Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

It's so hard to write about Armand Gamache stories without giving the plot away, and that is, in my humble opionion, the worst sin a reviewer can commit.  Every time I review a Louise Penny book, I find myself saying things like "It's quintessential Louise" or "Just when I thought she couldn't get better, she does" or other blathery, toady, almost syncophantic  wind-blown compliments that are almost insulting they're so inflated.


I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an ARC earlier this summer, and waited to read it until I'd finished a re-read (this time in audio) of the previous nine books in the series, and lurked along in the on-line discussions.   Quel fun!

So after I'd read The Long Way Home, I put it aside for a couple weeks to let the experience sink in and try to figure out how to explain why these are so special.  At least I can start by sharing what the publisher has given us as a hint:
Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. “There is a balm in Gilead,” his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, “to make the wounded whole.”

While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. “There’s power enough in Heaven,” he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, “to cure a sin-sick soul.” And then he gets up. And joins her.

Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river.  To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it the land God gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.    
All through the series,  I've never liked the character of Peter, so I wasn't sure I was going to have much sympathy for him or the people trying to find him.   When I sang in the choir several years ago, our choir director tried and tried and tried to get us to master the hymn "There is a Balm in Gilead" to the point that I HATED that hymn.  And to put frosting on the proverbial cake, I had a pretty negative recollection of trying to get through Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer winner Gilead when our book club read it several years ago.

If this current book hadn't been written by Louise Penny, and hadn't been about my all-time favorite mystery personality, I probably wouldn't have wanted to read it.  I wouldn't have wanted to see Armand's well-deserved retirement "ruined".   I wouldn't have wanted to find myself caring whether Peter was found and/or saved.  I just wanted everything to stay in "Three Pines Fairyland".  Fairyland it isn't.  Life it is.  The characters who have become so familiar to us continue to expand, to mature, and draw us into their lives.  Ruth Zardo, another of my favorite characters finally allows a tiny crack in her armor to let us in, so those of us who have loved her all along can at last begin to see why.

In the end, the only thing I can say is that once again, Louise Penny does not disappoint.  She steals our heart, she takes our breath away, she causes us to lose a huge chunk of time since once we embark on this adventure, we neglect everything and everyone else in our lives.  I can't wait for the publication date August 26 because I've already pre-ordered a hard back copy (something I rarely do), and the audio to go with it.  In the meantime, Bob and I are truly looking forward to being able to meet her in person in two days when she comes to Portland for the launch of the paperback of #9 How the Light Gets in.

If you're not yet a fan, and think you don't like mysteries, give these a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Many thanks to Minotaur Publishers for making the ARC available.

Title: The Long Way Home
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher: Minotaur Books (2014), ARC e-galley, 384 pages
Genre: Mystery
Subject: Missing persons
Setting: Quebec and environs, village of Three Pines
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache
Source: ARC from publisher
Why did I read this book now?  I couldn't wait another minute!!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer time.... and the reading is eeezy.....

I thought about including an audio clip of the great Gershwin song about easy summers, but decided that was too much effort and would cancel out the whole point of this post.  During the upcoming week, I'm going to be offering you comments about one of the most relaxing summers I've had in several years - at least in terms of reading. As you know, the Tutu household recently retired from a host of civic and volunteer duties and we've been spending our time settling into a more retiring retirement. Yes, Mr. Bob is still writing the sequel to his first book Strike from the Deep, and I'm still swimming and gardening, and even managed to get some more needlework done, but I'm being more laid back about reading for awhile.

When my all time favorite Louise Penny, announced her summer re-read of the Chief Inspector Gamache series, leading up to the release of her next volume in August, I had just received an ARC of The Long Road Home  and decided to put it on the shelf until I'd read the whole series in order. That was a fantastic decision, a super fun read, and following along on the various blog posts and comments from other readers not only gave me new insights into this marvelous cast of characters, but also an even greater appreciation for Louise's writing. Bob and I are thrilled to have tickets to her mini-tour to release the paperback edition of How the Light Gets In, later this week in Portland. I've gotten hubbie hooked on the series also, and we're still hoping to be able to get to Quebec in the next couple months to take the Bury Your Dead tour.

Re-reading Louise Penny led me to go back to several other series I've enjoyed over the years, to find where I stopped, and explore whether or not they were worth continuing. Among my favorites are the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George, the Gray Whale Inn series by Karen MacInerney, the Joanne Fluke Hannah Swenson murder mysteries, Kate Wilhelm, Juliet Keller, Andrea Camillieri and many others. I'll be giving you some series updates on these in the next couple weeks.

In the meantime, I do have several other ARCs I want to get to, four upcoming TLC Blog Tours (including an interview with Wiley Cash of Dark Side of Mercy and A Land More Kind than Home fame). Now suitably refreshed, I'll be settling down to some serious literary fiction reading by September as the long list of choices for the Maine Readers Choice comes out.  I'll also be awaiting the birth of new grandson due in mid-October!!

So drop in and tell us what you've been reading this summer, and don't forget to enter the drawing for Strike from the Deep.  Entries close July 31st at 6:30pm EDT.  Good luck.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review : All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

 Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret. Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father's life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering. At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in. Doerr's combination of soaring imagination and meticulous observation is electric, as Europe is engulfed by war and lives collide unpredictably.

I almost didn't check this out of the library, because I'm almost worn out and almost blasè about war books.  However, the premise of this one was a bit different. So I took a chance and am really glad I did, because I almost missed the read of the year.  Here is a war story told from the perspective of two young people - almost too young to be directly involved when the war begins.  The blind french girl is on the one hand so dependent on others to show her the way -- at least until she memorizes the way on her own; the young German is so determined not to have to go down into the dark, claustrophic bowels of the earth as the miner his father did. He'll do anything to avoid that darkness.

Each is dealing with darkness from a different standpoint: he is trying to avoid darkness, and she is doomed to live within it.  Both of them find light and life from music and from sound.  She is evacuated to St Malo where she lives with an uncle who, although a recluse, is building and hiding radios.  The German boy too, displays an expertise in building and operating radios, and eventually is rescued from having to go to the mines. 

Doerr tells their stories, along with several auxiliary plot lines, in alternate chapters from each youth's point of view.  The story is easy to follow, the tension builds quickly, and the inexorable march toward the inevitable makes this a true page turner.

In my case, I was able to "read" this book the same way Marie-Laure would have -- with my ears.  The audio version, produced by Simon and Schuster, and and narrated by Zach Appelman, really enables the reader to experience life exactly as young Marie-Laure did.  The descriptions of how she "saw" things, how she counted her steps, listened for creaking boards, and was able to tune into radio broadcasts was well portrayed, and perfect for the audio format.  I am especially thankful that the producers did not attempt to articulate sounds Marie-Laure heard in her head.   It was left to the reader's imagination to furnish that sensory experience.

I don't want to give away the ending of the story.  It is realistic, beautiful, heart-rending.  This is a book worth reading in any format.  I intend to read the print version again this fall.  I'm really hoping it will appear on the Maine Reader's Choice Long List.  It's certainly the best 2014 Fiction I've read so far this year

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner (2014), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 544 pages 
Audio format:  Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014, 13 audio discs (960 min.)
Narrator: Zach Appelman
Genre: Literary Fiction
Subject: blindness; radio transmissions
Setting: Germany; Paris and St. Malo France
Source: public library
Why did I read this book now? It looked interesting.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron -A Review

Last month, I read and reviewed Massacre Pond  the fourth in Paul Doiron's  series about the Maine woods.  That was just in time to read my ARC of this newest one published last week.  Although I didn't need any real enticement, the publisher offered:
In the aftermath of a family tragedy, Mike Bowditch has left the Maine Warden Service and is working as a fishing guide in the North Woods. But when his mentor Sgt. Kathy Frost is forced to kill a troubled war veteran in an apparent case of "suicide by cop," he begins having second thoughts about his decision.

Now Kathy finds herself the target of a government inquiry and outrage from the dead soldier's platoon mates. Soon she finds herself in the sights of a sniper, as well. When the sergeant is shot outside her farmhouse, Mike joins the hunt to find the mysterious man responsible. To do so, the ex-warden must plunge into his friend's secret past—even as a beautiful woman from Mike's own past returns, throwing into jeopardy his tentative romance with wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens.

As Kathy Frost lies on the brink of death and a dangerous shooter stalks the blueberry barrens of central Maine, Bowditch is forced to confront the choices he has made and determine, once and for all, the kind of man he truly is.
I was once again lucky enough to meet Paul Doiron at the BOOKS IN BOOTHBAY fair earlier this month.  I told him how excited I was to see the series continuing and to see that Mike Bowditch is finally maturing. Indeed, the characters are well drawn, and becoming more familiar to us with each volume.  However, it's the glorious descriptions of Maine's varied landscapes from lakes to mountains, from forests teeming with trees to windswept rocky ocean beaches and the rich animal life (humans, insects, birds, bugs and four legged critters), that make the reader want to slow down and savor the flavor of the state, while at the same time wanting to rush to the next page to see who the bad guys are to solve the mystery.  They're a great introduction to the Pine Tree State and its people.

Let's hope there are more to come in this series.  Many thanks to Minotaur for making an e-galley available for early review.

Title: The Bone Orchard
Author: Paul Doiron
Publisher: Minotaur Books (2014), Hardcover, 320 pages
Genre: mystery, police procedural
Subject: murder
Setting: Maine woods, and various southern Maine venues
Series: Mike Bowditch
Source: E-galley from the publisher
Why did I read this book now?  I like the author, the series, and the publisher asked for a review.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Home to Italy by Peter Pezzelli- A Mini Mention

Home to Italy,Peter Pezzelli is a  nice, calm, lovely sweet nostalgic love story about a man who left Italy in his youth, enjoyed a comfortable and fairy tale marriage and a big extended Italian family in Rhode Island.  When his princess bride dies, he decides to return to his home village, move back into the old homestead he inherited from his now deceased parents, and essentially return to the site of his youth.  He feels there is nothing left for him in Rhode Island.

He tells no one he's coming, (and doesn't correspond with his US relatives for almost a year) but goes about adjusting slowly to the changes that have come about in the 50 years he was gone. His love of family, his love of biking, and the presence of his best friend from childhood help him transplant his life. A sweet and easy to read fairy tale.

There are others by this same author in the "longing for Italian roots" genre but they seem only loosely connected. I may dip into this series periodically when I miss my Nona.

Title: Home to Italy
Author: Peter Pezzelli
Publisher: Kensington (2012), Edition: English Language, Paperback, 274 pages
Genre: fictional memoir
Subject: nostalgia for "the old country"
Setting: rural southern Italy
Source: Public Library
Why did I read this book now? It was suggested by a friend.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Strike from the Deep - a giveaway

This weekend, I'll be at the Maine Summer Book Festival: Books in Boothbay getting to visit with a horde of Maine authors (either from Maine or who write about Maine.) Among them are several of my favorites: Kate Flora (of the Thea Kozak series), Julia Spencer-Fleming (who doesn't love the Clare Ferrgusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries?), Paul Doiron (author of the Mike Bowditch series) and Gerry Boyle (of Portland city police procedural fame.)  These of just a few of the over 50 authors who will be celebrating the reading life of Maine.

In that batch is also a debut author who lives pretty close to me, Bob Branco (sometimes known as Mr. Tutu) who will be signing copies of his piracy at sea thriller STRIKE FROM THE DEEP.  As you know, I've refrained from trying to review this one, but will admit that I really really liked it and don't feel the least bit shy about recommending it to others.  Bob has agreed to let me do a giveaway here on the blog.  Leave a comment below to enter and we'll have a drawing on July 31st for one lucky winner.   Be sure to leave me an email address to contact you. We're even opening this one to our friends in Canada!

Although I won't review it, here's what others have been saying:

Strike From The Deep” is Maine author Bob Branco’s excellent novel about the high-stakes game of counter-piracy operations, the U.S. Navy and coalition naval forces versus pirate skiffs, mother ships and a ruthless conspiracy that threatens to upset the world’s energy markets.

This novel is a masterful tale of how the Navy works, how a ship operates at sea and how a captain and crew can singlehandedly make a positive difference in the fight against piracy. Stewart is a solid commanding officer with a well-trained crew on a desperate mission to protect international shipping.

This story is gripping, exciting and suspenseful, but the real strength is Branco’s accurate depiction of naval leadership, training, technology and cooperation in a hostile environment against a resourceful enemy. Great high-seas adventure.

 ....Don't kid yourself...it's a novel, but it's not ... a fanciful conceit. Branco took a very real and worsening concern for the shipping industry, piracy based in the lawless failed state of Somalia, and ratcheted up the stakes. I suspect it's only a matter of time before the book is seen as predictive instead of entertaining. If, that is, the events haven't already played out like this, only with more silencing oil poured over them.

When Jason Stewart, commanding the USS Farragut, is ordered to look into the status of a supertanker full of liquified natural gas en route from Nigeria to Mumbai, the plot kicks into high gear and doesn't stop. Alternating sections of the story are told from the major points of view...the pirates, the motivating malefactors, the loyal henchrats...seldom staying with us long enough for the reader to become inured to the action.

Back and forth, cat and mouse, and all told in a spare, clipped narrative voice that feels more like it's overheard than written for an audience, there's just barely time to get in the swing of Lt. (jg) Christine Johnson's duty shift before we're aboard a pirated vessel and experiencing the terror of a crewman about to die, and before that becomes squicky we're in a plush Moscow office listening to a very, very ruthless and unpleasant man give orders that appall the reader who rejects Ayn Rand as a moral guide.

Navy veteran Branco can be relied on for accuracy, and savvy world citizen Branco can be relied on to "get" the power dynamics of world-straddling military forces both pro and con. There is not a jot of doubt about who is doing wrong here, but there is not a hint of lazy, demonizing anticharacterization at work either. Everyone here has a motivation for acting in a particular way, and it's never simplistic.
under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
"Strike from the Deep" is a story about modern day pirates and how the world is trying to deal with them. While it IS fictional (at least so far), it is based on the author's real life experiences with the U.S. Navy in the Arabian Sea.

If you are looking for a book about buried treasure, this isn't it.

If you want to gain a better understanding of the pirates of Somalia - who they are, why they are pirates and how they are being manipulated by outsiders - this is the book to read.

If you want to get an inside look at the "modern" Navy - it's successes and failures - this is the book to read.

Or if you just want to spend a couple pleasant hours in a good book - this is the book to read.

So quit wasting your time here and go read it!

Here are the simple rules:

Leave a comment saying why you'd like to win.  (I has nothing to do with who wins- the winner will be chosen by Random.org)
Include an email address.
Enter no later than 6pm EDT July 31, 2014.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron

The Mike Bowditch series has matured with each new volume. In this one, set in the autumn in the far north of Maine, Paul Doiron uses the real life battle going on over the eventual disposition of hundreds of thousands of acres of land currently owned by a private party and her desire to turn the area into a wilderness park where hunting, logging, and other current activities will be prohibited. It's a game warden's nightmare trying to walk the tightrope of emotions generated by both sides of the fight.
From the book cover:
On an unseasonably hot October morning, Bowditch is called to the scene of a bizarre crime: the corpses of seven moose have been found senselessly butchered on the estate of Elizabeth Morse, a wealthy animal rights activist who is buying up huge parcels of timberland to create a new national park. What at first seems like mindless slaughter, retribution by locals for the job losses Morse's plan is already causing in the region, becomes far more sinister when a shocking murder is discovered and Mike's investigation becomes a hunt to find a ruthless killer. In order to solve the controversial case, Bowditch risks losing everything he holds dear: his best friends, his career as a law enforcement officer, and the love of his life.
Bowdoin is now living alone in a run down trailer provided by the warden service. His friend Billy Cronk (a rather scurrilous dude given to trying to stay one step ahead of arrest) is somehow involved in this whole fiasco, testing his loyalties and making Mike's job more precarious then ever.  Bowditch is still a flawed character, but Doiron has managed to grow him into the hearts of readers of the series.  We're all now rooting for Mike to develop into the mature nature lover he show signs of becoming.

Doiron's bold and precise descriptions of the Maine woods add another dimension to these stories that keep readers coming back.  I wasn't sure after the first two, Poacher's Son, and  Trespasser, that I was overly thrilled with this character, but he's really grown on me.  This one is a definite winner, and the best yet in the series.  It's definitely worth a look.

Title: Massacre Pond
Author: Paul Doiron
Publisher:Minotaur Books (2013), Hardcover, 320 pages
Genre: Mystery, police procedural
Subject: murder and animal cruelty
Setting: North Maine Woods
Series: Mike Bowditch Mystery
Source: public library

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion

The Subtitle of this one is "The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own".  That pretty much sums it up.
The book's publisher tells the story pretty clearly:  
 A pampered Long Island princess hits the road in a converted bus with her wilderness-loving husband, travels the country for one year, and brings it all hilariously to life in this offbeat and romantic memoir.
Doreen and Tim are married psychiatrists with a twist: She’s a self-proclaimed Long Island princess, grouchy couch potato, and shoe addict. He's an affable, though driven, outdoorsman. When Tim suggests “chucking it all” to travel cross-country in a converted bus, Doreen asks, “Why can’t you be like a normal husband in a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?” But she soon shocks them both, agreeing to set forth with their sixty-pound dog, two querulous cats—and no agenda—in a 340-square-foot bus. Queen of the Road is Doreen’s offbeat and romantic tale about refusing to settle; about choosing the unconventional road with all the misadventures it brings (fire, flood, armed robbery, and finding themselves in a nudist RV park, to name just a few). The marvelous places they visit and delightful people they encounter have a life-changing effect on all the travelers, as Doreen grows to appreciate the simple life, Tim mellows, and even the pets pull together. Best of all, readers get to go along for the ride through forty-seven states in this often hilarious and always entertaining memoir, in which a boisterous marriage of polar opposites becomes stronger than ever.
I've always had a secret desire to rent a bus/RV and take off across the US and Canada, stopping whenever we see something that looks interesting,  staying until we've seen whatever looks interesting.  The hubster on the other hand, does not relish the thought of battling traffic in a big box, towing another vehicle and spending all his time hooking up, unhooking, and watching his dollars going down the gas tank drain.   So when I saw this book on the e-book deal of the week,  I knew this vicarious trip would probably be the closest I ever got to this adventure, and hit "buy."

I could totally relate to some of Ms. Orion's travel aversions, but her sense of humor shines through, and although she bills herself as a "princess", her willingness to compromise and follow her husband's suggestions shows us the fun that can be had when two people with a strong marriage embark on a new phase of life together.  It's not only a travelogue, but the story of personal growth, and the continued expansion of a very strong love relationship.   Altogether a fun read.

Title: Queen of the Road
Author: Doreen Orion
Publisher: Broadway Books (2008), e-book, 304 page equivalent
Genre: Memoir
Subject: RV Travel
Setting: US and Canada
Source: my own e-reader

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Only One Week Left Until....

Happy Summer!!! It's lazy hazy days here in Maine, and I'm on a hazy, lazy reading kick. Just strolling through a bunch of cozies, following up on some long neglected mystery series, and doing a few reads to review for the fall. One of the big time consumers here in Tutuland is preparing for Mr. Tutu's (aka Bob Branco) appearance at the 10th annual Maine Summer Book Festival:

There will be over 50 authors (either from Maine or who write about Maine) including Bob (author of STRIKE FROM THE DEEP.).  For more information, and a list of all the authors who will be there, the blog/ web page has been posting daily blurbs about each author.  There will be autographed copies, author readings, bookmarks, and other trinkets.  Stop by and see us if you're in the area.

edited 7/8/2014 to correct links. Thanks to all who pointed out the problem.