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,