Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: The beautiful one Has Come: Stories

Author: Suzanne Kamata
Publisher Format: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing Paperback, 212 pages 
Year of publication: 2011 
Subject: American women married to Japanese, living in Japan
Setting: various Japanese town
Genre: short series
Source: e-galley ARC from publisher

 This superb collection of short stories is going to be one of my best of the year when it comes time to make up that list in December.  Suzanne Kamata has given us a portrait of American women living in foreign countries, marrying foreigners, and often giving up life as they know it to reside in their husband's native country.  Most were set in Japan, a setting that resonates with me, since I lived in Japan for a total of five years quite awhile ago.

I especially identified with the American woman in the story "You're so lucky" about a woman who is having a C-section in Japanese hospital--she looks at the clock as they begin to administer the anesthetic. It was shockingly similar to my own experience when my son was born there, although he was born in the American Naval hospital.  Of course, she gives birth to twins, and must then begin to deal with physical disabilities that many preemie babies have.

In the next story, "The Naming," we are treated to almost the same event but from the perspective of the Japanese father, who as a baseball coach is struggling with a team that has lost 19 straight games. He is suddenly called away from his team when his wife goes into labor, and hurries to the hospital while his team of underdogs wins without him. His internal struggle with the children's disabilities mirrors his wife's, and it is not until he comes to grips with their ability to survive that he can face naming the children.

Kamata continues with stories of the family dealing with these children.  In "Polishing the Halo" the mother is worried that "Not only was Ana a girl in a society that favored boys, not only was she a mixed race child in a country that cherished pure blood, but also she was disabled."   As she watches, another mother, herself deaf,  signs a halo and says she is an angel, giving Ana's mom hope and a new perspective.

Throughout all the story, Kamata's sympathetic and compelling picture of multi-cultural marriage, of different customs and traditions, and unmet expectations adds to her ability to give us insight into the hearts and minds of these women who have chosen to abandon the familiar in order to remain with the love of their lives.

Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing proves again that small publishers can and do spot the winners.  My thanks for the opportunity to review this one. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cozy Time: Eggs in Purgatory by Laura Childs

Author: Laura Childs
Publisher/ Format: Berkley Prime Crime Mass Market Paperback, 289 pages 
Year of publication: 2008
Subject:  pick one: murder, friendship, book store, food
Setting: fictional town of Kindred Minnesota
Series: Cackleberry Club
Genre: cozy mystery
Source: borrowed from my sister

Well, my sister Cheli said I'd love it, and she was right!  This is going to be a delightful series.  I love the setting, I love the characters, and the plot - while a bit farfetched at times - is not over the top. Suzanne, Toni, and Petra are three women who suddenly find themselves living alone due to death, divorce, and terminal illness of their spouses.  They pool their many and varied talents to open the Cackleberry Club, a sort of Diner that evolves into a diner/restaurant/teashop with a book store and knit shop attached.  The menus are scrumptious, books and reading are valued and highlighted, people care about each other.

This doesn't mean that Pollyana reigns supreme.  There are villains, and evildoers, and cults, and abusers, and murderers galore, but our three amigas manage to 'assist' Sheriff Doogie (don't you just love the name?) in clearing Suzanne's dead husband's name, in freeing some abused women and children from tyranny, and in solving all the outstanding cases so life can once again settle down, hens can lay double-yolked eggs, and teenagers can find fun jobs.

This one was a good, solid, fun summer's read, but would have been just as great to read in the winter while sitting by the fire sipping hot chocolate.  I've a pile of Laura Child's books sitting here on my Summer Reading Ladder.  Can't wait to get to the next one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cozy Time: Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris

Author:  Charlaine Harris
Publisher Format: Berkley Prime Crime, Mass Market Paperback, 214 pages
Year of publication: 2005
Subject:  murder
Setting: fictional town of Shakespeare, Arkansas
Series: Lily Bard mysteries
Genre: cozy mystery, amateur sleuth
Source:  public library

The summer cozy-thon is getting back into gear.  This is the first in the Lily Bard series by Charlaine Harris.  Ms. Harris has several different cozy mystery series in print.  While I'm not a big fan of Sookie Stackhouse (I just don't do vampires), I really like her other series including Aurora Teagarden, and Harper Connelly in addition to this one.  I'd read another of these Lily Bards, but wanted to read the first one to get all the scoop on Lily Bard's motivations.  Explaining them here---how she came to live in Shakespeare after moving from Tennessee, how she chose her profession of housecleaning, and how she came to meet the two men in her life Claude Friedrich and Marshall Sedaka, would spoil the story, so you'll have to discover the details yourself.

In this beginning story, Lily finds her landlord dumped in her garbage and sets out to find out whodunit because her fingerprints are on the garbage bag and she doesn't want to be accused.  Because of her past, she is reluctant to become officially involved.  I'm avoiding spoilers here, you'll have to read it yourself to see how "the past" influences her actions.  It's a good, not great, story that moves right along, with a likable protagonist.

I just hope that we're not going to be treated to an entire series, à la Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson, or Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum in which the lead female character can't make up her mind between two equally acceptable males. I get tired of that really fast and tend to give up a series rather than reading about more game playing.

I'm going to be listening to two more of these this summer, so I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekend Cooking - outdoor style

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.

I hadn't planned to do a weekend post, but circumstances presented me with a perfect opportunity.  Last week I read Katherine Hall Page's delightful book Body in the Gazebo and mentioned that the recipes in the back was also a wonderful addition.  This morning, since I had a couple of nectarines approaching their sell-by date, I decided to try her recipe for "Fruit Breakfast Puffs" on page 250.  These are essentially popovers with 1/2 a peach or nectarine or other fruit in the middle.

I got up at a decent (for me) hour, pre-heated my oven to 400°F, melted the butter and poured it into the tins, peeled the nectarines and plopped them on top the butter, whisked up the easy egg/flour/milk/OJ/sugar batter, and poured it over the fruit.  I opened the oven, popped them in, shut the oven door, and was reaching to set the timer for 20 minutes, when

DEEP SILENCE of an ominous variety decended on the world. 
The ceiling fans stopped, the TV went off, the lights went out, my gas oven shut itself off, and I really didn't appreciate my alarm system shrilly beeping and blinking to tell me the obvious.  I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Popovers were NOT going to POPUP in a dead oven.

On to plan B....................

When we moved to Maine, I was reluctantly convinced to purchase a gas grill for outdoor cooking, and have been enjoying it (and blessing whoever talked me into it) since.  So, we decided to experiment.  We lit off the grill, put the pan of pop-pops on the middle shelf, and 10 minutes later ------VOILA!

Fruit Breakfast Puffs à la gas grill.  They were scrumptious.  I'd like to give you the entire recipe, but I don't like to quote copyrighted stuff w/o permission, so go read the book, make the popovers and enjoy!

PS...obviously the power is back after 3+ hours, at least in time to watch the SOX!!

Cozy Time: Murder for Peacocks by Donna Andrews

Author: Donna Andrews
Publisher Format: St. Martin's Paperbacks, Mass Market, 311 pages
Year of publication: 2006
Subject:Three weddings and a murder
Setting: Yorktown VA
Series: Meg Landslow Mystery
Genre: cozy mystery
Source: my own shelves
Rating: 4.5

This is a series I've been wanting to read for a long time.  Many of my sisters, and my friends have pushed and prodded me, and it's not that I didn't want to read them, I just didn't make time.  That has changed.  The first one in the series, this one was a hoot.  I thoroughly enjoyed the adventures of Meg Langslow, uber maid of honor who is single-handedly managing three different wedding parties scheduled in three weeks in her home town of Yorktown VA. The first is for her best friend, the second for her brother, and the third is her own mother.

Each bride is trying her best to win the Bridezilla of the year contest.  Andrews has assembled one of the looniest, yet lovable cast of characters yet appearing in a cozy. There is the dog who hates everyone, the duck who follows a nephew around like a dog, a group of gossipy busy-bodies, two grooms who appear to be anything but enthusiastic about their upcoming nuptials, another bride (Meg's mother) who insists on major room redecorating at the drop of a hat, a group of Vietnamese seamstresses who can only be interpreted by the son (he's so gorgeous - is he gay?) of the shop owner, and the town Doctor, ex-husband (father of Meg) who seems murder and conspiracy in every bowl of salsa.  It is a knee-slapping hoot with a great story, several red herrings to go along with the parading peacocks, and a little slightly blooming romance thrown in.  I can't wait to read the next in this very popular series to see what else could possibly happen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cozy Time: The Body in the Gazebo by Katherine Hall Page

Author: Katherine Hall Page
Publisher/ Format: William Morrow First Edition, Hardcover, 272 pages
Year of publication:  2011
Subject: old and new mysteries
Setting: Aleford, Massachussetts
Series: Faith Fairchild Mysteries
Genre: Cozy mysteries, amateur sleuth
Source: Advance review copy from Early Reviewer program of
Rating: 4.2 of 5

I'm a fan of this series, although I've only read 2 of them so far.  This one is #19, and once again, Faith Fairchild--daughter and wife of Protestant clergymen--uses her excellent people skills not only to run a successful catering business "Have Faith", she helps solve two different mysteries while doing good in the community.  There....doesn't that sound very blah, off-putting, and dreadfully dull?  These stories are anything but.  They are well written, with characters who are believable, plots that move right along, in settings designed to make the reader feel immediately at home.  She does just enough back-filling to let new readers jump into the middle of the series.

In this one, Faith is asked by her best friend Pix to look after her elderly mother Ursula while she (Pix) is out of town helping her son prepare for a wedding.  Ursula begins telling Faith the details of a long buried secret from the past (1929).  At the same time, Faith's husband, Tim Fairchild, is suspected by his vestry of embezzling $10,000 from the parish's emergency funds. Of course our intrepid heroine  Faith helps to solve both mysteries.  There are just enough plot twists and sub plots to keep the reader interested.  This is not a 5 star who-dunnit, but it is certainly a delightful summer read, requiring just enough brain power to raise it above the brain candy category.  I'm certainly looking forward to reading a few more in the series.  I don't think I could take all 19 at once, but they certainly fill in the reading menu in their variety.

And, as an added treat,  the recipes in the back of the book are delicious.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Treasures from the Attic - Winners have been chosen

This has been an incredibly hectic two weeks for Tutu, as we unpacked, sorted, and sold thousands of used books donated to our small library for our annual book sale.  Unfortunately, it appears that too many of these "treasures" in some people's minds were actually "no thank you's" in the minds of many of our would-be buyers, so we had to re-sort, recycle, and restow almost 3000 books to try again later or find another venue/format for their journey to a new home.

Aren't we all fortunate though that Anne Frank's aunt Helene chose to treasure all the minutiae of her niece's family so that we could share in the true treasure of learning more about this incredible young woman?  I must confess, I haven't yet gotten the time to sit down and wallow in this one, but now that my own treasure troving is done for awhile, I'm ready to dive into this one.  In the meantime, two other lucky readers will also have that opportunity thanks to Random House.  The winners are:

Lisa G.

I've sent them an email and they have until midnite Wednesday nite to get me their mailing addresses.

Review: The Reading Promise

Author: Alice Ozma
Publisher/ Format: Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover, 304 pages
Year of publication: 2011
Subject:  father/daughter relationship, books, reading
Genre: Memoir
Source: ARC from publisher via Net Galley
Rating: 3 of 5

A series of vignettes about books the author and her father read to each other over the course of 3200+ nights-- from the time Alice was 9 years old until the night before she went to college. I was frankly underwhelmed by this book.

The premise was so inviting, and since I'm so in love with books I thought it would be a fairy tale come true.  My father was well-read but never read aloud to us.  He did not come from that tradition.  I think everyone in my family read so early that we didn't want to be read to, we wanted to do it ourselves.  On the other hand, my dad drove me to school and home (at least an hour in the car each day), every single day of my four years of high school and the first two years of college.  There were 4 other girls in his big old Dodge Monaco, and the discussions that arose from all of our lives and our readings and assignments at school were as enriching as any late story hours.  So perhaps I found Ozma's scenario contrived.

Alice's father was an elementary school librarian who had the background and training to be able to spot exactly the right book at the right time to fill a need in his daughter's emotional life.  Her parents had separated when she was young, she lived with her father, and she had a mighty imagination.  Dad the librarian's choice of stories and commitment to his daughter are awesome.  An example is her obsession as a 12 year old that JFK's dead body was at the foot of her bed, and her father's wearisome attempts to disabuse her of that notion.  As a young parent I read to my children, but I'm not sure we'd have ever been able to hold up to this promise on either side.  Either the children or the mother would probably have dropped out or skipped a night at least.

In the end, having now grown up and graduated from college, Alice slips out of the fairy tale tent to climb a soap box as she describes the devastation wreaked upon her father when the school system began to allow less and less time for the librarian to read aloud to children, and began to shift to electronic resources instead of a total diet of paper.  Her obvious dismay at the way her father was treated, and his subsequent early retirement, are trumpeted throughout the final chapters of the book.  He did find a new audience by volunteering to read to elderly folks who no longer were able to do that for themselves, and seemed to be happy in being able to spread the gospel of reading.

In addition to the full list of books they read during "the streak", the final chapter gives us a full page reading promise to sign.  In addition to promising to read to ourselves and our children, she wants us to promise to
  • "...speak out if reading is cut from the school curriculum, and to fight for books whenever their value is challenged
  • ....tell everyone I know how reading calms me down, riles me up, makes me think, or helps me to get to sleep at night
  • read, and to read to someone, as long as human thought is still valued and there are still words to be shared"
She ends by saying "I promise to be there for books, because I know they will always be there for me."

These last sentiments are what drives many of us to blog about the books we read, and I applaud her devotion to the written word.  I'm just not sure getting them to sign a pledge to read is the way to go.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Giveaway: The Things we Cherished by Pam Jenoff

Another Great World War II Novel.

I've done a lot of reading about various phases and participants of World War this year, so I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read and review this one.  My copy hasn't arrived yet, but Liz at Random House has offered us two copies for a giveaway.

Pam Jenoff, whose first novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, was a Quill Award finalist, a Book Sense pick, and a finalist for the ALA Sophie Brody Award, joins the Doubleday list with a suspenseful story of love and betrayal set during the Holocaust.

An ambitious novel that spans decades and continents, The Things We Cherished tells the story of Charlotte Gold and Jack Harrington, two fiercely independent attor­neys who find themselves slowly falling for one another while working to defend the brother of a Holocaust hero against allegations of World War II–era war crimes.

The defendant, wealthy financier Roger Dykmans, mysteri­ously refuses to help in his own defense, revealing only that proof of his innocence lies within an intricate timepiece last seen in Nazi Germany. As the narrative moves from Philadelphia to Germany, Poland, and Italy, we are given glimpses of the lives that the anniversary clock has touched over the past century, and learn about the love affair that turned a brother into a traitor.

Rich in historical detail, Jenoff's astonishing new work is a testament to true love under the worst of circumstances.

Standard rules:
  1.  Leave a comment telling me if you've read anything else by this author or about this subject.
  2. Complete the form below.
  3. Deadline is  August 10th. 
  4. No PO Boxes.
  5. US addresses only.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday - July 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.  Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are being rotated every month. For July our host is Gwendolyn at  A Sea of Books.  Be sure to stop on over and see what everyone else got this week.

I haven't done a Mailbox post for a couple weeks, so here are the books that arrived during the past three weeks.

A Mug-Up With Elisabeth
by Melissa Hayes

One of the wonderful things about being a librarian in Maine is having people who have lived here all their lives introduce me to some of our wonderful Maine authors.  None is more famous, or prolific, than Elisabeth Ogilvie.  I kept borrowing the library's copy of this one but that didn't help others who wanted it.  So I finally realized I need to have my own.  The publisher describes it as
the essential reference for fans of Elisabeth Ogilvie's books--and a wonderful introduction to one of Maine's most prolific writers. A Mug-up, which refers to the old fishing term for a coffee break, presents a biography of Ogilvie, exploring her ancestry, childhood, education, emergence as a writer, and her life on Maine's spectacular islands. It also offers a sampling of some of her earlier and out-of-print writing and synopses of all her published writings, and explores some recurrent themes in her work. The book's appendices provide a glossary; concordances for names and locations; lists of boat names, flora, and fauna; and a bibliography.
For those of us unable to attend the ALA conference earlier this year where ARCs are often readily available, several publishers offered a galley grab on Shelf Awareness.  I was rewarded with this galley from Simon and Schuster.
 The Very Thought of You
by Rosie Alison

Shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize
England, 31st August 1939: The world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic, childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unraveling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair with unforeseen consequences. A story of longing, loss, and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation, The Very Thought of You is not just a love story but a story about love.
Destiny of the Republic,
a Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
by Candice Millard

I received this ARC from Doubleday for review in September.  Since I've been participating in the LibraryThing reading the president's group, this one will fit right in. 
James A. Garfield may have been the most extraordinary man ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.

But the shot didn’t kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin’s half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.

Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive,
The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.
Best Kept Secret
by Amy Hatvany

Another galley grab via Shelf Awareness, this one from Washington Square Press.

It wasn’t always like this. Just a few years ago, Cadence seemed to have it all—a successful husband, an adorable son, and a promising career as a freelance journalist.  But with the demise of her marriage, her carefully constructed life begins to spiral out of control.  Suddenly she is all alone trying to juggle the demands of work and motherhood.               

Logically, Cadence knows that she is drinking too much, and every day begins with renewed promises to herself that she will stop.  But within a few hours, driven by something she doesn’t understand, she is reaching for the bottle - even when it means not playing with her son because she is too tired, or dropping him off at preschool late, again.  And even when one calamitous night it means leaving him alone to pick up more wine at the grocery store.  It’s only when her ex-husband shows up at her door to take Charlie away that Cadence realizes her best kept secret has been discovered….

Heartbreaking, haunting, and ultimately life-affirming, Best Kept Secret is more than just the story of Cadence—it’s a story of how the secrets we hold closest are the ones that can most tear us apart.

And finally,  I received a copy of a collection of short stories, many of them set in Vietnam.  This was a thank-you for participating in the War Through the Generations Vietnam reading group last year.  I'd almost forgotten that it was going to be coming, so it was a delightful surprise.

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
by Robert Olen Butler

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher Format: Knopf (2011), Hardcover, 400 pages
.....also audio - Books on Tape, 17 hours, 14 minutes
Narrator: Ann Marie Lee
Subject: Irish Catholic dysfunctional family relations
Setting: Boston, Ogunquit Maine
Genre: fiction
Source: public library audio download

This is not a novel about Maine, although the gorgeous beaches of Ogunquit form a backdrop for most of the story. It is a story of the Kelleher family, Irish Catholics who hailed from Boston and summered in Maine.  The matriarch Alice, is a recovering alcoholic, tautly holding on to every piece of tradition and superstition she inherited from her family, the Church, and society in general. 

The story gives us a summer when three generations-- mother, daughters (and daughter-in-law), granddaughters-- come together in bursting clashes of culture, expectations and memories of unhappiness past.  This is a family that takes the words dysfunction and grudge to new heights.  Alice is a grande dame who is epic in her ability to ignore everyone else around her. Since her husband died, she has returned to her alcoholic past.  Daughter Kathleen, who lives (in the unholy state of sin) with her partner in California raising worms for their excrement, has vowed never to interact with the family or set foot in Maine again.  She comes however in response to her daughter Maggie's cry for psychological help in the midst of a crisis with her own relationship.

The apple-polishing daughter-in-law, who fawns over Alice in hopes of inheriting the compound, is a personality guaranteed to produce finger-on-the-chalkboard chills in all who must interact with her.  Each woman has a secret she is holding onto.  Each woman holds a grudge that is standing in the way of growing.

It's a dazzling, bold, deeply involved novel in which the characters are well drawn, the individual stories and secrets crawl to a rather transparent (to the reader anyway) conclusion.  It is summer reading at its best.   As an audio, it's very well done. If  had one gripe, it's that the blurb doesn't really match the story.  Just ignore the jacket and read the book.  I was actually able to get the audio before I was able to get the print copy from the library. It's one that is going into my permanent collection shortly.

No matter your preferred format, don't miss it!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cozy Time: Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross

Author: Ann B. Ross
Publisher/ Format: Harper Paperbacks (2000) 288 pages
also Audio: Books on Tape Inc. approx 9 hrs.
Narrator: Karen White
Subject: new widow's woes
Setting: small southern town in North Carolina
Series: Miss Julia
Genre: southern fiction
Source: public library
Rating: 3.8 of 5
Recommended? yes for lover's of the genre

The first in the series....I've read several, but wanted to come see how they all started. Sometimes I'm disappointed by early books in a series when I've read some of the later ones, but this one was well written and definitely sets up the characters and their motivations from the follow ons.

Miss Julia is actually Mrs. Wesley Lloyd Springer, recently widowed, filthy rich, and with the subtle encouragement of her family friend and lawyer Sam Murdoch, and faithful family retainer Lillian, she is gradually emerging from the shell of fragile Southern womanhood in which she was dominated by her husband during their 44 years of marriage, and beginning to think for herself.

In this delightful kick-off to the series, she is confronted by her husband's heretofore unknown infidelity in the person of Wesley Lloyd Springer II (called "Junior" by his less than socially acceptable mother) at the same time she is obliged to fend off a greedy, grasping, duplicitous pastor who wants to have her declared incompetent so he can become her "guardian" and manage her money (and who really wants to put up a new building for the church).

There is a cast of not quite stereotypical southern crazies and a plot that moves right along. I was pleased to see how it all began and will definitely continue reading several more of the series whenever I want a "southern veranda" iced tea break. These are not scholarly tomes, but there is enough good writing to make them an entertaining read and leave you feeling that you haven't wasted your time.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cozy Time: Finger Licking Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Author: Janet Evanovich
Publisher/ Format: St. Martin's Press, paperback, 308 pages
   also Audio: BBC Audiobooks America, 6 hrs, 18 min
Narrator: Lorelei King

Year of publication: 2009
Subject: fun and mayhem - capturing bail skippers

Setting: New Jersey burbs
Series: Stephanie Plum Novels
Genre: mystery
Source: public library Overdrive download
Rating 4 of 5
Recommended?: Oh yes.

It's been years since I read any of these fun stories about the incredible (mis)adventures of bail bondsman (or chaser of those who skip out) Stephanie Plum. The usual cast of characters reigns: retired "WO" Lula, crazy nutso Grandma Mazur, Joe Morelli the stud muffin cop, Ranger the dark and mysterious alternate stud and knight in black clothes, and the normal collection of abnormal, less than brainy clients of Stephanie's uncle Vinnie the bail bondsman.

Nothing really new, but it was so easy to slip back into the hood and enjoy the current episode of unusual and hilarious antics. Stephanie's mom is still making pot roast and stuffed cabbage, her family is still fighting over the single bathroom and cars still manage to be totalled with appalling regularity. The mental picture of Lula's butt being stuck in the real window of Ranger's Porsche was worth the entire read.

I "ear-read" this one while working out in the pool, and several people swam over to ask what on earth I was chuckling about. I think I should get a commission from Amazon and Overdrive for the number of water-proof Ipod armbands I sold that day, and the number of new library users signed up.

If you've never read Evanovich, you must. If you're a regular fan, this one shouldn't disappoint, and if, like me, you've been away for awhile, get back on the horse. Life's too short to waste these laughs.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cozy Time: Repair to her Grave by Sarah Graves

Author: Sarah Graves
Publisher Format: Bantam Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages;
. . . . .also  BBC Audiobooks America - 9 hrs, 24 mine
Narrator: Lindsay Ellison
Year of publication: 2001
Subject: lost treasure; restoring old houses
Setting: Eastport Maine
Series: Home Repair is Homicide
Genre: cozy mystery- amateur detective
Source: public library
Rating: 3.5 of 5

Back in 1999, I read the first in this series "Dead Cat Bounce" and made a note to read more about financial counselor turned innkeeper Jacobia Tiptree and the much-in-need-of-repair Bed and Breakfast Inn she purchased in Eastport Maine.   This one is #4, and I'm definitely going to read several more of these as years go by.  It was one of the first I read for my summer cozy-thon, and I picked a good one for kick-off week.

Notice I said "Good" not "Great".  It was lots of fun, but there were times when the author left the reader dangling trying to figure out where she was going with her story; there were minutes of head-scratching while I tried to fit who went with whom.  Motivation of characters was a bit light at times. In addition, one of the main characters really demanded I check my need to believe literally at the door.

In this one, the searches for missing persons, buried treasure maps, and secret compartments all loosely hinge on finding a "missing" Stradivarius violin that may or may not exist. When no one else seems interested, Jacobia, as all good amateur sleuths are supposed to, leaps into the void to find that which was/is lost. A tad mixed up, but still a pleasant enough read for a lazy summer afternoon.

The home repair parts were actually the most interesting - finding out how the layers of plaster were deployed in old homes was, to me anyway, really fascinating. Who knew the true meaning of the phrase "lathe and plaster?" If you read this one, you definitely will. I'm looking forward to reading at least one more of these to see if Sarah Graves can develop into a more coherent author, but I also look forward to being entertained by the dry DownEast humor. Ayuh.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Author: Alice LePlante
Publisher /Format: Atlantic Monthly Press (2011), Hardcover, 320 pages
Subject: murder, aging, alzheimer's disease
Genre: murder mystery
Source: e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 4.8 of 5

Brilliant! A murder mystery interwoven with a look deep into the mind of an Alzheimer's patient.  I've read several other books about demetia this year, so I think I was expecting more same old same old, but Alice LePlante has definitely written something fresh and provocative.  As a mystery, it's first rate and as a treatise on mental illness it's not far behind.

As Dr. Jennifer White, a renowned orthopedic hand surgeon drifts in and out of periods of coherent thought, we take a journey with her through well-remembered long -term memories of childhood, early adulthood and raising her children, her early career, her marriage, and then through the terrifying lapses of short-term memory - of not knowing who these familiar looking faces are, of waiting for visitors who will never come, of escapes from her care-giver, and ultimately of her confinement to a more secure facility.  We see the patient from within her warped and failing brain synapses, and from the view of her daughter, her son, her mentor, and the detective investigating the murder of Jennifer's life-long friend, found dead with four fingers of her hand surgically removed.  Did Jennifer kill her? If she did, could or should she be tried given her current mental state?  Can she remember?  If she didn't, who else would have had the surgical skills to amputate fingers that cleanly?

It is a fascinating study, a thrilling murder mystery with a stunning surprise ending, and a work that definitely makes the reader anxious to see what will follow this fantastic debut.

Many thanks to Atlantic Grove for making the ARC available through Net Galley.

Hull Creek - The Winner

I'm very excited to be able to announce the winner of our giveway for Hull Creek.

It's Amy!!!
entry #22 of 71. 

We have sent her an email, and as soon as she gets me her snail mail, I'll get the book sent out to her.

In the meantime, those of you who missed this chance, the book is now out and available at all traditional outlets. It's a great summer read.  Our local author and publisher (Down East Books) have a winner on their hands.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Social Animal by David Brooks

The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

Author: David Brooks
Publisher Format: Audio - Books on Tape 16 hours,
also Random House  Hardcover, 448 pages
Narrator: Arthur Morey
Year of publication: 2011
Subject: psychology, neuroscience, sociology,
Genre:  non=fiction
Source: public library audio download
Rating 5 of 5

I first became exposed to David Brooks from his weekly appearances on the PBS News Hour on friday nights.  I find his commentary to be balanced, nuanced, and entertaining, especially given the state of what often passes for "news reporting" these days.  So I was drawn to look at this book even though I would normally not have been interested in delving into the subject matter, particularly in the lazy days of late spring and summer.

Social Animal is a deep and thought-provoking book.  That said, it is not a difficult book to read, but the ideas presented are so interesting that it took me longer to read this book than any I've read in the past two years.  It was so interesting, I had to read (or listen because I had both versions) to a segment, and then go away and let that sink in.

Brooks gives us two individuals, Harold and Erica, whom he follows from pre-conception to death, showing us how their genetics, their environments, and their life choices influence how they think, relate to others, and ultimately succeed or fail in various phases of their lives.  It is fascinating reading, so much so that although I borrowed this from the library, I have it on my "to buy" list, waiting until the paperback comes out so I can mark it up with all kinds of comments, like a college text book.

There are so many concepts presented that it might have been a confusing mishmash, but Brooks' singular ability to weave them together in a coherent, flowing narrative is the true strength of the book. That same bombardment of new (to me) ideas makes it difficult for us non-sociologists to write a cogent review.

We follow Harold and Erica as we learn how much babies know at birth, as Brooks explains humans' inheriting a flow of information, which he characterizes into patterns:
  • from deep in our evolutionary past = genetics
  • from thousands of years ago = religion
  • from hundreds of years ago =  culture
  • from decades ago = family
  • and from years months, days, hours ago = education and advice.
He posits that high school is the time of sorting out relationships, and labels this the real substance of high school life.
The people in the executive  suite believed that the school existed to fulfill some socially productive process of information transmission, usually involving science projects on poster boards,  but in reality of course, high school is a machine for  social sorting.  The purpose of high school  is to give young people a sense of where they fit into the social structure.

I found his portrayals of today's parenting types and techniques amusing and evocative.  He uses phrases like
"Bourgeois mommy wars," "uber boobers," "play date queens (Sancta mommies)" and the "Mopey martyr mommies".  Each of these brought mental pictures of prams, nannies, and post Betty Friedan parents.  He compared these to single parents (mostly female) and the stresses they faced trying to provide the same kinds of opportunities for their children that came so easily to the Sancta Mommies.

By presenting us with two people from different cultural backgrounds, (Harold is from a two parent WASP family, Erica is the product of a single oriental mother and hispanic father) he is able to weave in theories of cultural differences in physical ailments, brain patterns, geographic languages (e.g., "raise your right hand" vs. "raise your hand east") and myriad other tidbits of learning, bombarding us with notions that make infinite sense, and produce "AHA" moments many of us never spent any time dwelling upon.

Here are a few of his other intellectual gems:
"A brain is something that exists within a single skull, a mind exists within a network of interactions and relations. It is important not to confuse brains with minds."
In a discussin about how modern man thinks, he uses the analogy of  clocks and clouds -
 "Clocks can be taken apart into defined pieces, studied, put back together...Clouds are irregular, dynamic and idiosyncratic - hard to study - they change constantly....The  temptation of modern  research is that it tries to pretend that every phenomenom is a clock that can be evaluated using mechanical tools and regular techniques."
"Nations don't clash only over land, wealth and interests, they fight to compel others to see the world as they do...One of the reasons the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been so stubbornly unresolved is that each side wants the other to accept its historical narrative."
"Most people either inherit their party affiliations from their parents, or they form an attachment to one party or another early in adulthood.  Few people switch parties once they reach middle age."
And finally one of my favorites, when he was describing a politician aiming higher up the pole.
"He'd spent the first part of his life defining himself by his career rank.  He'd developed the social skills useful on the climb up the greasy pole:  The capacity to imply false intimacy, the ability to remember first names, the subtle skills of effective deference.  He got elected to the Senate, and had come to master the patois of globaloney:  the ability to declaim for portentous hours about the revolution in world affairs brought about by technological change, environmental degradation,  the fundamental decline in moral values, had achieved fame and a spot as chairman of the senate's foreign relation committee and was often talked about as a presidential hopeful."
The story of Harold and Erica as they  meet, fall in love, marry, climb the corporate ladder, branch out on separate career paths, and ultimately retire together, is enchanting, challenging, interesting, and one that is sure to make the reader stop and think.  Social Animal is a work that bears reading and re-reading.  It may not be a life-changer, but it is certainly going to be a life-enhancer for many.
"Globaloney" !!  Don't you just love it?  It's a word I have tucked away to soothe me through the next 17 months of campaigning.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Let's Celebrate a Birthday!


It's that time again....summer is here and it's time for tourists, parades, cookouts, beaches, and reflection on the miracle wrought by those brave signers of the Declaration of Independence some 235 years ago.

I hope that you and yours have a wonderful, fun-filled holiday as you recall the many blessings we all celebrate here on our nation's birthday.  And let's not forget the incredibly brave young men and women who are serving in our country's uniform both here and overseas.  Without them, we might not have a chance to look forward to the 236th celebration next year.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

It's time for Winners!

To kick off the holiday weekend, congratulations are in order for two of my very loyal long time followers.  I love it when picks people who enter time after time.  Wonder Girl will be winging its way to


as soon as they send me their snail mail addresses.  They have until Wednesday July 6th to let me know.  If I don't hear from them, I'll have to pick other winners.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bring on the Brain Candy !!!!

As I've been hinting, I'm going to spend July and August reading many of the cozies (mostly mysteries) I've collected over the past years. I tend to pick these up at book sales, or borrow them from my sister, so I'm going to treat myself for awhile and lay back from more SERIOUS reading to relax and enjoy. I'll be giving you some mini-reviews, but mostly I'll just be posting about a few of my in progress reads, and 'hafta' reads for book club, and the rest is going to be come what may.

I already have 42 stacked up and will probably have to use to help me choose where to start!

I do plan to finish reviews of the ones I'm currently reading/listening to (see widgets on the sidebar) and will always have one non-fiction "deeper" read going since one can o-d on too much candy. And I do have a houseful of company coming this weekend, and some serious work needing to be done in the garden now that summer (such as it is) has finally arrived on the coast of Maine.

However, today is the First of July, so bring on the Brain Candy!!!

Last day to enter for Wonder Girl

Wonder Girl
Contest closes tonite!

Don't forget to enter the great giveaways being offered by various publishers.  Click on the covers in the sidebar at the left to go to the entry form.  The contest for Wonder Girl, the great bio of Babe Didrickson Zacharias ends tonite at midnite.  Don't miss your chance to win this great one!