Monday, December 31, 2012

End of a Great Reading Year

What a year!  I finished 147 books! 

I had a wonderful year reading about World War I - 16 in all. I'm also 1/2 way through my 17th - "Testament of Youth" by Vera Brittain. I'm not picking up another print book until I finish this one. It's excruciatingly beautiful and heartbreaking. I can see why it is considered a classic. A wonderful book my daughter insisted I read. ( I raised a very intelligent daughter)

I definitely proved that I am more comfortable with electronics than I ever thought I'd be. But if listening to audio books is what it takes to keep me healthy and working out three to four times a week, I may become the best read person in town. My totals don't always add up because several books I read in both audio and eye format (either print or Nook/Kindle) but here's the break down:

37 Print
79 Audio
36 E books

118 Fiction (80 mysteries)
27 Non-fiction (16 WWI, 12 Bio or Memoir)

95 came from the library
43 came off my shelves (both wooden, audio or electronic)
29 were ARCs

My Best reads of  the year: Fiction

Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
Light Between the Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Pocketful of Names Joe Coomer
Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Best of the my reading year : Non-Fiction
The Beauty and the Sorrow  by Peter Englund
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
To end all Wars: A story of Loyalty and Rebellion by Adam Hochschild
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

It was a wonderful year, and I'm looking forward to another good year of reading and other fun activities.  My blogging will be much less frequent in 2013.  Tune in tomorrow morning to see how Tutu plans to spend the New Year.  In the meantime, if you're stopping by, let us know what some of your best reads of the year were.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe's mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in her early 70's. An activist all her life, she embraced a fairly aggressive treatment regimen in an attempt to lengthen the quality days she had left.

Her son Will, recently retired from a publishing job as Editor-in Chief at Hyperion Publishers, often volunteered to accompany her to various doctors appointments and medical procedures during the almost 2 years she lived after her diagnosis.  As they rode buses and subways, and sat in waiting rooms or "treatment booths", they found themselves not only following their life-long habit of reading, but also trading books and discussing their impressions, likes and dislikes of various books.  As they discussed the books, stories of their previous adventures in life became intertwined and personal details were allowed to percolate to the surface.

I chose the book for the book club related subject matter.  In the end however, I discovered a treasure of a tribute to an emancipated woman, a loving mother and a courageous family.  It was heartwarming without being maudlin, and gives the reader a glimpse of a rich and varied reading life that both of them enjoyed.  Even MaryAnn's penchant for always reading the end of the book first, a habit I normally find abhorrent, did not produce a negative feeling toward her.  The appendix gives a complete list of books   the two discussed - as you can see, the range was wide, deep and eclectic.  There were quite a few I had read, and several other that popped right up as candidates for our local book club.  It was an exceptionally good ending to a great reading year and a loving tribute to an incredibly well-read woman.

Title: The End of Your Life Book Club
Author:  Will Schwalbe
Publisher/format: audio from Books on Tape, 9 hrs, 37 min
Narrator: Jeff Harding
Genre: Memoir
Subject: end of life, books
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now? The subject intrigued me

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

Title: The Sins of the Father
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Publisher: St Martin's Press (2012), 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: World War II, family dynamics
Series: Clifton Chronicles
Source: Barnes & Noble (Nook)
Why did I read this book now?  I enjoyed book #1 in the series and wanted to see what happened next.

Sins of the Father is book #2 in this family saga, and picks right up where the first one, Only Time will Tell, left off.  It covers both American and British involvment in World War II, seen from the point of view of aristocrats and working class. It's not great literature, but it is an enjoyable read. I'd put it in the cozy category of family war sagas. Archer has a knack for leaving the reader hanging at the end of each chapter, and then really leaves the reader hanging at the end of the book. It's the only reason I'll get #3, Best Kept Secret, when it comes out because I can't stand not knowing what the answer is to #2.

Not a full review, but there are plenty of them online if you feel you really want one.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Title: Fall of Giants
Author: Ken Follett
Narrator: John Lee
Publisher: Books on Tape, audio - 30 hrs, 38 min
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: World War I and social/political issues of the times
Setting: England, Russia, Germany
Series: Century Trilogy  
Source: purchased from Audible
Why did I read this book now? It was part of my World War I reading challenge.

This was an exceptionally enjoyable read especially since I read it immediately following the George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm biography reviewed yesterday.  After seeing  the war from the perspective of the high rulers,  it was quite a turn-around to read  Follett's story of the era from the perspective of working class participants:  the soldiers who slogged through the mud and trembled in the trenches,  the peasants who starved in the frozen acreage of Mother Russia, the ruthless ne'er-do-wells who used the circumstances to better their own lives while trampling on others, and the mid-level aristocracy who saw their world of privilege crumbling and could do little to stop the disintegration of their way of life in spite of their seemingly heroic efforts.

Follett chooses the coal miners and upper class gentry of Wales to tell Great Britain's story.  He shows us Russia from the point of view of two brothers, disillusioned peasants, who had witnessed the brutal murder of their mother while the Russian aristocracy stood watching stonefaced.  He shows us German and American aide-de-camps working at upper level government  jobs gathering intelligence, trying to shape opinion, and ultimately trying desparately to stop a war before it got started. 

Women characters play large roles in the story, fighting restrictions designed to bind them to men (either fathers, brothers or husbands). From a parlor maid seduced by the master of the household, to an upper-class Englishwoman fighting for peace and women's rights, to war widows, maiden aunts, and de-throned Russian royalty, they all must face changing social mores and paradigms. There are appearances from actual historic figures (e.g., Winston Churchill) as well as a host of fictional personalities who bring the troubles of the era to life.

This is a long book....over a 1000 pages in print, and 30 hours in audio.  Like all of Follett's works, it can get a bit long-winded in parts, but the story is well told, extremely well researched, and ultimately enjoyable.  I especially found the sections on the Russian revolution very enlightening.  Not only did I enjoy the read, I learned a lot about the various factions and causes of the many different aspects of that country's government(s) during those years.

This one was a great way to tie together the other 14 books set around and about World War I which I read throughout the year.  The carnage that mankind can inflict on itself was well documented, and told in chilling detail, but the fictional characters who told their stories (through John Lee's masterful narration in the audio version) kept it interesting and left us wanting to get on with life after the war.  I also purchased the 2nd in the trilogy, which begins  with Hitler's coming to power in 1933.  I hope to read it early in 2013. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More World War I Reading: George, Nicholas and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter

Title: George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I
Author: Miranda Carter
Publisher: Vintage Books, division of Random House, 2009, 498 pages
Alternate format: Audio, Books on Tape, 21 hours, 10 min
Narrator: Rosalyn Landor
Genre: History, biography
Subject: Influence of monarchs who participated in World War I
Setting: Europe, approx 1870-1920
Source: my own book, audio from public library download
Why did I read this book now? It was part of my World War I reading challenge.

Most of my World War I reading this year has been either straight history - the story of the various political chess moves made by the principal governments involved and the often devasting impacts those players set spinning across the world- or historical fiction as told through a variety of genres- romance, mystery, fictional agents.  In this book, Miranda Carter takes an in-depth look at the three nominal rulers of the most powerful entrants into the war arena.  In each case, they emerge as befuddled, impotent, and thoroughly under-educated figure-heads who were unable or unwilling to take steps that may have averted the disaster that was World War I.

In my mind, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of their grandmother and aunt - Queen Victoria, who felt that royalty was sufficient unto itself, needed no education, and was simply there to be obeyed and waited upon.  Unfortunately, many of her subjects disagreed with her.  Victoria's dictates about what was proper dress, behavior, food, language, etc, conspired to ensure that these three men (George and Wilhelm her grandsons, and a cousin married to her grand-daughter) were rigid, unimaginative, severely un-educated, and almost clueless about the social, economic, religious, and labor issues boiling in their respective countries.

This is a fascinating study of the three men whose governments pushed them aside, ignored them, or in Wilhelm's instance, tried to work around his pomposity to win a war that should never have been started.  I have this book in both audio and print formats.  The print book was especially useful for the family trees and photographs and it was wonderful to have the audio to be able to continue "reading" while I was driving, baking cookies, or working out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And still More WW I - Review: The Light Between Oceans

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Publisher: Scribner (2012)  342 pages
Alternate format: Audio - Simon and Schuster, 10.5 hours
Narrator: Noah Taylor
Genre: Fiction
Subject: Child stealing, guilt
Setting: Lighthouse off western coast of Australia
Source: public library
Why did I read this book now?  I saw reviews, it sounded interesting and it was available at the library.

A stunning read.  Not only is the story compelling, but the setting is luminous and the character development some of the best I've read this year.  Stedman's prose is crystal clear, crisp, and often has the reader gasping at it's beauty.

The story itself is heart-breaking. Tom Sherbourne returns to his native Australia from fighting in World War I where he witnessed and participated in  incredible carnage.  Determined to make up for his part in all the killing, he joins the lightkeeping force, and trains as a lightkeeper.  Eventually, he takes his young and vivacious bride Isabel to Janus Light, 100 miles off the western shore of Australia where they are the only human inhabitants of the island.  As the months, and then years pass, Isabel suffers several miscarriages, and the couple begins to lose faith in their chosen life.

Suddenly a baby washes ashore in a boat....where did the baby come from?  What should Tom do about reporting this to the authorities?  Can they possibly hope to keep the babe for their own?  The story is too deep, phsychologically intense, and ultimately emotionally draining for me to spoil it by telling how it progresses from there.

Stedman's story-telling keeps the reader glued to the book.  His descriptions of the vast ocean scenarios, the loneliness of life on the island, and the weather events are spectacular.  The decisions faced by all the characters involved are morally complex and take the reader on a roller coaster of emotions.  It will be a popular book club discussion choice.  Ultimately, there are no good answers to many of the questions, and no character escapes the angst resulting from decisions made.

One of my best of the year reads.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Holiday Reading Wish

     copyright 2012 Susan Glover Rizzo, used with permission of the artist.

I could never have found anything more special than this beautiful handmade greeting from one of my online friends. Sus lives overseas and sent this to all her friends. She was gracious enough to allow me to "borrow" it from her to help pass on the happiness that reading brings to each of us. I wish each of you a beautiful and blessed Christmas holiday and prosperous and Happy New Year.  I pray that each of you can find beauty and comfort in memories of 2012 and look forward to more wonderous adventures (real and fictional) in 2013.  May your TBR pile be high enough so you never run dry but low enough to keep from tumbling over.

May the blessings of Christmas peace come to all of you, your loved ones, and our entire troubled world.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday Mailbox - Christmas Eve

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently. Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are rotated every month. Suko  at Suko's Notebook is our host for December. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Last week, I was thrilled to receive a package and note from Henry Holt and Company saying that I had won the Hilary Mantel sweepstakesThey enclosed a copy of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.  I was gobsmacked.  I read Wolf Hall last year, but had borrowed it from the library.  I have Bring up the Bodies as an audio in my personal collection, but I really enjoy having the print copy to refer to if I fall asleep ( happens!) and to verify the spelling of names, look at illustrations etc.  So much fun.

Thank you Henry Holt publishers.  You made this a wonderful Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Weekend Cooking - Christmas Cookies

These past weeks I've been baking several batches of traditional Christmas cookies and pastries, many from old family recipes. As I get older, and arthritis makes life more interesting, I marvel at how my grandmother used to make our favorite cinnamon raisin buns with no labor saving devices. She did of course, have grand-daughters who were enlisted as they got old enough to crack an egg and roll out dough, but until then, she kneaded, rolled, sliced and baked hundreds of these goodies with only a rolling pin and a knife and spoon.

In my case, I had the advantage of four very helpful tools: the sifting shaker for spreading 10x sugar and cinnamon sugar in an even layer, the gorgeous flat pastry scraper (greatest tool since the gas stove), the pastry brush for spreading melted butter (Nonna used a spoon and it worked ok, but the brush is much more fun), and the heavy duty electric mixer with dough hook.

I just made a batch of Nonna's raisin buns at my mom's yesterday.  She did have a pastry brush,  but she kneaded the dough by hand.  Her 88 year old hands still do a much better job that mine do.  We mixed the cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and spread it by hand.  A metal spatula worked almost as well as my pastry scraper.  In the end, the goodies were just as good, and we had just as much fun.

I almost forgot the other fantastic invention for baking:  PARCHMENT PAPER.  I suspect this has been around for a long time, but no one in my family started using it until just a few years ago.  The amount of time it saves in cleaning up cookie sheets is worth every penny spent.  Mom had not used it before but is now a convert.

So here's some of the goodies we made. I hope yours are just as gorgeous, delicious and fun.  Have a great holiday weekend.

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.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mailbox Monday - December 17th

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently. Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are rotated every month. Suko  at Suko's Notebook is our host for December. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.
The Burgess Boys 
by Elizabeth Strout

Again this week, I only got one new one, but it's another WOW! This was an ARC from the Early Reviewers program at  I love Strout's  writing, and definitely will be leading off the new year with this one.  Here's what the publisher said to tempt me:
Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

WW I Reading: Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson

Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War
Author: Virginia Nicholson
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2008) 328 pages
Subject: women's roles following World War I
Setting: Great Britain after World War I
Genre: Non-fiction, sociology
Why did I read this book now? It was part of my World War I reading challenge
Source: Public Library

As I continue reading about World War I and its after effects, this book seemed like it would be an interesting one.  As the Amazon blurb says:
The First World War deprived Britain of three-quarters of a million soldiers, with as many more incapacitated. In 1919 a generation of women who unquestioningly believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that there were, quite simply, not enough men to go round. The press ran alarming stories about the 'Problem of the Surplus Women - Two Million who can never become Wives ...'. But behind the headlines were thousands of brave, emancipated individuals forced by a tragedy of historic proportions to rethink their entire futures. Tracing their fates, Virginia Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-war decades had to stop depending on men for her income, her identity and her happiness. Some just endured, others challenged the conventions, fought the system and found fulfilment. "Singled Out" pays homage to this remarkable generation of women who were changed by war, and in their turn helped change society.
 The  premise was a sound one.  The author is an academic who served as a documentary researcher for BBC television. Her research background glows in this book, but for me it simply pulled me down into a quagmire of tons upon tons of details.  If one story could have made her point, she chose to give us three or four examples.  It was like waiting for a train to pull away from the platform--- it just never developed enough steam to hold my attention.  It often rang of the poor dears in DOWNTON ABBEY who just couldn't quite figure out what to do with all these women.  As a result, I found myself reading the first three or four paragraphs of each section, and then skimming.  I also think because I had already started reading Vera Britain's Testament of Youth where the author was experiencing many of these same issues but reporting them in much more elegant prose that I just couldn't settle into this one.

If you are a detail oriented person who needs lots of reinforcement to prove points, this one is for you.  It's an important work in its thesis, and worth at least a look-see.  It certainly covers an important aspect of how this War changed the way women were regarded and regarded themselves. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cutting for Stone: Reading again and again and again....

Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese

This is the fourth time I've read this book, and it has certainly now jumped to the top of my all time favorite list.  Our book club will be discussing this one in January and I couldn't hold myself back from reading and listening to it again.  Both versions are wonderful, and as I read it over the past three weeks, I never once got even the least bit bored.  Here's the link to the original review I wrote in April 2010.  It still says exactly what I'd say today. If you haven't read this one, or you thought you didn't like it when you did, you owe it to yourself to get this one and read it. 

This book is long. It is 18 discs on audio (almost 24 hours of extremely well narrated story read by Sunil Malhotra) and 688 pages in print. It is difficult to do it justice in a review because, although written as a fictional narrative memoir, it is a novel with a spectacular ending that deserves not to be spoiled.

It is a story that is engrossing, exciting, appealing, easy to read and extremely difficult to put down. It is also one that I will want to read again and again. In both its print and its audio versions it is a story not soon to be forgotten. It is simply one of the best books I've ever read.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Faith by Jennifer Haigh

The pedophilia scandal in the Catholic diocese of Boston in the early part of this century is certainly one that is well known by everybody who can read or who has a TV set. Jennifer Haigh uses this setting to present us with a story of a family, the McGanns, steeped in the traditions and superstitions and faith of the Boston Irish Catholics of that period.  Haigh has the daughter Sheila tell the story.  Fr. Art Breen,  the oldest son, is accused of pedophilia by a single mom whom he has befriended.  Mike, the younger brother who had been a cop for awhile, assumes his half brother is guilty.  Their mother refuses to believe the accusations, and although the newspapers jump right in, the church refuses to discuss it, Art refuses to hire a lawyer, and it is Sheila who decides she must determine the truth of what really happened.  It is her quest for the truth that allows us to see how different versions of "Faith" can exist on so many different levels.

This is a book that has many stories:

  • There's the Irish Catholic Boston pedophilia story.
  • There's the story of priestly vocations - what is it that draws men to this way of life?  How do they live their lives of quiet loneliness?  What kind of training do they get to handle those difficulties?
  • There's the family story:  how does the mother relate to her adult children? How does the sister reconcile her feelings for the brothers? What impact does this scandal have on the other brother's marriage?
  • There's  passion play of characters in addition to the immediate family.  The accuser, the supposed victim, the various clerics and officials all contribute to the dynamics of belief, guilt, secret-keeping, forgiveness, and redemption that are the story's hallmark. 

I found the device of using the sister to narrate and drive the story a bit confusing at first, but can't imagine a better way to bring all the divergent views and motivations together.  Therese Plummer does a spot-on job as a narrator in  giving us the Boston Catholic viewpoint and accent. This is a story written compassionately, and with great insight into the many aspects of events that happen when such an accusation is flung into the air.  Jennifer Haigh gives us a caring and sensitive look at the Catholic Church and its struggles over the past decades - going back to Vatican II and working forward.  She gives excellent explanations of rituals, traditions, and a way of life that will be familiar to those who have lived it, and understandable to those looking in from the outside.

What she discovers, and what she does with the information is best omitted here to avoid spoilers. It's a remarkable book that treats a very distasteful subject with objectivity, understanding, and empathy, while allowing the reader to process it from his or her own perspective.  Well worth the read.

Title: Faith
Author: Jennifer Haigh
Publisher/Format: Harper Collins Audio, (2011) 10 hrs, 6 mins
Narrator: Therese Plummer
Subject: Pedophilia, Irish Catholicism
Setting: Boston
Genre: Fiction
Why did I read this book now? The audio was available on sale at Audible, and it was a subject that interested me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mailbox Monday - Dec 3rd

Only one book in the mailboxes this week, but what fun it is.  I entered and won a contest at Lesa's Book Critiques, one of my all time favorite blogs.  I never fail to stop in there at least 2 or 3 times a week, and I always enter her contests, so it's really fun when I win!  This time I won an ARC of Rhys Bowen's The Twelve Clues of Christmas, a Royal Spyness mystery, just in time for the holidays.

 The Twelve Clues of Christmas
A Royal Spyness mystery
by Rhys Bowen

Here's Lesa's excellent review of the book...  And here's what the publisher has to say:
 On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me—well, actually, my true love, Darcy O’Mara, is spending a feliz navidad tramping around South America. Meanwhile, Mummy is holed up in a tiny village called Tiddleton-under-Lovey with that droll Noel Coward! And I’m snowed in at Castle Rannoch with my bumbling brother, Binky, and sourpuss sister-in-law, Fig.

So it’s a miracle when I contrive to land a position as hostess to a posh holiday party in Tiddleton. The village is like something out of A Christmas Carol! But no sooner have I arrived than a neighborhood nuisance, a fellow named Freddie falls out of a tree, dead…. Dickensian, indeed.

Freddie’s merely a stocking stuffer. On my second day in town, another so-called accident turns up another mincemeat pie—and yet another on my third. The village is buzzing that a recent prison break could have something to do with it… that, or a long-standing witch’s curse. I’m not so sure. But after Darcy shows up beneath the mistletoe, anything could be possible in this wicked wonderland.
I can't wait to settle into this one.  I think it will definitely get me into the holiday mood.

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently. Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are rotated every month. Gillion at Rose City Reader is our host for December. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: Bad Little Falls by Paul Doiron

Paul Doiron's Mike Bowditch series is a well-researched and rousing set of tales about the Maine warden service. This is the third in the series, and we've now been treated to a view of the Maine woods and wild-life (human and animal) in summer, in autumn hunting season, and now in the dead of winter. We've been to different parts of the state, and met many different characters. And Mike Bowditch still doesn't seem to be able to get control of his temper, his impulsiveness, his rebellion and his propensity for doing exactly what he shouldn't be doing.

The story starts as Mike tries to find a missing man in a snowstorm.  He's been sent to the northern wilds of Maine because he's really ticked off his superiors.  Supposedly this assignment will give him a chance for redemption.The snow scenes in this one are awesome. The tale is well laid out, and the reader has several different red herrings to knock down before figuring out exactly what the mystery is, who the real bad guys are and then who dunnit.

Doiron gives us raw footage, real life, and an anti-hero who is beginning to wear a little thin, at least for this reader. I really almost abandoned this one in the middle when Mike kept making really stupid choices. But I wanted to see how he would handle having his entire life sprayed by a skunk, so I muddled through, and ended up able to label it an enjoyable read. IMHO, it's not pulitzer material, but it certainly has more action, more twists, and more scenery than many of today's mysteries. The sense of place is undoubtedly one of the best features and readers will come away with a good sense of how hard life is in rural Maine in the winter.

I haven't heard whether there are more to come in this series. If there are, let's hope that Warden Bowditch grows up a bit.

Title: Little Bad Falls
Author: Paul Doiron
Publisher/format: MacMillan audio (2012)
Narrator: Henry Leyva
Subject: life of a warden in Maine winter
Setting: Washington County Maine
Series: Mike Bowditch
Why did I read this book now? I enjoyed the first two in the series and wanted to continue it.
Source: public library download

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison

With a protagonist named Father Christmas, and a cover touting a line from the famous holiday carol, you'd think this was a Christmas story. However, C.C. Benison has simply used the naming devices to open a delightful British cozy mystery series. Having answered the call to a vocation after an earlier career as a magician, Father "call me Tom" Christmas is still reeling from the recent brutal murder of his wife. He jumps at the chance to move himself and his 8 year old daughter to the quiet rural English countryside parish at Thornton Regis. The story actually opens during the annual May Fayre where the vicar's sister-in-law is introducing a new production of the village teens playing a set of Japanese drums.

When the body of a local teen is discovered inside one of the drums, the Vicar begins suffering from severe "deja vu". He doesn't want his daughter to have to go through more trauma, but there are many very mysterious people and happenings to sort out. The backfill to the story is nicely padded by letters written by the vicarage housekeeper, who has her finger on the village pulse, and who writes her aging and ill mother every morning telling all the juicy details.

Add to the mix the requisite retired British army officer who suffered immensely as a POW under the Japanese during "the war", a Japanese artist married to the local barkeep, a very secretive verger, the sister and her doctor husband whose marriage doesn't seem any too secure, an aging rock star recovering from previous addictions and his crazy ex-wife, and you have a formula for lots of interesting inter-personal exchanges.  You also have lots of suspects and motives and a vicar who won't leave well enough alone. He  is determined to figure out what happened and why.

There's lots to like here for fans of English cozies and there's at least enough to make me want to read another one  in the series.  I actually picked this one up because I have the next one as an ARC from Net Galley, and I wanted to start at the beginning.  So stay tuned for my thoughts on "Eleven Pipers Piping" the next in the Fr. Christmas series.  I wonder though  if Benison can sustain this village and its occupants for 12 volumes.

Title: Twelve Drummers Drumming
Author: C.C. Benison
Pubisher/format Bantam,(2012) paperback 400 pages
Subject: murder in a small village
Setting:fictional British village of Thorton Regis
Series: Fr. Christmas mysteries
Why did I read this book now? Wanted to start the series at the beginning
Source: Public library

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger

As I continue my reading of Presidential biographies, I arrived at just the right time in the list to pick up the newest bio of John Quincy Adams by Harlow Unger.  I finished the previous biography of James Monroe also by Unger, and it seemed fortuitous to continue with the same author.  Unger's writing is clean, interesting, well-researched.  It is not over-burdened with footnotes (and besides they're tucked out of the way in the back) and concentrates on looking at the life of his subjects from all aspects.  Numerous illustrations are interspersed throughout the book to add to its interest.  In fact, JQA was the first president to sit for an actual photograph, which picture is included in the book.

Unger is brutally honest about JQA's achievements:  his presidency is acknowledged to be notable for its lack of accomplishment and JQA's refusal to engage in political campaigning or any form of party membership or partianship while in the White House.  Instead his major contribution to the nation he loved was before and after his presidency - in his years of service overseas in diplomatic posts (starting at the age of 15 when he was sent to the Russian court at St. Petersburg).  His various European posts and accomplishments - France, London, the Hague, St Petersburg) are all delightfully portrayed and give us a feeling of affection for someone so young and so talented.

It is however, in his life after the Presidency that he truly shines.  As the only (so far) previous president to serve in the House after his presidency, JQA made a name for himself defending free speech, fighting against slavery, speaking before the Supreme Court, and finally learning the power of the political speech.  He made many enemies, but died a man respected by many more on both sides of the aisle. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this biography.  It gave me the information I needed to understand why his presidency was so non-productive, to see the influences that shaped his thinking, to meet the friends, relatives and mentors who helped him become the truly great statesman he was.  In his last term as a Congressman (he died on the floor of the House while it was in session), he gave a speech that was so memorable about slavery and the need to abolish it, that a young 1st term Congressman from Illinois (one Abraham Lincoln) used his wording when he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.

Reading facts like that convince me that my decision to read the presidents in order was a good one. I read Andrew Jackson (next in line) last year, but may skim back through it again before going on to Martin Van Buren.  It is an interesting, enlightening, and entertaining reading challenge.  Who else wants to join in?

Title: John Quincy Adams
Author: Harlow Giles Unger
Publisher: De Capo Press (2012), 384 pages
Subject: John Quincy Adams
Genre: biography
Source: Barnes & Noble, purchased for my Nook 
Why did I read this book now? Next president in line for the US Presidents Reading Challenge

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope, who was introduced in Susan Elia MacNeal's debut mystery "Mr. Churchill's Secretary" returns to continue her code breaking/building expertise--this time as a "maths tutor" to young Princess Elizabeth.  Once again the setting is World War II in England.  Maggie has been accepted as an MI5 agent, but has not been able to pass the physical part of the training to enable her to serve as a "spy" behind the lines.  MI5 does not want to insert her via parachute into enemy territory if they can't be sure she has the proper survival skills.  Instead, they send her to guard the young Princess Elizabeth, heir to the throne.  The Princess, along with her sister Princess Margaret Rose, and her governess Margaret Crawford (Crawfie) has been sequestered in Windsor Castle, away from the bombings in central London.

MI5 suspects a plot to harm the princess and wants someone on site.  Maggie is ostensibly there to instruct the Princess in "maths".  When the young lady objects to maths as being dull, and of no use, Maggie teaches her about encoding messages, and shows her how important this is for the conduct of the war.  Later, this information will save the Princess' life. In the meantime, a basket full of suspicious characters appears at the castle to generate different possible dangers (real and imagined) in Maggie's mind.  Since know one knows exactly what the plot involves, or has any idea of who or when, the reader is treated to an entire Greek chorus of possibles.

As with the first book in the series, the characters are well-drawn and give us an insight into what life what like for the British populace undergoing the hardships of bombings, rationings, and worry about loved ones.  The setting shows MacNeal's zeal for detail, and excellent research into the period.  The plot however, still gives me pause.  If the reader can step back and simply accept the story as a good whodunnit, it's loads of fun, with lots of twists, and some thrilling suspense scenes.  But it really took a great deal of suspending belief on my part to accept some of the implausible situations which develop.  The book ends with a satisfactory ending to the current situation, but definitely points to another story coming for Maggie's "next assignment."  The underlying basis for the assignment is the real surprise at the end of the book.  Readers will have to read it on their own.  My lips are sealed.   It's fun, it's a quick read, and it's pointing to more.

Many thanks to Bantam Dell of Random House for making this available as a e-book for review through Net Galley.  I also listened to the audio version I purchased from Audible.  It was delightfully narrated by Susan Duerden whose ability to impart each character with a new voice and accent makes the audio thoroughly enjoyable.

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Publisher/Format:  Random House (Bantam Dell) egalley; audio: Random House audio
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Copyright: 2012
Subject: espionage, code breaking MI5
Setting: London, Windsor Castle England
Series: Maggie Hope
Number of pages: 384; 11 hours audio
Why did I read this book now? I enjoyed the first one and this one was available for review.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Turkey Day

Thanksgiving Turkey Graphics
Thanksgiving Turkey Graphics at

To all my friends and faithful followers, warm wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

I'm not a dog person, although I don't dislike them, and we had a dog for years, they just don't fit my lifestyle right now.  However..........after reading this one, I can see that I could easily become one again.  This is the book chosen by our local  book discussion group for November's read.  Everyone has already let me know they loved it, can't wait to meet to discuss it, and couldn't put it down once they started.

The premise is quite unusual.  The story is told by a dog, Enzo, who gives us his perspective on life without opposable thumbs, his anticipated reincarnation as a human, his thoughts on human weakness, child-rearing, and most of all car racing.  You see, Enzo belongs to a professional race car driver, so he and his owner spend hours in front of the video screen reviewing races, practicing moves, and devising race strategies.  Let it be said that I am NOT a race car fan at all, but I didn't find the setting off-putting.

Throughout the book, as Enzo watches his mistress dying of a brain tumor, as he observes the power struggle for a child's heart and custody, as he ruminates on various strange human behaviors, he dispenses pearls of wisdom in race car terms.  Denny, Enzo's owner, is one of those hapless individuals who never catches a break, who tries very hard to do right, but whom life seems to want to dump on, no matter what he does or does not do.  Through it all, Enzo remains the one constant in his life.

Set in the lustrous and often rainy area of coastal Washington State (in the Puget sound area), the story follows Enzo as he ages, goes through all the angst of getting older, slower, and having bodily functions less responsive than they were in youth.  It's a marvelous soliloquoy on life, and on life after death. Some of our readers say they found it to be a real tear-jerker.  I simply found it to be a lovely and loving tale of a family, a dog, and how they helped each other cope with everything that life could throw at them.

Author: Garth Stein
Publisher: Harper
Year of  publication: 2008
Subject: life, death, car racing, child custody
Setting: Pacific Northwest - Puget Sound area
Number of pages: 321
Why did I read this book now? My book club chose it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mailbox Monday - November 19

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently. Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are rotated every month. Kathy at Bermuda Onion's Weblog is our host for November. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

Last time I did a mailbox post, I promised you a catch-up on my Barnes and Noble virtual mailbox to see what goodies I've snagged for my personal library on my NOOK. My "buying" mouse clicker has been a busy little rodent!

Purchased from Barnes and Noble for my Nook:

Impulse by Frederick Ramsay
World War One: History in an Hour by Rupert Colley
Dog On It (the first of the Chet and Bernie series) by Spencer Quinn
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
President Truman by Thomas Fleming
Plum Island by Nelson DeMille
Boone by Robert Morgan

An eclectic assortment, but who can resist those bargain books when Barnes and Noble or Amazon dangle them before my buying eyes? We have two NOOKs.  Hubby "owns" one, but we maintain one account at B&N because we have very similar reading tastes.  He's a retired history teacher and aspiring mystery writer. I'm addicted to mysteries and am trying to complete the challenge to read Presidential biographies (at least one of each) before I die, so these were all no-brainers for both of us.

Stay tuned for reviews. The Presidents I've been reading are concurrent with Boone, and I'm anxious to see how his escapades fill in some of that history-it's a long book, so it may take awhile.  I've already posted the WW I review, so I'm not doing too badly on that challenge, but I still have about 5 more I want to read in that era.  In fact, I'm probably going to spend another year reading WWI and the years leading up to WW II.

Be sure if you're here to let us know what's been landing in your mailbox.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: The Body in the Boudoir by Katherine Hall Page

This series has become a favorite over the past few years, although I've read it in a rather piece-meal fashion. This prequel to the series was published this year, and I was fortunate to win a copy in a blog giveaway sponsored by Karen at Bookin' with Bingo back in July.  I'm just sorry I didn't get to it sooner.

As Faith Fairchild, the preacher's wife with her own catering business, settles down for a long overseas flight to Europe where she and hubby Tom will celebrate their 10th anniversary, she daydreams about how they met, about their courtship, and about (of course) the mysterious murder, i.e., the Body in the Boudoir discovered just before the wedding.  It's a well-written tale, and fills in a lot of gaps in the background of this relationship we've enjoyed throughout the series.  For fans of the series, it will be a welcome addition.  For newcomers, it's an excellent introduction to an amateur sleuth who provides us with not just good mystery solving, but excellent and yummy ideas and recipes she serves up in her catering business "Have Faith."

There were a few plot elements that seemed a bit contrived, and it seemed to take forever for the body (and mystery) to appear, but all in all, it's a good read and has me hungry to find some more in the series (there are now 20 of them!).  After all, the holidays are coming, and who couldn't use some good party ideas?

Many thanks to Karen for hosting the giveaway, and to the publisher for making the prizes available.

Title: The Body in the Boudoir
Author:  Katherine Hall Page
Year of publication: 2012
Genre: mystery - amateur sleuth
Subject: murder, food,
Setting: New York city
Series: Faith Fairchild mystery
Number of pages: 272
Source:  contest win
Why did I read this book now? It's been sitting on the bedside table too long.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Move over Maisie Dobbs and Bess Crawford. Maggie Hope is here! As many of you know, I'm a great fan of Jacqueline Winspear's "Maisie Dobbs" mysteries, and Charles Todd's "Bess Crawford" series. They both begin in World War I, and segue into the years between the First and Second World Wars.

This new series is set firmly in World War II London with a smart, sassy, gutsy protagonist Maggie Hope. Although she was raised in America, she is British by birth and so is eligible to serve England during the war in a very sensitive and secret undertaking. A graduate of Wellesley, with a degree in advanced mathematics, she abandons her chance to get a Ph.D. in math at MIT in favor of working for the Brits. She presumes her consummate math and code breaking skills will land her a job in that department with ease.

Instead, she finds herself consigned to a seemingly menial job taking dictation and typing for Winston Churchill. The adventures in which she becomes involved are James Bondish in their plausibility, but believable enough to make for a ripping good read.

I have the second book in this series as an ARC from the publisher, but since my sister graciously gifted me with her copy of this one, I decided to read them in order.  Look for a review of #2 before the end of the year.  They're well done, and there's enough meat here for at least 2 or 3 more books in a great new series.

Title: Mr. Churchill's Secretary
Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Copyright/Year of publication: 2012
Subject: espionage, code breaking
Setting: London during World War II
Series: Maggie Hope
Number of pages: 384
Source: my own shelves (gift from my sister)

Monday, November 12, 2012

She's Making a List, Checking it twice....A letter to my loyal followers

Dear Readers,

I have not forgotten you. I've simply been reading, organizing my books, discarding lots of "also-rans", and (dare I whisper it?) getting us organized for the upcoming holidays. We're going to be heading to the Baltimore-DC area in mid December, so I have to do my baking/shopping/shipping before then.  I'm determined to support small businesses as much as possible, and to do my annual and traditional cookie baskets so I've got to get busy.

In the next week, I hope to be back up to posting on a more regular basis. I've got several books finished and waiting for reviews, and several more at least 1/2 way finished, but I've also got many that keep screaming "pick me, pick me" so I'm trying to come to terms with my nasty habit of putting more on my plate than I can possibly eat or read.  NetGalley is wonderful, but it also can enable my horrible habit of stacking books to be read onto an ever growing Mt. Toobie (as in to be read). top it off, I've accepted a challenge from my high school classmates to assemble and produce a "reunion" pamphlet with bios and pictures from the 68 of us who are still alive. The reunion (our 50th) will be in Baltimore in April, so I've got to get going on that.  At least I've re-connected with another classmate with a computer background who lives here in Maine, and she has agreed to help.  WOO HOO!

Bottom line......I think posting to  Tutu's Two Cents is going to become more sporadic for the next 6-8 months. I love you all, and hope you'll stop by periodically. If it's easier, you can subscribe to post by email (scroll to the bottom) and then you'll get notified when I post.

Many thanks to all of you who stop by occasionally or often. We love having you visit, and I hope to have some warm, cozy, and sometimes even thought-provoking posts to continue to entice you to drop by.

Virtual hugs to all of you,


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Halloween Treats

I stopped by the library a little while ago to be sure our wonderful children's librarian was all set for the book giveaway for Trick or Treat.  Wow, was she ready!  Not only will the children get free books, they're getting a goodie bag of pencils, erasers, stickers, marbles, and a spider ring!  And they get greeted with this fantastic display.  Our librarian did the pumpkin and the goodie bags, and a local hair stylist made the witch!

Happy Halloween!!!

Pumpkins are nice, but gargoyles are infinitely more fun. May your treat gathering bring you baskets of your favorite goodies. We're giving free books to kids who stop by the library this afternoon and evening. Brain candy....

Review: World War One: History in an Hour by Rupert Colley

Another NOOK Bargain. As most of you know, I've been reading books about and/or set in World War I all year. When this one popped up for $1, I had to grab it and see if it lived up to it's billing. IT DID.

I wish I had had this one when I began my reading back in January. Colley sets out to give us a bare bones, just the facts timeline of who did what when, and what the consequences (albeit very spartan) were. By leaving out footnotes and esoteric discussions of various battle theories, by omitting chapters and books full of historical background, he manages to give us a clear and naked version of THE WAR and the players. The text itself can probably be read in an hour as advertised. It took me almost two hours, mainly because I kept consulting my trusty historical atlas so I could see exactly where and what he was discussing. I also added some minutes to my read by making several electronic notes (I LOVE E-readers for this very capability) of items I wanted to delve more deeply into.

It is a great little volume, well worth the limited expense. If it had contained one or two maps, it would have been even better.  There are several others in the series that would make good basic introductory reading and fill a need in any library.

Title: World War One: History in an Hour
Author: Rupert Colley
Publisher/Format: Harper Collins, UK  e-book
Copyright/Year of original publication:  2012
Subject: World War One
Number of pages: 80
Source:  Barnes and Noble (my own books)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: The Joy of X, a Guided Tour Of Math by Steven Strogatz

I was a math major in college. I chose it for a major because the concepts of numbers and the relationships in the study of number theory fascinated me. Strictly speaking, I never had a job where I had to do any higher math, solve a quadratic equation, discuss or teach functions, trig, geometry, etc. But it did strengthen my ability to reason, look at ideas in the abstract and conceptualize a problem in real terms. It certainly helped me a lot in working with software development in one of my previous careers.

I was absolutely thrilled when I got a copy of Strogatz' book. He explains math to the non-math mind in easy to understand tidbits. I often wished I could explain things as easily. This is a book that progresses from simple number theory, e.g., what do we mean when we say we have six of something? to basic arithmetical operations (adding, subtracting, multiplication, division) to discussions of fractions, and percentages. There are chapters explaining basic algebra, and how often we use the theory of solving for X without even realizing it. Next up is Geometry, the theory of infinity, negative numbers--Strogatz covers them all and then marches through integral calculus (here it started to get a bit more difficult ----just like college!!), differential equations, and vector analysis.

The later chapters are definitely more advanced, but if you manage to stick it out that far, you'll be rewarded with an esoteric but lilting discussion of number theory.

While the author would like to think this is not rocket science, it is still deep and requires attention and interest. It should help many motivated adults in understanding what children are now being taught in school, but I'm not sure it will make math aficionados of those who don't want to get it. It's worth a look for anyone who wants to get a better grasp of what the glorious world of numbers is really all about.

Title:The Joy of X, a Guided Tour of Math
Author: Steven Strogatz
Publisher/Format: Houghton Mifflin, egalley
Copyright/Year of original publication: October 2012
Subject: The story of numbers, mathematical concepts
Number of pages: 326
Source?: Net galley electronic ARC

NOTE:  This is NOT a book to be read in the e= format.  Unless the actual book is formatted better in the final E-pub format ( I had an "advance" copy) it is almost unreadable in sections.  Anytime there is a line drawing, a table, an equation that includes fractions, it can only be seen as it is designed when the text is reduced to the smallest available, thus making it absolutely impossible to read.  The constant need to reduce the page so I could see the illustrations really turned me off. 

The book itself is fabulous, and I have no doubt that in paper, or with proper e-formatting it will be a hit.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Mailbox - October 29th

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house recently. Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog. Hosting duties are rotated every month. Gina at Book Dragon's Lair is our host for October. Be sure to drop by to see what everyone else got this week.

I haven't done a Mailbox post for over a month.  Being on the road, and then trying to catch up, has put me way behind on this one.  Fortunately, the advent of the e-format has kept huge physical piles of books from accumlulating in my PO box or in bags from USP hanging on my doorknob.  This month my arriving books were all of the virtual variety: I got some great ARCs via Net Galley.  Next week, I'll fill you in on the books I've been loading onto my Nook from Barnes and Noble.

From Net Galley for possible reviews:

Here are some words from the wonderful publishers who made these ARC available through Net Galley:

Widow of Port Seaton - by Susan Gibbs, published by Hawkshadow Publishing Co, Inc.
Upon leaving Boston in disgrace Gael Somerled, a young widow, finds employment as a lighthouse keeper in Port Seaton, Massachusetts. However, the unwanted romantic attentions of her minister, Andrew Zabel, a lonely and troubled man, begin to unravel her sense of independence......Her efforts to use law enforcement to end Andrew's harassment meet with failure when she discovers that no laws exist to protect her. Ultimately, Gael and Andrew become locked in battle of wills with dreadful results.
The Forgotten Presidents by Michael Gerhardt, published by Oxford University Press.
I had to nab this one for my US Presidents Biography Reading Challenge.
Gerhardt, one of our leading legal experts, tells the story of The Forgotten Presidents. He surveys thirteen administrations in chronological order, from Martin Van Buren to Franklin Pierce to Jimmy Carter, distinguishing political failures from their constitutional impact. Again and again, he writes, they defied popular opinion to take strong stands.
Blue Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee by Carolyn Brown, published by Sourcebooks.
This one just sounds like plain pure fun.
Bestelling author Carolyn Brown makes her first foray into women's fiction with this poignant and hilarious novel about four friends in Cadillac, Texas—where the best jalapenos in the world are grown...Everything is calm ... until Aunt Agnes declares war on Violet Prescott, the president of the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society, just in time for the annual jubilee.
A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee, to be published in March 2013 by Random House.
For readers of Jonathan Franzen and Richard Russo, Jonathan Dee’s novels are masterful works of literary fiction. In this sharply observed tale of self-invention and public scandal, Dee raises a trenchant question: what do we really want when we ask for forgiveness?
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, published by Little, Brown and Company.
I've been avoiding asking for this one because I'm afraid of the subject matter, but from the reviews I've seen so far, this one is too good and too important to ignore.

 A major literary debut by a veteran of the war in Iraq: a haunting novel about two young soldiers trying to stay alive...With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.
Margaret from Maine by Joseph Monninger, published by Penguin Group.
 Margaret Kennedy lives on a dairy farm in rural Maine. Her husband Thomas—injured in a war overseas—will never be the man he was. When the President signs a bill in support of wounded veterans, Margaret is invited to the nation’s capital. Charlie King, a handsome Foreign Service officer, volunteers to escort her... Joseph Monninger’s Margaret from Maine is a page-turning romance that poignantly explores the dilemmas faced by those who serve our country—and the men and women who love them.
As you can see, I have plenty to keep me busy if the big storm hits here tonite and we lose power.  I'm charging up the Nook, the smart phone, the computer, and the MP3 tonite.  Be sure to let us know what you got in your mailbox.