Monday, September 1, 2014

September Series and Serials

Over on LibraryThing.com, my Read 75 in 2014 group always has a roster of different threads going to get members to participate in clearing out the TBR piles, finding new titles, and just having fun reading.  Every September, people are encouraged to catch up on series they started and then neglected, try a new series, or re-read a series that is a particular favorite.

I NEVER HAVE TROUBLE finding something to fit this challenge.

Early this morning, I finished #8 of the Duncan Kinkaid/Jemma James series by Deborah Crombie,  And Justice There is None, as I work toward reviewing the latest #16 To Dwell in Darkness, coming out next month.  This is a series I started about 10 years ago, after my first visit to London where it's set, and I've tried to read at least one a year since then.  Unfortunately,  I got behind.  Now the September S&S challenge will give me a push to catch up.

I've really enjoyed getting reacquainted with both the characters in these classy mysteries.  Each detective - Duncan and Jemma - has different strengths and weaknesses.  Each has personal/family issues to complicate their already erratic work schedules, and the burgeoning romance is carefully nurtured by Crombie with just enough growth allowed in each new episode to keep us wanting to come back for more.  There will defintely be at least two more of these this month.



Another series I'm reading is the Bruno Correges series - earlier reviews this summer are here. I got the jump on September when I read The Dark Vineyard and The Black Diamond in August.   This series is definitely one I'm getting to like a lot!  Bruno is such a loveable, no nonsense cop.  His character is perfect for the setting- a gentle farm town where people don't want life too technologically connected, where wine, food, truffles, and friendship are what really matters.  Generational clashes  the incursion of "progress," discussions of the GMO movement in agriculture, some romantic entanglements, and scrumptious food discussions all add to the authentic flavor of these polished and undervalued police procedurals. Do take a look if you've not tried them.


Also appearing this month is the latest Jan Karon Father Tim/Mitford book: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.  I'm waiting for my copy to arrive (I was selected by LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program to receive a review copy) so I can dive back into this favorite series.

Finally, I'm hoping there's enough room in my series schedule to fit in another Frederick Ramsay Ike Schwartz mystery, and ARCs of Donna Leon's latest Brunetti and Andrea Camillieri's latest Montalbano episodes.  That ought to keep me busy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: the Home Place by Carrie LaSeur


A bold well-written novel featuring the trendy theme of successful family member who has left the hometown and is pulled back into a family disaster/drama she thought she was well out of. In this case, the setting is a bleak, rundown rural town in Montana. With the exception of the main character Alma Terrebone, the family is underemployed, under-educated, dysfunctional, and struggling to recover from a series of poor choices, bad luck, and outside villains.  The publisher tells us:
The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she’d left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.
The story is deeply emotional, offering insights into the basic human need for forgiveness, for family, and for a place that holds the roots of our grounded-ness.  There were a few sections where I almost lost interest, but on the whole, readers will find this an excellent debut novel with a story worth reading. I look forward to more from this author.

Title: The Home Place
Author: Carrie La Seur
Publisher: William Morrow (2014), Advance Reader's Edition, egalley, 304 pages
Genre: literary fiction, mystery
Subject: family secrets,
Setting: Montana
Source: egalley via Edelweiss
Many thanks to the publisher for making a review copy available.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

This one is bound to please Titanic fanatics, romance readers, and historical fiction fans.  It's was a bit tear-jerky for my taste, but it's well-written, gives us good insight into the main characters, and provides enough detail that the reader definitely can feel the disaster as it happens.
Ireland, 1912, Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Seamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again. Chicago, 1982, Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about Titanic that she's harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction, and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.
 I found the ending rather contrived, although I disappointed myself in that I hadn't seen it coming.  It's still a book worth spending some time with.  Not a barn burner, but a good comfortable read - either for these last weeks at the beach, or to settle down with as the autumn creeps in and days grow shorter.


Title: The Girl Who Came Home
Author: Helen Gaynor
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (2014),  egalley 384 pages
Genre: historical fiction
Subject: travel on the Titanic
Setting: Ireland, onboard Titanic
Source: Net Galley

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Series Fun -Duncan Kinkaid & Gemma James Mysteries





Earlier this summer I was offered a chance to review the upcoming To Dwell In Darkness, #16 in this very exciting series.  I had read (or listened to) several of them over the past 10 years, but hadn't kept up with the series.

Since I'd so much fun re-reading all the Louise Penny Chief Inspector Gamache series earlier this summer, I decided to do some catch up on Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. 

These are every bit as good as I remember them.  Like Penny, Crombie uses dynamic characters to catch our interest, involves them in well-plotted murder mysteries, and gives us a good sense of modern day London and its environs.

As crime fighting partners - he's a Superintendent at Scotland Yard, and she's the Sergeant Detective assigned as his partner - Duncan and Gemma bring different skills to the team, but both have a professional respect for each other's competencies.  They also each carry a load of emotional baggage from their previous marriages, and as the series begins at least, Gemma is struggling with all the logistics and financial issues plaguing many single custodial parents while Duncan is dealing with the sudden and depressing realization that he has no life apart from his work.

These are great mystery reads with enough clues to allow the reader to say "Aha....I should have known", heart-warming romances, and well-written fiction, all told over a series that has not waned in its quality.  I can't wait to get the newest one which I'll be reading and reviewing for TLC Blog on October 1st, so you (and I) will get a good peek at what's way ahead.  In the meantime, I'm going to continue to sprinkle the rest of this series into my ongoing reading.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite series to recommend?  Let us hear about them, and what keeps you coming back.   Over the rest of August, I'll be commenting on a couple of other series I've been trying to catch up with, and why I love reading about characters who have such staying power in our reading.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: A Place Called Hope by Philip Gulley

Sam Gardiner is a Quaker preacher.  He's timid, he's perfectly content to spend the rest of his life pastoring a meeting in his hometown of Harmony.  When he inadvertently attends and prays for a newlywed couple as a favor for the sick Unitarian pastor, he creates an uproar as it is revealed that the couple is lesbian.

As the furor builds, Sam retreats to lick his wounds.  Now that their two sons have graduated from high school and left the nest, his wife Barbara takes a job as the assistant librarian in the town, and is not in the mood to let Sam feel sorry for himself.  Nevertheless Sam quits and finds that no other Quaker congregation will have him.  Suddenly the Gardiners are at a crossroads in their lives. 

When the Quakers in Hope (about 2 hrs away) offer a position to Sam, he jumps and Barbara tags along to investigate the chance to start anew.  The congregation is tiny, the physical facilities are gorgeous and in spite of some trepidations, the couple decides to move on.  At this point, the author begins pulling more rabbits out of the hat, and the story spins off into fairyland.

This is a sweet non-pretentious book with a "happily ever after" feeling, in spite of the wimpy main character, and the delightful feistiness of his wife.  It's a perfect read for an afternoon when the breeze is blowing, or the snow is falling, or the fog is rolling in: in short, when nothing will do but curling up with a cup of tea, a snuggly pet, and a non-controversial and heart-warming story.  My copy included the first chapter of the next book in the series, and for fans of the Jan Karon "Fr. Tim" series, this one will be quite welcome.


Title: A Place Called Hope
Author: Philip Gulley
Publisher:  Center Street (2014), e-galley 256 pages 
Genre: Christian fiction
Subject: perils of pastoring
Setting: fictious midwest towns
Source: egalley from the publisher via Net Galley
Why did I read this book now? The cover attracted me!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Stranger Room by Frederick Ramsay

This is another series where I've been catching up. I read my first Ike Schwartz murder mystery last year as a freebie on my Kindle, and when I had a chance to grab another from the library, I did so. I've not been reading these in order. There's enough back fill in the four that I've read that the reader doesn't feel the need to go back to number one and go in order.

This one is an especially good mystery. Here's what the publisher tells us:
Elderly Jonathan Lydell III is proud of his family history and his house, which he is committed to restoring to its antebellum configuration, complete with a stranger room. Found in many family homes in the 1800s, an attached room with its own entrance, separately locked and kept for use by unknown travelers, it was intended to protect the family from unsavory guests. Nearly 150 years ago, an inexplicable murder took place in the locked stranger room of the Lydell house. The murderer was never caught. But when a new, identical murder is committed in the same room, not even sheriff Ike Schwartz and FBI agent Karl Hedrick can explain it. Why would history repeat itself? What could explain these identical murders? Could the Lydell family history hold the key?
I had never heard of a Stranger Room before, but it makes for a very engrossing mystery read.  The  main character, Ike Schwartz is not only the town sheriff but a retired CIA ageny who keeps having pieces of his previous life reinserted into his "retirement." His significant other is the local college president. They haven't quite figured out their relationship yet - in large part due to the constant back and forth of Ike's roles.  It's a fun series, well-written, and I plan to read more of them.  There are three more stacked on my e-reader, so look for more comments in the future.

Title: The Stranger Room
Author: Frederick Ramsay
Publisher: Blackstone Audio Books (2008)
Narrator: Lloyd James
Genre: Mystery police procedural
Subject: Ancient mystery mirrored in current
Setting:  Western  Virginia
Series: Ike Schwartz
Source: Public library audio download

Monday, August 18, 2014

A new one from Colleen McCullough

Years ago I read The Thorn Birds and fell in love with the book, the characters, and the setting. So I was excited to get a review copy of what I hoped would be another big bold family saga set in the big bold continent down under.  What a disappointment. I expected much more from this author.

I come from a family of four girls.  I understand sisters and the relationship formed by four related but distinct women. In this novel, two sets of twin sisters make their way through the cultural upheaval of post World War I and the Great Depression.  But the story of each sister, while well developed, does not a novel make.  Each sister is an individual, well defined, with definite motivation and ambitions.  Each individual story works.   But, there is no real plot, there is a constant feeling of "where is this going?" and even at the end, the reader is left with a feeling of "what on earth did I just achieve by plowing through this?"  Their is no cohesion except for the fact that they are sisters.  SO???

The writing is certainly not up to the standards of a great  or even very good novel. It's poorly edited, the sentence structure is often fractured and difficult to read.

Overall, it's an interesting book that pulls the reader from the beginning to find out what happens to each sister, but which becomes a slower read about halfway through. A good beach read but nothing to rush right out for.

Title: Bittersweet
Author: Colleen McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014), Hardcover, 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: women's roles in the early 20th century
Setting: Australia
Source: egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss

Sunday, August 17, 2014

We have a Winner!!


Tutu has been quite remiss in her blogging lately. I've been having so much fun reading and traveling, that writing about any of it has slipped on the time table. Today we'll jump start things by announcing that

Anita is the winner of a copy of 
STRIKE FROM THE DEEP.

I have notified her by email and will send out a copy as soon as she sends me her mailing address.  Thanks to all you loyal readers for your patience and support.   Keep stopping by for more reviews and a look at our recent trip to Quèbec City. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

Southern Fiction is one of my favorite genres - especially when it's well written, when the author is steeped in the culture, when it's summer time for me and I can imagine myself in the languid palm-tree filled South while I read it. The publisher enticed me:
Spanning decades, generations, and America in the 1940s and today, this is a fun-loving mystery about an Alabama woman today, and five women who in 1943 worked in a Phillips 66 gas station, during the WWII years. Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her three daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with now is her mother, the formidable and imposing Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, never an easy task. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a shocking secret about her mother's past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.
In this surprising novel, Fannie Flagg once again delivers a story with believable characters who bring us an inside look at the meaning of being a "lady" in the person of Sookie Poole of Point Clear Alabama, who must deal with the mother of all mothers, Lennore Simmons Krackenberry.  It is Lenore's mission in life to ensure that women know how to dress, drink, talk, work (as in supervise the help), dine out, and raise her grandchildren so that civilization can be saved from going to you-know-where in a handbasket.

This whole premise could have easily become a very corny caricature of  Southern women.  Instead, Flagg turns this into a mini-mystery and a wonderful exposè of a chapter in US history during World War II concerning the WASPS, women pilots who ferried military planes around the world to free up male fighter pilots for the war effort.   These are some spunky women.  These are heroines.  Their quirky, laugh-out-loud predicaments may have some readers shaking their heads in dis-belief, but for those of us who were raised by southern ladies, and who served in the military, this one rings true, rings fun, and rings proud.   A delightful way to spend some summer time reading.

Title: The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion
Author:  Fannie Flagg
Publisher: Random House (2013),  Hardcover, 368 pages
Genre:  Southern fiction; historical fiction
Subject:  Women in military service in WWII
Setting:  Alabama, California
Source:  Public Library

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Series update - Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke


"They" say hope springs eternal. And when you're talking about Hannah Swenson, owner of the Cookie Jar Bakery in Lake Eden Minnesota, the hope is usually on the part of the reader.  Will she choose Mike the cop or Norman the dentist?   Will she actually be able to get through a whole volume without being entwined in a murder investigation?  Or without becoming a possible murder target herself?  Will these books ever change the formula, or ever resolve the slight (very slight) sexual tension between Hannah and her two beaux?

This is actually the third book in this very popular series that has been around since 2001.  Blueberry Muffin was originally published in 2002.  It was available as a public library e-book download, and it was a convenient way to test an app on my new tablet.

If you enjoy lots of sweets with your cozy reading, if you like goodie goodie people with no true villains, if you like being able to read along without engaging very many brain cells, while at the same time, not having to scream about poor sentence structure, unconnected plot elements, or slightly developed characters this series is for you.   There are actually about 18 of these sweet-tooth specials, complete with well documented recipes for all the treats mentioned.   I read about one every 20-30 months.  That's more than enough brain candy for me.   They're fun, but a steady diet is not what I can handle.


Title: The Blueberry Muffin Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke
Publisher: Kensington (2011), Mass Market Paperback, 320 pages
Genre: cozy mystery
Subject: cookies, murder,
Setting: Lake Eden Minnesota
Series: Hannah Swenson mystery
Source: public library e-book download

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

I wish I could start this off by saying "Here's another favorite author and favorite series."  Alas.........

I really want to say that the title refers to the story of an evil act, but the book is replete with evil acts, evil intentions, and unethical choices.

However......the true evil act is the editor's lack of cleaning up a mess and foisting this 700+page monstrosity on the series' fans.

In some ways, it's vintage Elizabeth George, but mostly it's overblown, way too long, insulting to readers. Periodically, authors will take well-known and well-developed characters and  move them to a new and "out of the comfort zone" setting. That keeps a series fresh, and adds a new perspective to the character. In this case, the crime scene and investigation moved to Italy, where Italian police procedure is quite different from that normally expected in New Scotland Yard.  If the author had helped clarify what crime was being investigated by whom and why, we might have been more disposed to follow along.

As it is, a non-crime occurs when Barbara's next door neighbor, little Hadiyyah Azhar is taken by her mother to Italy without the father's knowledge or permission.  Let's remember that Daddy is not on the birth certificate, is not married to mommy, and in fact not only has this paragon of fatherly virtue (as far as Havers is concerned) never divorced his first wife, he's had no contact with her OR hisTWO OTHER CHILDREN in over a year.  Barbara Havers is stuck in London, working for a new boss (not Lynley) and is frantic to get to Italy to "help".

At least in the beginning, we get vintage Havers - impulsive, slovenly, damn-the-torpedoes, misguided, and in this book, totally blinded to her own motivation. Thomas Lynley is nearly an afterthought throughout this book.  If he hadn't spoken Italian, he'd have almost no part in the story, except to be starting what appears to be a new romance with a roller-derby veterinarian.

The plot is contrived, the dialogue is stilted and very difficult to follow since the author has entire paragraphs of words spoken in Italian WITH NO TRANSLATION. This is a language I can usually follow along thanks to my grandmother, but the excessive use of Italian was way over the top.  I found myself constantly going to translation tools because I wasn't comfortable enough with my assumptions to feel sure I understood what was happening, and whether it was important or not.   (And if it wasn't important, it sure didn't need to be in a book that was over 700 pages long).  I guess we're supposed to feel the frustration Havers feels at not being able to understand the language, but all I felt was frustration that the story was being hijacked by the author's showing off her supposed knowledge of the language, and dragging us along for about 200 pages too much.

There are so many plot lines and sub-plots that I got dizzy trying to keep up.  Is it kidnapping?  Is it a custody fight?  Later is it murder?  And who's working the case?  And who's responsible? 

The book is even worse in audio.....usually one of my favorite formats.   I had the large heavy and awkward print version that was driving me crazy and decided to download the audio to see if Davina Porter - normally one of my favorite narrators -could help make more sense of this mess.  That was a horrible mistake.  Ms. Porter's very clear, clipped and normally understandable British accent does not do well at all with Italian...it was absolutely painful to hear.  I constantly had to stop the audio to go to the print to see what on earth she thought she was saying in Italian.

There is so much not to like about this book....the choices all the characters make,the stereotyped sleaziness of the characters, the convoluted plot(s), the implausible and almost incredible (meaning NOT credible) ending - one of those "Oh, I guess I need to wrap this up because I have a deadline and it is getting a tad bit long."   In addition, this really should have been at least two, and probably three books.   Maybe that's a good thing if you're a fan.  You can purchase an entire trilogy for the price of one book.  Anyway if you're interested, here's the publisher's blurb about the story:
 Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is at a loss: The daughter of her friend Taymullah Azhar has been taken by her mother, and Barbara can’t really help—Azhar had never married Angelina, and his name isn’t on Hadiyyah’s, their daughter’s, birth certificate. He has no legal claim. Azhar and Barbara hire a private detective, but the trail goes cold.

Azhar is just beginning to accept his soul-crushing loss when Angelina reappears with shocking news: Hadiyyah is missing, kidnapped from an Italian marketplace. The Italian police are investigating, and the Yard won’t get involved, until Barbara takes matters into her own hands. As she attempts to navigate the complicated waters of doing anything for the case against her superior’s orders, her partner, Inspector Thomas Lynley, is dispatched to Italy as the liaison between the Italian police and Hadiyyah’s distraught parents.

In time, both Barbara and Lynley discover that the case is far more complex than just a kidnapping, revealing secrets about Angelina; her new lover, Lorenzo; and even Azhar—secrets Barbara may not be willing to accept. With both her job and the life of a little girl on the line, Barbara must decide what matters most and how far she’s willing to go to protect it.
I still like this series and these characters.  Let's just hope that Ms. George can get them back to London, and can tighten up her propensity to verbosity and give us some more good solid detective work without all the extraneous HUH?  And without going over about 500 pages!

Title: Just One Evil Act
Author: Elizabeth George
Publisher: Dutton Adult (2013), Edition: 0, Hardcover, 736 pages
Audio format:  Penguin Audio; Unabridged edition (October 15, 2013) 28 hrs downloaded
Genre: mystery,
Subject: international parental kidnapping
Setting: London; Tuscany Italy
Series: Inspector Lynley detective mysteries
Source: ARC from publisher, & Audible download 
Why did I read this book now?  I try to keep current with this series.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Cozy Summer Read - Dead and Berried by Karen MacInerney


Last month I reviewed A Brush with Death  one of the later volumes in this Gray Whale Inn Mysteries series. I was doing a test of my tablet download capabilities and saw this earlier one available and said "why not?" It's Maine, it's a cozy mystery, and the foggy summer day was perfect for the read.

Like most cozy mysteries, this one relies on a lovely setting - Cranberry Island off the coast of Down East Maine, a likeable protagonist (and sometime amateur detective) innkeeper Natalie Barnes, a local law enforcement officer (in this case a romantic interest of the innkeeper's), and villainous villains who are threatening to convert the idyllic village into a high-scale resort.  There's the obligatory murder and Natalie feels honor-bound to
help identify and capture the perpetrator, while dealing with needed repairs to the Inn, a reappearing and less than welcome ex-fiance, and a cooling friendship with her previous best bud.

As seems to be almost de rigeur these days for New England mysteries anyway, the story includes several delicious sounding recipes. Both the ingredients for the goodies and for the mystery are bound to make this a treat for cozy lovers who want to spend a day in Maine, even if it's only in the pages of a book.

Title: Dead and Berried
Author: Karen MacInerney
Publisher:Woodbury, Minn. : Midnight Ink, 2007, ebook.  
Genre: cozy mystery
Subject:
Setting: Cranberry Island Maine
Series: Gray Whale Inn Mysteries
Source: Public Library ebook download

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.

BUT SHE'S JUST THAT GOOD.

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