to speak about what they knew or saw.

He culled through literally thousands of pages of interviews, police reports, evidence, photos, autopsy reports, psychologist statements, and follows up with as many of the people involved as would make themselves available to him in order to write this story.  The result is a tour de force: a cohesive, exhaustive, comprehensive and thoughtful examination of what happened, why it happened, how it was reported, and what the aftermath entailed.  He debunks many myths that arose from false or inadequate interpretation of early reports; he spends a good deal of time trying to get into the minds of the two killers and helping us try to understand why they did what they did, and he gives us a much needed factual account of the event that has come to be known simply as "Columbine."

The events of that fateful day shaped in many ways responses to subsequent mass shootings, but the fact that such shootings continue shows that while we may think we have a handle on what happened, we have yet to figure out how to stop it from happening again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Too Many Murders

Author: Colleen McCullough
Format: Simon & Schuster (2009), Hardcover, 371 pages
Characters: Detective Carmine Delmonico, Desdemona Delmonico
Subject: murder and espionage
Setting: small town Connecticut
Series: Carmine Delmonico novels
Genre: Mystery- police procedural
Source: public library

Aptly titled, there were almost too many murders to keep track of in this mystery.  At first I thought I'd never be able to keep all the players straight without a scorecard, but that proved to be an unfounded worry.  Suddenly on April 3rd, twelve people are murdered in the small town of Holloman Connecticut.  Police detective Captain Carmine Delmonico is faced with not only trying to solve each of them, but trying to figure out whether the police are dealing with one murderer or twelve totally unrelated deaths.  Each murder was separate in place, method, and discovery. Some of the victims worked together, but others seemed to have no connection to any of the others.

McCullough uses some very interesting police investigative techniques that allow the reader to track these crimes and the police who are tasked with finding the answers.  In doing so, we are quickly and aptly able to follow all the separate threads.  It was a tightly woven story that kept me on the edge of my chair, and surprised me several times.  Even the very ending is a surprise.  I will not spoil it any more than that.  And I will definitely be going to look for others in this series.  In fact, according to FictFact there's a new one due out later this month!  I'm off to find it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another Memoir Review: The Bucolic Plague

How Two Manhattanites became Gentlemen Farmers
An Unconventional Memoir

Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Format: Harper (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 320 pages
Subject: goat farming in rural New York, middle year life changes
Setting: Upstate New York
Genre: memoir
Source: public library

Two gentlemen with great New York City jobs--one, Dr. Brent Ridge, works for Martha Stewart, the other--the author--is an advertising agency rep, when they decide on an impulse to buy an old mansion they discover while on their annual apple picking trip. They take on the task of re-doing the mansion, putting in a huge garden, and also take on 70 goats and a goat farmer to tend them.  The plethora of goat milk leads to a booming online business selling hand-made goat milk soap.  Ahh....the bucolic life is wonderful ....except...

They are the stereotypical gay yuppie couple trying to have it all--living at the mansion on the weekends while still working full time in the city, driving and training  back and forth, weeding, painting, pickling,  weeding, canning, entertaining, weeding, sweeping flies (you gotta read the book), slaughtering a home grown turkey for a REAL Thanksgiving, etc etc etc.  They are spending so much time trying to be perfect, that their relationship begins to suffer.  When Brent is 'pink-slipped' by Martha, and  Josh becomes disgusted with the advertising world and quits his job, they suddenly find themselves without a steady income, with a business that is severely impacted by the economic downturn that cost Brent his job, and with emotions they are not used to dealing with. They are in danger of losing everything---the mansion, the farm, themselves and their relationship.

Told with compassion, wit, and a unexpectedly deep understanding of human emotion and vulnerability, this is a well-written memoir of middle-aged reflection and contemplation.  On his thirty-ninth birthday, spent alone in his garden, Josh reflects that
Flowers don't blossom then disappear into thin air.  They fade.  Then the plant drops its leaves. Then the stem browns. And then the whole thing topples over.  I figured I was lucky to have been as colorful a bloom as I had been.... pg 225.
Their ability to see the beauty and positives in their lives, including the friendships they formed in the small town,  allows them to muddle through and arrive at the other side of their troubles with a recommitted relationship, a re-energized business, and  a future that bodes well.

I especially appreciated the respect that he shows for the rural life style and his neighbors. In the front of the book he states:
This is a memoir of a certain time in my life.  The names of the characters have been changed, and some are composites of various people, experiences, and conversations...If you think that unfair, you've obviously never lived in a small town and written a memoir about your neighbors.
I live in a small town, and my only regret is that we don't get Planet Green on our TV....the two now have their own show The Fabulous Beekman Boys At least Dr. Brent has his own blog about the farm and their enterprise so we can keep up with what happens next.  It's a delightful story told with candor, humor, love and respect.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Go Navy---Beat Army

Bill the Goat

No books today.  Just a fun weekend with friends to watch the annual Army-Navy Game.  We've been to several of these in person, and always try to gather with other Navy fans, (hubbie is a graduate of USNA) so we can cheer on our favorite mascot.  It certainly is as cold here in Maine as it was when I last attended a game live - December 2003.  Of course both teams are used to functioning in wicked cold, and they are both heated up good and raring to go.
The food is ready, the beer and sodas are iced down, the TV has been tuned, the guest room is ready, the WooPoo b-robe ready to be donned (it's an insider thing).  We are unplugging the phones at noon today (or as soon as Judy and Norm arrive).  Norm, a fellow USNA alum, was an usher at our wedding 43 years ago, and it's great to be able to celebrate victory with dear and long-lived friends.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekend Cooking - a welcome addition to the cookbook shelf

Author: David Joachim
Publisher/Format:Robert Rose (2005), Paperback, 621 pages
Subject: Food definitions
Genre:  Reference
Source:  Public Library

This is a fantastic guide that would be a welcome addition to any well stocked cookbook collection.  Even for those who do not have a lot of cookbooks, this one is quite useful.  I've been thumbing through it now for the past two weeks since I got it from the library, and with all the holiday cooking, it has really come in handy.  For instance, tonite I had a recipe that called for grinding almonds in a food processort to make almond flour.  I really didn't want to get the food processor  out just to do this, particularly when I had purchased a bag of almond flour last week because several cookie recipes I'm planning to bake called for this.  However, I was at a loss on how to convert cups of chopped almonds to cups of almond flour.  Joachim's guide had it right there.

There are definitions of ingredients with lists of acceptable substitutions.  What do you do if you don't have any  persimmons for your mother in law's favorite recipe?  There are also exceptionally thorough tables of conversions, listing metrics, liquids, solids, etc. etc. etc.

I noted when I went to order this one for myself that there is a new edition out. .  The cover indicates:
Practical and enjoyable to read, this new edition of The Food Substitutions Bible has the best instructions for the home cook or professional chef who needs to find a great substitution when a vital ingredient is missing at a critical time in the preparation of a recipe.
Every substitution includes exact proportions and precise directions for making accurate, reliable replacements. Out of confectioner's sugar? Finely grind half a cup plus one and a half tablespoons of granulated sugar with three-quarters of a teaspoon of cornstarch in a blender or small food processor.
This new edition features:
More than 300 new entries and cross-references for ingredients, such as agave nectar, and equipment, such as a mandoline. Five new ingredient charts and measurement tables, such as Picking Coffee, Container Size Equivalents and Alcohol Retention in Cooking 20 percent more content overall...
The straightforward page design makes each entry, chart and sidebar easy to understand and follow. This new edition is bigger, better, updated, expanded and completely revised, providing more information more readily.

I'm not waiting for Santa on this one.

Beth Fish Reads sponsors this weekly meme where we foodies can chat about cookbooks, cooking gadgets, recipes, or anything else gustatory. Be sure to stop over there to find other terrific weekend cooking posts.

Review: Squirrel seeks Chipmunk

Author: David Sedaris
Format:Little, Brown and Company (2010),  Hardcover, 176 pages
Genre: short stories; humor
Source: A contest win from Mason Canyon,

What a delightful, ironic, satirical collection of short stories.  Each features a different animal,or pair of animals, anthropomorphised to react to specific human conditions - nothing spectacular, just every day life, every day prejudices, everyday fears and expectations.  Each story is only 4-5 pages and can be read in under 10 minutes.  It is the perfect book to give to someone who claims to be anon-reader.  It is a perfect book to put on the bedside table in the guest bedroom.  It is a perfect book to tuck into a purse to have something to read in a waiting room.  It is very adult, not really a kiddie book in spite of the animal themes and fun illustrations by Ian Falconer.

I couldn't help but see the squirrel and chipmunk as Romeo and Juliet, and the story of the cat in a prison AA meeting had me rolling on the floor.  The cow who was involved in a Secret Santa  group in the barnyard was particularly  appropriate for this time of year.

It's a perfect stocking stuffer, but be sure to get one for yourself first.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mini Review: John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy

Author: Evan Thomas
Narrator: Dan Cashman
Format: audio = 13.5 hrs  400 page equivalent
Subject: John Paul Jones
Genre: Biography
Source: public library audio download

A well researched, surprisingly easy to read biography of the man credited with being the "Father of the American Navy".  Now acknowledged to be rather a legend in his own mind, Thomas carefully debunks some of the sayings and myths that have attached themselves to this colorful and talented sailor, while still showing the genius of his strategic thinking.

His attitudes, accomplishments, judgments and temper tantrums are spelled out to put  this flamboyant hero in the proper niche of history.  We are treated to his thoughts on everything from planting crops to sailing, from proper uniforms to correct food, and along the way we get to glimpse the American Revolution from an often overlooked perspective.  It's interesting enough for those with a compelling fascination with the Navy and its beginnings. For others, it is well written enough to be worth at least a look see.

I read this in print and listened to this on audio.  For this one I'd recommend the written word.  I found the narrator's Scottish accent (used whenever he was quoting Jones) very off-putting.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Three Weissmanns

Author: Cathleen Schine
Publisher/Format: audio - 10 hrs;  304 page equivalent
Narrator:   Hilary Huber
Characters: Betty, Miranda and Annie Weissmann
Subject: mothers and daughters
Setting: New York City, Westport CT
Genre: women's lit; fiction
Source: public library audio download

A New York Time's notable book of 2010.

At first I thought this was going to be pure chick-lit, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of characters Schine gives us in this book about three women:  a mother - 75 year old Betty, and her two daughters- Miranda a failing literary agent, and Annie, a librarian.   Betty's husband-77 year old  Joseph (step-father to the two girls) decides to divorce his wife of  many many years, to marry his new found love - Felicity.  I am not a Jane Austen fan, but can see where many will find this an updated version of Sense and Sensibility retold from the perspective of an upper East Side Jewish woman who is now reduced to living off the hospitality of distant cousin Lou who takes her in, along with the girls, to reside in his guest cottage in Westport.

Schine's characterization is alternately hysterically funny and annoyingly cliched.  There were times when I laughed out loud, and other times when I wanted to shake every one of the characters (and there were a slew of them) and make them wake up and smell the proverbial coffee.

Joseph, who is thoroughly under the spell of Felicity, convinces himself that he is being generous by not allowing Betty to stay in her wonderful New York apartment ('the upkeep is too expensive for her' he is reminded by Miss Felicity).  While Joseph and Betty are trying not to talk to each other (Betty refers to him as her "late departed husband, may he rest in peace"), Miranda is going through the dissolution of her literary agency, and her plunge into personal and professional bankrupcy.  A serial monogamist by nature (she's always in love, but never with more than one man at a time), she finds true love in Westport in the person of a 4 year old toddler being cared for by his good looking actor wannabe father. We know almost immediately that this relationship is going nowhere, but Miranda doesn't seem to see it that way.

Annie, the timid but organized librarian, falls for an author who comes to do a reading at her library, and she too is destined to suffer heartbreak (or is she?) since the timid author's grown children will not allow him to have anything to do with her.  Did I say WILL NOT ALLOW HIM....he's a grown man!!!  As the only Weissmann bringing in any income, Annie is constantly trying to balance their precarious budget, by reining in her spend-thrift mother and sister so that they don't run out of money to pay basic bills.  Betty considers getting her hair colored, and buying new dresses basic spending, and thinks they'll just have to 'get some more money'.  And Miranda finds it absolutely necessary to continue to spend on extravagances also.

How these three are able, with a lot of outside nudgements, to live together in a tiny one-bathroom rustic cottage is an enjoyable tale. Just the scenes where Betty tries to cram a NewYork apartment's worth of furniture into it is worth the entire read. The book moves along quite well, and the reader arrives at the end thinking that the best ending has been achieved.

There are reviews and opinions all over the map on this one, and to me that's one of the signs of a good book-- that it can provoke such different reactions from a variety of readers. For me, it was a truly enjoyable fiction read.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mini Review: A Bone to Pick

Author: Charlaine Harris
Format: audio book 6 hr, 15 min, 272 page equivalent
Characters:Aurora Teagarden
Subject: unsolved murder
Setting: Georgia
Series: Aurora Teagarden mysteries
Genre: cozy mystery
Source: public library

While I'm not a big fan of the Southern Vampire series featuringSookie Stackhouse,  I have enjoyed Harris' Harper Connelly series, and while looking for one of those to read, came across Aurora Teagarden, another of her cozy series I seem to have overlooked  in the past.  How could I have missed these?  A librarian who helps solve murders?

Well constructed with some interesting characters, this delightful tale has all the standard ingredients of an amateur sleuth cozy murder mystery: intelligent professional woman who suffers from above average curiosity, and below average willingness to let the professionals handle the sleuthing; a cast of characters with enough meat on their bones to offer several different prospects for a culprit; a handsome, mannerly, and eligible suitor;  an endearing pet (in this case a big orange cat named Madeline); a town eccentric in the person of an elderly spinster who leaves her house "and everything in it" to our heroine; a domineering mother--and a totally implausible mystery resulting from the "everything in it"  whose details will not be revealed here. Don't want to spoil the fun!

Perfect  for a snowy evening with a cup of chocolate while others are watching football games.  And fun enough to have me go checking out at least one more to see if the series is worth pursuing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Review and Winners : Sea Change

Author: Jeremy Page
Publisher/Format: Viking/Penguin, Hardcover, 288 pages
Characters: Guy, Judy, Freya, Marta, Ro
Subject: dealing with grief, solitude at sea
Setting: Somewhere in the North Sea
Genre: narrative fiction
Source: review copy from the publisher

Another stunning novel from the author of SALT, one that provokes a string of adjectives to describe the experience it brings to the reader: haunting, eerie, poignant, memorable, distressing.

As the story opens, Guy watches as his four year old daughter is killed and right there, I was seriously tempted to abandon further reading. I don't like to read about violence to children, but this one is written in such a dreamlike way that I was drawn in trying to figure out what was really happening.

After that 1st short chapter, we are suddenly catapulted to a scene that is five years later, and Guy is alone on a barge floating in tidal coastal waters near the North Sea.  He spends his time writing a diary of what he thought his life with his family would have been.  This surreal narration is interspersed with his introspection as his navigates the waters and spends his lonely hours filling time with music, reading, and the essentials of daily life.

He meets fellow marine nomads, an older woman and her barely adult daughter.  As he shares a few days with them, he begins to recover from his previous loss, and we get fleshed out details of what else happened to him at the beginning of the story.

This story is not a swash-buckling adventure story, nor is the narrative fast paced. It floats along at about the same pace as his daily life on the barge. Simply put, in spite of his dreams to the contrary, life goes on, inexorably drawing him to the sea. The story culminates in a splendid maritime storm scene that even non-sailors can appreciate, with a trance like and somewhat bizarre ending that will satisfy some readers and leave others scratching their heads.

It is a splendid piece of writing.  Page's prose is exquisitely evocative and lyrical, producing images that allow readers who have never been to sea, or to the North Sea area of the world, to experience the sights, sounds, smells, swells and sensations of a "sea change."

Many thanks to Langan Kingsley of Viking/Penguin press for providing the review copy and extras for the giveaway.

Now here are the two lucky winners who will have a chance to read this delightful book being published this week!! I have sent them emails and when they get their mailing addresses back to me, their books will be on the way.  Congratulations to


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Monday Mailbox - Dec 6th

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.  Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!
Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on a blog tour! Last month's host was Julie @ Knitting and Sundries, and she did a fantastic job, and Rose City Reader kicks off 2011.  This month Lady Q at Let Them Read Books is hosting.  Stop on over and see what everyone else got this week (and pick up a yummy sounding recipe to boot!)

This week, I only got two, but they were both great ones.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

A contest win from Mason Canyon, this delightful little collection of stories from the always entertaining David Sedaris arrived last week.  I have it planned as a birthday gift for someone, but couldn't resist reading it myself.  I haven't read all the stories yet, but am just having so much fun with the ones  I have read.  The publisher says:

Featuring David Sedaris's unique blend of hilarity and heart, this new collection of keen-eyed animal-themed tales is an utter delight. Though the characters may not be human, the situations in these stories bear an uncanny resemblance to the insanity of everyday life.

In "The Toad, the Turtle, and the Duck," three strangers commiserate about animal bureaucracy while waiting in a complaint line. In "Hello Kitty," a cynical feline struggles to sit through his prison-mandated AA meetings. In "The Squirrel and the Chipmunk," a pair of star-crossed lovers is separated by prejudiced family members.

A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates.

An ARC from the publisher, this one is scheduled for publication mid February.  I'm planning to take in on vacation with me in early Feb to have the review ready by publication.  Booklist gave it a starred review. It fits in really well with my memoirs reading which I've decided to extend until I exhaust every memoir on my TBR pile.  It's a genre I'm really enjoying.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Brutal violence and catastrophic loss are often the subjects of Oates’ powerful novels and stories. But as she reveals in this galvanizing memoir, her creative inferno was sequestered from her joyful life with her husband, Raymond Smith. A revered editor and publisher who did not read her fiction, Smith kept their household humming during their 48-year marriage. After his shocking death from a “secondary infection” while hospitalized with pneumonia, Oates found herself in the grip of a relentless waking nightmare. She recounts this horrific “siege” of grief with her signature perception, specificity, and intensity, from epic insomnia and terrifying hallucinations to the torment of “death-duties,” painful recognitions of confidences unshared and secrets harbored, and a chilling evaporation of meaning. But Oates also rallies to offer droll advice on how to be a “good widow” and describes her struggles with mountains of lavish “sympathy gifts” and the attendant trash with a “widow’s slapstick-comedy.” In a stunning extension of the compelling disclosures found in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 1973–1982 (2007), protean and unflinching Oates has created an illuminating portrait of a marriage, a searing confrontation with death, an extraordinarily forthright chronicle of mourning, and a profound “pilgrimage” from chaos to coherence. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The incomparable, best-selling Oates fascinates readers, and her memoir of sudden widowhood will have an impact similar to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). --Donna Seaman
 So what was in your mailbox this week?  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A pair of Brunetti's

 A Noble Radiance

Author: Donna Leon
Format: audio -approx 7 hours 256 page equivalent
Narrator:Anna Fields
Characters: Guido Brunetti, his wife Paola, Count
Subject: corruption, social classes,
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: mystery - cold case police procedural
Source: public library audio download


 Fatal Remedies

Author: Donna Leon
Format: audio - 15.7 hrs,  320 page equivalent
Narrator:Anna Fields
Characters: Guido Brunetti, his wife Paola,
Subject: women roles, spousal loyalty, 
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti
Genre: mystery-police procedural
Source: public library

It's no secret I'm a great fan of Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti police series. One of the reasons is the character of Guido's wife Paola, and their relationship. Watching these two characters grow as the series gets better and better is as enjoyable as solving the well-crafted mysteries, or luxuriating in Leon's descriptions of everydaylife in Venice and the food.

In A Noble Radiance, Guido finds himself investigating a semi-cold case of kidnapping/murder when a body is discovered in a field, and identified as being the missing son of a Venetian noble. Leon has been gradually developing the ideological angst that Brunetti must endure when facing the social and class structure of the ancient city. This one is a bit shorter than previous ones in the series, but every bit as good.

In both of these Paola plays increasingly important roles. Especially in Fatal Remedies Guido finds himself between the rock and the proverbial hard place-- his beloved, fiery tempered, and morally impregnable Paola has been arrested for throwing a rock through the window of a travel agency well-known for arranging 'sex tours' for Italian men to travel to far off countries where young girls are forced into prostitution. Paola wants it stopped, and Guido is about to lose his job when he doesn't stop her!

These two just get better and better.  I'm hoping to catch up on the rest of the series throughout the coming year.  If you haven't read any of them, treat yourself to one (any one will do) in the next few weeks.  A perfect de-stresser for the upcoming holidays.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Lucky Winners Are........

Diane (bibliophile by the sea)
are the two lucky winners of

They have been notified and have until midnite Tuesday November 30th to email me their snail mail addresses so we can have the publisher send these out to them.  Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone who entered, and many thanks to Liz at Random House/Doubleday for making these copies available.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Author: Tom Franklin
Publisher/Format:William Morrow (2010), Hardcover, 288 pages  
Characters: Larry Ott, Silas Jones (aka "32")
Subject: murder, lost opportunities, poverty
Setting: rural Mississippi
Genre: police procedural, Southern fiction
Source: Early Reviewers program,

Remember when we learned to spell "Mississippi" in grade school. EM eye-- crooked letter crooked letter, eye-- crooked letter, etc etc.?? This one gives us Mississippi in all its crookedness. I've read a lot of 'southern' fiction this year, so I have something to compare when I say up front that the strong sense of place I look for in this genre is definitely here. I've read more than a few mystery/detective fiction books this year, and my requirements for those include strong characters and a plot that keeps me turning the pages. Franklin has given us all of these in this 5 star book.

Set in the rural dirt-poor Mississippi of the 1970's as school desegregation was getting into full swing, and the Civil Rights movement was reaching fruition, Franklin evokes the racial tension and cultural baggage that made small town life in the south so problematic. He adds poverty, alcoholism, spouse abuse, and brain breaking hopelessness to characters who are striving to get through one day at a time. The descriptions of the setting and the life of both poor blacks and whites are as realistic as any I've read in months.

The two main characters grew up together, sharing some secrets (and keeping others private) that return to haunt them as adults. And here is where Franklin shines. He takes the individual stories of each--one black, one white--and carefully strings us along in reconstructing their pasts to arrive at a resolution that is shocking, stunning, poignant, and ultimately more hopeful than the story line would dare allow the reader to be. His mastery of dialogue is exceptional.

I won't do a spoiler on the story which centers around the two estranged friends: one who was suspected (but never arrested or convicted) in the disappearance of a high school girl twenty years ago, and is again under suspicion in connection with another recently missing girl, and the other who is now the town constable who must investigate the happenings. I will say that this is destined to be one of better books of 2010. It will not disappoint anyone looking for a strong contemporary police story written in exceptional prose. It has all three: good plot, good scenes, great characters.

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

On this most American of holidays,

as the leaves flutter to the ground, 
or sun shines, or snow falls,
as we gather round our bountiful feasts with family and friends
may we be thankful for the opportunities given us to share that bounty,
may we enjoy peace, health, happiness
and a reminder that life is a cycle of goodness.
We hope your holidays and you tables will be full.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: My Reading Life

Author: Pat Conroy
Publisher/Format: Nan A. Talese (2010), Hardcover, 352 pages
Subject: Reading, books
Genre: memoir
Source: review copy from the publisher

Pat Conroy has always been one of my favorite authors - I've read everything he ever wrote, and am now determined to re-read all of them again. But nothing he has ever written comes close to being the literary masterpiece this one is IMHO. It's the memoir every bibliophile dreams and lusts after---wishing we could close our eyes and pretend that this was the literary legacy of our past, wishing we could put words together and come up with the luscious, gorgeous, delicious images and thoughts that he does.

When I read books, particularly those I've committed to review for the publisher (as I did with this one) I read with pencil in hand to jot down particularly memorable passages, to make note of special ideas, so I can formulate a somewhat coherent description of what I thought of the book, and not leave out anything important. Had I used this technique with this book I would have simply had to copy the entire thing. Here is just one example of what is so memorable:
"I cheer when a writer stops me in my tracks, forces me to go back and read a sentence again and again, and I find myself thunderstruck, grateful the way readers always are when a writer takes the time to put them on the floor. That's what a good book does---it puts readers on their knees. It makes you want to believe in a world you just read about--the one that will make you feel different about the world you thought you lived in, the world that will never be the same." pg. 329-330.
I especially like the fact that he doesn't just concentrate on books however. He spends a great deal of time and effort introducing us to those people who gave him the lifetime gift of books and reading - his mother, his English teacher, a librarian, a bookstore owner, his students. The book is not just a memoir of his reading life - it's a tribute to all those people who molded that life.

This beautiful volume has put him firmly in the ranks of those who hold sway over the reading lives of the rest of us.  
Many thanks to Nan Talese and Doubleday for making this review copy available.  To enter to win a copy, click on the cover on the left sidebar.  Deadline is Saturday Nov 26th.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Time for another Giveaway - Sea Change

Sea Change
by Jeremy Page
published by Viking/Penguin Press.
This one is scheduled for publication December 6th- that's the week after Thanksgiving. I'm planning to spend the holiday weekend reading it, and will have my review posted by the pub date. In the meantime, here's the blurb
A stunning follow-up from the author of Salt--"thrilling and memorable" (Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times).
After experiencing a devastating tragedy, Guy sets out to sea in an old Dutch barge that has now become his home. Every night, he writes the imagined diary of the man he might have been-and the family he should have had.
As he embarks upon the stormy waters of the North Sea-writing about a trip through the small towns and nightclubs of the rural American South-Guy's stories begin to unfold in unexpected ways. And when he meets a mother and daughter, he realizes that it might just be possible to begin his life again.
Haunting and exquisitely crafted, Sea Change is a deeply affecting novel of love and family by an acclaimed young writer.

NOW...............Thanks to Langdon at Viking/Penguin press I have two copies of this to offer. We'll have the giveaway on December 6th to celebrate publication.

Here' the very simple rules:

  1. Leave me a comment telling me whether or not you've read this author before. Be sure you include your email address. NO EMAIL, No ENTRY.
  2. Leave me another comment saying whether you're a follower or become a follower and tell me.
  3. Blog about this on your blog (sidebars are OK) and leave me the link to your post.
  4. I don't tweet or twitter, so you may leave one extra comment between November 29th and December 6th.  Just say "extra entry".  
  5. US addresses only -no PO Boxes.
  6. Deadline is 11:59PM December 5th, EST.
Good luck and enjoy your holiday week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: The Day the Falls Stood Still

Author: Cathy Marie Buchanan
Format: Voice (2009), Hardcover, 320 pages; also in audio - 11.5 hours
Narrator: Karen White
Characters: Bess Heath, Isabel Heath, Tom Cole
Subject: Niagara Falls, hydroelectric power, dressmaking
Setting: Ontario Canada
Genre: historical fiction
Source:print- review copy from the publisher; audio - public library download

I'm almost ashamed at how long it has taken me to get to this well-written, exciting and educational book.  The author, who grew up in the town depicted in the book- the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, has done her research, and gives us a work of historical fiction in which she takes real characters, re-names them, and then gives us a beautiful love story woven into historical narrative about the early harnessing of the power of the Falls for hydroelectric power.

The main character Bess Heath, had a very privileged upbringing but finds herself deprived of many creature comforts when her father is fired from his job, the servants are let go, she is unable to continue to attend her private girls; boarding school, and her mother is forced to take in sewing to support them.

Set during World War I, with flashbacks to earlier headlines from the Falls (late 1800's) Buchanan  gives us fully fleshed out characters who endure the hardships of separation, suicide, unemployment, and class discrimination.  Married on her 18th birthday against the wishes of her parents, Bess watches as her husband Tom Cole goes off to fight the Great War.  He is gone for more than three years, and returns to meet the son who would follow his father as  "the river man", amid a post-war economy with few available jobs.  This could have become a trite 'love at first site' story but instead we get a powerful tale of young love, early environmental concerns, some interesting sidebars on dressmaking and historically based episodes of the life of the river men. 

In addition to a great story the book is illustrated with actual photographs of the period.  For a reader who has not been to the Falls, the pictures are a great addition to understanding the story.  A first-rate read.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review and More Winners - What a Difference a Dog Makes

Author:  Dana Jennings
Format: hardback - 156 page
Subject: Bon mots from a dog
Genre: self-help 
Source: review copy from publisher

This one almost makes me want to get a dog. Author Dana Jennings has given us a wonderful, warm, sweet and gentle ode to his dog Bijou de Minuit (literally Jewel of Midnight). As he recovers from cancer, he learns to listen to doggie wisdom, and shares it with his readers. It is the perfect gift for dog lovers for the up-coming holidays. Even those of us who do not have a dog in their lives at the present time will find the short chapters and simple stories endearing.

The two lucky winners of this one are  Mrs.Shukra and Debbie.  I've sent them both an email and they have until Wednesday Nov 24th to send me their mailing address.

Thanks to Liz at Doubleday for making these copies available.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Memoir # 7 - American on Purpose

Author: Craig Ferguson
Format: audio - 7 1/2 hours, 288 pages equivalent
Subject: alcoholism, addiction, emigration, patriotism
Genre: memoir
Source: public library audio download
Challenge: Month of Memoirs

Alright, I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a man in a kilt. The cover of this one grabbed my interest; several of my LT friends recommended it highly, and the scottish accent was a big draw.

Craig Fersugon, currently the host of the LateLate Show on CBS, was born in Scotland.  Listening to him read his delightful memoir, one has no doubt about his origins.  He speaks easily, eloquently, poignantly of his childhood and adolescence - his less than stellar record in the educational system, and his early start at drinking alcohol. Needing some type of employment, he joined on with a punk band as a drummer.  The drummer skill set stays with him to this day.

In the story, he takes us through years of drinking, drugging, bouncing from job to job, woman to woman, sleeping on friend's floors to buying a house in the country with a very wealthy woman.  We accompany him through 3 unsuccessful marriages and several other romantic relationships.

He drops many names, not in a name-dropping fashion, but more to establish opportunities received and often blown.  He drifts back and forth from Scotland to London to the US and back again.  Finally, he lands in a very expensive re-hab unit outside of London.  Unlike many other "I found religion when I gave up the bottle" memoirs, he tells this part of the story very matter-of-factly, and without the excruciating detail many such stories subject the reader to. While he is brutally honest about his failures, he is deeply apologetic about the havoc wreaked and the lives injured over the years.  He is justly proud of his now 17+ years of sobriety--it took him over 7 years to pay off debts he owed to a long line of friends.

His career since coming to the US in 1993 has steadily improved.  He is now a writer, an actor, a producer and  director.  He is very proud of becoming an American citizen and speaks powerfully of why he is.  He recognizes that the U.S. is not a perfect place to live, but still wouldn't be anyplace else.  He is even more proud of his life- having his own show on CBS, living a sober life, and being ---finally-- a loving husband and father.  He still remembers with great affection the giant color poster he received from NASA when he was a child and wrote to say he wanted to be an astronaut.  It was this first touch with American in fact, that put the idea into his head that he wanted to go to America.

In short, this is a story worth reading.  The language can be a tad raw, but it is true to who the author is.  If you really want the full flavor, I'd recommend the audio format.  Listening to him read the story truly brings it alive. It is laugh out loud funny, inspiring, and memorable. He explains in the ending paragraphs exactly what being an American means to him.
America truly is the best idea for a country that anyone has ever come up with so far, not only because we value democracy and the rights of the individual, but because we are always our own most effective voice of dissent...we must never mistake disagreement between Americans on political or moral issues to be an indication of their level of patriotism.  If you don't like what I say or don't agree with where I stand, then good....I'm glad we're in America and don't have to oppress each other over it.  We're not just a nation, we're not an ethnicity, we are a  dream  of justice that people have had for thousands of years.

Americans taught me failure was only something you went through on your way to success.  For me becoming an American was not a geographical or even  political decision.  It was a philosophical and emotional one based on a belief in the reason and fairness of opportunity. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Contest winners and a Review

Running the Books
The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian
Author: Avi Steinberg
Publisher/Format: Nan A. Talese (2010), Hardcover, 416 pages
Setting: prison library in Boston area
Genre: memoir
Source: Review copy from publisher

I find it hard to describe this book.  When I had finished it, I knew I had been allowed a glimpse of something profound.  But when I started it, I spent the first 100 or so pages wandering through the peripatetic mind of the author as he lets us into his rather jumbled mind and wondering if he was EVER going to get to the point. A self-described refugee from Yeshiva and then Harvard- where he wrote a dissertation on something to do with the symbolism of carrots in Bugs Bunny stories, he finds himself in his early 20's barely eeking out a living writing obituaries for the Boston Globe.  When he sees an advertisement for a prison librarian job offering full-time employment AND BENEFITS, he applies.

The book is full of wonders. The first wonder is that he is makes it through the drug screening and the interview process.  The second wonder is that he is hired.  The third is that he is not killed by any of the inmates.  And the fourth is that he not only figures out what the job is, he also figures out who he is and what he is capable of accomplishing in the job.

The final wonder is that I finished the book and loved it.  I realize now that the book mirrors the author's life...disorganized and wandering at the beginning, questioning and tentative as he begins the job, and finally poignant, moving and inspirational at the end, as he finds ways to bring something positive into the lives of many of his 'patrons.'

There are extraordinarily touching stories in here.  For those of us who are librarians, who subscribe to an ethic of providing service and not passing judgments, this is a frustrating book.  Steinberg never went to library school, he never worked in a library--although as a Harvard grad he certainly was familiar with the library's resources.  In the prison setting, he finds himself faced with rules and regulations that severely impact his ability to provide traditional library service; he is required to distrust, to question, to doubt, and to view each patron as a potential problem.  Somehow, he manages to maintain his humanity while bringing some humaneness to the job and to his patrons.

While the library part of the story is interesting, and gives us a glimpse of the inner workings of a system most of us hope never to encounter, it is in the role of Creative Writing teacher that Steinberg shines.  The prison library is part of the Education Department mandated for prisons.  So Steinberg's job description included teaching this class to inmates.  His Harvard education stands him well here, because he has inmates reading Proust, Plata, Plath and writing, and writing, and writing. One inmate is writing his memoirs, another writes poetry, another a letter to her son.  The ability to express themselves in these classes is often the only way many of them have to communicate what has been bottled up for a lifetime. His mentoring helps them unlace their tightly held emotions.

As I said, when I closed the book, I had to stop and take a deep breath.  It was a powerful, deeply moving story- a view of librarianship that most of us will never experience. It is a VERY GOOD book. It is encouraging to know that such talented and feeling young people are coming into the work force. It helps those of us in our 'golden years' sleep more soundly.

NOW.....we had the drawing and have two winners. They have already been notified by email and responded, so their books are on the way.
The Winners Are: