Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mini-mention: Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

I'm a huge fan of this Commissario Brunetti series. Most of them I listen to in audio format, and have even watched a few on DVD that were recorded in German with English subtitles. However, I'd never read this one - the first of the series. I've had a print copy sitting on my shelf for years, and have a copy on my e-reader also, but still kept pushing it aside to read newer books in the series and then just other ones not even related to Venice, crime and this wonderful travel/mystery/sociological treatise.

Last month, I decided this would be one that I would read on the trip we took to attend my son's wedding.  The book was small, the characters were familiar, and it would be a comfort read. Most of that was true. However, I forgot that in a good series, not every character is introduced in book #1, and I found it endearing to see how many of my favorites were still a twinkle in Leon's eye.

Often, if I start a series in the middle, I'm somewhat disappointed if I go back to read the first one.  Authors sometimes take a while to get going and the writing is not always top notch.  However, this was a great start, and now I not only want to spend a huge chunk of time in Venice, but I definitely want to re-read this series someday just as I'm doing with the Louise Penny books right now. In fact, I'm pouring over travel pages online looking at Venice, Quebec and also the Azores (another dot on the bucket list).

Title: Death at La Fenice
Author: Donna Leon
Publisher: HarperTorch (1995), Mass Market Paperback, 288 pages
Genre: mystery - police procedural
Subject: murder, police corruption
Setting: Venice Italy
Series: Commissario Brunetti mysteries
Source: My own shelves
Why did I read this book now?  It's the only one in the series I hadn't read.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: A Brush With Death by Karen MacInerney

It's been a while since I read the first in the Grey Whale Inn series, so when this one popped up as available when I was testing the setup of downloading ebooks on my new tablet, I remembered how much I enjoyed it, and decided to see what another in the series was like.

Karen MacInerney gives a very reliable description of island life off the Maine Coast as she offers credible and mostly likeable characters and a plot that is just involved enough to keep the reader interested without having to go through mental gyrations to follow the clues.

In this episode, we meet a subset of Maine Island characters - the artists whose paintings are varied and gorgeous both in medium, subject and style.  Natalie's niece Gwen has been living on the island and helping with the Inn while painting under the tutelage of a well known artist. Her mentor turns up dead on the night of her grand opening hosted by another art dealer whose credetials are quite questionable.   Lots of red herrings, but an easy to handle series of detecting steps by Natalie the innkeeper while waiting for the official police to arrive from the mainland.   A lovely quiet, easy to read story.  I actually plan to be on the lookout for several of the volumes I missed between #1 and this one which is #5.

Title: Brush with Death
Author: Karen MacInerney
Publisher: MIDNIGHT INK (2013), ebook, 336 pages 
Genre: Cozy mystery
Subject: art exhibits, murder
Setting: Cranberry Island Maine
Series: GreyWhale Inn Mysteries
Source: Public library download
Why did I read this book now? It's part of a series I enjoy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mini Mentions: Two West Virginia mysteries by Julia Keller

One of the enjoyable reading challenges I undertook a few years back was to read a book about or set in each of the fifty states in this glorious nation of ours. I've done really well and have only North & South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Nevada left. I actually think I must have read something from Wisconsin and Nevada, but don't have it on my records.

West Virginia was was the most recent state checked off. I enjoyed reading  A Killing in the Hills so much that I immediately went in search of the sequel Bitter River, by Julia Keller.  Both of these mysteries feature a tough as nails, soft as cuddledown Prosecuting Attorney for Raythune County Bell Elkins.  A native of the town, Bell is determined to rid the area of the big time drug lords who are arriving in increasing numbers.  Together with her long time friend and now Sheriff Nick Fogelsang, they worry about her teen aged daughter, the rampant unemployment and poverty, and the lack of resources available to help in their quest for a liveable environment.

This is a series that is definitely worth taking a look at.  I'm very anxious to see whether the relationship between Bell and Nick develops past the professional level.

Now if anybody has any recommendations for the Dakotas, Nevada,  or Wisconsin, I might be able to finish my challenge by the end of the year.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

TLC BLOG TOUR: The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank

I was afraid I wasn't going to have time to finish this before today since I'd promised the publisher I'd do a Blog Tour Post.  I had several travel trips planned, including my son's wedding in Virginia last week, and I didn't foresee too much free time for reading.  I don't usually pack real books anymore when I travel, relying instead on my new tablet which allows me to read both my NOOK and my Kindle books, and all my Net galley ARCs etc., but I took this hardback along and crossed my fingers that I'd somehow be able to finish it.

Anyway, I realized I had several hours of free time each morning of the trip since all the activities were in the evening, and I settled down to read at least enough to be able to write some kind of review.  Let me tell you.....once I got started, I did not want to put this down.  If it hadn't been my own son's wedding, I'd have probably skipped all the activity and snuggled down into the comfortable hotel room bed to read.  I finished it in one day!

Dorothea Benton Frank has always been a favorite author who is showing an increasing maturity in character development and story line, and who continues to give us a wonderful sense of place as she brings her sense of humor, propriety, and world view to a marvelous cast of southern women dealing with very modern day problems.  Here's what the publisher tells us:
 Beloved New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank once again takes us deep in the heart of the magical Lowcountry—a sultry land of ancient magic, glorious sunsets, and soothing coastal breezes, where three generations of strong women wrestle with the expectations of family while struggling to understand their complicated relationships with each other.

Best friends since the first day of classes at The College of Charleston, Ashley Anne Waters and Mary Beth Smythe, now 23 years old, live in Ashley’s parents’ beach house rent-free. Ashley is a gallery assistant who aspires to become an artist. Mary Beth, a gifted cook from Tennessee, works for a caterer while searching for a good teaching job. Though they both know what they want out of life, their parents barely support their dreams and worry for their precarious finances.

While they don’t make much money, the girls do have a million-dollar view that comes with living in that fabulous house on Sullivans Island. Sipping wine on the porch and watching a blood-red sunset, Ashley and Mary Beth hit on a brilliant and lucrative idea. With a new coat of paint, the first floor would be a perfect place for soireés for paying guests. Knowing her parents would be horrified at the idea of common strangers trampling through their home, Ashley won’t tell them. Besides, Clayton and Liz Waters have enough problems of their own.

A successful investment banker, Clayton is too often found in his pied-à-terre in Manhattan—which Liz is sure he uses to have an affair. And when will Ashley and her brother, Ivy, a gay man with a very wealthy and very Asian life partner—ever grow up? Then there is Maisie, Liz’s mother, the family matriarch who has just turned eighty, who never lets Liz forget that she’s not her perfect dead sister, Juliet.

For these Lowcountry women, an emotional hurricane is about to blow through their lives, wreaking havoc that will test them in unexpected ways, ultimately transforming the bonds they share.
It took me a while to connect the title to the story, but Benton Frank does a good job of tying up that loose end for the reader.  She also gives us a totally obnoxious politician to provide lots of angst for several of the woman.  He's a villain we love to hate.  Trust me, this dude's BAD.  Hurricane Sisters is not only a great summer read, but the subject matter, which develops slowly as it marches to an inexorable ending makes it a must read for women hoping to find relavance in today's world, not just the South.

Read the opening pages of this southern classic on Dottie's web page.

About the author:  From her webpage:
Her first novel, SULLIVANS ISLAND (Berkley Publishing 2000) debuted on the NY Times list at number nine and went back to press over twenty five times, has well over one million copies in print and can be found in ten foreign languages. Her subsequent novels PLANTATION (Berkley 2002), ISLE OF PALMS (Berkley 2003), SHEM CREEK (Berkley 2004), PAWLEYS ISLAND (Berkley 2005), FULL OF GRACE (Wm. Morrow 2006), BULLS ISLAND (Wm. Morrow 2007), THE CHRISTMAS PEARL and LAND OF MANGO SUNSETS (Wm. Morrow 2008), LOWCOUNTRY SUMMER (Wm. Morrow 2009), RETURN TO SULLIVANS ISLAND (Wm. Morrow 2010), FOLLY BEACH (Wm. Morrow 2011), PORCH LIGHTS (Wm. Morrow 2012), THE LAST ORIGINAL WIFE (Wm. Morrow 2013) were all NY Times bestsellers and may also be found in various foreign languages.

Dorothea tells us about the book here
She is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from The College of Charleston and a Doctorate of Fine Arts from Bloomfield College.
Ms. Frank is an avid cook, enjoys fly fishing, reading and travel and is a frequent speaker on the creative process for students of all ages. She divides her time between the Lowcountry of South Carolina and New Jersey.

Title: The Hurricane Sisters
Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Publisher:William Morrow (2014), Hardcover, 336 pages
Genre: Fiction
Subject: Generational relationships
Setting: Low Country South Carolina
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? I was asked to provide a review.

My thanks to Trish Collins of TLC Blog Tours for the review copy and the chance to participate.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Father's Day WInner

Thanks to all who entered for a chance to win a copy of this imposing new biography of one of our Founding Fathers. has chosen the winning entry and the winner is


I've sent her an email  and she has until noon EDT Thursday June 12th to send me her mailing address.  If I don't hear from her by then, we'll draw another winner.

For those of you who didn't win, be sure to check this one out - it's beautifully done, and I'm slowly absorbing the broad outline of it before I dive in myself sometime next month.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Few Comments: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

 There's a saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting that you'll get different results.  I must qualify as insane.  In spite of having read other works by this author, none of which I ever liked,  I keep reading her books because they are set in my hometown. In spite of the fact that her portrayal of my hometown Baltimore is often spot on, the characters in her books are always, always, always such down in the dumps, dreary, depressing, discouraging, and miserable human beings that I finish the book and immediately want to burn it.

This one continues the string of misery. It is the story of a woman raising children in the 1950s without the assistance (either physical or financial) of the father of those children.  The different attitudes and aptitudes of the three children are sharply drawn, but still depressing.  I know there are many who find these well written worthwhile stories.  I'm not one of them.  The publisher recaps it:
Pearl Tull is nearing the end of her life but not her memory. It was a Sunday night in 1944 when her husband left the little row house on Baltimore's Calvert Street, abandoning Pearl to raise their three children alone: Jenny, high-spirited and determined, nurturing to strangers but distant to those she loves; the oldest son, Cody, a wild and incorrigible youth possessed by the lure of power and money; and sweet and clumsy Ezra, Pearl's favorite, who never stops yearning for the "perfect" family that could never be his own. Now grown, they have gathered together again-with anger, with hope, and with a beautiful, harsh, and dazzling story to tell.
I only mention this here because when I started this blog, I intended it to be as much a reading journal as a review mechanism.  So in this case, Reader beware.  If you're into family tragedy, this one's for you.  If you're looking for lighter summer reading this time of year, I'd look elsewhere.

Title: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
Author: Anne Tyler
Publisher: Ballantine Books (1996), Edition: First, Paperback, 303 pages 
Genre: contemporary fiction
Subject: family relationships
Setting: Baltimore MD
Source: public library
Why did I read this book now? I wish I knew.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

 As an avid reader, librarian, and book reviewer, I love books about books, booksellers, and book stores.  In this one, bookstore owner A.J. Fikry, still mourning the death of his wife, sees no reason to continue running the bookstore they managed together, until one evening he finds a young child sitting on the floor of his store, accompanied by a note pinned on an Elmo doll: "This is Maya.  She is twenty-five months old.  She is VERY SMART, exceptionally verbal for her age, and a sweet good girl.  I want her to grow up to be a reader.....I love her very much but I can no longer take care of her." It is signed by "her loving mother."  After an initial reaction of denial on A.J.'s part, Maya's obvious precociousness wins him over and he suddenly has a reason to live, although he still despairs of all the modernity that is fast overtaking the book world.

As the years pass,  A.J. teaches Maya about books and literature while Maya teaches A.J. about life, love and belonging.  As Maya moves gracefully into adulthood, A.J. is able to re-connect with community members and rebuild his broken life.  The bookstore again becomes the vibrant center of the town it was originally intended to be.

This could have been a very trite book.  Instead, Zevin has developed the tale around a series of "stories" about Fikry's life, each framed as a short essay or excerpt from various literary classics, such as The Luck of Roaring Camp, A Diamond as Big as the Ritz, The Tell Tale Heart, etc. The technique is stunning.  The story is heartwarming, the characters are charming.  It is a very positive love story but it is not saccharin.  Life and reality often intrude.  There are episodes of great anxiety, loss, grief, and despair.  But there are equal episodes of hope, joy, love and affirmation.

This is definitely going to be on my list as one of my favorites of the year.

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books (2014), e galley, 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Subject: bookstores, adoption
Source: Review copy from publisher via Net Galley

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Countdown getting close - Bonus entry

Don't forget....there's still time to enter the giveaway to win a copy of  James Madison, A Life Reconsidered, the robust new biography by Lynne Cheney.  It will make a wonderful Father's Day gift. Even if your particular Dad-person isn't a history buff, you can consider gifting yourself or another special someone who is interested in learning more about the founding of our great nation.  Click here to enter.

A Bonus entry is now available for anyone who makes a comment this week stating "Bonus comment for June".  Be sure to leave your email.

By the way, my review copy arrived this week while I was gone.   What a treat to find when I returned.  This is a gorgeous full sized bio that I can't wait to dive into. If you're looking for a good solid summer read,  looking to learn more about our constitution, looking for a well-documented biography, interested in our country's early history, this one's for you.  Enter now for a free copy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: The Body in the Piazza by Katherine Hall Page

Last month, I had the fun of reading and reviewing Katherine Hall Page's short story collection SMALL PLATES.   Just as I finished that one, I was lucky enough to catch an e-copy of her newest Faith Fairchild story on sale.  

Faith and her husband, clergyman Tom,  after years of sermons for him, salads and sauces for her, and sporting events for their children, are finally able to get away by themselves for a relaxing and romantic second honeymoon in Italy.  Faith's former catering helper Francesca has opened an Italian cooking school in the hills of  Tuscany, and has asked Tom and Faith to be among her first guests.

Naturally, the Fairchilds become embroiled in a murder mystery before they even get out of Rome to head for the hills.  As all of you who have read the series know, Faith can't leave this one alone, but unlike previous stories, the mystery really takes a back seat to the food and Italian scenery.  The recipes while not over-whelming in number are, as always, mouth-watering.  The characters are a rather eclectic assortment of odd-balls who don't always meld as a group. Faith has always known when NOT to try to solve something on her own, but during this story, I often wondered if she had forgotten all about the poor dead Freddie. It took her awhile, but Page finally managed to wrap everything up like a big fat well sauced canneloni.

Overall, it's another delightful episode in the peripatetic career of Faith Fairchild, girl snoop.  The setting is one that makes the reader want to book a flight to Italy immediately.  If only Francesca's hostel were real and affordable.  In the meantime, we can drift away in a wonderful dream of what might be.

Title: The Body in The Piazza
Author: Katherine Hall Page
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, (2013)  ebook format, 346 pages
Genre: murder mystery, amateur sleuth
Subject: solving murder, Italian cooking
Setting: Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Series: Faith Fairchild Mysteries #21
Source: Barnes & Noble Nook
Why did I read this book now? I'm a fan of the series, and it was on sale.