Saturday, October 30, 2010

Winners and Review: At Home

Subtitle: A Short History of Private Life
Author:  Bill Bryson
Publisher/Format: Doubleday (2010), Hardcover, 512 pages  
Subject: Everything
Setting: the world
Genre: non-fiction- narrative history
Source: publisher review copy

Only Bill Bryson can set out to take us on a tour of an old English parsonage (vintage 1860ish) and end up giving us a two semester history course covering at least 4 centuries.

He takes each space in the house, begins by telling us how it was used, but then ventures off on a guided tour of everything remotely associated with that room.  Hallways become an excuse to talk about building materials and techniques (brick making, concrete pouring), bathrooms yield us an entire story of man's dealings with human waste and the diseases that result from poor handling of same; bedrooms become  the excuse for a story of man's attempts to live privately, kitchens give us lessons in cooking, utensils, fire and cooking methods as well as food preservation; sitting rooms give us the history of servants and their lives, etc.

At 512 page this qualifies as a clunkster, but a delightful one.  Fortunately, it does not have to be read straight through.  It is actually best read one chapter (and they're fairly lengthy ones) at a time, with another book in between.  Altogether, when finished, the reader is certainly a more educated person, and has thousands of pieces of trivia to drop at one's next kiddie playdate, cocktail party, or at the family Thanksgiving table when Uncle Fred starts slobbering in the cranberry sauce.

I love Bill Bryson and this is one of his best.  So without further ado  here are

The Winners


I'll be sending them an email today and they will have until 8:00pm Tuesday November 2nd to get back to me with their email addresses or I'll have to pick another winner.  Congratulations to both winners, and many thanks to everyone for entering. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Memoir #4 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates

Author: Wes Moore
Publisher/Format: Spiegel & Grau (2010), E-book, 256 pages
Characters: Wes Moore, Wes Moore
Subject: Growing up black male in America
Setting: Baltimore, Bronx, Valley Forge PA
Genre: Memoir
Source: e book download from public library

Last week our public library began offering patrons the opportunity to download e-books that can be read on the computer or transferred to various e-readers.  I wanted to test the technology, and read something in this format to see whether I'd really be happy if Santa brought an e-reader.  As I was browsing through over 1000 books available in this initial offering, I found this book set in Baltimore that seemed to fit perfectly into my current "Month of Memoirs" reading.

I grew up and went to school in Baltimore and the short length of this book made this a perfect trial.  Besides, it was a well-written and poignant story.  Wes Moore is the name of two different black men who were both born in Baltimore, who both lost their fathers at a very early age, and who were raised by hard-working single mothers.  They each had siblings, they both were encouraged to stay in school, they both had early run-ins with law enforcement, but one of them became a Rhodes scholar and intern to Condeleeza Rice, the other is spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison without hope of parole for his part in a robbery gone bad in which a Baltimore policeman was killed.

The two did not know each other until the author read about the arrest of the other Wes Moore. As he heard about the background of the suspect/later convicted felon, he began to ponder the similarities in their lives and asked himself what made the difference in their lives.  His initial letter to Wes the prisoner led to many visits where the two men began to delve into their backgrounds and differences.  Wes the prisoner blames no one but himself.  Wes the journalist is able to see how the strong male role models in his life, and the chances he was afforded because of those men, gave him opportunities which he was fortunate enough to take advantage of.  Both men agree that a country that values youth, instead of fearing them, that helps them look at a future that has options will help youth overcome the helplessness so many feel today.

Wes the author was fortunate enough to have grandparents who mortgaged their house to pay  his tuition to a private military academy after he got into trouble in the public schools.  He hated it at first, but eventually flourished under the structure and discipline and mentoring of the military veterans who ran the school.  He quotes one of his role models at the school:
When it is time for your to leave this school, leave this job or leave this earth, you make sure that you have worked hard enough to make sure that it mattered that you were even here."
The author goes on to add "...the notion that life is transient, that it can come and go quickly...has been with me since I had seen my father die....the idea of life's impermanence underlined everything for kids my age--it drove some of us to a paralyzing apathy, stopped us from even thinking too far into the future."
Neither Wes has a definitive answer why each made the choices he did.  Wes the prisoner has embraced Islam, and is accepting of his fate.  He sees his four children occasionally, but finds those visits only amplify his sense of helplessness in being able to influence their lives.  Wes the author is enjoying a successful career as a journalist, served with the Army in Afghanistan, and as been fortunate enough to have adventures around the world.

The book has an extensive appendix listing programs that help youth at risk, and urges adults to become involved.  It is left for the reader to decide the reasons for the different paths of each,  and to decide how he or she can help.

A note on the e-book format:  I found this format not as onerous as I'd expected, although I think it will be much more comfortable on an e-reader than having to sit with a lap-top screen.  I found I could not read for longer than about 30 minutes at a stretch.  The software and download program were quite easy to use, and I like being able to grab a book on a moment's notice without having to go to the library or bookstore. I'm sure if I get an e-reader, I'll certainly be able to use it, although I'll never be able to give up print or audio books.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Memoir #3: The Captain's Log

subtitle: Around the world with Cruise Captain

Author: Hans Mateboer
Publisher/Format: Captains Publishing, Charlotte NC, trade pprbck 230 pgs  
Subject: Cruise ship sailing
Setting: various ports of call
Genre: memoir a la sea stories
Source: my shelves (purchased from the author)

This was an thoroughly enjoyable read. As many of you know, my spouse is a retired Navy ship captain, so I am used to hearing "sea stories." However, his tales are always centered around those haze-grey vessels with guns, and rockets, etc. Captain Mateboer was the Captain on the cruise ship we sailed last summer. He and hubbie managed to trade a few sea stories, and he signed our copy of his adventures.

The book is written as a series of discrete vignettes-- perfect short 'sea stories': the adventures of a young boy yearning to go to sea, his early travels and employment aboard cargo ships; meeting his wife on a cruise; trying to dock a ship in a foreign port when the locals were on strike; mistaking passengers for terrorists; playing practical jokes on other crew members; putting sick passengers ashore; fending off lonely women; dealing with stowaways; entertaining both big wigs and treasured friends.

A different style of memoir, but one that was quite familiar in a cherished tradition.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Memoir #2: The Color of Water

Author: James McBride
Publisher/Format: Riverhead Trade (2006), Paperback, 352 page
also audio: Phoenix Books, narrated by Andre Braugher and Lanie Kazan
Subject: tribute to a mother
Setting: The Bronx, Suffolk VA,
Genre: memoir
Source: public library

Another outstanding memoir. This is the November read for our book discussion group. I read the print, and listened to portions of it while in the pool. Andre Braugher and Lanie Kazan do a truly devoted job of reading this one.

James McBride tells us the story of growing up black, in Harlem, then in projects in the Bronx. Raised by his white mother (his black father died before he was born) and black step-father, he was one of 12 children. He describes a loving family life, where children were expected to be successful, respectful, and STAY IN SCHOOL. Children were due in the house by 5:00 in the evening, and slept 5 to a bed. Dinner might often be a jar of peanut butter or several spoons of sugar.  He never met his mother's family and did not discover until he had completed his master's in Journalism at Columbia U, and decided to write a tribute to his mother, that she was Jewish, that her family had disowned her, that her father was an orthodox Jewish rabbi who sexually abused her, and  just how hard her life had been.

The story is told both in the son's and the mother's voices. It is very well-written, and gives us an incredible insight into each mind. James' father was a preacher, and his mother converted to Christianity and insisted on church attendance and prayer from all her children. As he begins to realize that his mother is different from other mothers, he asks her "Is God Black?" "NO" she answers. "Well is he white?" Mom replies in the negative. Still the young boy persists. "Well what color is he?" "The color of water." I just loved that image, and fell in love with this family.

As he lovingly recounts his search for his mother's family, and helps her confront a past she has repressed, he comes to an acceptance of his Jewishness, his multi-cultural roots, and gives us a picture of an exceptional family. In the epilogue he gives us a breakdown of the incredible achievements of them all. Every one of the 12 graduated from college. There are two doctors, school teachers, musicians, journalists, nurses, artists, and the mother completes her degree in her late 60's.

It's a tribute any mother would be proud to have her son write.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Memoir #1: Persepolis

Author:  Marjane Satrapi
Publisher/Format: Pantheon (2004), Paperback, 160 pages; graphic format
Characters: Marjane and her parents
Subject: life in revolutionary Iran
Setting: Iran 1970s amd 1980s
Series: 1st of two volumes
Genre: Memoir; autobiography
Source: Public library

Using the graphic (or as some would call it "comic book" format) Marjane Satrapi is able to give us a very detailed depiction of her life in Iran during the Islamic revolution of the late 1970's.  She manages a brief history of the country, an explanation of the government(s) and provides us telling details of what life was like for an impressionable and well-educated young woman before and after "the veil."  The only child of well educated parents, who strongly believed in the future of Iran as a democracy (not a theocracy) she is exposed to an adult perspective at an earlier age than many of her classmates, but still manages to let us know that this is a young, frightened girl who is struggling to comprehend the many changes taking place in her country.

The graphic format works well to convey the sometimes brutal reality of her world and her writing presents the reader with a very personal and enlightening glimpse into an often under-understood piece of history.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Mailbox

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly started by Marcia at The Printed Page. Mailbox Monday is now on tour at She Reads and Reads this month.  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 has been relatively empty these past few's OK!  The ones I've gotten have been spectacular and I'm really excited about all of them.

First I got two books to review for contests:

These two are currently up for grabs in contests.  I'm about 1/2way through At Home, and it's vintage Bryson. Click here to enter.

Running the Books has a really interesting story to tell, and was a welcome addition to my Month of Memoirs list as well as a great giveaway contest.  Enter this one here.


Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was a receipt from the Early Reviewers program at 

The publisher calls it " atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi. In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town. More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.
And finally, the postman brought me the newest Jan Karon, In the Company of Others which I had pre-ordered earlier this summer.  It was delivered, as promised, on October 19- the day of publication.  I fell in love with Fr. Tim Kavanagh and all the people of Mitford in Karon's earlier series, and now that she is allowing us to share Fr. Tim's life in retirement, I'm still enamored.  I'm building the anticipation for this one by saving it for our first snowy nite here, so I can curl up and sink into it.

All in all, a pretty good haul this past two weeks....

Friday, October 22, 2010

Running the Books - Giveaway

2 copies available
the Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

Liz at Random House has a great book for us as a giveaway.  My review copy arrived today and it looks great! This certainly fits well in my with my Month of Memoirs list.  I think it sounds fascinating and can't wait to read it.   I'm sitting on my hands to keep from butting it to the top of the queue, but it's going to be right up there. Here's the blurb:
Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to Harvard, he has only a senior thesis essay on Bugs Bunny to show for his effort. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing. And his romantic existence as a freelance obituary writer just isn’t cutting it. Seeking direction—and dental insurance—Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison.

The prison library counter, his new post, attracts con men, minor prophets, ghosts, and an assortment of quirky regulars searching for the perfect book and a connection to the outside world. There’s an anxious pimp who solicits Steinberg’s help in writing a memoir. A passionate gangster who dreams of hosting a cooking show titled Thug Sizzle. A disgruntled officer who instigates a major feud over a Post-it note. A doomed ex-stripper who asks Steinberg to orchestrate a reunion with her estranged son, himself an inmate. Over time, Steinberg is drawn into the accidental community of outcasts that has formed among his bookshelves — a drama he recounts with heartbreak and humor. But when the struggles of the prison library — between life and death, love and loyalty — become personal, Steinberg is forced to take sides.

Running the Books is a trenchant exploration of prison culture and an entertaining tale of one young man’s earnest attempt to find his place in the world while trying not to get fired in the process.

About the Author: Avi Steinberg was born in Jerusalem and raised in Cleveland and Boston. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Boston Globe, New York Review of Books, Salon, the Paris Review and the Daily Beast and others. He is both a cat and a dog person.  You can see more raves on the author's homepage.

Here are the rules for the giveaway: 
  1. For one entry, leave a comment telling me if you've read any good memoirs recently.
  2. For an extra entry, leave a separate comment telling me you're a follower (or become one and let me know).
  3. For another entry,  make a separate entry telling me you blogged about the giveaway, (sidebars are fine) and LEAVE ME THE LINK to the posting (if I don't get a link, the entry doesn't count).US addresses only, no PO Boxes.
  4. You MUST leave me an email address to contact you.  NO EMAIL, NO WIN.
  5. Deadline is Nov 12 -noon EDT.
Thanks again to Liz at Doubleday/Random House for making this one available.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Still Alice

Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher/Format:  audio 7hr, 45min; 320 page equivalent
Narrator: the author
Subject: Early Onset Alzeihmer's Disease
Setting: Cambridge Mass
Genre: fictional memoir
Source: public library

Lisa Genova has given us a thought-provoking, breath-taking novel written as the memoir of a 50 year old college professor who witnesses herself  going through periods of forgetfulness and is then diagnosed with Early Onset Familial Alzheimer's disease.(EOFAD).  As we meet her, Alice Howland is a world renowned professor of linguistic psychology at Harvard.  She begins forgetting appointments, finds herself lost in Harvard square (where she has walked everyday for over 20 years), and begins the process of  watching her mind (and therefore herself) disappear.  She devises 5 questions to ask herself every day so she can see whether she is "still Alice" and has her Blackberry set to remind her of these questions every day.

It is fascinating and gut-wrenching to watch as she deteriorates, and as she helps her family - husband, 2 daughters and a son- cope with her leaving them and with their own possibilities of carrying a genetic marker common to those with EOFAD.  Genova has done her homework and gives us a well researched indication of how the disease is diagnosed, treated, and what clinical trials are in progress.  Alice and her husband (a cancer researcher) are quite energetic in finding out everything they can about the disease and its mind-robbing progression, in looking for any possibility of a cure or at least a slowing of the ongoing loss of memory.

In this beautiful portrait, the science is never allowed to intrude on the human story: the story of a new grandmother struggling to figure out who is this beautiful young mother who is holding the beautiful baby in pink; the story of a wife struggling to help her husband and life-time lover deal with his own doubts and fears of losing her; the story of a mother struggling to accept another previously alienated daughter; the story of a son in medical school who knows first hand what is coming.  Throughout it all, we are able to experience Alice's fears, her loss of speech and thought processes, and the slow uncontrollable down-hill slide to a happy land where she knows she is 'still Alice' but doubts if others know that.

I thought it would be a depressing and discouraging story but it wasn't.  The hope for a future cure, the strides being made in the treatment, and Alice's own recognition of her condition bring the reader to an acceptance of the inevitability of life and its raw deals.  It's a book that should be read by all, not just for the information, but for the beauty of the writing.

I had the opportunity to listen to parts of this as an audio.  Normally I steer clear of books read by the author, but Ms. Genova was quite articulate and soothing. And.....even though it is fiction, and technically not a memoir, the point of view is one, and I'm feeling it is a great way to kick off my month of memoirs.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Eighteen Acres

Author: Nicolle Wallace
Publisher/Format: Atria (2010), Hardcover, 336 pages
Characters: Charlotte, Melanie, Dale
Subject: Women in the White House
Setting: Washington DC
Genre: Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher
Challenge: ARCs completed

 Last week I read a politico-thriller written by a Washington insider. As you saw in my review I found it not very exciting. So when I read the blurb for this one I thought "Chick-Lit...I'm just SO NOT ready for more Washington DC robo-politicians."   I was not overly inclined to want to read this one, even tho it is being published this week, and I could for once get a review posted on time. I'm so glad I made the effort.

This is the well-constructed story of three women: Charlotte- the President of the United States, her chief of staff, Melanie, and a big network White House reporter Dale.  It just so happens that Dale is secretly having an affair with the first husband, who conveniently is living in Connecticut where the first children are in boarding school. None of this is spoiler -it's put right out there in the first 20 or so pages.  It could easily have gone right into the trash can at this point as just another political soap-opera.  It's NOT.

Wallace does an excellent job of fleshing out these characters: their motivations, their emotions, and their aspirations.  The plot is also tightly drawn, centering around Charlotte--is she going to win re-election for a 2nd term when her popularity is plummeting?  Does she know about her husband's infidelity?  Does anyone besides the Secret Service know? What will happen if the affair becomes public knowledge?  And what is the nature of her relationship with her Secretary of Defense Roger Taylor?  They're always together, and Mrs. Taylor is beginning to resent his absences.

As the players jockey for power and presence, and the polls continue to reflect poor numbers, the war in Afghanistan rages on, and Charlotte and Roger make several trips to visit the troops. Dale lands a highly coveted trip with the presidential entourage, and Melanie is trying to decide if she wants to continue her life in the fast lane after 16 years in DC.

Past this I really don't want to go because it's a great read and I don't want to spoil it.  There are excellent plot twists and surprises, well-written dialogue and realistic DC scenes.  This is definitely not Chick-lit.  It's a well-written novel written by someone who obviously knows her way around the eighteen acres on which the Executive Branch sits in the middle of Washington D.C.

I look forward to more books by Nicole Wallace and thank Atria Books for sending the copy to review. It's on sale this week.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Genre reading

Two of my book clubs are reading memoirs for their next meetings in November. In fact, one of them has left it up to a genre challenge, and we will compare different styles of memoirs. As I scanned my bookshelves, I saw so many candidates that were begging to be read, that I decided to read the two that have been picked : The Color of Water by James McBride, and Persepolis, a graphic novel format of an early childhood in Iran. Then I decided that I would at least read the first 100 pages of several of the rest. My memoir shelf is shown here.

As Soon as I finish the ones I'm currently ending: Bryson's AT HOME, and Ellen Baker's Keeping the House, I'm going to dive into memoirs. Anyone care to join in?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Author: Mary Roach
Format: Brilliance Audio 10 hr, 27 min; 334 page equivalent
Narrator: Sandra Burr
Subject: difficulties encountered in manned space flight
Genre: non-fiction, investigative narrative
Source: public library download program
Challenge: lifetime read the Dewey Decimal categories (571.092)

Handled by another author, this could have been a dull, gross, and gruesome book full of facts, footnotes, and WAY more information than we might want to have about the various facets of getting human astronauts prepared to go into space.

Roach gives us hilarious examples of almost every problem NASA and other scientists ever had to deal with, along with very detailed scientific explanations in language readers can get their arms around. It's not dumbed-down, but with her deft handling, and bawdy sense of humor, she manages to explain very technical facts in easy to visualize jargon, all the while maintaining the scientist's objectivity.  Somehow what could have become Too Much Information about the dressing, moving, eating, sleeping, and excreting issues of humans in a zero gravity environment become instead a fascinating study of everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) any planner ever needed to consider to ensure the safety of men in space and the success of NASA missions.

I have to be honest and mention that there are sections of this best skipped by those who are exceptionally squeamish or prudish, but most of these are so intriguing that the grossness factor fades as we learn of some of the indignities to which these space heroes were (and are) subjected.

Having lived in Japan for several years, and spent hours helping my children with their origami projects, I was enthralled with the story of Japanese astronaut candidates who are put into an isolation unit for several days, and handed envelopes full of tiny squares of papers.  They are instructed to make 1000 origami cranes and string them on a chain (in the order finished).  Afterwards, psychologists examine the chains to see if these space flyer wannabes exhibit the same patience and attention to detail at the end of this ordeal as at the beginning.  After all, if they're going to have to spend 500 days in a small enclosed space with several others, patience and the ability to follow orders under stress are going to be important.  Somehow, I just can't picture Gus Grissom or John Glenn making 1000 paper cranes.

Mary Roach not only researched her material, she lived and experienced as much of it as she could.  Taking parabolic flights to experience zero gravity (if only for seconds at a time), tasting the food (including dare I say drinking reprossessed urine), trying on different clothing items, sitting for long periods in strange positions, being slammed with many G's, etc.  Her ability to "report" first hand, combined with her delightful and somewhat outlandish sense of humor, makes this a first rate piece of non-fiction.  If you've ever dreamed of floating in space, or hero-worshipped an astronaut, or wondered why on earth NASA needs so much money, this is the book for you. 

I listened to the audio, which was very well done, because the wait for the print book was TOOOO long, but this one is going onto the ebook list as soon as Santa brings me an e-reader for Christmas.  It's a keeper.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Winners!!! The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise

Winners!! We have Winners!!

I'm always excited when new followers are rewarded for stopping by and joining in on the blogging fun. And I apologize for not posting this sooner and keeping everyone on the fence.  Our power got knocked out for most of the day by that monster storm that hit us last night, and we've just come back up.  So without further ado, here are the winners!!! 

ShootingStars Mag

I'll be sending out emails tonite and the winners will have until Tuesday evening October 19th  to get me their mailing addresses.  If I don't hear from them by then, I'll have pick another winner.
Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who stopped by to enter.  
Many thanks to Judy at Doubleday for offering these for the contest.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Vestments by John Reimringer

Author: John Reimringer
Publisher/Format: Milkweed Editions (2010), Hardcover, 304 pages
Subject: conscience, celibacy, priestly vows
Setting: Minneapolis/St Paul
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Review copy from the publisher

John Reimringer has written a stunning debut novel set in the twin cities of Minneapolis/St Paul.  Fr. James Dressler is 30 years old, a catholic priest who has come home to live with his mother for a summer while he decides what to do with his life.  He is struggling with the idea of celibacy, both in the abstract and the physical, and has been banished to the boonies by his bishop because of a momentary lapse with a young woman in the parish.  His only alternative seems to be a job teaching history at a local Benedictine college. In the meantime, he is earning money fixing up old houses with his father, while he watches his grand-father slowly die, and prepares to officiate at his younger brother's wedding.  Meeting his old girlfriend, who is separated from her husband, he once again wrestles with desire and the need for human contact.

There are wonderful backfills of how and why he decided to become a priest, of the lusty, bar-sprawling, blue collar, dysfunctional family he grew up with, of young first love and lover's regrets.  The characters are lushly drawn as are the stories of his childhood and his relationships with various members of his family.  The descriptions of the cities become almost a character of their own.  The influence of the landscape, the factories, the rivers, the entire immigrant culture are woven into a tightly knit fabric of reminiscence.  Multi-layered and multi-faceted, Reimringer's novel gives us a young man struggling to grow up and away from his father, struggling with young love and the decisions required when things don't go well, struggling to get away from the ugliness of a family who only communicate with their fists. The young Jim Dressler is attracted to the calm, quiet and ordered way of life the priesthood seems to offer.

Best of all, Reimringer gives us a portrait of priesthood and the Catholic Church of his childhood (both Dressler's and Reimringer's). It is a church balanced on the tipping point of the post-Vatican II era, where priests are trying to come to grips with change vs. tradition, with a more educated laity, and the reality of life as they grow older and lonelier. In an interview with Eric Forbes of the Good Books Guide blog, Reimringer says
"... I grew up devoutly Catholic, but as I got older I drifted to the left and the Church drifted to the right, and so I was writing in exile from the Catholic Church, which I deeply loved as a child, and whose rituals and people I still deeply love.  The Catholic Mass is one of the most beautiful rituals on the planet, and the average Catholic, parishioner or priest, is ill-served by the Church's leadership these days.  The novel is an elegy for what the Church could be and still occasionally is."
He gives us real people who are priests.   Real men who struggle with all the weaknesses, flaws and failings of themselves and their parishioners.  Real men who play poker, drink scotch, kiss babies, endure soggy sodden food prepared by sullen, disgruntled housekeepers, who go out in all kinds of weather at all hours of the night to offer solace to dying people, and work for hours to deliver decent homilies on Sundays.  He gives us a gut-wrenching picture of the loneliness of life in a rectory and the soaring joy of service to others.  Each priest in the book is an eloquent example of the diversity of the men who have answered the call to this way of life, and the sentiments, motivations, failures and victories of each.

Dressler's struggles and the anguish he faces as he decides where his loyalties lie will not be welcomed by very conservative Catholics, but readers will find a powerful portrait of love, repentence, redemption, and difficult choices made.  It is a book that can be appreciated by readers of all religions.

Vestments is an Indie Next selection for October 2010.  It's available now.  Do read it.

Milkweed Editions is one of the largest independent, nonprofit literary publishers in the US. Their missions is "To identify, nurture and publish transformative literature, and build an engaged community around it." 
They have a winner with this book, and I thank them for the opportunity to review it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Ape House

Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher/Format: Spiegel & Grau (2010), advanced review copy 306 pages
Audio:  Books on Tape, 11 hours, 14 minutes
Narrator: Paul Boehmer
Characters: Isabel Duncan, John Thigpen; the Bonobos: Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena
Subject: Linguistic and cultural studies of great apes
Genre: fiction
Source: print: review copy from Publisher; audio - public library
Challenge: ARCs completed

This is the heartwarming story of six endearing Bonobo Apes, who are being nurtured and observed at the Great Ape Language Lab.  These primates are highly intelligent, able to communicate with humans using ASL (American Sign Language) and special computer programs.  They are engaging, charming, and pull the reader right into the story as they cavort, order cheeseburgers, watch movies, and engage in frequent sexual antics.  There are two human stories running at the same time, and it is here that I felt less interest.  Isabel Duncan, the linguist who is working with them is not an appealing character.  She comes across as whimpy and naive.  When the Bonobos are stolen during a raid following an explosion at the lab, Isabel is critically wounded and spends a large chunk of the book mending. She just doesn't come across as the major player she should have been.Her whole life leaves me with tons of where does she get all the money to just sit in a nice hotel for weeks on end when she's no longer working?

In the meantime, John Thigpen, a journalist who meets the Bonobos just hours before the explosion, has his own demons to chase.  His wife's career isn't going well, his mother-in-law is a royal pain in the sit-upon, and he is suddenly unemployed.  In his pursuit of HIS story (he still considers the story of the apes to be HIS) he has to deal with Russian exotic dancers, meth-lab heavies, idiot editors, and a series of close calls that reminded me of an episode of The Rockford Files.

The reader is subjected to a rather contrived tail of employment woes on the part of John and his wife all the while wondering what on earth happened to the Bonobos.  Isabel plays shrinking violet and allows herself to be maneuvered by a group of young computer hackers who all want to rescue the missing Apes. Thank goodness the youngsters are honorably motivated. The three stories eventually come together with a suitable ending for everyone, but I really had to wonder for a while if it would.  All in all, it's still an excellent read if only because one falls in love in the opening pages with these beautiful creatures and wants life to be good again for them in the end.

I both read and listened to this one, and in a rare departure for me, I vastly preferred the print edition.  This particular narrator did nothing for me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GIVEAWAY::::::::At Home by Bill Bryson

2 copies available

Once again our friends at Doubleday have offered a great book as a giveaway.  My review copy arrived today and it looks great! -It's next in the queue after my two current reads.  Meanwhile here's what the publisher says:

From one of the most beloved authors of our time—more than six million copies of his books have been sold in this country alone—a fascinating excursion into the history behind the place we call home.

"Houses aren't refuges from history. They are where history ends up."

Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to "write a history of the world without leaving home." The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has figured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.

Bill Bryson has one of the liveliest, most inquisitive minds on the planet, and he is a master at turning the seemingly isolated or mundane fact into an occasion for the most diverting exposition imaginable. His wit and sheer prose fluency make At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.

Read an excerpt 

Here are the rules for the giveaway: 
  1. For one entry, leave a comment telling me whether you've read anything else by Bill Bryson.
  2. For an extra entry, leave a separate comment telling me you're a follower (or become one and let me know).
  3. For another entry,  make a separate entry telling me you blogged about the giveaway, (sidebars are fine) and LEAVE ME THE LINK to the posting (if I don't get a link, the entry doesn't count).US addresses only, no PO Boxes.
  4. You MUST leave me an email address to contact you.  NO EMAIL, NO WIN.
  5. Deadline is Oct 29 -noon EDT.
Thanks again to Liz at Doubleday for making this one available.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: The Elephant's Journey

Author: Jose Saramago
Publisher/Format: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2010), Hardcover, 224 pages
Characters: Solomon the elephant, Subrho the mahout
Subject: Solomon's trek from Lisbon to Vienna
Genre: historical fiction
Source: public library

This is Saramago's last work, and I think his masterpiece. He learned of the true story behind this book while guest lecturing in Austria where he saw a series of illustrations depicting the tale.

In 1551 King Joao III decided to give archduke Maximillian of Austria a wedding present.  He sent his Indian elephant named Solomon as the gift.  Entrusting the safekeeping of this gentle giant to his handler, a mahout named Subrho, they set out with an entourage of soldiers, porters, and supply wagons (the elephant required 2-4 tons of forage a day!) to move from Lisbon overland to meet the archduke in Spain, and then via ship to Genoa, and overland through northern Italy, through the alps--including the dangerous Isarco and Benner passes in the winter, up the Inn River and finally to their triumphant entry into Vienna.  Ok...that's the geography of the journey.

The real beauty of the story rests however in the personal relationships that develop along the way.  Solomon shows himself to be a charming, intelligent and gentle beast.  He is able to woo those who fear his girth, and protect his friend Subrho (renamed Fritz by the archduke who found his name too hard to pronounce) from the vagaries and intrigues of the military, the royals, and the church.  Each of these groups wanted to use the elephant and the journey to their own gain.  The simple peasant handler and the elephant showed grace under pressure and hardship, winning over all who met them.

Saramago's third person narrator is delightful.  He is able to insert 20th century asides with great humor, and poke fun at politicians, uneducated soldiers, clergy, and the monarchy without ever stepping out of character and without becoming political or critical himself.  It is written in Saramago's normal style:  long, long, long paragraphs, little or no punctuation or capitalization or quotation marks.  It takes only a few pages however, to acclimate to the pace, and the lack of visual stops actually holds the reader's attention and increases the pace of reading.  It is a short, well-paced, lustrous tale of love, friendship, forgiveness and intrigue.  A masterpiece.

Blind Man's Alley - We have Winners!

It pays to visit and make those daily entries. Our winners for Justin Peacock's just released novel of life in the fast-lane of the New York real estate empire are

Carol M.

The emails are going out today and the winners will have until Thursday evening October 14th  to get me their mailing addresses.  If I don't hear from them by then, I'll have pick another winner.

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who stopped by to enter.  

Many thanks to Judy at Doubleday for offering these for the contest.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Weekend Cooking - Review of Preserving the Harvest

 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.  This week's post has a great new cookbook for kids.....I love it.

 I haven't done a weekend cooking post for several weeks.  I've been too busy reading and cooking and putting up the bounty this year's wonderful weather produced through our fairly short growing season here in Maine.  I didn't even have time to take pictures of the food, and figured jars of jam and applesauce is something you can see everyday, so I decided to forget that part.  Here's my great find.

Author: Carol Costenbader
Publisher/Format: Storey Publishing, LLC (2002),  Rev., Paperback, 352 pages Subject: Various methods of preserving foods
Genre: how-to, Cookbook
Source: my own

This one has it all.  Great recipes (there's a terrific one for Apple Beet puree that Mr. Tutu and I have been scarfing up for the past week), wonderful conversion charts, a glossary of terms, and chapters on every different way of preserving food you can dream up.  There are hints on how to choose produce if you don't grow your own.  How much to buy, how to keep it through the winter, and wonderfully innovative ways to share it with others for gifts.

I for instance had the best crop of basil I've ever managed to grow.  But I've never had much luck before in drying it.  Costenbader gives us several different methods and I think I'm going to try more than one to see which gives me the best results.  The book even shows how to used dried foods, and how to reconstitute dried fruits and vegetables.  Preparing a family "root cellar" never seemed like a possiblity until I read her suggestion to use the stairwell  (inside the bulkhead doors) to our basement!

Canning and freezing chapters offer very clear, well-illustrated directions for a variety of crops.  Pickling recipes run the gamut from the traditional bread and butter to some decidedly new-age chutneys.  There are excellent discussions about what equipment to buy, how to adjust recipes that didn't come out right, and checklists to use emphasizing the latest guidance on healthy practices. 

If you do any "putting up" this is definitely the book for you.  It is one that will be passed down for several generations.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise

Author: Julia Stuart
Publisher/Format:New York : Doubleday, 2010.
Characters: Balthazar and Hebe Jones; Mrs.Cook the tortoise
Subject: life in the Tower of London; dealing with grief
Setting: London
Genre: fiction/ humor
Source: Review copy from publisher

Reviewers have called this book quirky and humorous.  It is.  It also is sad and poignant  with a host of characters dealing with life's emotions: love, grief, rejection, fear, anger, nostalgia, longing, and self-esteem. It is a precocious story telling how ordinary people go about their lives in unusual circumstances and manage to stay human.  There is a decidedly British slant told with the typical dry British sense of humor.

Balthazar Jones, Beefeater extraordinaire, lives in the Tower of London with his wife Hebe who works for the London Underground Lost Property Office.  Together they are struggling to come to grips with the death of their only son Milo over three years ago.  The marriage is crumbling around them.  Beefeater Jones is suddenly handed the job of keeper of Her Majesty's menagerie when the Zoo decides to move animals the queen has received as gifts and house them in the Tower.  Since Balthazar owns the oldest living tortoise in captivity (Mrs. Cook is 130 years old), he seems the perfect person to put in charge. In the meantime, Hebe is busy trying to locate the owners of a left-behind box of cremains, a plastic blow-up doll, a viking helmet, a large safe that has been there for over 4 years and which no one has managed to open, and a vast assortment of other paraphernalia that make the scenes in this office read almost like a Monty Python show.

There's the Tower Chaplain, Septimus Drew, who desperately wants to be a published writer, but who has received more rejection slips than the Tower has Ravens and who devises a rather deviant way to gain publication; add in the barmaid who has a secret (no spoilers here)  the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh,  the Raven Master, and the Yeoman Gaoler and you have the makings of hours of belly laughs.  The battle for supremacy amongst the animals, along with Balthazar and Hebe's intense personal troubles all come to a reasonable resolution at the end.

I loved this book and only wish the editing had been a bit tighter.  There were several times when I found descriptive phrases repeated, and extra details inserted, serving to make me grit my teeth and say "didn't he already say that?"  Hopefully, the final edit will clean up those nits.

All in all, it's a definitely good, funny, feel-good read with a hefty dollop of Tower history to add to its overall  appeal.  I also listened to parts of  the audio version which was delightfully read by Jonathan Cowley.  Whichever format is your choice, I suspect you will be delighted.

Don't forget Doubleday-Random House has made two copies of this available for giveaway.  There's still time to enter here:  the deadline is noon EDT October 14th.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: The Fixer-Upper

Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Publisher/Format:Harper Paperbacks (2010), 448 pages; also audio -14:15
Narrator: Isabel Keating
Characters: Dempsey Killebrew, Tee Berryhill, Alex Hotter
Subject: fixing up a life and a house
Setting: Washington DC, Guthrie GA
Genre: Chick-lit, romance
Source: public library

I'm not a big fan of bodice ripping romances, or the genre known as "chick-lit", but a good friend whose taste a truly trust kept insisting I had to read something by Mary Kay Andrews.  I had just picked this up at the library when I saw it available as an audio download, so I grabbed both.  I have enjoyed quite a few 'southern' stories this year, and this one is just as funny, fun and heartwarming as any of them.

Dempsey Joy Killebrew, Georgetown Law Grad, lobbyist for big firm in DC gets fired after she is implicated by her boss in a scandal involving procuring prostitutes for a Congressman (among other things.) Now at this point in the story, I was ready to say that Dempsey wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but for pete's sake--she graduated from Georgetown Law!!  Anyway, she has no money, no job prospects, and therefore allows herself to be stashed away in Guthrie Ga to rehab an old house her father has just inherited from his great uncle.  The house comes complete with the requisite dog (no southern story can do without a dog!) and a 79 year old curmudgeonly cousin Ella Kate who is squatting in the ruins and refuses to move.

Now we won't say too much about  Dempsey's absolutely miraculous makeover of the house --even Ty Bennington's crew couldn't have done that much work and fixed things up that beautifully on her pitiful budget in such a short time.  But wait...there's more.  Dempsey has to convince the FBI she's innocent and hire's the lawfirm of Berryhill and Berryhill to help her out of the mess.  There's a romance.  There's political and legal intrigue.  There are courtly southern gentleman.  There's a California moonbeam, spaced-out mother, and enough friendly, gossipy, nosey, and randy southern citizens of this small town to keep the reader turning pages and laughing out loud. And there's the star of the show: Ella Kate.

In the end, Dempsey shows us what she's really made of, develops some self-confidence, pulls her brains out of storage, and becomes a heroine we can cheer for.

It won't win a Nobel Prize, but it's a surprisingly good solid little romance for days when you want some chocolate with the marshmallow fluff.  I loved it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: Confirmation

Author: Ralph Reed
Publisher/Format: Fidelis (2010), Paperback, 408 pages
Characters: way too many to list
Subject: Politics framed around a Supreme Court nomination hearing
Setting: Washington D.C.
Genre: Fiction
Source: Early Reviewers program

Meh.  This has all the makings of a TV script.  For anyone who has ever lived "inside the Beltway" in the Washington DC area, it is more of the same-oh, same-oh.

Written by a so-called Washington insider, with book blurbs by such auspicious beings as Karl Rove, and a dedication to Oliver North (among others) I did not want to read it at all (my political leanings are on the other side of the fence.)  However since I got it for the Early Review program, I read the whole thing.  It's not a bad book, but if there was the equivalent of political chick-lit, this is it!  The characters are caricatures and there are far too many of them.  I had to get a paper and construct a scorecard to keep track of who was who.  There were 27 major players introduced in the first 35 pages.

The plot is dully predictable, and for cripes sake, the editor can't even recognize that THERE IS NO LETTER "J" in the Italian alphabet!  The author has one of the main characters traveling through Italy sprinkling "Bon Journo"  all over the place.  HELLO---it's "Buongiorno" or at least if he's speaking french, it's "Bonjour".  This is the kind of sloppy publishing that makes me less than positively disposed to recommend a book to others.

Basically it's the story of an unpopular president (he was elected by the House of Representatives after capturing only 37%? of the vote), who must fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.  The Senate of course is going to take its constitutional responsibilities very seriously and make sure that they are really the ones doing the appointing.  There are the usual scandals, lobbyists, back door doings, lives ruined, check-ins to rehab, etc etc etc.  When you get to the end, you're just glad to have it over with.  Sorta sounds like real life in DC right?

If you are a political junkie, don't mind cardboard characters and a plot that trudges along like a deadlocked senate, you might like this one. If you're looking for a thriller, there are lots better ones out there.

Monday, October 4, 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.  The past two weeks have been mercifully slow, giving me a chance to catch up on the piles of review copies and book club "must reads" that are all clamoring for my attention.  But the ones that did arrive were top notch

by John Reimringer

I really enjoy being able to find and read good debut novels.  This one is an Indie Next selection for October 2010 and I'm jumping it to the top of my queue. Many thanks to Milkweed Editions for making this review copy available.

Let me begin today, illumined by Thy light, to destroy this part of the natural man which lives in me in its entirety, the obstacle that constantly keeps me from Thy Love.

Taught this prayer as a boy by his grandfather, James Dressler recites it when he’s tempted by earthly desires. But intimacy is not easily denied. Originally drawn to the priesthood by the mystery, purity, and sensual fabric of the Church, as well as by its promise of a safe harbor from his violent father, James finds himself—just a few years after his ordination—attracted again to his first love, Betty GarcĂ­a. Torn between these competing loves, and haunted by his father's heritage, James finds himself at a crossroads.

Exploring age-old and yet urgently contemporary issues in the Catholic Church, and infused throughout by a rich sense of the history and vibrant texture of Saint Paul, this is an utterly honest and subtly lyrical novel. A major debut.
Preserving the Harvest
by Carol W. Costenbader

 This one I bought for myself.  I'll be reviewing  this one sometime this month, because it is a book to read, not just a cookbook.  Some really yummy and useful stuff here.  The charts are especially useful.  I've already "dripped" in it!!

 To Fetch a Thief
by Spencer Quinn

A review copy from the Atria Galley Grab earlier this year. I'm always up for a good mystery, and this is a new author and new series for me. This is the third in the Chet and Berney series, and has gotten some good reviews.  I'm especially fond of series, because I often feel I don't get enough of good characters in one volume.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Salon - Trolling the Blog Feeder

I've been spending a lot of time these past few days getting ready for my presentation later this week at the Maine Library Association conference.  It's about blogging, so I've been trying to be a good blogger and get caught up on all the latest and greatest goings on in the blogosphere.  This morning I've been going through my hopelessly engorged feeder, looking for examples of points I'm trying to explain.

Of course, as any of you know, blog feeders---and blogs in general--can be vortexes that pull you in and never let you out again.  I'm having a great time catching up with my regular friends, and finding some new and interesting blogs to add.

Lisa on Alive On the Shelves pointed out a site that is true eye candy: Bookshelf Porn.  Relax ---it's G rated. Although virtual and therefore calorie and cholesterol free, the goodies on display will stop the heart of anyone breathing. Do pour a cuppa and stroll through this one. I have to agree with a July 9th twitter posted there " has dissuaded me completely from buying..." an ereader.


 Truer words were never uttered than those in this great graphic posted by Michelle - the True Book Addict when she was describing her TBR Pile.

And it's the last day of the regular baseball season.  The Red Sox are playing the Yankees.  The leaves are turning color in gigantic swatches each day.  It's cloudy, chilly, and time to start thinking about stews and soups instead of salads and outdoor grills.  That batch of apple/beet salsa I made earlier this week is just calling for a nice baked chicken to accompany it, so I'd best get away from the computer and start getting on with Sunday.  Besides, I have an audio download, Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews that's turning out to be a fun listen.  I can do that while I watch the Sox and cook. 

Enjoy your October

National Book Group Month

The Women's National Book Association has once again provided us with a list of suggestions for reading groups to meet and discuss.  I love their slogan "Celebrating the Joy of Shared Reading."  I love to read, but there's something especially enjoyable about sharing one's reactions to a book with others, and finding out what they liked, what they disliked, how they interpret certain motivations, or what their expectations were before they read it.

Book groups are as many and varied as flavors of ice-cream.  I belong to one that reads by author rather than particular work, another that alternates fiction and non-fiction, a third is reading a different genre each month.  A new group we've just formed started by every one agreeing (quite firmly in fact) that they'd read anything except science fiction or fantasy. And then there are the giant virtual book groups online at LibraryThing and Goodreads.  The possibilities are endless.

I think this list will give any group enough to choose from.  I've personally only read three, but several others are in the queue.  How about you?  Do you participate in a book group?  What is your group reading?  Here's the list:

2010 Selections
Blame by Michelle Huneven
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle
Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship by Cathie Beck
Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
Room by Emma Donoghue
Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye
Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: Rules of Betrayal

Author: Christopher Reich
Format: Doubleday (2010), Hardcover, 384 pages;
Characters: Jonathan and Emma Ransom; Frank Connor;
Subject: Terrorism; espionage, WMDs
Setting: Afghanistan,Pakistan, D.C.
Series: Jonathan Ransom
Genre: Suspense thriller
Source: Review copy provided by publisher
Challenge: ARCs completed

Another fast paced, high intensity thriller involving Dr. Jonathan Ransome, plastic surgeon turned spy, married to Emma. We still can't figure out who Emma is really working for, but the ending leaves us knowing there will be another book for sure. Lots of plot twists, lots of people who aren't who they seem to be, but so well written that you are on the edge of your chair for the whole ride.

In this adventure, Jonathan is recruited to help locate a missing nuclear device the Air Force managed to lose in a 1980 plane crash over the high peaks in Pakistan.  Naturally the bad guys have located this beauty and are ready to sell it to the highest bidder for use in a terrorist attack.  There is little that can be said without spoiling the read except that Christopher Reich has mastered the spy thiller genre. 

I also listened to parts of this in audio, because I just could not put it down, but had to get in the car and go someplace.  The audio is very well done, so either format will certainly hold your interest.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Medley of Mysteries

For the past week or so, as I was overcome with reading 'responsibilities', I returned to my favorite comfort reads - mysteries. There were a variety of them sitting around, and while I wasn't ready for a fluffy comfort cozy, I did want a familiar format that seldom fails me.

 I started with a golden oldy.  Our mystery book club reads a different author each month, with members allowed to choose any works from the author's catalog.  By the time I returned from my vacation, the only Margery Allingham available in town was this short volume of her "uncollected Stories." 

Author: Margery Allingham
Format:St. Martin's Press (1989), Hardcover, 165 pages
Characters: Mr. Campion
Subject: various mysterious happennings
Genre: short stories
Source: public library
Challenge: Book Club reads

While these stories were entertaining, I think an expression of my mother's best describes my reaction: "T'aint nothing to write home about." I think that if I've learned nothing else from participating in this mystery group, it's that the "old style" mystery writers, i.e., the CLASSIC ones - Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, etc, just don't do too much for me. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the more exciting modern stories like those below.  I have been told that some of Allingham's full length novels are perhaps more exciting, so I'm going to be on the lookout for one of those when the opportunity presents itself.

 I always have at least one mystery going in audio, so this one was a natural when I saw it was available in the download list. I had finally read one of the Anna Pigeon stories earlier this year and wanted to read more in this series.

Author: Nevada Barr
Format: audio 5hr, 55 min;  352  pgs equivalent
Narrator: Jean Bean
Characters: Anna Pigeon
Subject: murder in National Parks, grizzly bear habits
Setting: Glacier National Park
Series: Anna Pigeon
Genre: police procedural mystery
Source: public library audio download

In this story, Anna is learning about a program the park rangers are helping with to track and tag grizzly bears in Glacier National Park.  The descriptive prose in these is so powerful that even if you have never visited a particular park, you never have any trouble picturing the scenery, feeling yourself up on a ledge, or walking down the side of a mountain.  While out checking on the bear monitors, the rangers are called upon to investigate a murder.  At one point Anna thinks "she doesn't know whether she has too much information and too many suspects, or not enough of either."  This one had a good plot, and interesting suspects.  I'm looking forward to getting to know Anna even more in this series.

Author: Tony Hillerman
Format: audio - 5 hrs 20 minutes; 304 page equivalent
Narrator: George Guidall
Characters: Joe Leaphorn, Bergen McKee
Subject: Murder; Navajo culture
Setting: Navajo Reservation in Arizona
Series: Joe Leaphorn
Genre: police procedural, amateur detective mystery
Source: public library

My husband is a huge Tony Hillerman fan.  Many of my fellow LTers are always raving about his stories.  And Joe Leaphorn seems to have achieved almost cult status among the faithful.  So I decided I'd better see what all the excitement was about.  I'd tried reading some of these last year,and didn't get very far, but then when I noticed this one - the very first one!- was available in audio read by George Guidall, well................(George Guidall could read the yellow pages and I'd think it was fascinating).

This was a really good mystery story. It takes place on a Navajo reservation.  Joe Leaphorn is a Navajo cop who is able to use his knowledge of ancient traditions and culture to allow reticent and private people to tell their stories and gather the information he needs to solve the mystery.  The real hero of this one  (I'm guessing Joe's character will flesh out as the series goes along--after all the series is named after him) is a sort of has-been college professor/anthropologist named Bergen McKee.  Even tho I had figured out 'whodunnit' with about 20% of the book left, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of this adventure.  Not only was the plot a good one, and the characters well drawn and interesting, the descriptions of Navajo life, poetry, and scenery were an added bonus.  I will definitely be reading another in this series.

Author: Mark de Castrique
Format: Poisoned Pen Press (2009)- review copy 250 pages
Characters:  Sam Blackman, Nakayla Robertson
Subject: Nazis, F. Scott Fitzgerald,Blackwater Company in Iraq
Setting: North Carolina
Series: Sam Blackman
Genre: private detective mystery
Source: review copy from publisher
Challenge: ARC completed

This is a review copy I'm ashamed to say I've had for quite a few months.  It was too good to have let it sit that long.  Set in North Carolina, it tells the adventures of Sam Blackman, recently retired Army Chief Warrant Officer who lost a leg in Iraq in an incident involving Blackwater Company mercenaries. He and his partner (in detecting and in life) Nakayla Robertson are opening their own detective agency.  Their first case involves a old lady in nursing home who wants to right a wrong she supposedly did to F. Scott Fitzgerald 70 years ago!  The plot is a bit convoluted, with several sidebars seeming to be entwined (or are they?)  but the characters are charming, interesting and cunning.  Again, I was able to spot 'whodunnit' before the author revealed it, but that didn't detract from the story. This is a couple I'd like to see more of, although I'm not sure I could take a steady diet of these two.

So there you have it. Mysteries of all time periods, with different kinds of characters.  I have two new series to look out for.  And once again I'm assured that I'll always be able to get out of my reading funk by settling down to search for clues.