Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: be the noodle

Author: Lois Kelly

Format: trade paper back, 124 pages
Subject: death, dying, care-giving
Genre: non-fiction essays
Source: review copy from the author
Challenge: ARCs completed

No that's not a typo....lois kelly ignores the energy needed to shift into uppercase fonts.  She instead focuses on the important in this short, pithy, well-written and extremely readable little book.  It will be cherished by anyone faced with caring for a loved one through the final days of a lingering death.

Lois, oldest child of Bette, takes over the week day watch at her mother's side at her beach house on Cape Cod, as Bette slowly faces death from lung and brain cancer. I found it especially touching that Bette chose to have surgery to remove an especially large brain tumor (there were several) but eschewed chemo because doctors said that removing the tumor would at least give her back the ability to read.  And if she had to wait for death, she could at least read while she was waiting!  Trying to respect her mother's wishes, while dealing with well meaning, and well wishing neighbors, friends, and relatives, provides the basis for the advice given here.
Written as 50 short lessons to be learned, the introduction describes this as
"...a caregiver's adventure guide based on my wild, wondrous and life changing journey helping my mother die at home...this book will help you navigate the adventure and become a compassionate, crazy-good caregiver, one of the most courageous jobs you never wanted."
The title refers to those styrofoam tubes swimmers use to support themselves in the helps them stay afloat while they still retain use of their arms and legs.  Her mother loved to swim, and always disdained using noodles. In the end, both mother and daughter recognized the beauty in letting Lois 'be the noodle.'

Of the 50 "lessons" here are a few of my favorites:
  • Caregiver lesson #4: tell all those generous friends and neighbors what kind of food you would appreciate. otherwise, beware the banana bread bombardment.
  • Caregiver lesson #19: celebrate peepers and other rituals (if you don't live near a body of water, you probably won't get it, but it was special to me.)
  • Lesson #14: escape into old photographs.
It's not depressing at all. It is cheerful, uplifting and inspiring. There are helpful hints from the time the diagnosis is made (and accepted) to dealing with after the funeral issues. Highly recommended for anyone in a care giving situation, or as a gift for someone you know who is a loving caregiver or will someday become one.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme sponsored by Marcia at The Printed Page.  Just as the post office, or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.

This week, I got several ARCs from the author's or publishers.  I try not to overload on children's books and generally will only accept one or two a month.  So these are my two for the spring. 

Children's Books:
Bailey's Day by Robert Haggerty.

A delightfully illustrated story about a dog who belongs to a mailman.  When his owner goes to work in the morning, Bailey eats his food, takes a nap and then goes out into the yard, where he promptly disobeys the rules and goes out roaming with the dog down the street.

They have a series of adventures, including hiding when they see the mailman coming.  They finally do get found out, the mailman takes them home, and then chides them for breaking the rules.

I would have liked this book a lot more if it had included some indication that the bad doggie understood that he was "bad" and there were some hint of unhappy consequences for disobeying.  There aren't and that will have to be one for the parents and grandparents who will enjoy reading this really well written and illustrated story to children.

In addition to the colored drawings, the book includes photographs of the author's dog - the real Bailey. Haggerty is in fact a retired postman and gives us a great story designed to help children imagine what goes on with dogs when people aren't watching.  Lots of fun for the little ones.

Thanks to the author for providing this review copy.
This next one I really wanted to like, but I can't say that is the story.

Share from the Heart by Marilyn Randall is my first book to read by this author, although it is the sixth she's written.  Designed to help children understand the concept and values of sharing, we see two young boys strolling along, confronting a fire-breathing dragon, being scared and then learning that the dragon just wants to be friends.  The children and the dragon take the time to explore their feelings towards each other and in the end adopt each other as 'family.'

I would have liked this book so much more if it had been in prose.  The forced non-rhythmic poetry doesn't rhyme well, doesn't scan well as poetry and is extremely difficult to read aloud.  I give all children's books the read aloud test with our pre-school group at the library, and trust me, this one did not work.  There are far too many words on a page, and although there is a delightful (and rather simple) illustration on each page, the children lose interest about 1/3 of the way through.  The vocabulary just doesn't ring well in the forced rhyme scheme for reading aloud.  It will work much better for precocious 1st and 2nd graders who can read it to themselves.

Many thanks to Ms. Randall for letting me read this one to our kiddies. I'm going to check out some of her others at

be the noodle by lois kelly
fifty ways to be a compassionate, courageous, crazy-good caregiver.

No....that's not a typo.  Ms. Kelly uses no uppercase letters in her title, or chapter headings.  I haven't finished this one yet, but I am finding it to be a really easy read, and I definitely know it's going to be a great resource in our library. Written to capture the wisdom she accumulated while caring for her terminally ill mother, it provides encouragement, humor, and love.  It would make a great gift to anyone dealing with end-of-life issues.  Each of the 'lessons' is written as a short 1-3 page essay, explaining how she arrived at this lesson, and why it is important.  I'm looking forward to finishing this one next week.
And finally, today, while I was working on this post, the UPS man came in the pouring (and I MEAN POURING) rain and presented me with
The Lotus Eaters..
by Tatjana Soli
I've been drooling for this one to read for my Vietnam reading challenge.  There are so many accolades already posted for this one.  I'll be reading it as soon as I finish Man From Saigon.  
Here's the blurb from Amazon:

A unique and sweeping debut novel of an American female combat photographer in the Vietnam War, as she captures the wrenching chaos and finds herself torn between the love of two men.
On a stifling day in 1975, the North Vietnamese army is poised to roll into Saigon. As the fall of the city begins, two lovers make their way through the streets to escape to a new life. Helen Adams, an American photojournalist, must take leave of a war she is addicted to and a devastated country she has come to love. Linh, the Vietnamese man who loves her, must grapple with his own conflicted loyalties of heart and homeland. As they race to leave, they play out a drama of devotion and betrayal that spins them back through twelve war-torn years, beginning in the splendor of Angkor Wat, with their mentor, larger-than-life war correspondent Sam Darrow, once Helen's infuriating love and fiercest competitor, and Linh's secret keeper, boss and truest friend.
Tatjana Soli paints a searing portrait of an American woman’s struggle and triumph in Vietnam, a stirring canvas contrasting the wrenching horror of war and the treacherous narcotic of obsession with the redemptive power of love. Readers will be transfixed by this stunning novel of passion, duty and ambition among the ruins of war.
All in all a good week in the mailbox.  Now it's time to get back to reading......what goodies did the postman bring you?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Salon


Normally on Sundays, during any kind of sports season, we like to curl up in the great room after a late leisurely breakfast and read. In cool seasons, we have a big fire in the fireplace, in warmer times we open the sliders to get the benefit of the breeze off the river right in front of us.

Today, in my church, it's Palm Sunday.  That meant choir at our morning Mass (8:00) and then more choir practice for all the services coming up this week.  By the time I got home for breakfast it was after 11!  Hubs had already done the fruit and chopped the ingredients to put together a nice frittata.  So by the time we settled down to watch basketball (we're rooting for West Virginia) and the Red Sox, I was ready for a nap......and with a big fat cat in my lap and a comfy recliner in front of the fire (it's only 34 outside right now), I was in lala land quickly.

I was planning to read big chunks of my two current reads:

Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage that redrew the Map of the New World, by Douglas Hunter.
This is a slow but very interesting read.  There is a lot of historical detail, it is obviously well-researched, and full of explanations about the trade and policitics of the early 17th century, as well as the details of sailing ships and voyages.  It will probably take me another month to finish it, but I'm certainly enjoying what I'm reading so far.

The Man from Saigon by Marti Leimbach.  This is my latest LT Early Reviewers book and I've just started this one.  It begins well  drawing the reader right in, and has me itching to get into it.  I hope to get this one done during the week.

In the late evenings before I nod off for good, I've also been listening to Wolf Hall, this year's Man Booker Prize winner by Hilary Mantel.  This is an absolutely gorgeous read, and I'm planning to buy a print copy for our personal library.  The audio is well done, and really brings the characters into focus.  I'm about 2/3 done on this one and it is definitely deserving of all the raves it's been getting.

Finally, I've been listening to Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler.  I've never been able to get into her other books: Accidental Tourist and Back When we were Grownups are two others that come to mind.  I was really hooked on this one from the beginning however, and had great hopes.  But as I discussed with my husband at breakfast this morning, it has suddenly gone flat.  It's like someone brought a big pot of stew to a potluck supper, and it smelled so delicious you ladled out a huge helping and prepared to gorge yourself, but as you ate you kept looking for the beef.  I'm quickly getting tired of the main character, a weak willed, namby-pamby high school teacher named Liam.  The only thing holding my interest at present is the Baltimore setting.  Don't be surprised if this one shows up on an Unfinished Friday post.

So  tonight, I plan to get some serious reading done, both the eye and the ear variety.  I hope your teams win, your spring is warmer than ours, and your reading is rewarding. Be sure to let us know if you drop by.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Ghost at Work

Author: Carolyn Hart
Narrator: Ann Marie Lee
Format: 8 discs (10.75 hrs)- 336 page equivalent
Characters: Bailey Ruth Raeburn, Kathleen Abbott, Sheriff Cobb, assorted good and bad guys
Subject: Murder in a small town
Setting: Adelaide Oklahoma 
Series: Bailey Ruth Mysteries #1
Genre: Cozy mystery
Source: Overdrive download from public library
Challenge: Support your Public Library, Thrillers and Suspense, Audio Books

A pleasant cozy. Bailey Ruth Raeburn has already died and gone to heaven. After a while of almost boring wonderfulness, she enlists in the heavenly rescue squad to return to earth and help people in trouble. Her first assignment is to go back to her hometown of Adelaide Oklahoma to help her grand niece Kathleen Abbott who is afraid she or her husband, the rector at St. Mildred's episcopal, will be accused of murder. After all, there is a dead body on the back porch of the rectory.

Bailey Ruth didn't have time for training in heaven before she undertook this assignment. Her continual violation of the "heavenly precepts for emissaries" lands her in hot water with her heavenly mentor Wiggins as she tries to intercept evidence, interview suspects, and find out who dunnit while keeping herself invisible. Her appetite for good home cooking keeps getting in the way, and her need to help constantly has objects flying through (or suspended in) the air as she whizzes, whisps, and zooms from spot a to spot b, all the while forgetting that while she may be invisible the bag of evidence she's just scooped up isn't. Neither can the corporeal objects melt through solid walls or doors. Her antics to overcome these difficulties are truly amusing.

All in all, Hart presents us with an endearing character, a solid plot, lots of good suspects, and a fairly surprise ending. I'll be looking for another of these to see if Bailey Ruth can learn how to do this job in a more efficient manner and whether she'll be able to get off probation and become a full-fledged emissary. 

Friday Favorites from the Past

Freedom at Midnight
by Larry Collins

Every Friday, Alyce At Home With Books features this meme inviting us to look back at a favorite book from the past.  This week, my memory got jogged by a discussion over on LibraryThing about Salamon Rushdie's book Midnight's Children.  Someone mentioned that reading Freedom at Midnight vastly helped their enjoyment of Rushdie's book, and that triggered my memory of this excellent work.  I'm going to have to dig it out of that box in the attic and put it back on the re-read shelf.  Here's some blurb:

Fifty years ago, seconds after midnight on 14-15 August 1947, the Union Jack, emblazoned with the Star of India, began its final journey down the flagstaff of Viceroy's House, New Delhi. One fifth of humanity claimed their independence from the greatest empire history has ever seen. But 400 million people were to find that the price of freedom was partition and war, riot and murder....Collins and Lapierre recount the eclipse of the fabled British Raj and examine the roles enacted by, among others, Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah in its violent transformation into the new India and Pakistan.
(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 05 Jan 2010 22:04:26 -0500)

Writing history well enough to make sense to the layman, so that it is interesting and makes us want to re-read and find out more, is truly a gift.  This book offers all that.  I can still remember after all those years, the feeling that I was there, and was able to see and hear and smell what was happening.  A great memory that deserves to be refreshed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Lake Magic

Author: Kimberly Fisk
Format: mass market paperback, 336 pages
Characters: Jennifer Bekinsale, and Jared Worth
Subject: relationships
Setting: Pacific Northwest

Genre: fiction- romance
Source: LibraryThing Early Review program

A pleasant romance with just enough sexual tension to keep the reader from falling asleep.  While not the traditional bodice ripper, the story is fairly predictable: girl loses love of life; love of life's best friend shows up.  Girl hates new guy, new guy thinks he hates best friend's girl.  Both must work together to keep the dead dude's business get the picture. As a sideline to add interest, there are some family dynamics from girl's side-- a career woman sister whose son is floundering without parental guidance, overbearing mother, stuck-up attorney brother...etc etc etc.

In spite of the formulaic plot and setting, the characters are reasonably well drawn, the writing is clean, and in the end.......well no spoilers here.

I do wish the editing could have been tighter.  After a while, the recitation of the mental gymnastics of the two main characters got to be a bit much as they struggled to resolve the angst of this relationship.  All in all tho, it's an nice read for a rainy afternoon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Meet my new Best Friend

As many of you know, I get most of my required exercise in the therapy pool at the local YMCA.  However, that has always been time lost from reading.  And you also probably know that I love audio books.   Due to various physical restrictions (you don't need the gruesome details), most forms of impact producing exercise are likely to leave me in pain so I enjoy the pool and get a good work out.  And many big hardcover books are actually painful for me to hold.  I could at least put a book on the rack of a treadmill, or listen to my MP3 on the elliptical or while I'm out taking a walk, but in the water????? ya go.  I don't normally like to do commercials on my blog, but I will simply say that I got it on the internet and it was $30 including shipping.....not bad.  And it works..  The company is GSI.

You slip your ipod or MP3 into the pouch, attach it to the jack inside, snap the pouch closed, hook the waterproof (included and VERY comfortable) earphones to the jack on the outside, slip the arm band on and jump in.   Another way to enjoy those audio books.  The sound quality isn't Carnegie Hall, but it works just fine thank you.

It doesn't look all that sturdy, and I'm going to be testing it frequently to be sure it's not developing any leaks, but WOW did I enjoy my workout today.  No more excuses. 

Hmmmm.....maybe I should identify a pile of bubble bath audio!

Poacher's Son

Author: Paul Doiron
Format: paperback galley - 324 pgs
Characters: Mike Bowditch, Jack Bowditch, Charley Stevens
Subject: father-son relations; Maine Warden service
Setting: Maine wilderness
Genre: fiction
Source: Barnes and Noble First Look Club
Challenge: ARCs completed

My first participation in Barnes and Nobles' First Look Club. This is a very impressive debut novel/mystery. The author, who is editor of DownEast magazine, lives right here in my neck of the woods. He presents us with a well-defined cast of characters with a wide range of motivations. The setting is lush and well painted, and the plot is a true page-turner. Mike Bowditch, 24 yrs old, is a Maine Game Warden whose father is a suspect in a double murder. The book starts quickly with Mike tracking a bear on the loose who has stolen a pig; when he returns to his cabin hot, tired, thirsty, and lonely, he gets a call from his father who says he needs help. Mike hasn't seen him in over two years, and learns the next morning that Jack Bowditch is suspected of killing two people in the North Woods of Maine, and has escaped into those woods.

The following chapters are full of flashbacks to a less than happy childhood, a lousy relation with his father,  his current on again/off again contact with his mother and step-father, descriptions of his previous and current relationship with his girlfriend Sarah, and Mike's struggle to decide where his loyalties lie.  Will he be able to keep his job and remain objective when the very people tracking his father are his fellow game wardens and the state police?    The action is concise and believable. There is a vast array of possible suspects.  Mike is truly conflicted, trying to balance his feelings for his father with his desire to do his job and his need to feel validated in many of his life choices. NO spoilers. It is definitely recommended if you like good characters and lots of action. It is especially recommended if you like the great outdoors, Maine, and wildlife. Let's hope that Warden Mike Bowditch appears in future works.

The author Paul Doiron is scheduled to do a book signing at one of our local libraries in May when it is published (pub date is showing as May 11th).  You can bet I'm going to be there!

Many thanks to Barnes and Noble for the copy of the book and the great online discussion at the First Look Club.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme sponsored by Marcia at The Printed Page.  Just as the post office, or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.

My mailbox had only one--but it's one I 'm really looking forward too.  I've been reading a lot of heavier stuff right now (particularly for Lent) so this cozy from the Wine Lover's Mystery series is gonna be fun.

Happy Hour by Michele Scott.  Here's the publisher's description:

Four friends working in Napa Valley, Sundays are for fellowship, good food and wine. Jamie is editor-in-chief at "Wine Lover's Magazine," and a single mother. Before her husband died, she lived a fairy tale life. Guilt from his death keeps her from moving forward. Kat is a sommelier, and co-owner of a restaurant with her chef husband Christian. Although deeply in love they deal with a myriad of issues, including ex-spouses, Kat's teenage sons and her new age mother Venus. Danielle is a vintner who finds herself entrenched in both an identity and family crises when her eldest daughter returns home from college with a bombshell of a secret. Alyssa is an artist and gallery owner. When a tragic past event catches up with her, she must face the skeleton in her closet and rely on her friends to see her through her darkest hours. These women discover that friendship is the right prescription to get through the hard times as well as for enjoying the wonderful moments together.

Corked by Cabernet by  Michele Scott

Now although the postman (and Mr. Brown Guy) didn't do too well, doesn't mean I didn't get some new (to me) books this past week.  I stopped into one of our local library's used book stores and managed to snare a couple prizes.

Since I got the Michele Scott book, I thought I ought to grab the paperback they had of Corked By Cabernet, an earlier book in this series.  My sister Cheli (of Cheli's Shelves fame) has a couple of these.  She is the cozy queen in our family, and indicated I would really like this series.

Trattoria by Patricia Wells
Now if you're going to read about wine, you must of course be accompanying that with some good food. I'm a sucker for cookbooks, and the ladies at the bookstore hadn't even gotten this one out of the donation box and onto the shelves before I adopted it. There are some great recipes in this one and for $2 who can resist?

Amazon pitches it :
Trattorias are the places where Italians go for robust, hearty foods that are simply prepared and bursting with flavor. Now the award-winning author of Bistro Cooking fuels America's passion for Italian food with 150 authentic recipes that capture the flavor and brio of the small towns and villages of Italy,
Mangia everyone....

 The Day the Falls Stood Still by Catherine Buchanan

And finally, I picked up one I've had on my wishlist for several months...the product description has me ready to put this one pretty high up on the TBR pile:

Steeped in the intriguing history of Niagara Falls, this epic love story is as rich, spellbinding, and majestic as the falls themselves.
1915. The dawn of the hydroelectric power era in Niagara Falls. Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath has led a sheltered existence as the youngest daughter of the director of the Niagara Power Company. After graduation day at her boarding school, she is impatient to return to her picturesque family home near Niagara Falls. But when she arrives, nothing is as she had left it. Her father has lost his job at the power company, her mother is reduced to taking in sewing from the society ladies she once entertained, and Isabel, her vivacious older sister, is a shadow of her former self. She has shut herself in her bedroom, barely eating--and harboring a secret.
The night of her return, Bess meets Tom Cole by chance on a trolley platform. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to him--against her family's strong objections. He is not from their world. Rough-hewn and fearless, he lives off what the river provides and has an uncanny ability to predict the whims of the falls. His daring river rescues render him a local hero and cast him as a threat to the power companies that seek to harness the power of the falls for themselves. As their lives become more fully entwined, Bess is forced to make a painful choice between what she wants and what is best for her family and her future.
Set against the tumultuous backdrop of Niagara Falls, at a time when daredevils shot the river rapids in barrels and great industrial fortunes were made and lost as quickly as lives disappeared, The Day the Falls Stood Still is an intoxicating debut novel.

So I'm set for at least another week. How's the mailman been treating you?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Winner : Eastern Stars!

Congratulations to Carol M, a Pittsburgh Pirates fan! has chosen her entry to win the giveaway of Eastern Stars

I have emailed her and will get the book out as soon as she sends her snail mail address.  In the event she doesn't respond by Monday evening, I'll draw another name.  Thanks to everyone who stopped by to enter the contest.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More on Henrietta

I started this as a follow-up comment to several others on the review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but it got so lengthy, I decided to elevate it to its own post.

This book was done with the family's permission, and grudging cooperation. While there appear to be injustices when the situation is viewed through the prism of today's laws and accepted practices, this story started when there were no rules or laws, etc about obtaining permission to used 'abandoned tissues.'  What happened was commonly accepted practice.  Johns Hopkins personnel did NOT sell HeLa cells---they gave them away to anyone who needed them for research.

Skloot does an excellent job of explaining the evolution of the thinking, the practices,  the atmosphere at the time, and the understanding (or lack thereof) of family members when they were presented with tidbits of information.  Henrietta's husband had about a 4th grade education (I took the book back to the library so I can't fact-check that one.).  No one seems to have remembered about the daughter in the Hospital for Colored Insane.  And because no one working with the cells through the years knew who they came from, there was never an attempt to discuss any of this with the family.  And the family never knew enough to ask the right questions.

To me one of the saddest parts of the story is the lack of trust and lack of education of her family.  Because they had been 'ripped off' or lied to (or whatever else they thought) they found it almost impossible to trust anyone who could help them uncover the truth.  Their one 'episode' of 'hiring a lawyer' was disastrous. Even today, it seems they are most upset about not knowing about their sister in Crownsville, not having a headstone for Henrietta, and not being able to get medical care/insurance for themselves. 

The book brings out all the warts and wrongs in the medical, research, legal, and social service situations for black Americans in the 1950s up until today. It will certainly be interesting to see if there is something positive to come out of all the publicity surrounding the story.

Skloot gives us an excellent 'afterward' in the book where she discusses the options being considered today.  Is regulation needed?  How much? What should be regulated?  Is the issue really about privacy? Or is it money?

To me the bottom line is the question "Where would the world be if HeLa cells had not been available all these years?"

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Author: Rebecca Skloot
Format:  hard cover, 384 pages

Subject: medical ethics, cell research
Setting: Baltimore, MD, Clover VA
Genre: non-fiction science reporting
Source: public library
Challenge: Support Your Public Library

I didn't think I'd get this read  so soon.  I put it on reserve at the library and was told I was 48 in line for 37 copies.  Then three days later, it came in.  I thought I was  just going to leaf through the pages but found myself engaged right away.  It's set mostly in my hometown of Baltimore, and is so well written and such a compelling story, that I had to read it straight through.  It's the story of a poor black woman, Henrietta Lacks,  whose cervical cancer tumor was so unusual that doctors at Johns Hopkins took samples before they began treating her with radiation back in 1951.  She died within the year, but her cells from the tumor turned out to be some absolutely fantastic ones that are almost impossible to kill and are incredibly easy to reproduce and use in medical research.  Her cells are known to scientists as HeLa (the first two letters of her first and last name).

Her family never knew about the procedure or about these incredible cells growing and being used all over the world.  HeLa cells are reportedly responsible for Dr. Salk's success in developing the polio vaccine for instance.  Today, her descendants are so poor they can't even afford to go to the doctor.  It's an incredible story of a reporter wanting to find out about the cells, the family, and the research.  It's well written, fairly easy to understand, and a must read.

The reporter has established an educational trust for the benefit of Henrietta's descendants.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spotlight series: Unbridled Books

Aarti at Booklust has begun a new adventure for all of us: The Spotlight series, a reading and discussion series focused on small press publishers, their authors and their books.   The first publisher in the spotlight is Unbridled Books.  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of today's book last month - I think through Shelf Awareness. So I'm spotlighting THE SINGER"S GUN.

Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Format:  galley proof 304 pgs
Characters:Anton, Elena, Aria, Agent Broden
Subject: moral choices
Setting: New York City, Ischia Isle- Italy
Genre: fiction
Source: ARC from the publisher Unbridled Books
Challenge: ARC completion

Essentially, except for Homeland Security officer Alexandra Broden who is investigating immigration and passport fraud, just about every other character in this book is participating in some kind of fraud.  There are two couples who shouldn't be couples but can't seem to generate enough energy to do anything about it, there are parents who find nothing wrong with teaching their son and adopted daughter how to cheat at everything, there are the 'innocents' who are living lives of ear  based on fraudulent identities; there are blackmailers, murderers, bullies, and smugglers. And then there's Anton, one of the most dysfunctional men I've met in a book in a long time.  He has obviously been warped by his cousin Aria, an orphan who was raised by Anton's parents, and who leads Anton into a life of crime, self-recrimination, and guilt. And finally, there's Elena, Anton's lover, secretary, and  'customer' of his illegal activities. Mandel would have us believe Anton and Elena are just poor schmucks who truly dislike what they are doing and want to change, but don't know how. 

The prose is clear, it's concise, and it paints a good picture. I just had a hard time buying the premise the picture was painting.  I think Mandel is trying to paint Anton as some sort of victim.  I see him as a weak and crippled character, afraid to break away from his family to do the 'right' thing.  Here at least Mandel succeeds in what I believe her central premise is - that often it is difficult to choose to act against family.  And when the family is the one encouraging you to make immoral choices, well...........

That the book ends as it does (and I don't do spoilers in reviews) is nothing short of a miracle.  To finish the book is to arrive at the last page seriously depressed that such people exist in our world, but with hope that there are still people who have the empathy and ability to act humanely. It was very slow getting started, the characters were not very likable, (although I suspect they are quite representative of real people), and I had a hard time figuring out just where the author was going with the story.  Suddenly at around page 150 it finally started picking up steam and I felt like it would not be a waste to finish it. I'm not sure I'd say I really liked this book, but I didn't really dislike it.

It's hard to explain or review this one without spoilers. It would be a great book for a discussion group because the moral judgments and choices depicted all could have been different, but that would have made a different story. It's a good read, but probably not for everyone.

It would even make a good movie, given the taste of today's movie going public.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Burning Cold

Subtitle: The Cruise Ship Prinsendam and the Greatest Sea Rescue of all Time
Author: H. Paul Jeffers
Format: hardback, 304 pages
Subject: shipwreck, fire at sea, US Coast Guard rescues
Setting: Bay of Alaska, Oct 1980
Genre: non-fiction, documentary
Source: public library
Challenge: Support your public library

This is one of those serendipitous discoveries that I thought I was just going to page through and ended up staying up well past my bedtime to read cover-to cover.

You could say this is a book about heroism, or a book about a terrifying adventure, or a book about carelessness and poor seamanship, but however you want to look at it, it's a true story about a little known episode in an otherwise glorious history.

Members of my family (me included) have made numerous cruises on Holland America's ships (including the Alaska cruises) and never heard about this little adventure.  The story here is about the fire onboard the MS Prinsendam, the ineptitude of the crew in extinguishing it, and the harrowing experiences of the 350+ passengers (most of them quite elderly) who endured hours waiting to be rescued as they bobbed up and down in lifeboats in scanty attire while the sea roiled from the edges of a major typhoon. It was October and it was cold and dark.

The US Coast Guard, and several civilian tankers did a stellar job of rescuing every single person who was onboard (including the now famous pianist Yanni), and getting them to safety.  While the author could have used a good editor to strain out a lot of extraneous material ---he seemed to think we needed the entire career history of every person involved in this debacle---it was still a quick read.  I'm just not sure I'd recommend it to someone about to plunk down thousands of dollars to go on a cruise, although I'd definitely recommend paying attention to the life boat drill when they say dress warmly and bring your life jacket.  Altogether an engrossing read.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday, the wonderful meme sponsored by Marcia at The Printed Page, is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.

In addition to the treasures the library found for me this past week, the postman (or in my case it's often the big brown truck!) delivered these:

The Unnamed -  an audio book I won from a contest on So Many Precious Books.....thanks Teddy Rose

I love audio books, and am looking forward to this one.  According to the back cover blurb:

Tim Farnsworth is a handsome, healthy man, aging with the grace of a matinee idol...
He loves his wife, his family, his work, his home...
And then one day he stands up and walks out. And keeps walking..

...a dazzling novel about life and marriage ...a heartbreaking story of a life taken for granted and what happens when that life is abruptly and irrevocably taken away.

Postcards from a Dead Girl- another contest win , this one from Alyce of At Home with Books.  
Amazon's sales pitch says:

... the tragicomic story of Sid Higgins, a twenty-something telemarketer in the midst of a crisis. His sales are down, he thinks he might have a brain tumor, and his ex-girlfriend, Zoe, keeps sending postcards from exotic locations but he's pretty sure she's dead. Sid's family isn't much help. His sister Natalie accuses him of being a hypochondriac. His mother has been deceased for years, but complains occasionally through a bottle of '67 Bordeaux. And his dog, Zero, hounds him to stop worrying so much. Intent on solving the mystery of the postcards, Sid embarks on a journey to trace their origin. His search takes him from New Jersey laundromats to Barcelona discotheques, but he's always one step away from the truth. Part Walter Mitty, part Woody Allen, Sid must come to terms with the dark reality of his past to make way for something (or someone) good in his future.
Doesn't this just sound like a hoot?

The Man from Saigon -This one is my snatch from the February list of Early Review books on LibraryThing.  I'm really excited about this one since I'm participating in the War Through the Generations Challenge reading about Vietnam this year. Here's the description from the Early Review posting:

An enthralling and beautiful new novel about love and allegiance during the Vietnam War, from the author of Daniel Isn't Talking and Dying Young. It's 1967, and Susan Gifford is one of the first female correspondents on assignment in Saigon, dedicated to her job and passionately in love with an American TV reporter. Son is a Vietnamese photographer anxious to get his work into the American press. Together they cover every aspect of the war from combat missions to the workings of field hospitals. Then one November morning, narrowly escaping death during an ambush, Susan and Son find themselves the prisoners of three Vietcong soldiers who have been separated from their unit.
Now, under constant threat from American air strikes, helpless in the hands of the enemy, they face the daily hardships of the jungle together. As time passes, the bond between Susan and Son deepens, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Son to harbor the secret that could have profound consequences for them both.
The Swimming Pool - An ARC from the publisher that I got through Shelf Awareness.  Here's the blurb:

A heartbreaking affair, an unsolved murder, an explosive romance: welcome to summer on the Cape in this powerful debut.

Seven summers ago, Marcella Atkinson fell in love with Cecil McClatchey, a married father of two. But on the same night their romance abruptly ended, Cecil's wife was found murdered—and their lives changed forever. The case was never solved, and Cecil died soon after, an uncharged suspect.

Now divorced and estranged from her only daughter, Marcella lives alone, mired in grief and guilt. ....In what is sure to be the debut of the season,
The Swimming Pool delivers a sensuous narrative of such force and depth that you won't be able to put it down.

So many books, so little time......what was in your mailbox this week?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Salon

In spite of my good intentions last week, I ended up taking a long nap. The fire was warm, the wind was blowing, and the cat curled up in my lap. I made the mistake of flipping the handle on the recliner and ZONK....I was gone.

This week, even after losing an hour's sleep, I'm enjoying a true reading Sunday. I have to backtrack about a week....I had seen so much press about Henrietta Lacks and her incredible cells, that I put a hold on at our local library. I was told I was 48th on a list for 37 copies in the system. So I mentally put that one in the queue for sometime in May, figuring it would be a good one to slide in when I finished my lenten list. Then I was talking to my mom and we somehow got onto the subject of cruising, and I was looking up the name of one of the Holland America Lines ships that our family loves to sail on whenever they scrape up enough money to take a cruise. One of the tidbits that appeared in my google search was a book about a Holland America ship THAT SUNK....and voila....that one was also available by inter-library loan, so I put in a request for it, thinking that when it ever arrived from that far distant library in upper Maine, I'd just page through it, show it to my husband, the old sailor, and then send it back to the library.

Yesterday....the library called..... I have spent five hours reading FOUR (repeat) FOUR wonderful pieces of non-fiction.  A new first for me. Haven't finished any of them yet, but by this time next week, I'm sure they'll all be done.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (I missed the piece on today's CBS Sunday Morning and as of 3:30 today they haven't posted a replay yet).  I figured I would just sort of page through this one.  NOT---it is fascinating, well-written, and of course, since it is largely set in Baltimore, my hometown, I'm sure I'll have lots to chat about with all my relatives.  I have to finish this one because with that many holds at the library, I know I won't be able to renew it.  It will not be a hardship to finish it  ( I suspect I may even be up late tonite --choir practice after dinner will take out a time chunk-- to get to the end.)

Burning Cold: The Cruise Ship Prinsendam and the greatest sea rescue of all Times.   This is another one that is really easy to read.  I started to say fun, but I suspect since we haven't gotten to the fire that resulted in the disaster, that the fun of boarding, dining, and enjoying the cruise is about to end.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the Coast Guard and Holland America managed to save EVERYONE (mostly elderly).  Believe me, I'll definitely pay big attention next time to the lifeboat drills!

The Woman Who Named God This is one that I won in a blog contest several months ago and started reading about 10 days ago.  I thought it was fiction, I thought the title referred to Sarai (Sarah) Abraham's wife, but now in the middle, I'm finding it may refer to someone else.  It's fascinating reading, and Charlotte Gordon, the author has done a great research job to present material that could have been very dull in a very easy to read and understand story.

The Seven Storey Mountain - an autobiography.  I believe this is the first book written by the very prolific monk Thomas Merton. We inherited an entire collection, and I've been determined to read at least one.  I have been taking it slowly, savoring it.  Published years ago, the font is small and tightly packed, the writing is fairly formal, and Merton isn't going to miss telling us about every little detail of his life before he became a cloistered monk.  It is interesting though, and I'm about half-way through.  I'm hoping to finish by Easter.

Now....during the week I plan to listen to more of  WOLF HALL--- a book that deserves every accolade it's been receiving.  I thought I knew a lot about the era, but I'm finding much new information.  The narration on the audio is fantastic, and I almost look for excuses to exercise, clean house, or do my cross-stitch so I can listen.

Finally, spring training has begun, and the Red Sox game is on the TV (muted) so we can keep track of how they're doing---winning of course!  Let's just hope choir doesn't drag on forever tonite.....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wrapping up the wrap up I said before.....

for some reason (I suspect it has to do with the number of links) the post just before this one refused to allow me to edit it any further.  I saved it as a draft, but now cannot get into any of it to edit, nor can I add the ending wrap it up paragraph.   I was planning to keep it as a draft, add the rest of the books I read in March, and then publish at the end of the month. appears that I'm going to have to post a 1/2 a month end of month March report later to complete.  And I'll have to be careful about how big/long these wrap ups get.  Hmmmmmm....any suggestions ???  Is there a limit on the length of a post? 

Monthly wrap up- Feb and March

Well.... I'm not as caught up as I wanted to be, and I didn't get a monthly wrap-up posted for February, but I'm still having fun reading a variety of old, new, fiction, non-fiction, short and long books for all the challenges on my side bar.  So here's the scoop for February and March.

The composite report indicates that for February and March , I've read  and reviewed  25 books, and officially abandoned only one (Shadow of the Wind) .  Of those my top five are

1. The Cruelest Month
2. The Khan Dilemma
3. War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters who Covered Vietnam
4. The Poacher's Son
5. The House on Beartown Road

So here's the progress for the month--the Challenge Title links to that blog's contest, and the Book title links to my review:

Books Won Reading Challenge: Read 10 or more in 2010
Progress: 4/10
The Woman Who Named God

Reading from My Shelves Challenge: Read 20 in 2010
Progress: 6/10
The Women Around Jesus
The Seven Storey Mountain
Rome Has Spoken

Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge 
 COMPLETE 12 Books read!  Anything past now is a bonus!

Execution Dock
Monkey's Raincoat
206 Bones
The Cruelest Month
The Weight of Silence
The Khan Dilemma
Blood of the Wicked 
Buried Strangers
The Case of the Missing Servant

Typically British Reading Challenge    Read 3 in2010
Progress: 2/3
Execution Dock
Audio Book Challenge - Listen to 20 in 2010
Progress: 16/20
The Case of the Missing Servant
Execution Dock
Monkey's Raincoat
206 Bones
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
The Cruelest Month
Morning Show Murders
House on Beartown Road

ARC Reading Challenge    Going for the Gold Level- read 25
Progress: 12/25  (There are still 12 from 2009, and 4 new ones sitting on the shelf.  The pile goes down.....the pile goes up.  How FUN!)
The Weight of Silence
The Khan Dilemma 
Eastern Stars
Shot to Death

TBR Challenge This one is a pre-stated list, and I'm not doing as well as I'd like to. The Challenge is to read 12 from a predesignated list of 24.
Progress: 2/12

The Woman Who Named God

Support Your Local Library Read 50 in 2010
Execution Dock
206 Bones
War Torn.....
Morning Show Murders
Blood of the Wicked
The Cruelest Month
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
House on Beartown Road
The Case of the Missing Books
Buried Strangers
The Case of the Missing Servant
The Monkey's Raincoat

War Through the Generations Challenge
 Read 5 in 2010
Progress: 1/5
War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters who Covered Vietnam

Medical Mysteries Read 6 in 2010
Progress: 1/6


Review and Giveaway reminder - EASTERN STARS

Only one more week to enter....
Spring training has started, and I'm sure there is at least one player from San Pedro de Marcoris playing today.

Here's my review................

Author:Mark Kurlansky
Format: paperback galley 288 pgs
Subject; baseball; sugar cane; poverty
Setting: San Pedro de Marcoris, Dominican Republic
Genre: non-fiction
Source: ARC from publisher
Challenge: Completing ARCs

This is a fact-filled report of the town of San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic. The author takes us back almost to Columbus, and marches forward through every 'owner/exploiter' of the town, explaining how economic circumstances changed as the sugar cane industry went thru a series of ups and down. The story presents more the history of baseball and stories of individuals and their struggles with baseball teams, terms, contracts, etc. I was especially interested in the impact the US embargo on Cuba has had on this whole issue, something I never realized before. There is also some discussion about how much impact baseball had on the town, and there is an excellent chronological listing of all the players who came to Major League american baseball from this town.

While I was personally disappointed not to find any mention of players from other towns in the DR, the author never stated that he intended otherwise. A good solid book for someone doing research on socio-economic development in the Dominican Republic, or someone who is a die-hard baseball trivia fan. Especially if your favorite team has one of the dozens of natives of San Pedro de Marcoris.

So step up to the plate and enter to win by clicking here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Morning Show Murders

Author: Al Roker
Format:8 discs (9 + hrs), 320 pg equivalent
Narrator:  Al Roker and Dick Lochte
Characters: Chef Billy Blessing,
Subject: murder; TV shows
Setting: New York
Genre: amateur sleuth detective mystery
Source: public library
Challenge: Audio books, Support your Local Library

A very predictable, run of the mill mystery. Chef Billy Blessing (a poorly disguised stand-in for Al Roker of NBC's TODAY Show fame) runs a restaurant, lives in digs upstairs, has a running gig on the Morning Show doing interviews, food segments, Man-about-town, etc.  However, he does not get along with one of the show's producers who turns up dead early in the story. Food from  Chef Blessing's restaurant is found at the victim's home, and the poor guy seems to have died from poison contained in the food.  Chef Blessing is of course accused of the murder, and decides he'll have to take things in his own hands and solve this crime.

There is a believable but non-too-exciting side cast of  characters, and several plot twists that aren't twisty at all.  They were basically ho-hum.  I listened to this one on audio-- it was OK, but much as I like the real Al Roker on TV when I only have to listen to him in 3-4 minutes segments, I found his voice very irritating for long run narration.  The whole thing was so unimpressive, I almost abandoned it out of boredom.

And there weren't even any good recipes.

Review: Blood of the Wicked

Author: Leighton Gage
Format: hardback, 304 pgs.
Characters:Chief Inspector Mario Silva, Delegado Hector Costa
Subject: crime and corruption
Setting: Brasil, 1970-80
Series: Chief Inspector Mario Silva
Genre: detectives, police procedural
Source: public library
Challenge:Support your Public Library, Thrillers and Suspense

This one is a bit violent and bloody for me, but I finished it anyway. I had read the next one in the series, Buried Strangers, and was anxious to back-fill information about the main character. Blood of the Wicked is the first of the Inspector Mario Silva series, set in Brazil. Silva is a member of the Federal Police force, so he is called to various locations throughout the country. Gage gives us a good solid introduction to Brazilian justice in the 60's and 70's during the military rule--not a brand we'd like to have here, and not a pretty site.

In this story, we get Silva's background and motivation for being a cop. We meet his nephew Hector Costa, also a cop, and are introduced to the theory of Liberation Theology, prevalent in South America during that period, but in this story recently condemned by Rome. The story opens with the murder of a Bishop. I don't like to do spoilers, but will say that in solving this murder, Silva must deal with street crime, pedophiles, corrupt (and I mean Very Corrupt) local and state police, even more corrupt judges, more murder, torture, child abuse, martyrs, selfish landowners, landless peasants, corrupt (yes Very Corrupt) and evil priests, saintly priests, abused women, and an obnoxious boss more worried about his image than justice.

In spite of this ugliness, Silva, with the help of a couple of holy people, manages to bring the severest perpetrators to justice.  Nuf said.  It's a great read, and, if you haven't read any of the others, holds great promise for more to come in future books.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Salon

This week I'm taking it easy after a long morning choir practice --we're getting ready for Easter, so will be having long practices on Sundays after early Mass when everybody's in town.  When  I get home, I'll have a leisurely breakfast (I'm thinking croissants, Canadian bacon, poached eggs and cantalope), and then settle down for some cross-stitch avec audio book, and then some reading.

It's been a good reading week, although I've not finished too many.  Two that I have finished are The Singer's Gun by Emily  St John Mandel and The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron.  I'm going to post the review for the Mandel book  for the The Spotlight series being hosted by Aarti at Booklust.  It was a fun read, so stay tuned for this one.

The Poacher's Son is an outstanding debut work by a fellow Mainer, Paul Doiron, who just happens to be the editor of DownEast Magazine.  This one is a winner, so look for it when it pubs in May.  In the meantime, we have a lively discussion going on at the Barnes and Noble First Look club, so I don't want to get ahead of the group  with a posted review.  We'll wrap up by Easter, so I'll post in mid to late March.

Then I've been plugging away at the Lenten Reading pile. I browsed (fairly intensely) through  Rome Has Spoken, a book I'd started years ago, and periodically picked up. I finally got it finished.  The subtitle really says  it all:  A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements and How they Have Changed Through the Centuries.
It's a very academic but interesting volume reviewing various "issues" that seem to have been interpreted and enforced differently over the two centuries of Roman Catholicism. The topics cover the range from evolution to the slavery, from Galileo to usury, and include the current buzz topics of contraception, women's ordination and divorce.  It's not recreational reading but it's been personally enriching.
So what's up for this week? 

I'm listening to Al Roker's Morning Show Murders- it's a slow starter, but I'm not ready for any intense audios right now. Roker reads his own work and it's an easy listen while I'm stitching.

I'm still plowing through Merton, and I started two new books---very different, but both really good:
The Woman Who Named God is one I won in a contest last year.  Although it's different from what I expected, (for some reason I thought it was fiction and it's not), I'm really impressed with the first 50 pages I've read.  It is not a quick read, but neither is it ponderous.
I was so enchanted with the Leighton Gage's Inspector Silva book that I read last month (Buried Strangers) that I got the first book in the series (Blood of the Wicked) from the library this week, and dove right in.  If anything, it's better than the other one.

And finally I need to get started on one of my LT Early Review books --Lake Magic by Kimberly Fiske since I just found out I was selected for another: Man from Saigon by  Marti Leimbach.  So Sunday's Salon looks to be a wonderful one.