Thursday, September 30, 2010

Good News - Bad News

First....the Bad News:

Since I returned from vacation about two weeks ago, I'm been on a reading roller-coaster.  I've had periods of intense reading where I didn't come up for air (figuratively) for almost 24 hours, then I had two or three different days where I would pick up a book, read about 10 pages, loose interest (or fall asleep) and go to the next book, only to repeat the evolution.  One day I started and abandoned 6 different books!!

In the meantime, the To Be Read pile has morphed into a tower that threatens to bury any cat who comes with a three foot radius of it.  Gaps between posts both here on the blog, and on Library Thing widened (it's now been almost five days since I had two cents worth of energy to speak about books far less compose anything worth saying), my blog feeder has approached the point where I expect to get a notice saying I've exceeded some sort of limit on unread posts (there are over 1000) and I find myself contemplating going on permanent vacation from reviewing, blogging or doing anything but just plain reading.

Now.....the good news.
  • I've given myself permission to build a bridge and get over it. 
  • I'm once again reading like a fool and enjoying it.
  • I've actually written a couple of reviews and scheduled them to post.
What caused this turnaround???

After having read 125+ books so far this year, I was getting tired....tired of having to choose from at least 10 books I wanted to read right now and say this comes next, tired of having to read something because it had to be reviewed, tired of reading something because the book club chose it (I belonged to 4 different clubs), and tired of my pile growing taller and taller and time growing shorter and shorter.  I think part of it might be seasonal.  As the days grow shorter, and there is less warm sunshine, it feels like I have less time every day to accomplish anything. But, then as I was trying to catch up on emails and my blog feeder, I came across two very inspirational tidbits.  This first is a blog post on Tartz called Blogging without obligation.  This is  a movement that started a few years ago, and in her post, Tiffini challenges us with some wonderfully empowering encouragement, e.g.
  • Because sometimes less is more.
  • Because only blogging when you feel truly inspired keeps up the integrity of your blog.
  • Because they are probably not going to inscribe your stat, link and comment numbers on your tombstone.
  • Because for most of us blogging is just a hobby. A way to express yourself and connect with others. You should not have to apologize for lapses in posts. Just take a step back and enjoy life, not everything you do has to be “bloggable”.
  • Because if you blog without obligation you will naturally keep your blog around longer, because it won’t be a chore. Plus, just think you will be doing your part to eradicate post pollution. One post at a time. . .
Don't you just love this concept?  This is one of those AHA moments.  Thank you thank you Tiffini.  I love the button, and I especially love that she has 'released' all her thoughts to the public domain.

The next day I saw an interview published in Shelf Awareness with Nancy Pearl of NPR fame, where she said: 
Do you feel pressure when you read a book?

I think that I try to avoid that like the plague, but it's true that every time I read a book I try to figure out what kind of reader would like it, and why I do or don't like it myself. When you're talking about books on a professional basis, it changes the nature of your reading--it's no longer a purely personal response.

I took both these inspirational moments and let them sit for a few days, and now feel like I'm back on the reading track I love so much.  So even though there are several review copies I'm dying to get to, I'm going to be mixing them in with some other books that just jump out of the pile, off the shelf, or appear on my reading table all by themselves.  From now to at least the end of the year, I'm giving myself permission to read what I WANT TO READ, not what I have to read.

I don't ever want my blogging to be anything more than a personal response to a writer's words.  That's why readers read book blogs.  If we want professional reviews we can read Booklist and Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly, etc., etc., etc.

This is supposed to be my Two Cents-because reading is supposed to be fun....and that's still the good news!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

Author: Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

Format: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 304 pages 
Subject: the pathology of hoarding
Genre: non-fiction, case studies
Source: public library

From the Publisher:
What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper that’s ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a woman like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items like leaky old buckets almost lost him his house? Or Jerry and Alvin, wealthy twin bachelors who filled up matching luxury apartments with countless pieces of fine art, not even leaving themselves room to sleep?   Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of others. Now they explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies in the vein of Oliver Sacks.With vivid portraits that show us the traits by which you can identify a hoarder—piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders “churn” but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage—Frost and Steketee explain the causes and outline the often ineffective treatments for the disorder.They also illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us. Whether we’re savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, none of us is free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live.   For the six million sufferers, their relatives and friends, and all the rest of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.

What I thought: 
This is an extremely easy to read book about a very complex subject.  The authors are definitely the experts in their field, and by presenting us with actual case studies to support their theories and findings we are able to understand the many manifestations of this problem.  I got this book to help me understand a hoarder who is a close acquaintance.  Although I feel no closer to helping solve the problem, I at least have a full range of resources identified to help in my decision about what to do (or not do.)

In addition to the case studies, we are given a vast bibliography of other information and a list of questions to ask to help sort out the problem.  It's good basic study of the pathology of hoarding and the psychology of why it happens. Well researched, it does not talk down to reader, but avoids excessive scientific speak. A great introduction to a very complex problem.

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Author: Jose Saramago
Format: Harvest Books (1999), Edition: 1, Paperback, 352 pages
Awards: Nobel Prize for Literature
Subject: Man's inhumanity to man
Genre: fiction
Source: My own shelves
Challenge: Read From my Shelves

Whew! I just finished this astonishing blew me away. I'm not sure I could write any review that would do justice to this Nobel Prize winner.  While it is certainly depressing, in the end, I found it uplifting in that humanity survives and it appears that humaneness does not completely die. I'm not sure I could competently or rationally sit down and discuss or analyze all the incredible allegories, metaphors, or other literary devices the author uses.

Essentially it is the story of the world going blind, one person at a time, and the government's attempt to quarantine and control this "epidemic" of blindness.  There is only one person, a doctor's wife, who can still see, and her attempts to help the others, without revealing her sightedness to anyone except her husband, are met with frustration, violence and degredating actions by others who are also trying to survive.

I was prepared not to like the unstructured writing style, where Saramago never breaks words into paragraphs, uses commas for sentences, and does not indicate who is speaking.  We never actually know who the narrator is,  but I did not find any of this a put off.  The audio (I listened to parts of it as I drove and swam so I didn't have to 'put the book down') was incredibly done, and only increased the experience of having to use other senses besides sight to grasp the story.

I could see that studying this book and all its complexities could easily take up an entire semester course. The device of not naming the characters but instead describing them (in spite of the blindness meaning no one could "see" that the girl had dark glasses for instance) was very effective in using these characters as representatives of entire groups of humanity while at the same time maintaining their individuality.

I am still trying to decide whether I found the ending of the book a satisfying one. But the book itself is one that will stay with me for a very long time.  It certainly is the best book I've read in 2010.  It should be read by anyone who considers him or herself a serious reader.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Too Much Information??? Warning RANT AHEAD

Is is me?
Am I too old for social networking? 
Or do I just not get it?

I'm preparing a presentation about blogging to give at the Maine State Library Association's annual conference next month.  I was going to try to do this as a comparison among various Social Networking formats: blogs, Facebook, publisher and author book sites, and other book collection/social sites such as Shelfari, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc. I wanted to point out the advantages for librarians of various types of sites.  I'm finding however, that many of these sites seem to be turning into nothing more than verbal dumping grounds.  In fact, when I went to google image to see what I could use to dress up this post, I was rewarded with over 400,000 images that matched "blabber mouth."  Even filtering for those that allowed re-use, such as the one above, I still got over 1400~!!

Do I really care what time you're picking up your sister's kids after school today?  Do I really want to know all the intimate details of your latest doctor's visit? Why should I be a "fan" of your veteranarian? I'm not talking about asking for prayers for a loved one involved in an auto accident---that I need to know about.  But I'm talking about your cholestoral count, your BMI, your plans for purging etc.  IT's JUST PLAIN TMI TMI....

I've managed to hide all the farms, zoos, candy collections, and bible games that seem to be proliferating in the 2.0 world, but really, where are your manners?  If something is that important that you want ME to know about it, then call me up or send me a personal private email.  After all, I'm your FRIEND right?  And let's get some other terminology straight: just because I'm a follower, it doesn't mean I'm a friend. (A friend is someone I'd fly cross country to attend a funeral for, or someone I'd go bail out of jail at 3AM)

Yes, I know.  There's a delete button. And I use it frequently (along with the HIDE button when there is one), but I've noticed even on the threads on LibraryThing (my all time favorite BOOK sharing site) that we seem to be disintegrating into a group of teenie boppers who've just been given cell phones and learned to text.  And I can't delete those "Oh just popping by to say hello" posts that seem to clog up the airwaves.  The ratio of 42 posts to one book review is getting hard to take.

In researching some of these sites (Goodreads and Shelfari, e.g.), I have to go through so much stuff just to list books.  It's amazing.  I'm not sure I can find any redeeming social value in having more than one list, but I wanted to be able to be familiar with how they worked.  I realize different personalities relate to different images, arrangements, and models, and that's OK.  For instance, I really don't care if someone I don't know recommends this book to me, but if someone who is a serious reader, and whose judgment I trust says "This one stinks" I'm not wasting my time on it.  If I want to see what people think about it, I'll read their reviews. I don't need another feed in my email saying "So and so just sent you a recommendation."

You'll also notice that I have not mentioned texting, linking-in, tweeting, twittering, splatting, poking, and all that other variety of verbs with which I do not care to associate myself. As far as I'm concerned "delicious" is an adjective I apply to food that tastes good.  Guess I'm getting old. I thought I was really with it just having 6 different email accounts. (Don't ask.)

I do actually sort out personal blogs from book blogs in my feeder, (Yes, I use a blog feeder to keep up with the almost 200 blogs I like to glance at every week) and most of my favorite 'book' blogs do include some personal posts.  I don't want to discourage that.  After all, one of the reasons I trust someone's viewpoint about a book is that I feel I've gotten to know something about that person over the past two years of blogging. I don't mind once a week pictures of pets, or recipes, but that's about where I draw the line.

I'm just not getting the rest of this.  Can somebody give me a clue?

Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Author: Beth Hoffman
Format: Pamela Dorman Books (2010), Hardcover, 320 pages
Characters: CeeCee, Aunt Tootie, Oleta, Mrs. O'Dell
Subject: mental illness, emotional child abuse
Setting: Ohio, and Savannah Georgia
Genre: Fiction
Source: won in a blog contest from Tome Traveler's Weblog
Challenge: Read from my Shelves

This book has true Southern charm, and true Southern angst. CeeCee Honeycutt lives the first twelve years of her life in Ohio with a mother who is classically demented (bi-polar disorder?): she is still living out her glory days as Miss Vidalia Onion 1951, embarrassing CeeCee at every turn. Her father is unable to cope with such looniness and takes a 'traveling' job, stopping in only occasionally to leave some money, or pick up something from home.

When her mother is killed in an auto accident, Daddy decides to send her to live with her great aunt Tootie in Savannah Georgia. There, Tootie and her charming Southern lady friends, their causes, their lifestyle, and their love, all help CeeCee recover from the emotional havoc wreaked on her by such poor parenting.

The story is charming, the characters are people we'd love to meet and with whom we'd love to have a glass of iced tea. The plot is not overly involved, or complicated, but the book's strength is in the excellent character development and great southern dialect.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: All Over the Map

Author: Laura Fraser
Format: galley proof 267 pages
Subject: finding happiness in middle age
Setting: as the title says - all over the map
Genre: memoir
Source: ARC from publisher - Harmony Books, New York

I always promise myself that I'm not going to read anymore of these 'how I found happiness traipsing around the world' books, and then I try just one more.  I should have listened to my first instinct.  I took this one on my recent trip because it looked interesting enough, and it was lightweight and short.  I didn't get past the first 10 pages of whining, so I put it aside.  However, I also feel an obligation to do a review when I accept a free book, so I went back to it this week.  It is mercifully a short quick read, with several laugh out loud sections that help alleviate the weary repetitive 'woe is me' mentality that pervades this volume.

Here's the story in a nutshell. Laura Fraser is 40 years old, recently divorced, a successful journalist who travels around the world writing magazine articles.  Her lover, a European professor she met in Italy, and who has maintained an on-again, off-again relation with her for several years, announces he has met a woman with whom he can settle down in France, and have children. So "Ciao bella" it's been nice.

In assessing her life she finds  she has a tendency to be impulsive, drinks a lot, hops into bed with men she's just met, and regrets that her independent spunky lifestyle prevents men from forming lasting attachments to her.  Well DUH!  Who's going to 'settle down' with someone whose answer to a life crisis is to buy a plane ticket and go climb a mountain.

She decides that she is going to make it her life's project to settle down, find a man, marry him, and have a child before her biological clock runs out.  She has a series of meetings, relationships, trips, retreats, and other 'adventures' but no luck.  We have to trek through this self-flagellation, revelation as she goes from Italy, to Mexico, to Peru, to Rwanda, etc etc etc.

There is a hopeful ending and that has me saying "Thank goodness".  I'm not sure the book could have been sold without some type of resolution, but it is one that may not sit well with many readers.  Forty-something women who haven't "found themselves" yet, or who are in life-changing situations may find something of merit in this one.  For those of us who are well past that stage, the angst is hard to swallow.  I kept wanting to say GET A GRIP.

I received this book as part of the "Read It Forward" program, and will be passing it on to another reader.  In fact, the first person (US address) who comments that he/she wants it, it's yours. Just leave a comment with your email, and I'll contact you for mailing info.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: The Doctor and The Diva

Author: Adrienne McDonnell
Format: Hardcover review copy, 432 pages
Characters: The Diva, The Doctor, The Diva's husband
Subject: Opera, infertility treatment, careers for women
Setting: Boston, Trinidad, Florence Italy
Genre: fiction
Source: review copy from publisher
Challenge: ARC completed

I really wanted to like this book much more than I ended up doing.  It was well-written, the story is compelling, the settings are all ones I'm familiar with and enjoy.  But the characters ended up being ones I disliked intensely, and it's hard to explain why without giving away the entire story.  Supposedly based on real people who are relatives of  the author's son--the relationship was difficult to follow in her acknowledgments--the story of opera, gynecology, infertility treatment, and women's rights to a career and motherhood was one that McDonnell handled well. I just didn't like the people, the choices they made, or the consequences of their actions.  That doesn't mean it wasn't a good book.  It was.  The story just left me very depressed-- or as my granddaughter is wont to say "Too bad, so sad."

Essentially Erika wants to be an opera singer.  She is the daughter of a doctor, she is well educated, and for a well-bred woman of her social position living in the early 20th century in Boston, she has a great deal of personal freedom.  Her husband Peter appears to adore her.  He wants a baby badly, more we think to cement his image as the great provider and macho man, than because he has any great paternal instincts.  Erika wants a baby because it will please Peter.  At least they share a great sexual attraction, and the author often provides us much evidence of that side of the relationship.

Enter Dr. Ravell (do we ever learn his full name?), a new age gynecologist the couple consults to help with their inability to conceive.  Apparently artificial insemination was being practiced in the early 1900's and no one talked about it.  This was especially convenient since Peter (the husband) had a tendency to wander to exotic places as he pursued his 'business affairs' leaving Erika in the capable hands of the good doctor to be impregnated during his absence.

As the years pass, Erika has to deal with her increasing desire to go to Italy to study opera and become famous with her waxing/waning desire to have a child.  I won't say why, but Ravell leaves town to run a coconut plantation in Trinidad, and the von Kesslers go for a visit  to continue treatments (as far as Peter is concerned). Eventually Erika makes a heart-breaking decision to abandon Peter and her child  to go to Florence to live a life of penury while pursuing her career. Yes they have a child, but I'll the details for the reader to discover.

We are supposed to feel sorry for her having to leave her child behind.  The child is the one who is truly abandoned because the mother is in Italy and the father is still gallivanting around the world.  There is what is supposed to be a 'happily ever after' ending but perhaps because the choices are different than those I would have made, I don't see them as happy.

It is a good book.  It is a great read - even with an excess of details and choices that beg belief--it is a novel that will leap onto book discussion lists for several years.  There's a lot to toss back and forth.  These are characters that many will champion and others will vilify.  Nobody will read the book and come away without an opinion.

Many thanks to Penguin book group : Pamela Dornan Books, of Viking Press for making the review copy available.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: Bel Canto

Author: Ann Pathett
Format: Trade paperback 318 pages and audio 11:19
Narrator: Anna Fields
Awards: Pen/Faulkner award 2002
Characters: Roxann Coss, Gen, Mr. Hosokawa, Carmen
Subject: Opera, captivity, terrorism
Setting: Unnamed South American country estate
Genre: fiction
Source: Public library
Challenge: Book club reading

I'm not sure how I avoided reading this book for so long. I think the fact that all the blurbs mention the word "terrorists" and make the hostage taking situation seem to be central, made me decide this wasn't for me.  But it really isn't the normal terrorist/hostage story at all.  Bel Canto is a story of love, of music, of human beings' ability to maintain their humanity in spite of hardship.

Roxann Coss, a famous American opera singer is giving a concert in honor of Mr. Hosokawa in the home of the vice-president of an unnamed S American country.  In attendance are people from around the world who have come ostensibly to wish Mr. Hosokawa a happy birthday, but really are there to court his business. He has come only to hear his idol sing. The guests speak a variety of languages - English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Swedish, Russian, who knows what else.  Mr. Hosokawa has had the foresight to bring along his brilliant translator, Gen Watanabe who can speak almost every language in the room.

A group of terrorists invades the party, sends all the women home - with the exception of Roxann - and settles in for a long period of 'negotiation' to meet their demands.  They don't seem to have formulated their demands very well.  In fact, they are a disorganized bunch consisting of three apparently has-been generals, and a rag-tag group of very young, eager but inexperienced rebels.  As the siege drags on for months, the real story unfolds.  The hostages become friends with the terrorists; the terrorists become comfortable with their "guests" and feel no compunction to end the stand -off, especially since they are in a gorgeous house with good plumbing, the government sends in good food, they have TV, and they have Roxann to sing opera for them everyday.  In additon, two of the guards are revealed to be women, and this adds even more human interest to the story.

This could have been a dull, dreary story about imprisonment, deprivation, and depression.  It wasn't.  It was a glorious, uplifting story of human beings making the best of what they've been given.  I'm sure there must be some scientific studies someplace about hostages bonding with their captors.  In this story, it is easy to see how it could happen.  I didn't like the ending, but I won't spoil the story by giving it away.  I will simply say it was too neat and the only part of the story I found not easy to believe.

It's a perfect book for a book discussion group and I can't wait til our group gets together in three weeks to see what everyone else thought about it.  I'm only sorry I didn't read it years sooner.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mailbox Monday - September 20

It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme begun by Marcia at The Printed Page. This month it's being hosted by Kathy at Bermudaonion's Weblog.   Just as the post office or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.  This week has been fun.  No sooner had I posted last week's Mailbox offerings, than the UPS truck showed up with a box containing several yummies  that Tutu and Mr. Tutu could no longer resist, so we had ordered them. They included:

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I got this one for my Vietnam reading challenge, but really we both wanted to read and linger over it.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

 This one is really for hubbie, who has been listening to an audio of the work, but who wanted a permanent copy.  I will be at least skimming through as part of my Vietnam reading challenge.  It's gotten incredible reviews, but hubbie knows me well and says it may be a bit too gritty for me. 

Stealing Lumby and Lumby's Bounty by Gail Fraser.

I so enjoyed the first book of this series (I borrowed it from my sister) that I decided I HAD to own the whole set, so I got # 2 and 3.  I'm putting them on the pile for when I need a nice easy comfort read.  They are so fun, that I hope I need comfort soon.

And then another USP drop brought me

My favorite of the week!!!

You can read all about this delightful novel and even enter to win your own copy right here on the blog.  So click away and cross your fingers!


The Prince of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

An audio I won from Bingo finally arrived.  It's only 5 discs unabridged, so it's the perfect length for me to finish in a couple of swim sessions. I haven't always been able to handle Zafon's work, but am determined to finish this one.  Fantasy is not always easy for me, but I like to stretch my brain and think this one will be perfect

It's war time, and the Carver family decides to leave the capital where they live and move to a small coastal village where they've recently bought a home. But from the minute they cross the threshold, strange things begin to happen. In that mysterious house still lurks the spirit of Jacob, the previous owners' son, who died by drowning.
With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia Carver begin to explore the strange circumstances of that death and discover the existence of a mysterious being called the Prince of Mist--a diabolical character who has returned from the shadows to collect on a debt from the past. Soon the three friends find themselves caught up in an adventure of sunken ships and an enchanted stone garden--an adventure that will change their lives forever.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Follow-on: War on the Margins

Congratulations to Libby Cone!

Last month I reviewed this well-written picture of the privation suffered by the inhabitants of Jersey Island during World War II.  Now I'm happy to see that this has been nominated for the People's Book Award in the UK.  I voted for her on the web page. If you've had a chance to read it, you might be interested in voting also.  Winners will be announced later but our congratulations go out to Libby Cone for this achievement.

The other good news is that it now appears to be available here in the States in the paperback format on Amazon.  It will be a great addition to any library.

Sunday Salon - catching up

Why is it that the older I get the more time I seem to need to recover from a "vacation"? I think the buried answer is in the definition of "vacation":
  • a scheduled period during which activity is suspended.
  • a period spent away from home or work in travel or recreation.
  • A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation.
  • A holiday.
So....there you have it.  Our recent trip was NOT a vacation.  It came on the heels of a two week visit from our granddaughter here in Maine.  We filled those days with trips to animal farms, walks on the beach, shopping trips, and an all day trip to the state fair before we headed to Maryland and then on to a family wedding in California.  While we certainly enjoyed visiting with relatives and friends, and we certainly traveled, activity was NOT suspended, we spent hours and hours in cars in traffic, waiting or walking in airports, schlepping luggage, sleeping in strange beds, eating lots of restaurant meals at strange hours, and generally disrupting our routine but not in any way that was especially restful.

Yes, we spent 3 days at the beach.  But we only actually spent about 3 hours of each of those days sitting on the beach.  And when you have to have your eyes on a grandchild AT ALL TIMES because the rip currents were stirring up in the ocean due to off-shore hurricanes, that is NOT restful.  Trolling the boardwalk was lots of fun. Riding spinning, twirling, head snapping rides was NOT restful.

But....I wouldn't have given up the stroll and drive through the gorgeous Assateague National Seashore, on Maryland's Eastern shore - about 15 miles from where we were staying.  It's a spectacular place to take a grandchild- especially one who is reading one of our childhood favorites: Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.  Chincoteague is on the Viriginia piece of the seashore, but the horses in Assateague are just as inspiring for a young girl (and her grandparents.)

So now that we've been home for just over a week, I'm finally getting back into the swing.  The suitcases are unpacked, the cats are home from the "kitty hotel" and finally speaking to us again, the lawn is mowed, I'm back in my water aerobics class, and we have returned to our life of 'retirement.'  Of course that means lots of activities, but at least we can control the schedule and the food, if not the weather.

All of this is chatter is my way of saying that I've been reading, but not getting reviews up as fast as I'd like.  One of my major accomplishments this past week was getting a Book Discussion Group up and running at our little local library.  The group decided on the first two books: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and The Color of Water by James McBride.  I just finished Bel Canto on Friday (while driving to another library event) and will get my review posted this week.

This week promises to be another busy one:  I have to work on a presentation I'm giving at the Maine State Library Conference in October about blogging (WHAT ELSE????), I have to read books for my mystery book club next week--this month's author is  Margery Allingham and I've never read anything of hers! , and catch up on some fabulous review copies I got in the mail last week. So stay tuned for reviews, get your entries in for the giveaways, and enjoy this fabulous fall weather.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Giveaway: The Tower, the Zoo and The Tortoise

    2 copies available

    Doesn't this look like a "drop everything and drop into your favorite reading chair" book?  The UPS man just left, and while he may still be in his brown shorts, I'm settling in for a good read this afternoon because here in Maine it's a glorious chilly early autumn day, and this one begs to be read.  I especially love the affectionate nickname it's been given : "TZT".   Judy at Doubleday/Random House has offered us two copies to giveaway. It hit the NYT bestseller list and is getting rave reviews from everyone. So what's the buzz?

    Brimming with charm and whimsy, this exquisite novel set in the Tower of London has the transportive qualities and delightful magic of the contemporary classics Chocolat and Amélie.

    Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his 120-year-old pet tortoise for the past eight years. That’s right, he is a Beefeater (they really do live there). It’s no easy job living and working in the tourist attraction in present-day London.

    Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens a series of principled erot­ica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens.

    When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen, life at the Tower gets all the more interest­ing. Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives. Balthazar is in charge and things are not exactly running smoothly. Then Hebe decides to leave him and his beloved tortoise “runs” away.

    Filled with the humor and heart that calls to mind the delight­ful novels of Alexander McCall Smith, and the charm and beauty of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a magical, wholly origi­nal novel whose irresistible characters will stay with you long after you turn the stunning last page.

    You want this. Right?
    So here are the rules for the giveaway: 
    1. For one entry, leave a comment telling me whether you've ever been to London before. If you have, did you go to the Tower? Include your email address (no email no win).
    2. For an extra entry, leave a separate comment telling me you're a follower (or become one and let me know).
    3. For another entry,  make a separate entry telling me you blogged about the giveaway, (sidebars are fine) and LEAVE ME THE LINK to the posting (if I don't get a link, the entry doesn't count).
    4. Since I don't twitter, tweet, or FB, you can get extra entries by visiting my blog every day, and leaving a comment about the current post. Just leave your comment on the contest post and tell me something about that day's post. Say "daily entry and the date and blah blah blah about the daily post." If I didn't post that day, then say "no post yet today."
    5. US addresses only, no PO Boxes.
    6. Deadline is Oct 14 -noon EDT.
    Thanks again to Judy at Doubleday for making this one available.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Review: The Blind Contessa's New Machine

    Author: Carey Wallace
    Narrator: Aasne Vigesaa
    Format: audio-approx 6 hours, 224 page equivalent
    Characters: Carolina Fantoni, Turri, Pietro
    Subject: Living with blindness
    Setting: 19th century Italian villa
    Genre: Fiction
    Source: public library audio download

    This is a lovely little book with a rather misleading title.  The story is very basic- a young Italian woman, Carolina Fantoni, discovers that she is going blind. At first, no one will accept this fact except her best childhood friend, an eccentric scientist named Turri.  Carolina adjusts to her change in life by retreating to her mind, where she forces herself to remember everything she can, painting detailed pictures in her head.  She also learns to navigate the physical world by memorizing landmarks.  In the meantime she marries Pietro, considered the best catch in her universe by all her contemporaries.  He protects her to point of locking her into the house at night.  By following unnamed "ghosts", Carolina discovers a secret passage out through the basement and begins a series of nocturnal wonderings, sometimes meeting up with Turri. 

    She is able to visit her world in her dreams, where she learns to fly above her beloved lake to view life below in all its extravagant colors and shapes.  In spite of her abilities to function, she becomes more and more locked in her mind, until Turri presents her with an early form of typewriter, allowing her to again communicate in written words.  Her relationship with Turri deepens, and leads to an ending I won't reveal so as not to spoil the book.

    The strength of this novella is not the story, but the writing.  It is pure poetry.  The imagery is exquisite. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if we are traveling physically with Carolina, or accompanying her in a dream.  It doesn't really matter.  I'm actually glad that I listened to this one, because I was able to close my eyes and visualize Carolina's world through another sense, rather than through my eyes.  It is an enriching experience, and one that is to be treasured for years to come.  I definitely  plan to get a hard copy of this one.  It is one that can be read again and again for the descriptions alone.  A very different, very compelling love story.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Mailbox Monday

    It's Mailbox Monday, a fun weekly meme begun by Marcia at The Printed Page. This month it's being hosted by Kathy at Bermudaonion's Weblog.   Just as the post office or mailbox is a place to gather to share the news, this gives readers  a chance to share the books that came into their house last week.  Actually, these three are books that arrived sometime during my recent vacation.  I had very carefully NOT ordered, entered, or asked for any books for about 2-3 weeks before that since I knew we'd be gone.  It was nice however, to come home and find these treasures.:

    Blind Man's Alley by Justin Peacock

    This one came from Doubleday/Random House as a review copy in connection with the giveaway we're hosting.  Be sure to enter to win this exciting adventure.  It's one of my favorite genres: the good mystery with some legal maneuvering.  I can't wait to dive in.

    Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews

     I've got a stack of Donna Andrews books here waiting to be read.  I've heard so many great comments from lots of folks I trust.  This latest one came as a win from Lesa at Lesa's Book Critiques.  If you haven't visited her blog, it's really work a look.  She runs great, easy to enter contests over there all the time.  Thanks Lesa
     Confirmation by Ralph Reed

    This one is from the Early Reviewers program at  I don't think I realized who the author was when I 'requested' this one.  Based on some reviews already published on LT, and my own political leanings, I may have some difficulty with this one.  But I will give it a try.

    From Ralph Reed's home page:
    About the Book
    Newly elected U.S. president Bob Long is weighing reports of nuclear weapons in Iran when he learns Justice Peter Corbin Franklin, 86-year-old liberal conscience of the Supreme Court, has suffered a massive stroke. With pressing same-sex marriage and abortion laws as well as a huge antitrust case on the court’s docket, the door is open for Long to appoint a conservative replacement, repaying the twenty-one million evangelicals who voted for him.
    But it won’t be that easy. Long faces a series of political missteps while his court nominee, Marco Diaz, suffers vicious character accusations in the media for his religious beliefs and rumors of a tragic past.
    Meanwhile, terrorists in Iran have hijacked more nuclear materials and are threatening to bomb a major city if the U.S. or Israel attacks. Chaos reigns in the nation’s capitol . . .

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    Review: Bury Your Dead

    Author: Louise Penny
    Format: review copy  372 pages
    Characters: Armand Gamache, Jean Guy Beauvoir,Henri the dog
    Subject: murder (old and new), psychological effects of trauma
    Setting: the "old city" of Quebec, and fictional Three Pines Village
    Series: Chief Inspector Gamache Novels
    Genre: police procedural, cold case, psychological mystery
    Source: trade from a friend
    Challenge: who needs a challenge to read Louise Penny?

    She's done it again!  Louise Penny has given us an intricate, suspenseful, and exquisitely written novel about her main character, the urbane, humane, well-educated, loving and highly competent Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  In this one, she has moved the primary setting away from the village of Three Pines (where four of the five previous novels were set) to Quebec, where Gamache is recuperating from wounds suffered at the beginning of the book, and where he becomes involved in both a modern day murder, and the search for the remains of Samuel de Champlain, missing for nearly 400 hundred years.

    The opening scene gives us only the barest of details about Gamache's wounding.  Penny chooses to string the reader along through a series of flashbacks during the entire book before we get the whole story.  So, there are three different mysteries for the reader to follow.  But WAIT!!  Gamache also decides that he may have made a mistake and arrested the wrong suspect for a murder committed in book #5 The Brutal Telling, so he sends Jean Guy Beauvoir back to Three Pines to unofficially re-open the investigation and see if he could have been mistaken.

    With any other author, trying to weave these four different mysteries into a coherent story, and trying TO READ this melange would have been impossible.  Penny however presents us with a tour de force- a magical, seamless, well-paced, and elegantly written group of vignettes that emerge as a single tremendous read.  I was stunned when I realized what she was doing, as I read, and read, and read.....I could not put the book down. As if these four sub-plots weren't enough of a treat, she also gives us a subtle, but enchanting history of Quebec, and weaves in a presentation of the current situation with separatists and those who favor a united Canada.

    The only caveat I have for others is that it is probably better to read at least The Brutal Telling first, if not all the others.  She has certainly backfilled enough that it isn't absolutely necessary, but it would also limit the depth of the enriching experience the reader has from this book.  I'm not sure where she can go from here, but the emotional growth of the two main characters, Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir, that we see in this story portend well for future works. 

    The change of setting was refreshing: I've never been to Quebec, and certainly want to go now. The quiet return to Three Pines was even more comforting.  It's still a place we'd all like to live. And Louise Penny is still the author we most want to have on our nightstand as Canadian blizzards howl outside our window.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Giveaway : Blind Man's Alley

    2 copies available

    What a great way to celebrate my return from vacation!  This one was waiting in my mailbox for review, and Judy at Doubleday/Random House has offered us two copies to giveaway.  Justin Peacock is a new author for me.  The Random House author information page says
    JUSTIN PEACOCK received an MFA from Columbia University and a law degree from Yale. Prior to attending law school, he worked as an online producer at the New York Times. His legal experience ranges from death-penalty defense to First Amendment cases. He lives in Brooklyn.
    This is What they say about the book:
    From the author of the Edgar Award–nominated legal thriller A Cure for Night, an ambitious and compulsively readable novel set in the cutthroat world of New York real estate.

    A concrete floor three hundred feet up in the Aurora Tower condo development in SoHo has collapsed, hurling three workers to their deaths. The developer, Roth Properties (owned by the famously abrasive Simon Roth), faces a vast tangle of legal problems, including allegations of mob connections. Roth’s longtime lawyers, the elite midtown law firm of Blake and Wolcott, is assigned the task of cleaning up the mess. Much of the work lands on the plate of smart, cynical, and sea­soned associate Duncan Riley; as a result, he falls into the pow­erful orbit of Leah Roth, the beautiful daughter of Simon Roth and the designated inheritor of his real estate empire.

    Meanwhile, Riley pursues a seemingly small pro bono case in which he attempts to forestall the eviction of Rafael Nazario and his grandmother from public housing in the wake of a pot bust. One night Rafael is picked up and charged with the mur­der of the private security cop who caught him, a murder that took place in another controversial “mixed income” housing development being built by . . . Roth Properties. Duncan Riley is now walking the knife edge of legal ethics and personal morality. Blind Man’s Alley is a suspenseful and kaleidoscopic journey through a world where the only rule is self- preservation.

    The New York Times Book Review said of A Cure for Night that “[Peacock] heads toward Scott Turow country . . . he’s got a good chance to make partner.” This taut, topical, and socially alert thriller delivers on that promise.

    So here are the rules for the giveaway: 
    1. For one entry, leave a comment telling me whether you've read this author before. Include your email address (no email no win).
    2. For an extra entry, leave a separate comment telling me you're a follower (or become one and let me know).
    3. For another entry,  make a separate entry telling me you blogged about the giveaway, (sidebars are fine) and LEAVE ME THE LINK to the posting (if I don't get a link, the entry doesn't count).
    4. Since I don't twitter, tweet, or FB, you can get extra entries by visiting my blog every day, and leaving a comment about the current post. Just leave your comment on the contest post and tell me something about that day's post. Say "daily entry and the date and blah blah blah about the daily post." If I didn't post that day, then say "no post yet today."
    5. US addresses only, no PO Boxes.
    6. Deadline is Oct 10 -noon EDT.
    Thanks again to Judy at Doubleday for making this one available.

    Tuesday, September 7, 2010

    Review: A Timely Vision

    Author: Joyce and Jim Lavene
    Format: mass market paperback, 304 pages
    Characters: Dae O'Donnell, Kevin Brickman,
    Subject: solving current and age old murders
    Setting: Duck North Carolina
    Series:  Missing Pieces Mysteries 
    Genre: amateur sleuth/police procedural mystery
    Source: airport bookstore
    Challenge: Temptations

    I'd never read anything by this duo author, but I'm enchanted.  I was waiting for a flight and finished my 'carry-on' book ahead of schedule, my MP3 needed to be charged, and I was faced with a 4 hour reading void, so I made a quick trip into the airport newstand, pulled the first one that looked interesting but not expensive.  The gods were smiling.  This is the first of a new series for this author, and I'm certainly going to be looking for the next one.

    I love the setting. We have actually vacationed in Currituck, the town next to Duck- the setting of the book. The town and its quiet beachside atmosphere are wonderfully portrayed.  I like the main character, Mayor Dae O'Donnell, the owner of "Missing Pieces" antique/junque store.  Her grandfather is the retired police chief of the town who helps run the shop when Dae has to go off and be mayor.  There is an eclectic assortment of loveable characters: a pair of old ladies (sisters) who are rather eccentric and apt to wonder off, see ghosts, and whom everyone in the town loves; several single women including the mayor, the owner of the hair salon, and the leader of the local "Save the Sea Turtles" group;  the new owner of a derelict old Inn he has recently bought and is refurbishing who turns out to be a retired FBI agent;  the current police chief and his assistant Tom (who keeps proposing to Dae); and several people from Duck's past who keep turning up (in various life forms) to keep things interesting.

    When one of the old ladies is accused of murder, and tons of circumstantial evidence appears enough to convict her, Dae and Kevin (the retired FBI dude) set out to prove her innocence.  The rest of the story is well-paced, believably written, and keeps the reader turning pages to see if Miss Mildred will in fact be rescued from spending her few remaining years incarcerated.  It's a delightful cozy, with an amateur sleuth who respects and (for the most part) heeds the professionals responsible for the murder investigation.

    There's just a hint of romance too....enough to pull the reader to look for the next book in the series to see what happens.  Overall, a fun surprise and an engaging read.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Mini-review: The Island

    Author: Elin Hilderbrand
    Format: audio: approx 11 hours
    Characters: Chess, Tate, Birdie, India
    Subject: Women's woes
    Setting: Tuckernuck Island off the coast of Nantucket
    Series:  I hope not!
    Genre: Chick lit fiction
    Source: Audio book from Hachette Audio group received in exchange for running blog contest and providing a review.

    Drivel, drivel, drivel, the kind of writing that gives chick lit its oft deserved bad name. Cardboard characters trying to convince themselves and the reader that their oh so predictable problems are interesting to anyone else.  Four women ( a mother, her 2 daughters, and her sister) go to an island to lick their wounds, do some female bonding(???) and expect to emerge whole after one month.  A  predictable (and boring) plot read by a whiny-voiced audio narrator who tried hard to make this more interesting than it was. The setting is totally unrealistic -- like how many rich women today will willingly spend $100K to build a fake floating island in a pond in their back yard for a wedding, but then be equally willing to go off to spend 30 days with no hot water, an icebox (not a refrig but an ICEBOX!!) only one toilet, no phone, no internet, no tv, no way off the island but a hired boat, no cell phone coverage, nothing-nada-zip-zilch.  And we're supposed to believe this is romantic??? The pretty "everyone lives happily ever after" package she ties up with a bow in the epilogue is particularly annoying and overdone.  The story would have been much stronger had it been omitted.

    I know the author states in the end that Tuckernuck Island is a real place.  I simply hope that the residents of this privately owned abode of the wealthy have more oomph in their lives than this group of really annoying women.  I found this one had less substance than her other book "The Castaways" which I read earlier this summer. The only reason I finished listening to this one was because the Hachette Audio group provided it to me in exchange for my running a contest earlier here on my blog and providing a review. 

    Sorry Hachette, this one is drudgingly boring. Other than that I don't feel strongly about it.  It's pure overrated drivel.

    Saturday, September 4, 2010

    Weekend Cooking - Edible Extravaganza

     Beth Fish Reads sponsors this weekly meme where we foodies can chat about cookbooks, cooking gadgets, recipes, or anything else gustatory. Be sure to stop over there to find other terrific weekend cooking posts.

    This weekend I want to spout a bit about a fabulous event I attended Thursday nite.  I didn't have to cook.  In fact, I didn't have to do anything but show up hungry.  My sister-in-law in Modesto works for a local radio station.  They were one of the corporate sponsors of "Edible Extravaganza" a benefit for the Center for Human Services.  There were food booths from over 50 restaurants, wineries, and sweet shops.  The champagne (and other wonderful California wines) flowed freely.  There was live music, a silent auction, door prizes, and lots of fun people.  But it was definitely the food that was the star of the event. I'm not able to upload some pictures I took, but there was sushi, ravioli, baked penne, about seventy-eleven varieties of Mexican goodies and salsas, roast beef, pulled pork, homemade creme brulee icecream, homemade bread pudding, chocolate covered grapes, all kinds of cakes and candies, shrimp satay, cupcakes, sauteed scallops and crab puffs, wine, sparkling lemonade, watermelon basil coolers, polenta with goat cheese lamb ragout, more wine, jelly beans, florentine chicken on garlic mashed potatoes, salads (for the silly few who wanted to maintain the illusion they were watching their intake) more wine, and just tons and tons of fun.  I had no idea that this town in the middle of the Central Valley of California could be home to so many divinely delicious eateries.  A great way to spend a vacation evening.

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Review: The Good Psychologist

    Author: Noam Shpancer
    Format: galley proof - 256 pgs
    Characters: The psychologist, the 4 o'clock patient, various students
    Subject: psychology
    Genre: fiction
    Source: Review copy from Henry Holt and Company
    Publication Date: August 2010

    Bottom line first: This one is definitely worth finding and reading. The story is told from the point of view of the psychologist (we never learn his name) and begins as he agrees to take on a new patient- a young girl who is experiencing anxiety attacks and can no longer work.  She is an exotic dancer, and can't perform.

    As the book progresses, Shpancer moves us effortlessly between therapy sessions with the patient, and the psychologists' evening classes at the local college, where he is teaching Introduction to the Principles of Therapy.  We learn much about the subject, much about the psychologist, and enough about several of his students to give us a rounded picture of how to treat anxiety, and what can cause it. As the class learns various techniques to treat patients, the psychologist is carefully guiding his patient through a minefield of issues, drawing her out, giving her homework, and ultimately helping her confront and overcome her fears. Over all of this, the author weaves a poignant story of the psychologist's personal relationship with Nina, a former colleague (and mother of his child) who is married to someone else.  It's difficult to say more without spoiling a wonderful story for the reader.

    Shpancer himself is a practicing clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Otterbein College in Ohio. One wonders if the story is at all autobiographical.  It certainly is clinical, sharply focused, and at the same time, easily understood by the novice who has no knowledge of the subject.  His writing is clear and compelling, empathetic and clinical at the same time.  A short, page-turning, well-done debut.  Let's hope for more.