Saturday, March 14, 2015

Review: Winter At the Door by Sarah Graves

Lizzie Snow, an experienced homicide detective from Boston, has come north to the farthest reaches of Maine to take a job in a small town where the sheriff is concerned about a string of suspicious deaths among former police officials.  We quickly learn that Lizzie is there only because she's looking for her missing niece, although we never quite seem to find out much about this missing girl.

In the meantime, the plot thickens as Lizzie settles into small town, winter-time life in rural Maine.   I've enjoyed Sarah Graves' "Home Repair is Homicide" series set in the same general locale, and actually thought this one was better written.   The characters are edgier and more sketched in, and the place descriptions are spectacular.  However, the plot really became very much like the runaway logging trucks that are the stuff of legends in the Maine wilds.   Way too much going on with no brakes on the wild ride.  We had little vignettes of quirky town characters, we had Lizzie fending off two suitors, both too good to be believed and too edgy to be comfortable about.   We had those suspicious suicides, out of control teenagers, and mysterious bad guys running around unnoticed.

I actually couldn't put it down because I had to see how all of these pieces would ever come together.   Graves does a reasonable job of tying up loose ends, and gives us a real kick-a surprise at the end, but there is still laundry hanging on the line at the end.   I guess this is her way of making us wait for the second installment.   I think there's plenty of potential for a good series here.   Lizzie Snow is definitely a female character with lots of pizazz.  I just hope that Graves isn't going to do one of these series where we are forever hanging waiting for the heroine to decide who's sleeping in her bed that night.  Lizzie appears to be too smart to let that go on for long.   Let's hope so anyway.

Title: Winter at the Door
Author: Sarah Graves
Publisher: Bantam (2015), Hardcover, 272 pages
Genre: Mystery - police procedural
Subject: murder and mayhem
Setting:Fictional town of Bearskill Maine
Series: Lizzie Snow #1
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers program
Why did I read this book now? I was given a review copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman

I never really got into Tony Hillerman's books, although there are many of them on my shelves since my husband is a big fan.  I did however get a chance to listen to this one last month while I was snowed in, and have decided that the Hillerman books are definintely worth adding to the my teetering TBR pile.  I especially liked the female protagonist in this well plotted story that paints a detailed picture of the police procedures employed when crimes occur on Native American reservations in the southwest.  I'm definitely going to be reading more of hers when they're published, and will be going back to look at Tony Hillerman's popular series.  Here's what the publisher tells us about this one.
 Anne Hillerman, the talented daughter of bestselling author Tony Hillerman, continues his popular Leaphorn and Chee series with Spider Woman's Daughter, a Navajo Country mystery, filled with captivating lore, startling suspense, bold new characters, vivid color, and rich Southwestern atmosphere.Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manualito witnesses the cold-blooded shooting of someone very close to her. With the victim fighting for his life, the entire squad and the local FBI office are hell-bent on catching the gunman. Bernie, too, wants in on the investigation, despite regulations forbidding eyewitness involvement. But that doesn't mean she's going to sit idly by, especially when her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, is in charge of finding the shooter.Bernie and Chee discover that a cold case involving his former boss and partner, retired Inspector Joe Leaphorn, may hold the key. Digging into the old investigation, husband and wife find themselves inching closer to the truth, and closer to a killer determined to prevent justice from taking its course.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

the Fakir

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe: A novel by Romain Puertolas

This is one of the funniest farces I've read in a long time.  Available as a Kindle download from my local library, very reminiscent of  The 100 year old Man who climbed out the window and disappeared or a good old fashioned Three Stooges/Fawlty Towers/Monty Python slapstick.  A quick, quirky, belly-laugh out loud satire.  Absolutely delightful.  Get it and save it for a day when you need a quick and sure pick me up.
Here's a fer instance:
 "A fakir by trade, Ajatashatru Oghash (pronounced  A-jar-of-rat-stew-oh-gosh!) had decided to travel incognito for his first trip to Europe.  For this occasion, he had swapped his "uniform," which consisted of a loincloth shaped like an enormous diaper, for a shiny gray suit and a tie rented for peanuts from Dilawar (pronounced Die, lawyer!), an old man from the village who had, during his youth, been a representative for a famous brand of shampoo...."
In addition to the fun, the travel, and the outrageous puns, there's actually a teensy bit of a life lesson. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Port City Shakedown: A Brandon Blake Crime Novel

This first book in a new series is set in and around the Portland, Maine, waterfront. It introduces Brandon Blake, a loner who lives on his old wooden cruiser. Raised by his alcoholic grandmother after his mother was lost at sea, Blake learned to depend on himself. During an assignment for a law-enforcement class, Blake gets involved in a fight and is marked for payback by a soon-to-be-released convict. Meanwhile, questions surface about his mother's disappearance.(from the publisher)

Last year I read the 2nd in this series "Port City Black and White" but only got around to reading this 1st in the series when the paperback edition was offered through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. This is a very well done police procedural series with lots of room to grow. I especially like how Boyle shows us the early motivations that bring Blake to his career in the Portland police department.

I've gotten to know the city a bit more than I did when I read the previous volume and was very comfortable reading this. The crime story was especially well-plotted and I didn't see the end until it was upon me.  I don't do spoilers, but there was plenty of action, romance, and lots of clues to keep the reader interested. I did see that we were going to solve the crime, but I didn't realize what the crime was!!! A great story, and I'll definitely keep my eyes out for the next one in the series.

Title: Port City Shakedown
Author: Gerry Boyle
Publisher: Down East Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2014) 240 pages
Genre: police procedural, crime
Subject: gang fighting, smuggling
Setting: Portland Maine
Series:Brandon Blake crime mysteries #1
Source:Review copy from the publisher through Early Reviewer program
Why did I read this book now? I promised to do a review in return for a free copy.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Winter Reading Continues - Mini re-caps

The snow story is getting very boring. The weather forecasters don't even bother to spend much time on it other than to say "well another 3-6" by tomorrow--nothing to get excited about!" That just gives me more incentive to snuggle down and read. I've been doing a lot of reading, and have settled into a re-read of one of my favorite series - more on that later. I'll give you one big hint, it's not Louise Penny, or Deborah Crombie.

Anyway, I've finally finished all 25 of the Maine Reader's Choice long list, and I'm now re-reading a couple of them so I can decide how I'm going to vote. There were so many good ones this year that it's a really hard choice. I've been having such a good time reading and sorting through all the books in piles and stacked up on my Nook and Kindle, that I never got my weekly post done last weekend. Here's a mini re-cap of some more goodies to tempt you.

Everything I Never Told You 
by Celeste NG

I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  Character studies are one of my favorite fiction genres and this one gives us well drawn characters struggling with the racial and socio-economic issues so prevalent today.   It's a true page-turner.  Here's how the publisher describes it:
"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet. So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue-in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James's case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. ....  A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another"-- 
* * * *  

The Daughters of Mars
by Thomas Keneally
I got a review copy of this last year, and never had a chance to read it.  Like several others I've read recently, this one is large in size and scope.  In the past two years, I've done quite a bit of reading set in the World War I timeframe, but never had one set in the Dardanelles, nor did any of them feature Australian nurses. This one has been rightly described as epic.
"From the acclaimed author of Schindlers List comes the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters whose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the First World War. In 1915, Naomi and Sally Durance, two spirited Australian sisters, join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their fathers farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Though they are used to tending the sick, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first on a hospital ship near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front. Yet amid the carnage, the sisters become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger and also the hostility from some on their own side. There is great bravery, humor, and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the remarkable women they serve alongside. In France, where Naomi nurses in a hospital set up by the eccentric Lady Tarlton while Sally works in a casualty clearing station, each meets an exceptional man: the kind of men for whom they might give up some of their newfound independence if only they all survive. At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars brings World War I vividly to life from an uncommon perspective. Thomas Keneally has written a remarkable novel about suffering and transcendence, despair and triumph, and the simple acts of decency that make us human even in a world gone mad"--
 About half-way through my read I was able to borrow a copy of the audio format and it was absolutely splendid.  The print book has an excellent map inside the cover which made the reading even more enjoyable.  Definitely a keeper and one to re-read and loan to friends.

Friday, February 27, 2015

We are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

This one has been sitting on my e-reader since the publisher sent it for review last October, and I finally got a chance to read it.  This is what they gave me to tempt me :
Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed. Eileen can't help but dream of a calmer life, in a better neighborhood. When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she's found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn't aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream. Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives...through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a powerfully affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away. Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves is a testament to our greatest desires and our greatest frailties."--
This is thoroughly engrossing story, even tho it drags a bit in the middle. I found the character of Eileen despicable although I suspect the author wanted us to have a great deal of sympathy for her. The slow and inexorable decline of the husband as he succumbs to early-onset Alzheimers is handled with discouraging and often depressing realism. At times, it appears the entire family is a train-wreck in the making, and then the reader realizes that may actually be what it feels like to live with this fearsome disease. The author may want us to see this as an epic portrayal of how life changed in the 1950s and 1960s, but it is more a study of the combination of impacts-- a disease of the brain and a huge case of greed.  It is certainly worth reading to get an idea of the devastating impact of Alzheimer's on not just the patient but the entire family, particularly in earlier times when it was not as well known, diagnosed, and discussed.

Title: We are Not Ourselves
Author: Matthew Thomas
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014), Edition: e-galley 640 pages 
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Adult on-set Alzheimer's
Source: e-galley from the publisher via Net Galley

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: The Free by Willy Vlautin

The stark title and cover of this books sets its tone, or so it seems if we are to believe the publisher's blurb:
Severely wounded in the Iraq war, Leroy Kervin has lived in a group home for eight years. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, he finds his existence has become unbearable. An act of desperation helps him disappear deep into his mind, into a world of romance and science fiction, danger and adventure where he is whole once again. Freddie McCall, the night man at Leroy's group home, works two jobs yet still can't make ends meet. He's lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative '' and dangerous -- proposition. Pauline Hawkins, a nurse, cares for the sick and wounded, including Leroy. She also looks after her mentally ill elderly father. Yet she remains emotionally removed, until she meets a young runaway who touches something deep and unexpected inside her.
Out of all this despair and desperation Vlautin gives us a story of hope, a glorious portrayal of humanity and humaneness as ordinary people struggle to get by in a world that sometimes seems capable of only dumping more and more pain and problems on their already bent backs.  Still these characters are able to reach through their pain to various degrees to offer friendship, caring and hope.

As a reader, I was drawn into this story before I knew it, and could not put it down.  Although it is dark, depressing and overwhelmingly sad at times, I finished the book with a feeling of optimism that all was not lost.

I received a copy of this from the publisher as part of my participation in the panel for the Maine Readers Choice Award.   It is one that is on the long list, and will certainly receive a favorable consideration from me to make the short list.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: Redeployment by Phil Klay

Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. 

 These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming. Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing. Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss. Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation"--

I almost rebelled when I saw that another book about the current Middle East war was on the list of those I had to read for the Maine Readers Choice Awards panel, but books don't win the National Book Award unless they're good, so after seeing the publisher's blurb above, I began reading. This one is everything everyone says it is. Klay has given us a series of characters in inter-related short stories portraying hope and hopelessness, horror and honor and comradeship and patriotism and empty nothingness. It is as much a book about coming home as it is about re-deploying.

By showing us the struggles of several different players who don't always star in the war flicks, Klay allows us to soak up the utter distress experienced by troops who are sent into the fracas that is Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to ground troops engaged in the daily task of avoiding IEDs, we see a chaplain whose Christian beliefs are sorely tested by his inability to provide any true comfort or support to soldiers trying to deal with the emotional impacts of death and destruction; we get a glimpse of the non-military component of our foreign policy by accompanying a Foreign Service officer as he tries to help Iraquis "improve their lives" by learning to play baseball; and we accompany a mortuary officer as he collects the remains of victims -both US and Iraqi.

Redeployment is a book to be read, to be re-read, to be discussed, and most of all to be taken to heart by all who haven't had the privilege of serving.  It is only after absorbing some of the emotion Klay confronts us with that our rote offering of "thank you for your service" will have any depth.

My thanks to Penguin Press for furnishing the review copy of this one.

Title: Redeployment
Author: Phil Klay
Publisher:Penguin Press HC, The (2014), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 304 pages
Genre: Fiction - short stories
Subject: War stories
Setting: Iraq/Afghanistan
Source: review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? It is on the longlist for the Maine Readers Choice Award

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Another snowy week .... another week of reading ....

This week as the snow piled higher, and the wind continued to blow,  we hunkered down to some wonderful reads, some old movies on TV, some homemade soups and breads, and  hours of lazy, "sunglare on the snow" relaxing and re-charging mental batteries.  Since we have a dependable "plow guy" and we park inside a garage, we have been able to get out when we need to - to weekly MahJongg sessions, doctors appointments, church, going to the Post Office to pick up badly needed new boots we ordered  and refreshing the milk and egg supply.  Then we just read, and knit, and enjoyed being retired.

As I looked through my book piles and lists, I discovered a few more I finished last month and didn't get posted, and then I managed to finish my reading of the 25 on the Maine Readers Choice Longlist.
It's going to be very difficult for me to choose my favorite top 10 - there were only actually about five I really would not want to advance, so we'll see how the rest of the panel feels.  I'll keep you posted.
Here's this week's offerings, including two I really didn't care for.

The Headmaster's Wife
by Thomas Christopher Greene

Fantastic read. A hard one to review without giving away the story. A New England boarding school setting always promises to provide room for intrigue.  You know you'll in for a good story when the publisher says
 Found wandering naked and mentally traumatized in Central Park, the headmaster of an elite boarding school imparts a story that is shaped by complicated memories, the evolution of a loving relationship, and a tragedy he cannot comprehend.
 Each character has a fatal flaw, and the story is told in a rather uneven pace - we start in the middle, and are constantly surprised whether looking back, being present, or looking forward. It's an incredible piece of story telling, not too much for plot or setting, but for the relationships of the characters. Definitely a keeper and and one I know I'll want to read again.

* * * * 

The Laughing Monsters
by Denis Johnson

I actually started this last year and put it was awful. I had to finish it although I found this book to be ugly, and physchologically draining. I only read it because somehow it made the long list of books nominated for the 2015 Maine Readers Choice Award. The subject matter was distasteful--the publisher says "soldiers of fortune". I'd say evil rogue egotists amoral characters, and the whole reading experience was one I hope I don't have to repeat too soon (better yet ever again.) Denis Johnson is supposed to be a good author, but he's not going on to my list of favorites if this cock-of-road, devil may care, how many people can we kill/deceive/cheat/screw is his normal genre. It got 1 1/2 stars because at least he can write in sentences.

* * * *

The Ploughmen
by Kim Zupan

Rarely do I abandon a book I receive from the Early Reviewer program on LibraryThing, but I gave this three tries in 4 months and finally threw in the towel. I wanted to read this - the story line sounded intriguing, and the setting is one I normally enjoy:

"A young sheriff and a hardened killer form an uneasy and complicated bond in this mesmerizing first novel set on the plains of Montana. Steeped in a lonesome Montana landscape as unyielding and raw as it is beautiful, Kim Zupan's The Ploughmen is a new classic in the literature of the American West."

The prose was so overblown, stilted and contrived that I COULD NOT READ IT. I had two other trusted reader friends try it and they both handed it back after a few days and said what amounted to YUCK. Mr/Ms Zupan needed an editor who wasn't afraid to point out that all sentences don't need to be compound, that adjectives don't all have to be multisyllabic, and that not all readers are going to want to stop a dozen times per page to look up a new word. A shame, because I have a feeling the story is a good one.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

And Yet More Snow! And Still more Books

What a week this was! This is the view from our deck to the river BEFORE we got ten more inches mid-week after I took this shot. We had two major snow storms, and a fantastic Super Bowl game to watch. The fact that our favorite team won made it even better. We managed to finally get all the Christmas decorations taken down, sorted, packed away, and sent up to the attic on our dumb waiter. Tutu was the lucky one who got to be at the receiving end of this evolution. As I waited in the very very very cold attic, Mr. Tutu loaded up boxes and pulled the ropes to send stuff up. Since I knew where I wanted each box to go, I got to take the boxes off the lift and stow them away. It was actually fun to have things well organized and cleaned up.

In between cleaning, piling wood, and prepping food for our friends who came to watch the game with us, I still found time to read. I'm now down to just one more books on the Maine Reader's Choice Awards candidates, and then will have to do some real soul-searching to pick 10 of the 25 to urge forward to the short-list. It's going to be difficult.  Here's what I finished this week:

The High Divide
by Lin Enger

Westerns are not usually my thing.  That said, Lin Enger's sparcely written story of a family in turmoil during the late 1800's on the high plains of the Midwest had me hooked from the beginning.  Set against an historical backdrop of the demise of the bison herds, the mistreatment of the Plains Indians with Custer's last stand on the edge's of the story, this one is at once about finding redemption (the father), forgiveness (the mother), and coming of age (the two sons).  We get to hitch rides on railroad box cars, learn about the quests of early Smithsonian curators to gather specimens, ride wild ponies to hunt buffalo, sleep under stars during storms.

It was similar to the epic Come Spring our book club read last month showing how hearty those who came before us must have been.   High Divide is definitely one that I'll want to re-read some day.  In spite of its lean prose, there's a lot in this one.  It definitely won't disappoint anyone looking to explore the area, the time frame, or sink into a good story of family relationships.

* * * *

Cocaine Blues
by Kerry Greenwood
a Phryne Fisher Mystery

Several of my reading friends have given this series good marks for fun, and easy reading.   Kindle had this first in the series for 99¢ so it was easy to try it out.  Now  I can't wait to read the next one in the series.   Phryne Fisher is a fun woman - amateur detective, air pilot, racing car driver, smoker, drinker, not above some good gratuitous sex, etc etc etc.   Plus, she's filthy rich with a poor little rich girl's view of the world that says all women should be given the same opportunities she has, so let's make it happen.  In this first one she's off to Australia to find out why a young Englishwoman seems to be very ill with no one to figure out why.   Great characters, many of whom I'm betting will become regulars in future adventures.  Reminds me a lot of the Maisie Dobbs series.

* * * * 

A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman

Slow start, but then quickly settled into a delightful bittersweet story of Ove, a lonely, hypercritical widower whose aim in life is to be sure that everyone does everything correctly. No deviations of laws or rules are to be allowed in Ove's life. When he decides that he can't go on any longer without his darling wife (the only woman who ever understood him), he tries to kill himself. The first attempt is thwarted, as is the second, and the third, and in fact everytime Ove tries to find a way to dispatch himself with a minimum of mess and bother, life happens instead.

This is a story of friendship, of acceptance, of loneliness, with a cast of marvelous characters who relate to each other with the ability to bring a neighborhood together and bring a lonely man to the awareness of his worth. It's very reminiscent of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Ove is one of the most loveable old curmudgeons I've encountered in a while.

* * * *

And finally............I also finished Redeployment by Phil Klay.  This National Book Award winner deserves a post all its own.  Look for one mid-week, but don't wait to go get your hands on a copy.  It is a definite 5 star read. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review: The Thing About December

I loved Ryan's other novel, The Spinning Heart, winner of the Irish Book Awards Book of the Year last year. This one was actually written earlier but just published in December 2014. I can't even begin to say which is better. I certainly will be reading anything Donal Ryan writes.

The Thing About December features one of the most loveable characters I've come across in a long time. Johnsey Cunliffe is a grown boy who would probably be labeled today as "developmentally disadvantaged". He has a job, he has a good home with loving parents on a run-down farm, but he is often bullied by other punks in town who sense the weakness in him. Johnsey has a difficult time talking, forming words to express his thoughts, and when both his parents die in a short time span, he finds himself alone in his house, beset by many who want to get their hands on the land his parents have left him. When, after a mugging by neighborhood thugs, he lands in the hospital, temporarily blinded.   There he meets Nurse "Lovely Voice"and  his life changes.

This is a bittersweet, lovely, heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a year in the life of a gentle man who simply wants a friend, wants to be understood, wants to be sure his parents would be proud of him.   He just wants to let others know how he feels and do the right thing.

An author to be read, and a story to be relished. Another 5 star stunner.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A snowy week of reading

This week I spent a lot of time preparing for the blizzard we had from Monday night through Wednesday morning. I thought I'd want to spend all my time reading, but found that all the books I was pouring over were awfully heavy, dark, and often depressing - a real contrast to the gorgeous white whirling world outside our windows.  So I often stopped the reading to chat with distant relatives on the phone, bake some bread or otherwise clear my brain of man's inhumanity to man.
Our book club is reading a light hearted novel to discuss in February - "The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared".  I read this one last summer, so I'm listening to it in audio now to refresh my memory for next month.   It's been a welcome change of pace to these others.   I also finished an ARC I got from the publisher and will be posting a review of  The Thing About December by Donal Ryan next week.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Richard Flanagan

This won the Man Book Prize this year, and it well deserves the honor.  Flanagan's portrayal of Australian, Japanese, and Korean combatants involved in the building of the Siam-Burma railway during World War II (some as POWs, some as their cruel guards and tormenters) is a stunning work that manages to revolt us with its sickening detail about the treatment these POWs suffered while at the same time it delves into the psyches of all the participants, giving us not excuses, but explanations and even glimpses of redemptive behavior after the war.   Compelling, disgusting, beautiful, violent and brutal.   A must read.   I can only wonder how this did not make the Maine Readers Choice long list.

* * * * *

An Untamed State
by Roxanne Gay

Another brutal, unvarnished, violent tale about the kidnapping in Port-au-Prince of a young Haitian American woman whose father refuses to pay ransom for her, fearing to set a bad precedent.  I found myself unable to read parts of the descriptions of the unspeakable torture she endured for 13 days before her rescue. The second half of the book deals with her slow and painful semi-recovery and how the whole incident impacted her marriage, her relationship with her parents, and her young son.   Roxanne Gay is an incredible writer, giving us word pictures of incredible horror and delicate scenarios of the aftermath for victims and their families.  I would never have read this if it weren't on the long list for Maine Readers Choice, but I don't regret having read it. 

* * * * *


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Weekly Wrap - January 24th

This has been good reading week. In addition to our monthly book club meeting, I was able to make more progress on the Maine Reader's Choice Long list, visit with a cousin who appears annually this time of year, get some preliminary tax filing paperwork done, try out a couple new recipes, and spend quite a bit of time in front of the fire (our high temp this week actually climbed to 43ish last Sunday. Overnight it consistently dipped to the 0° mark (sometime even going below!)

Weekly reads include:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami

 I really wanted to like this one, but it was a huge disappointment. I lived in Japan for 5 years so I recognized many of the locales and foods in the story, about the damaged psyche of a 20 something year old male whose friends dump him suddenly in his early college years.  He rambles around feeling sorry for himself, contemplating suicide, and struggling to relate to women until he can find out why he got booted off the team.  The ending is particularly "meh."  Frankly,the first word of the title describes the entire book perfectly; "COLORLESS".  Although the author would have us think this is his purpose to describe poor Tsukuru's life, it works for the whole book: it's just plain boring. The book jacket is the best part of the book.

* * * *

On Such A Full Sea
By Chang-Rae Lee

I'm having "conflictions" about this one. Parts of the story were cleverly written, a couple of the characters were well-drawn, but I just didn't get it, and I hated the ending. I don't normally do futuristic sci-fi, dystopia or futuristic looks at manufactured foods, manufactured family units, and regimented societies. This one has all of those elements and a story line that just didn't grab me, even with the cleverly and thinly disguised setting of my hometown, Baltimore.

* * * *

by Bret Anthony Johnson

A Stunner!   A true page turner.   I read this (not even in audio) in less than 24 hours.  Could not put it down.  Set in hot, muggy Corpus Christi Texas, it tells the story of the psychological impact of  child kidnapping, missing children search, on not only the immediate family of the victim but the community at large.  The characters are drawn in fine lines...we feel every emotion, we ride the emotional roller-coaster with them, and as a reader, you do not put this down until you're finished.  I can't tell the story without spoiling it, but it's definitely going into the hopper for my book club to discuss sometime this year, and it will be on my list of those I want to advance from the long to the short list for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.  5 stars.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday book box - January 17th

This week I've continued my reading and listening, and am now trying to catch up on the remaining volumes of the Maine Readers Choice Long List that I must finish by the end of next month.  Here's the list for the past week of what I finished:

A Symphony of Echoes
 by Jodi Taylor - #2 in the Chronicles of St. Marys series

As I've said before, I'm not a time-travel fan, but this series is so fun. I love the characters, the plots, and the whole insouciance of this group of "historians" who magically zip through time fixing things that weren't quite right in history, or even go forward a bit to see how things might be. In this one the group goes looking for Jack the Ripper, witnesses the murder of Thomas a Becket, tries to save Do=Do birds from extinction, and makes sure a would be interloper doesn't screw up the succession to the british throne in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Great fun in audio, and just what the doctor ordered as an antidote to an overdose of really heavy reading.

* * * * * * 

by Ben Ames Williams

It's taken me over six weeks to savor this 866 page chunkster.  It was worth every minute.  Our book club chose to read this one over two months, and I can't wait to get together with them next week to compare our reactions.  It is the story of the founding of the town of Union in the midcoast area of Maine.  In 1786 when the town was established there were 17 families and 75 inhabitants.   Although written as an historical novel, the people and events were all real, and many of the places, and names are familiar to those of us who live here in this area.  Union today has a population of 2300.  It is only 16 miles from where I live.

Starting in the 1770's and going until 1784, the story tells us how the central characters, Mima Robbins and Joel Adams, meet, court, eventually marry and ultimately produce 10 children; how they cleared the acres and acres of land of the thick forests of trees, planted crops, built houses, raised barns, hunted, trapped, lugged buckets of water, battled mosquitoes and black flies, and always, always, always had to be worrying about surviving the long cold winters.  Always the thought was "Come Spring everything will be OK".  As I sat here reading in my comfortable home with indoor plumbing, central heating, power, inter-connectivity with the world, instant access to news, enough healthy food to feed my family, and the knowledge that good medical care is only a 911 call away,  I was in awe of the strength, fortitude and independent spirit of those early settlers.  I don't know if I could have done it!

It's a lovely long winter's nap read and highly recommended to anyone who wants to get a real feel for what life was all about in the days of the Revolutionary War and the founding of our country.

It's not easy to find this one - not available in audio or ebook, but most libraries can get it for you.

* * * * * 
 Nora Webster
by Colm Toibin

Although I own the e-book, I devoured about 80% of this one in audio.  I loved the dulcet tones of  Fiona Shaw's narration.  It was perfect to tell the beautifully written story of Nora Webster, widowed at age 40, who had 2 grown daughters, and two pre-teen sons at the time her beloved Maurice died a painful premature death.  Toibin skillfully lets us into the terror she faces as she balances a precarious budget, learns to live a lonelier life, and eventually comes to terms with her change in status and opportunities.  A truly elegant story, one worth reading in any format.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday soup bowl

As you know, I said I wasn't going to do reviews for awhile, but I am going to try to use this space to keep a running list of what I've been reading, and if I'm so inclined, I'll add a few words about the books I've finished. The left side bar will always show what I'm currently reading in a variety of formats. For now, I'm aiming for a weekly soup bowl of entries noting what I've read in the past week.

As you can see, I'm still working my way thru COME SPRING which our book club will be meeting to discuss on January 21st. I'm not quite half-way thru it, so I need to get going. The story is interesting, especially since the setting is entirely within 10 miles of where I now live. It's just that the book is so darn BIG, and my arthritic hands, and light-sensitive eyes don't want to spend long periods of uninterrupted time with it. It is a prime candidate for an e-book format, but I have been unable to locate one.

In the meantime, I've finished two more books from the Maine Readers Choice Award long-list:

The Wind is Not A River by Brian Payton
I was really impressed. It's loosely the story of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Island chain (Alaska) during early WW II. Evidently the US Govt didn't want the general populace to know about this and kept it very hush hush. The story concerns a couple and their relationship, but it also is a survival story of how John Easley, a journalist who has entered the area without permission and, by virtue of his plane being shot down, is now stuck behind enemy lines without anybody's knowing he's there.

His wife Helen's part of the story - how she sets out to rescue him - is less believable, but as a love story it makes for a good read, and gives us a look into the early USO as it cobbled shows together to go entertain the troops.

* * * * *

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman.
This one was hard to follow at first, but eventually the reader figures out the time map and falls in love with Tooly Zylberberg and her eclectic and peripatetic "family."  The story goes back and forth to follow her life to such exotic spots as Bangkok, Australia, South Africa, Wales, Brooklyn. It's almost too convoluted to try to explain, and I suspect I'm going to read this one again---especially if it makes the MRCA short list (it's on the long list which is why I read it).  Next time, I may flip through chapters and read it linearly in time order. I also listened to the audio, presented by a spectacular narrator Penelope Rawlins in which she offers us a wide spectrum of voices and accents. A great book to start off the New Year.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another "Best of" List

Yes, I've been very absent from posting.  Real life and reading have seriously overtaken my reviewing time.  I'd considered shutting down the blog for awhile because I don't see having enough time to do serious reviewing, but I decided instead to change my focus.

For 2015, I am not going to solicit or accept from publishers (or authors) any new books for review. I'm still going to read, and I'm still going to blog about my reading but I need to remove the obligation I feel to write a review.   I found I was not reading books the way I want to at this stage of my life.  Instead of reading for fun, relaxation, or information, I've been reading with "what am I going to say in a review?" in my mind as I read.  No more of that for the foreseeable future.

I hope to give you at least a monthly update on what I've been reading and doing to keep busy with books, travel and life.  To start off the New Year, here's a list of the best books I read in 2014.  If I reviewed them, I've linked to the review.  The list is not in any particular order.

Benediction by Kent Haruf
Transatlantic  by Colum McCann
All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr
The Long Way Home  by Louise Penny 
Shotgun Lovesongs  by Nickolas Butler 
The Free by Wily Vlautin  
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson 
Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach
Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Several of these are books that I've read as a panel member for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.  The entire long list for the award for is listed here.  Do check out the list.  There are some fabulous reads there.   I for one am going to have a very difficult time choosing 10 out of that 25.  I'll keep you posted.   In the meantime, in addition to reading those books, I'm going to finish up some that I have promise reviews for and then concentrate on some non-fiction, some mysteries, and a few cozies.

I'm way behind where I'd wanted to be on reading presidential bios, I'm horribly behind on several series I want to continue, and January 16th is looming to close.  I'm supposed to be leading a discussion of Ben Ames Williams' epic novel of Maine "COME SPRING"  and I've only finished 185 of the 866 pages.   It's incredibly interesting, set right here where I live, and I want to dive in and not come up.  With projects like this looming, it's no wonder I'm suffering from blog neglect.

Once again, I wish you all a fabulous New Year, and promise to pop up in your feeders periodically.

Tutu starts another year.

Where ever you are, however you celebrate,
Tutu sends love and best wishes
for a year of health, peace and prosperity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: Etta May's Worst Bad Luck Day by Ann B. Ross

The Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross is one I've always enjoyed.  In this volume, the author serves up a previously ancillary character and makes her the star.  In this audio version I received from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program, the story rings clear, clean and very southern, but without the often insipid southern accent many readers find necessary to give the story authenticity.

Etta Mae is introduced to us by Miss Julia who tries very hard not to appear prejudiced against this "poor girl" who hasn't had all the right opportunities that life can dish out.  In fact, you can almost hear the phrase "poor white trash" bouncing through Miss Julia's head.

Etta Mae is trying to better herself.  To that end, she has become a certified home care provider and landed the plum job of caring for a very wealthy, but very sickly old gentlemen.  Visions of sugarplums (and dollar signs) dance through Etta Mae's head as she sets out to capitalize on her patient's obvious obsession to marry her while outsmarting the gentleman's grown son and daughter-in-law who are intent upon stashing him in a sterile old age facility well out of the reaches of Etta Mae.

The mad-cap shenanigans that befall all the players are almost over the top.  At times I thought I was reading an episode of Three Stooges meets Green Acres.  In the end, justice (of a sort) is done, and life goes on.

This is a pleasant, if zany, read that will help while away a pleasant weekend in the upcoming winter.

Many thanks to the publisher, Recorded Books for making this available.

Title: Etta Mae's Worst Bad Luck Day
Author: Ann B. Ross
Publisher: Recorded Books
Genre: southern fiction
Subject: getting rich quick
Setting: fictional town of Abbotsville NC
Series: Miss Julia
Source: review copy from the publisher

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: The Resistance Man by Martin Walker

I've been able to stay current with this one of my favorite series. Since France is one of the European countries where I've not traveled extensively and Walker's descriptions of the land, the landscape and the people impart an atmosphere of the area, I really enjoy the rural French setting.

Bruno Courrèges, the engaging Chief of Police of the small town of St. Denis, is still struggling with several romantic interests, but the author handles the conflicts without having Bruno come across as a Lothario, ladies' man, or in any way unpleasant.  He's just a friendly gentleman whose female acquaintances aren't always everything he'd like them to be.

Romance aside, this series offers not only mysteries, in this case murder and an ancient unsolved train robbery, but also gives the reader a charming history lesson.  The Resistance Man elucidates the often confusing story of various political and military factions that inhabited France during World War II, by reflecting the adventures of several elderly inhabitants of the town who served during that period. The story is further embellished with descriptions of delicious foods and the wines that accompany them.

The dust jacket tells us:
 A veteran of the Resistance dies, and among his possessions are documents that connect him to a notorious train robbery. A former British spymaster's estate is burglarized, the latest in a spree of expert thefts. An academic's home is broken into just as she is finishing a revelatory book on Frances nuclear weapons program. An antiques dealer is found brutally murdered, and his former lover, the number one suspect, is on the run. It's just another summer in St. Denis for Bruno, who must balance the constant barrage of demands on his time and expertise-including the complex affections of two powerful women, town politics (the mayor is having romantic problems of his own), his irrepressible puppy, Balzac, and nights entertaining friends and visitors with ever-sumptuous repasts-with a new focus on the mounting crime wave, whose seemingly unrelated events Bruno begins to suspect are linked.
This is an altogether charming series with plenty of meat on its bones.  At the end of episode 6, I'm now hoping that Bruno might soon find a more permanent relationship so we can watch as he turns his small farm into a burgeoning family homestead.

Title: The Resistance Man
Author: Martin Walker
Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc (2014)
Genre: mystery, police procedural
Subject: murder, train robbery, history and politics
Setting: fictional village of St. Denis France
Series: Bruno Courrèges 
Source: public library

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: River of Darkness by Rennie Airth

Tutu has egg on her face with this one.   I listened to the audio of River of Darkness back in August, and have had the book on my "write review" list since then.  I have several notations indicating I liked the setting, found the mystery compelling, and the protagonist engaging.  But my memory of the exact details of the story has dimmed.  I suppose that means that I may want to listen to it again.  It is however, the first in a series that looks like it may be just what I like in mystery series, so I'm going to go after #2, and hope that my memory gets refreshed enough to continue.  In the meantime, here is the publisher's recap:

In rural England, in a landscape shadowed by the sorrow of World War I, the peace of a small Surrey village is shattered by a murderous attack, which leaves five butchered bodies and no motive for the killings. Sent by Scotland Yard to investigate is Inspector John Madden, a grave and good man who bears the emotional and physical scars from his own harrowing war experiences and from the tragic loss of his wife and child. The local police dismiss the slaughter as a robbery gone tragically awry, but Madden and his chief inspector detect the work of a madman.

With the help of a beautiful doctor who introduces Madden to the latest developments in forensic psychology and who opens his heart again to the possibility of love, Madden sets out to identify and capture the killer--a demented former soldier with a bloody past--even as he sets his sights on his next innocent victims.

As darkly stylish as the best of P. D. James, rippled with tension and resonant with historical atmosphere, River of Darkness marks the debut of a powerful new voice in suspense writing and of a compelling character whom readers will long to know better.
Title: River of Darkness
Author: Rennie airth
Publisher: W.F. Howes Ltd./Clipper Audio ; Prince Frederick, Md. : Distributed by Recorded Books, p2002, c1999.  
Genre: mystery
Subject: murder, police procedural
Setting: rural England, post WWI
Series: John Madden
Source: public library
Why did I read this book now? It caught my eye while browsing the library.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another

If you've been a Tutu reader for any length of time, you've probably noticed that time travel is not my normal cuppa.  In life, however, there are always exceptions.   JUST ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER was highly touted by several people in my reading group over on LibraryThing, and when it popped up as the Amazon Kindle freebie of the day, I thought I might as well see what all the hype was about.

It was certainly worth the marketing ploy, because now I want all the rest in this series.  It's light, it's humorous, it's got a little bit of something for everyone.

The author presents us with a delightful heroine who doesn't quite realize what she's gotten herself into, but who has the uncanny ability to hop back and forth in historic times, to perhaps "adjust" history.  She's cheeky, she's industrious, she's brilliant, and even if Jurassic park wasn't your thing, the dinosaurs in this one will change your mind.

Publisher says:
 Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting. Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake.

Now I just have to pace myself, because this series is one I'm going to have to have.   I even paid for the "Whispersync" audio version from Amazon since the ebook was free.   That recording made it even more fun. 

Definitely worth trying the first one - it's still showing as free.  But beware, you'll be hooked.

Title: Just One Damned Thing After Another
Author: Jodi Taylor
Publisher/format: Accent Press Ltd (2014), ebook 332 pages, audio: Audio Studios
Genre: fantasy, time travel
Subject: time travel to various historic eras
Setting: England
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary's
Source: My own library
Why did I read this book now?  It was highly recommended by several readers I trust.