Tuesday, October 21, 2014

TLC BLog Tour: This Dark Road to Mercy - An interview with Wiley Cash & A GIVEAWAY!




Wiley Cash is one of my favorite authors.  In May 2013, I reviewed his debut novel
A Land more Kind than Home which was subsequently chosen to receive the Maine Readers Choice Award for the best literary fiction of 2014.

Then in February of this year, after I had the chance to meet Wiley Cash at an appearance in Portland,  I reviewed his next book This Dark Road to Mercy.   It was every bit as enjoyable as the first one.  Now the publisher is releasing Dark Road in paperback and asked if I was interested in blogging again about this talented author.  To herald the paperback version, we have a copy available to giveaway, and an interview with Wiley.
 
While I didn't have the opportunity to sit and have a beer with Wiley (that would have been my preferred venue to interview him),  I did get to submit some questions which he graciously answered for us.  Here's what we came up with.

  • Where do you get your ideas for stories?
    The idea for A Land More Kind Than Home took hold of me after I learned of a similar tragedy occurring in Milwaukee: a young autistic boy had been smothered to death at a store-front church during a healing service. The two girls from my second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, were inspired by two foster children I knew while growing up in Gastonia, North Carolina. And my third novel, which I'm hard at work on right now, is based on a violent 1929 textile mill strike in Gastonia that has nearly been erased from history.
    • What are you reading now?
    I'm always reading more than one book at a time. Right now I'm about a third of the way through Eliot's Middlemarch, a quarter of the way through Aslan's Zealot, and I have a handful of stories left in Klay's Redeployment.
    • Are you working on another book? Can you tell us a bit about it? When do you think it will be published?
    Right now I'm at work on a novel about the 1929 Loray Mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, which is my hometown. The novel centers on the life of Ella May Wiggins, who, by 1929 at the age of 29, had left the Tennessee mountains and settled in Gastonia, given birth to nine children (four of them died from poverty related illnesses), attempted to integrate the National Textile Workers' Union, and testified in front of Congress in DC. And then she was murdered after being turned away from a rally in support of jailed strikers. The novel is about Ella May's life and how her murder affects two generations of women: her now 96 year old daughter who's being interviewed by her great niece in an attempt to solve the mystery of Ella May murder, a murder for which no one was ever convicted.
    • You used the device of three different narrators/points of view in both of your books. What was the reason for that, and will you continue with that format in the next book?<
    I don't know that I'll ever use three narrators again, but I think I'll rely on different perspectives, whatever the form they take. I like to investigate the community's role in stories and how those stories affect the communities in which they unfold. These multi-perspective stories are great vehicles for that.
    • What writers influenced you to become a writer?
    Ernest Gaines, Thomas Wolfe, Toni Morrison, Jean Toomer, Charles Chesnutt, Flannery O'Connor, and many, many others. Contemporary writers who keep me going are Alice McDermott, Tom Franklin, Colson Whitehead, and many, many others.
    • Besides your own books, if you could give a gift book to a friend, what would it be?
    Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson. I'd say, "You need to read this before it wins the Pulitzer."

     In preparing for this post, I re-read (and re-listened to) several sections of this gripping tale of abandonment, betrayal, and family dynamics.  It has stood the test of time for me.  It was every bit as enthralling as it was the first time I read it. 

    The publisher has made a copy available for giveaway, so if you want a copy of this one, leave me a comment saying why you want to win.  You can get an extra entry if you go back and read Tutu's earlier reviews (just click the links in the opening paragraph above) and then tell me about something you read there.  Two reviews = two extra entries (each comment should be a separate entry including your email.)

    The giveaway is open to readers in the US and Canada.  Contest is open until 6:pm  (EST) Saturday November 8th.  Random.org will choose a winner on November 9th.

    Finally, I'd like to thank Wiley Cash for his gracious interaction with his readers.  And thanks to Harper Collins for the chance to re-blog this one. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to review the next one (HINT Hint.) 
    photo by Tiffany B. Davis




    New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers.
     http://www.wileycash.com/

    Thursday, October 16, 2014

    TLC Blog Tour : Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

    Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials

    I'd never heard of Rosie "Aunty" Lee before TLC Blog Tours offered me a review copy of Ovidia Yu's latest volume in this series.   I was attracted to it by the setting.  Singapore is one of my favorite cities and if you asked me why, I'd say without a second thought "The Food."  So when I saw a story set in Singapore about a little old lady who ran a restaurant and a catering business I was in.  Here's what the publisher said to entice me:

    Rosie “Aunty” Lee, the feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite

    "Rosie Lee is a terrifically original heroine.” —Louise Penny, author of The Beautiful Mystery

    Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation involving prominent citizens makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There’s no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee’s Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung at their opulent house.

    Rumor has it that the Sung’s fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sung’s house, her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is a storage house she discovers locked—and what’s inside? What is the couple arguing about behind closed doors? Where is the guest of honor who never showed up?

    Then, Mabel Sung and her son Leonard are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee’s special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. Aunty Lee has never carelessly prepared a dish. She’s certain the deaths are murder—and that they’re somehow linked to the organ donor scandal.

    To save her business and her reputation, she’s got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer whose next victim may just be Aunty Lee.

    I enjoyed the story, but found it to be a bit hard to follow.  There are numerous characters with similar names, and I needed to actually write down names and relationships to keep them straight.  The choppy dialogue was very disconcerting.   I couldn't tell if it was a poorly edited e-galley or if it was the author's attempt to replicate "pidgin" English ( or its Singaporean version).  The food descriptions were certainly enough to make me want to call my travel agent to book an immediate flight, but the murder mystery was a bit bland (OK, it's a cozy).  It was obvious from the beginning what was going on, and the machinations of Aunty (a nosy old lady if ever there was one) and her friends to out-solve the authorities (or convince them that a crime had been committed) got to be boring after a while.  I just wanted them to get on with it.   I liked the setting and the premise did offer some opportunities for mysterious undertakings. I certainly would recommend it to readers who like new and exciting settings, descriptions and recipes of good food, and a cast of crazy quirky characters.   I'm just not sure I could take an entire series of Aunty.  In view of Ms. Yu's background as a playwright, I'd bet this could be a great comedic play, movie, or TV series.


    Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had over thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries that have been published in Singapore and India. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.If you want to see more about Ovidia Yu's works,  you can visit on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.


    Title: Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials
    Author: Ovidia Yu
    Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (2014)
    Genre: Cozy mystery, amateur sleuth
    Subject: illegal organ harvesting
    Setting: Singapore
    Series: Singaporean Mysteries
    Source: e-galley from the publisher via Edelweiss
    Why did I read this book now?  I am participating in the TLC Blog Tour

    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Review: When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood

     1963, Mexico, Maine. The Wood family is much like its close, Catholic, immigrant neighbors, all dependent on a father’s wages from the Oxford Paper Company. Until the sudden death of Dad, when Mum and the four closely connected Wood girls are set adrift. Funny and to-the-bone moving, When We Were the Kennedys is the story of how this family saves itself, at first by depending on Father Bob, Mum’s youngest brother, a charismatic Catholic priest who feels his new responsibilities deeply. And then, as the nation is shocked by the loss of its handsome Catholic president, the televised grace of Jackie Kennedy—she too a Catholic widow with young children—galvanizes Mum to set off on an unprecedented family road trip to Washington, D.C., to do some rescuing of her own. An indelible story of how family and nation, each shocked by the unimaginable, exchange one identity for another.

    Our local book club chose to read this one for our monthly discussion this week.  Set in Maine, it tells the author's family story of growing to adulthood in the same time frame as the majority of our members.  As such, it was a memoir for us too.  World events were the same ones we lived through. For several of us, the flashbacks to a pre-Vatican II catholic school education are almost chilling.  For all of us, the struggles of the family due to the father's death, and then the impending and always threatened closure of the paper mill (the town's major employer) are producing some dejà vu moments as several towns here in Maine are wrestling with exactly these problems of mill closures, bankruptcies, high unemployment and the despair that goes along with those events.

    It's a beautiful and poignant story that, in spite of the hardships portrayed for the children, is full of hope and promise. Wood writes from the heart, evidencing the close and loving structure of her family, and the solidarity of small town life.  Definitely a memoir worth reading.

    Title: When we Were the Kennedys
    Author: Monica  Wood
    Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (July 10, 2012), Amazon digital edition
    Genre: Memoir
    Subject:growing up after a parent's death
    Setting: Mexico Maine
    Source: my own digital shelf

    Wednesday, October 1, 2014

    TLC Blog Tour - To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie


    Finally, the newest Deborah Crombie is here, and it's every bit as good as the earlier ones in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series.  Crombie, like Louise Penny and Elizabeth George, has developed a tightly paced, historically enlightening, and personally edifying collection of stories set in modern day London.   I was thrilled when TLC blog tour announced that To Dwell in Darkness was being made available for reviewers.  Although I  had read about half of the earlier installments years ago, I did not have time to read the 8 I had missed along the way.  So, I was able to review this one almost like I'd never read any of the previous episodes.   I found this one works just as well as a stand-alone.  Crombie gives us enough back fill to flesh out characters who may be new to the reader, but doesn't feel the need to rehash every sentence of older segments.  This one centers around the rehabilitation of the area around historic St. Pancras station and gives us a broad brush of traffic, housing and other cross cultural issues as well as present day environmental debates, explosives, and out of control crowds. The publisher's blurb gives you just enough without giving away the plot:
     In the tradition of Elizabeth George, Louise Penny, and P. D. James, New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie delivers a powerful tale of intrigue, betrayal, and lies that will plunge married London detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James into the unspeakable darkness that lies at the heart of murder.
     Recently transferred to the London borough of Camden from Scotland Yard headquarters, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his new murder investigation team are called to a deadly bombing at historic St. Pancras Station. By fortunate coincidence, Melody Talbot, Gemma's trusted colleague, witnesses the explosion. The victim was taking part in an organized protest, yet the other group members swear the young man only meant to set off a smoke bomb. As Kincaid begins to gather the facts, he finds every piece of the puzzle yields an unexpected pattern, including the disappearance of a mysterious bystander.
    The bombing isn't the only mystery troubling Kincaid. He's still questioning the reasons behind his transfer, and when his former boss—who's been avoiding him—is attacked, those suspicions deepen. With the help of his former sergeant, Doug Cullen, Melody Talbot, and Gemma, Kincaid begins to untangle the truth. But what he discovers will leave him questioning his belief in the job that has shaped his life and his values—and remind him just how vulnerable his precious family is.
    Crombie is especially talented at keeping several story lines going at the same time.  We have the bombing, we have an upcoming custody battle concerning Duncan's son, we have developing friction in the personnel structure of Scotland Yard and the local police departments.  Duncan and Gemma are still adjusting to married life, their blended family, and the concerns of parenting a teen-ager.  Crombie is beginning to show us more of new characters that have recently appeared in the series: Melody and Doug.  Their motivations and personalities are increasing my interest and certainly have me already looking for the next book.  This one is a definite addition to the series.



    In my opinion, Deborah Crombie is one of the best detective crime writers working in the genre today.  You can follow her on her websiteFacebook or on Twitter.



    To see more reviews,follow the TLC

    Deborah’s Tour Stops
    Tuesday, September 23rd: Booksie’s Blog
    Wednesday, September 24th: 5 Minutes For Books
    Thursday, September 25th: Back Porchervations
    Monday, September 29th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
    Monday, September 29th: Drey’s Library
    Tuesday, September 30th: Helen’s Book Blog
    Wednesday, October 1st: Tutu’s Two Cents
    Thursday, October 2nd: A Bookworm’s World
    Monday, October 6th: Dwell in Possibility
    Tuesday, October 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
    Wednesday, October 8th: My Bookshelf
    Thursday, October 9th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
    Friday, October 10th: Book Addict Katie
    Saturday, October 11th: Living in the Kitchen with Puppies


    Title: To Dwell in Darkness
    Author: Deborah Crombie
    Publisher:William Morrow (2014), Hardcover, 336 pages
    Genre:  police procedural mystery 
    Setting: London
    Series: Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James
    Source: review copy from publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  I'm a fan of the series.

    Thursday, September 18, 2014

    Review: A Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan



    A Spinning Heart is a small book, written in a series of 21 short, concise, heartbreaking and/or heartwarming vignettes about the inhabitants of an unnamed town in contemporary Ireland.  Simply put, it's 156 pages of pure literary gem.

    Around 2008 Ireland had been experiencing a building boom, its young people had jobs, and the older generation was perhaps breathing a bit easier that this upcoming generation would not be forced to emigrate to find employment.  Then the world financial crisis burst upon the scene with its impact crushing not only huge banks but small villages worldwide.

    Ryan takes us to one such village, and tells the story of that burst bubble on the lives of the people living there.  With raw vernacular and piercing wit, we get to see a story through the eyes of each participant, whether active or passive.  The writing is stunning, the characters are so intricately carved that it is almost impossible to believe that we can know them that well when they each get only an average of 7 pages to tell their story.

    As the stories progress, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together, and a whole emerges.  It is a spell-binding literary tour-de-force.  Donal Ryan certainly deserved the Irish Book of the Year award for this one.  He has another book coming out soon: The Thing About December.  I'm already lining up for this one too.  This is an author we're going to be hearing about.  In the meantime, dust off your Irish slang dictionary, pull yourself a pint, and settle down.  This one can be read in a very pleasant evening.

    Title: A Spinning Heart
    Author: Donal Ryan
    Publisher: Steerforth (2014), Paperback, 160 pages
    Genre: Literary fiction
    Subject: small town life in Ireland
    Setting: unamed Irish village
    Source: review copy from the publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  It's being considered for the 2015 Maine Reader's Choice Award.

    Many thanks to Steerforth Press for providing a review copy.

    Monday, September 15, 2014

    Review: The Sleep Walker's Guide to Dancing

    What an enjoyable and enchanting read!  The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing brings us a cast of sometimes looney, but always loveable characters whose quirks are laid out for all to see, and whose struggles to become integrated into their society while holding onto their unique cultural identity are easily understood by anyone who has ever felt "different" for whatever reason.

    The publisher's notes about the premise "Brain surgeon Thomas Eapen's decision to shorten his visit to his mother's home in India has consequences that reverberate two decades later as he starts conversing with the dead and daughter Amina must sort through the family's past to help him."  give us just a hint of the magic and mayhem the reader deals with in this story of three generations of family coming to grips with illness, emmigration, and different cultural norms - especially for young women.

    The main character, Amina Eapen is a 20 something budding photographer living in Seattle who is called home to Albuquerque by her mother to help with her father Thomas' strange behavior.  (He's talking to dead people for one thing.)  Not only does Amina have to decide if this call for help is just a ploy on her mother's part to get her home again, but she has to sort out whether or not her father truly needs help and what she is responsible for doing.    All during her visit, various relatives appear, (among them her cousin "Dimple" the all-American girl who has fully adopted to not only the American way of life, but to the full feminist agenda) telling stories about the family back in India, and pulling Amina further along into the family past, not to mention trying to convince her to abandon her job in Seattle, and find a nice Indian boy to marry to settle down near her parents.

    Mira does a fantastic job of weaving back and forth from past to present, of painting word pictures that have us seeing, hearing and smelling all the elements of the cultures this family is dealing with.  It's an emotional roller-coaster; it's a long read that takes a while to settle into; but in the end it's a story of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and hope.  It's perfect to settle into as the nights lengthen this autumn.  I just wish we had a good Indian take-away close by!

    I had so much fun with this I checked out the audio also.  It's exceptionally well done - read by the author - and really gives the listener an added emotional dimension. Her ability to give different voices and accents to the characters is exceptional.

    Title: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
    Author: Mira Jacob
    Publisher: Random House (2014), Hardcover, 512 pages
    Audio: Books on Tape (2014) 12 hours.
    Genre: Literary fiction
    Subject: immigration, assimilation, cultural differences
    Setting: Albuquerque, Seattle, India
    Source: Public library

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    TLC Blog Tour: Ballroom by Alice Simpson

    Ballroom dancing seems to be making a recovery these days, perhaps thanks to several "Dancing, etc etc etc" TV shows.  Ballroom, Alice Simpson's debut novel tries to captures the world of ballroom dancing in the late 20th century by looking at that world from the point of view of about six major and several minor characters.

    Although billed as a series of interconnecting stories, the characters connect only in the fact that they meet at a ballroom on Sunday nights.  I kept waiting for some deeper connection, but with two exceptions, these were lonely, shriveled up, past their prime, solitary creatures whose individual tales  related to each other only in their personal fantasies.

    I really wanted to like this book, but it took quite a while for any relationships to develop, and when they finally began to emerge, they didn't go very far.  Even the endings of the stories left me bereft.  The ballroom, the dancers, the hangers-on, all of them seemed not to get what they were looking for, and it was hard for the reader to decide if the lack of closure was deliberate on the part of the author, or just not written well enough to bring some resolution to the reader. 

    I found the publisher's back cover blurb to be misleading. 
    Told in interconnecting stories, Ballroom is a beautifully crafted debut novel—reminiscent of the works of Elizabeth Strout and Jennifer Haigh—about a group of strangers united by a desire to escape their complicated lives, if only for a few hours each week, in a faded New York City dance hall.
    Time has eroded the glamour of the Ballroom, but at the end of the 1990s, a small crowd of loyal patrons still makes its way past the floor-to-ceiling columns which frame the once grand hall each Sunday evening. Sweeping across the worn parquet floor under a peeling indigo ceiling, these men and women succumb to the magic of the music, looking for love and connection, eager to erase the drab reality of their complicated lives.
    Nearly forty and still single, Sarah Dreyfus is desperate for love and sure she’ll find it with debonair Gabriel Katz, a dazzling peacock who dances to distract himself from his crumbling marriage. Tired of the bachelor life, Joseph believes that his yearning for a wife and family will be fulfilled—if only he can get Sarah to notice him. Besotted with beautiful young Maria Rodriguez, elderly dance instructor Harry Korn knows they can find happiness together. Maria, one of the Ballroom’s stars, has a dream of her own, a passion her broken-hearted father refuses to accept or understand.
    As the rhythms of the Ballroom ebb and flow through these characters’ hearts, their fates come together in touching, unexpected ways.
    This opens the door to let us spy on the main players, but I just don't buy the implication that everything comes together in the end.

    The quotes from various dancing handbooks and etiquette books at the beginning of each chapter were fascinating and gave us a excellent glimpse into the past glories of the art.  There's an excellent bibliography of material about ballroom dancing in the book for those who want to delve further.

    Title: BALLROOM
    Author: Alice Simpson
    Publisher: Harper Collins (2014)  ARC 285 pages
    Genre: fiction
    Subject: Ballroom dancing
    Setting: New York city and environs
    Source: review copy from the publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  I was asked to do a review by the publisher.

    This review is being provided in connection with the TLC Blog Tour.  Many thanks to publicist Trish Collins from Harper Collins for making the galley available.

     

    Saturday, September 6, 2014

    Review: Euphoria by Lily King


    Anthropology is not a reading topic I'm apt to run right out and grab off the shelf. I'm marginally aware of what the subject matter purports to study, and I'm minimally acquainted with Margaret Mead's early studies.  That's about where my background ends.  Euphoria is an articulate exposè (albeit fictional) of the early history of the practitioners of the craft. The publisher offers this recap:

    .... a breathtaking novel about three young anthropologists of the ‘30’s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.
    English anthropologist Andrew Banson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.
    Set between two World Wars and inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is an enthralling story of passion, possession, exploration, and sacrifice from accomplished author Lily King.
    The ill-fated three-sided love story pulled me in emotionally.  The scenes of tribal practices left me less than excited, although from a strictly intellectual perspective, like all new material, I found the descriptions riveting.  It's a short book, the action moves along at a decent pace, and the publisher's addition of end-papers with a map of the region was extremely helpful.  While it did not entice me to set off for more on the subject matter, neither did it tempt me to stop reading until the book was finished.  It's well worth the read, even if this isn't your normal cuppa.  I certainly would recommend it to readers with an interest in South Pacific early tribal customs.

    Title: Euphoria
    Author: Lily King
    Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (2014), Edition: 1ST, Hardcover, 256 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction
    Subject: Anthropology
    Setting: South Pacific Islands
    Source: Review copy from the publisher
    Why did I read this book now?  It's being reviewed for consideration for the 2015 Maine Reader's Choice Award.
    Many thanks to publisher Atlantic Monthly Press for the review copy.

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

    Review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

    Wow!  Every once in awhile a book comes along that gives the reader an "AHA" moment.  Shotgun Lovesongs is such a book.  I didn't want this book to end.  I wanted to read, re-read, listen to the audio, and just sink into the glorious prose telling the simple story of four friends who grew up together in a small town, and whose individual stories are told in such clear, stellar prose that I was captured by the end of page 3!

    Each of the stories is discrete, but each advances the story of the whole, of the group.  Each life is separate and unique, but every life meshes with all of the others.  In the end, we see an entire range of experiences and relationships.  Friendships turned sour, friendships stretched as friends move away and then return, friendships poisoned by jealousy and rivalries, but through it all, it is the simple, beautiful story of four people whose ties to their life in a small town and to their love of each other overcomes the obstacles and rivalries that are the staples of life and love.  Here's how the publisher describes it:
    Henry, Lee, Kip and Ronny grew up together in rural Wisconsin. Friends since childhood, their lives all began the same way, but have since taken different paths. Henry stayed on the family farm and married his first love, whilst the others left in search of something more. Ronnie became a rodeo star, Kip made his fortune in the city, and musician Lee found fame but heartbreak, too. Now all four are back in town for a wedding, each of them hoping to recapture their old closeness but unable to escape how much has changed. Amid the happiness of reunion and celebration, old rivalries resurface and a wife's secret threatens to tear both a marriage and a friendship apart.
    Not only did I read this one in print, but I listened to the audio - a spectacular production from MacMillan Audio, read by Ari Fliakos, Maggie Hoffman, Scott Shepherd, Scott Sowers and Gary Wilmes.  Each voice clarified the character, and each story took on an even more defined picture from the audio.  The word pictures are as sharp as one listens as they are when we read the well-written words.  This is definitely going to be on my top of the year list.

    Title: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Author: Nickolas Butler
    Publisher:Thomas Dunne Books (2014), Hardcover, 320 pages
    Audio Publisher:  Macmillan Audio, 2014. 10 hours
    Subject: small town life, friendship
    Setting: rural Wisconsin
    Source: review copy from publisher; audio copy from public library

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014

    Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller

    Earlier this year, I discovered Julia Keller's dynamic new crime series featuring prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins.  I was delighted to be able to get an early review copy of the third entry in this group.  The publisher tempted me by offering
    High summer in Acker's Gap, West Virginia-but no one's enjoying the rugged natural landscape. Not while a killer stalks the small town and its hard-luck inhabitants. County prosecutor Bell Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong are stymied by a murderer who seems to come and go like smoke on the mountain. At the same time, Bell must deal with the return from prison of her sister, Shirley-who, like Bell, carries the indelible scars of a savage past.
    In Summer of the Dead, the third Julia Keller mystery chronicling the journey of Bell Elkins and her return to her Appalachian hometown, we also meet Lindy Crabtree-a coal miner's daughter with dark secrets of her own, secrets that threaten to explode into even more violence.
    Acker's Gap is a place of loveliness and brutality, of isolation and fierce attachments-a place where the dead rub shoulders with the living, and demand their due.
    Keller is doing an excellent job developing these characters, fleshing out their motivations to stay in Akers Gap, while presenting the reader with sterling mystery plots.   This is a series to watch, and one that gives us not only strong characters, but a definite sense of place to anchor them.

    Title: Summer of the Dead
    Author: Julia Keller
    Publisher: Minotaur Books (2014), e-galley 368 pages 
    Genre: mystery
    Subject: poverty, family secrets, murder
    Setting: Akers Gap West Virginia
    Series: Bell Elkins Novels
    Source: e-galley from publisher via Edelweiss

    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 Kincaid & 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