Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Mailbox and Giveaway

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.  Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!
Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on a blog tour!  This month Lady Q at Let Them Read Books is hosting.  Stop on over and see what everyone else got this week.

I came home one day this past week to see a 1200 foot long set of footprints down my very snowy driveway (it had snowed 3" while I was gone to the big city for the day)....the UPS truck couldn't get down the unplowed driveway so the driver had walked all the way down the windy hilly road to my door, tied the parcel into a plastic bag and left it tied to my doorknob.  That's some kinda mail service!  Inside the package was the latest offering from Hachette:

Death of a Chimney Sweep
by M.C. Beaton

This is the latest in one of my favorite series of cozies.  Arriving just in time for me to take on vacation. The inimitable  Police Constable Hamish Macbeth is back again finding a dead body stuffed into a chimney in the now familiar and friendly village of Lochdubh in the south of Scotland.  Scheduled for publication Feb 25th, I have three copies available for a giveaway on that date.  If you haven't read any of this wonderful series--this is #27-- you have time to catch any of the others before getting to this one, but if you don't my guess is that you'll still be able to hop right in.

So if you'd like to win, here are the simple rules.
  1. Leave me a comment telling me whether or not you've read any others in this series. Be sure you include your email address. NO EMAIL, No ENTRY.
  2. Leave me another comment saying whether you're a follower or become a follower and tell me.
  3. Blog about this on your blog (sidebars are OK) and leave me the link to your post.
  4. I don't tweet or twitter, so you may leave one extra comment between  February 15th and February 25th..  Just say "extra entry".  
  5. US addresses only - no PO Boxes.
  6. Deadline is 11:59PM February 25th EST.
Good Luck

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Is It Just Me? Or is it nuts out there?

Author: Whoopi Goldberg
Publisher/Format: Hyperion, e-book, 192 pages
Subject: Civility
Genre: essays
Source: public library download

Whoopi Goldberg needs no introduction as a TV/Movie media personality.  But who knew she could write?  This charming short collection of opinions on modern life and its plentitude of rudeness, ignorance, and just plain nastiness is sure to appeal to those of us in the Baby Boom generation, whose mommas would have whooped us upside the head if we'd ever behaved like this.  She presents a series of observations about what is wrong with society today, and offers suggestions on how we as a group of caring humans could perhaps help to affect a change.

Her topics range from those who dare to clip their toenails on the subway, or wear too much perfume in closed in situations such as offices, elevators and car-pools, or talk on cell phones in church, or who chat their way loudly through a movie,  to so-called 'soccer parents' who shout demeaning curses at coaches, to bozos who block the view at graduations so they can get a video of their child, to road rage, and the responsibility to teach children basic manners.

As one would expect from the garrulous Ms. Goldberg, her remarks are pointed, pithy, and spot-on.  She even provides us with a series of tests (ala various women's magazines of old) to allow us to score ourselves on our parking, texting, traveling, stadium, sideline, offensive language, and bullying behaviors.  Adding up the scores, the reader is then able to ascertain whether he is "CIVIL, BORDERLINE BONEHEAD, or ASSHOLIAN" (pg. 184.)

And....contrary to what many would expect, she actually manages to present all this with nary a "bad" word.  It's a thoroughly enjoyable, and for many of us, affirming read.  I just wish everybody could get on board with her/our sentiments.

If you're not sure whether you'll like reading in a e format, this is a perfect book to try.  The essays are short, there's lots of white space, and the editors have done a terrific job of typesetting and layout.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A new one and a giveaway: Strange Relation

Strange Relation 
A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia and Poetry
by Rachel Hadas

I won this one in a contest on Rose City Reader, and the publicist, Mary Bisbee-Beek is offering me three more copies to giveaway to readers.  It just arrived, and I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm taking it with me on vacation next week.  It sure looks like a winner.

Here's the publishing blurb: 

In 2005 Rachel Hadas's husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with dementia at age sixty-one. Neurodegenerative ailments are a murky matter; it isn't clear even now whether George was suffering from Alzheimer's disease or frontotemporal dementia. Nor is it possible to determine when the illness began its slow, insidious course.
Strange Relation is Rachel Hadas's account of "losing" George. She begins her narrative when George's illness can no longer be ignored, and ends it in 2008, soon after his move to a dementia facility (when, after thirty years of marriage, she finds herself no longer living with her husband). Along the way, she offers flashbacks and digressions that draw us into their lives.
Hadas wrote most of Strange Relation during the years when she was living in a zone of deepening silence. Literature was often her most faithful companion, so this is, in part, a book about the books and poetry (hers and others) that helped her live her life. Within the cloudy confines of those murky years, years when reading and writing were an essential part of what kept her going, she "tried to keep track . . . tried to tell the truth."
Rachel Hadas is a professor and writer, the author of numerous books of poetry, essays, and translation. Her recent publications include The River of Forgetfulness, Laws, Indelible, and Halfway Down the Hall: New & Selected Poems, a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She lives in Manhattan.

So here are the simple rules for entering:

  1. Leave me a comment telling me why you want to win. Be sure you include your email address. NO EMAIL, No ENTRY.
  2. Leave me another comment saying whether you're a follower or become a follower and tell me.
  3. Blog about this on your blog (sidebars are OK) and leave me the link to your post.
  4. I don't tweet or twitter, so you may leave one extra comment between now  and February 15th.  Just say "extra entry".  
  5. US addresses only - no PO Boxes.
  6. Deadline is 11:59PM February 23rd EST.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Cooking : E-reading Cookbooks

 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 week I've been reviewing some cookbooks on my e-reader.  It's not the best format for a cookbook, but it is convenient. On my computer, using Adobe Digital editions, I get clear pages, beautiful photographs, and the ability to bookmark favorites, but I sure don't want my laptop on the counter with all that flour being sprinkled around while I'm making bread.  On my Nook I only get black and white pictures, but I get the convenience of propping the recipe up, and having it at my finger tips, but again, who wants sticky floury finger prints all over my new Nook?

The e-format is a great way to get a chance to look at these cookbooks without having a stack of cookbooks I'll probably only use for one or two recipes each.  The best one I've seen of the batch is one scheduled for publication in March.

Title: Simply Great Breads , Sweet and Savory Yeasted Treats from America's Premier Artisan Baker
Author: Daniel Leader, Lauren Chattman
Publisher/Format: The Taunton Press 03/08/2011, 160 pages, e-galley
Source: Net Galley

This one concentrates on small batches, small loaves, and breads you'll want to bake at home for a family.  I was especially impressed with the "Luxury" English muffin recipe.  I never realized that they're supposed to be 3-4" thick!  I have some jam just screaming to be oozed onto one of those.  I'm definitely going to think about taking the time soon to make a batch of these!  Other recipes I want to try are the Ham and Cheese Crescent rolls, and the Stone Fruit Beignets!  In fact, I think we're having the Beignets tomorrow -we have some beautiful pears that will make gorgeous treats to go with some nice fennel Italian sausage we'd planned to have.  There is a very nicely done table of equivalencies, simple to follow and clear instructions.  Ingredients are shown in US and metric weights as well as measurements, and there are plenty of gorgeous full page, color illustrations just begging to jump off the page. The author does not talk down to the reader, but still manages to impart an array of info that definitely would make this one I'd want to add to my permanent collection.

Bottom line on e-readers for cookbooks - I think probably not.  I'm still going to want to have that big book propped up with COLOR pictures and I want not to have to worry if I drip some melted butter, or splash coffee, or just have sticky fingerprints on the page - to me they're the mark of a good cookbook, forming a road-map for future generations to find out which one was lovingly followed over and over.

With the frigid temperatures we're predicted to have this weekend, the fragrance of good yeast bread rising on the hearth is going to be quite welcome.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Floating bodies - two mysteries - two series

This past week, our book club discussed a mystery written by a local Maine author. At the same time I was reading that one, I was also finally getting around to reading one of the latest mysteries by another author set in North Carolina. At the beginning of each of these books, female protagonists- professional women in fields other than police work-discover a body floating in the water. Both of these women choose to insert themselves into the police investigations of these deaths. Both endure scorn, physical danger, and ultimate success in their quest. There the similarity ends. One book, the 2nd in a relatively new series is just plain awful, the other, the 17th in a continually maturing saga is a treat to read on many levels.

Author: Linda Greenlaw
Publisher/Format: Hyperion (2007), Hardcover, 272 pages
Characters: Jane Bunker, Nick Dow, Clyde Leeman
Subject: Murder
Setting: Green Haven Maine
Series: Jane Bunker mysteries
Genre: mystery - amateur detective
Source: my shelves

The book club chose this because they wanted to read a Maine author, they wanted to read a mystery, and this one fit the bill.  Just barely.  Linda Greenlaw is well known here in Maine for her non-fiction works: The Lobster Chronicles, The Hungry Ocean, and her newest one Seaworthy, to name a few.  These are excellent well-written books about a subject she knows well-- deep sea fishing and lobstering.

So it was terribly disappointing to read a poorly plotted, cardboard caricatured 'mystery' story that reads like a high school freshman's first attempt at creative writing.  Everyone in the group agreed that the writing was poor- she was just trying way too hard. It was an excellent example of using 15 words when 3 would have done just fine.   I had visions of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone and her landlord Henry, visions of the Perfect Storm, visions of James Maverick and Flo ("Mel..kiss my grits") from Alice all tumbled together in a search for a killer under the guise of insurance company inspections.  Jane Bunker comes across as an immature, petulant, spineless wonder who can't seem to find herself, and who is too dim-witted to try.

I live in a small town in Maine, and I realize we may not have our own police force, but we have at least enough brains to know when to contact the county and/or state authorities, and we sure would have done so in this instance.  Nowhere in this book did I see the authorities called to investigate a suspicious death. 

Oh it was painful....particularly when I was also reading

Author: Margaret Maron
Publisher/Format:Grand Central Publishing (2009), Hardcover, 304 pages Characters: Judge Deborah Knott, Chelsea Anne Pierce, Detective Gary Edwards
Subject: murder
Setting: Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach NC
Series: Deborah Knott Mysteries
Genre: amateur detective mystery
Source: ARC from publisher (2009)

First of all, I'll say that this book did get reviewed earlier when I received it from the publisher - I had a friend who did a marvelous guest review back in September 2009.  I finally had a chance to get to it, and I'm only sorry I waited so long.  As I said above, I was immediately struck by the similarities of how the main problem was set up in each book.  A body floating in the water.  Ok...yeah....there the similarities end.  Judge Deborah Knott is a sophisticated, well-defined character who has grown on us over the series. Her ability to decide when it is appropriate to insert herself into an investigation, when to take risks, when to involve the police, when to use feminine wiles, and when to use her considerable powers of observations and deduction is sharp, well-honed, and just enough on the edge to keep the reader guessing.

Using the backdrop of the annual judicial convention in the state, Maron gives us a an entire convention of possible suspects, keeps us guessing, and keeps us entertained with exquisite vistas of rolling ocean waves, summer storms, and sand dunes.

Greenlaw on the other hand, tries to give us a techno-drama worthy of Sebastian Junger's Perfect Storm by providing an incredibly detailed (i.e., lose the reader in minutiae) description of one of the most un-believable (as in no way am I believing this one!) scenes of mayhem ever written.

I don't normally read two books in such similar genres at the same time.  In this instance, I'm glad I did. It really clarified the good and the bad in mystery writing.  I hope Linda Greenlaw continues to write her well-researched non-fiction.  She gives us an understanding of the world of fishing that few can do better.  But perhaps she should leave the dark and stormy nights to Snoopy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Heartbeat Away - Review and Giveaway

Author: Michael Palmer
Publisher/Format: ARC St. Martin's Press Feb 2011, galley proof, 416 pages
Subject: bioterrorism
Setting: US Capital, New York, Kansas
Genre: medical suspense thriller
Source: signed ARC from author

Michael Palmer's latest medical thriller should come with warning labels:

Warning: reading A Heartbeat Away can be hazardous to your health, producing heart palpitations, nightmares, shortness of breath, and extreme sleeplessness--at least until you finish the last heart-pounding page of this expertly crafted look at bio-terrorism.

Warning: Do Not Begin reading this book unless you can finish it in one sitting. Sleep will not be possible until you get to page 416.

With a plot that resonates with timeliness, a list of characters that seem right out of the pages of today's newspapers, and the all too familiar setting of the US Capital, this suspense thriller grabs the reader after only 2 or 3 paragraphs.  In a nutshell, as the President of the United States begins his annual State of the Union address, with the entire Congress, Supreme Court Justices, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a myriad of distinguished guests and news media personnel in the chamber (including his own wife and daughter), vials of a lethal virus are released into the air.

And, who'da thunk it, but the President himself, as an MD had been involved in the creation of this monstrous virus which has obviously now been stolen by terrorists.  In order to avoid panic, and the ensuring pandemic that would occur if the germs were allowed to get out of the building, he orders the Capital sealed, all communications cut, and everyone present quarantined, while he works feverishly with outside personnel to find a cure before they all die.

The story is far too riveting for me to write anything else because that would spoil the experience  of watching all the plot twists that unfold.  Written in short bursts of chapters, it is easy to read, but hard to put down.

Now for the best news: Michael Palmer has made a signed copy of the hardback available to one lucky winner. We will have the drawing on February 15th, publication day.

So if you'd like to win, here are the simple rules.
  1. Leave me a comment telling me whether or not you've read this author before. Be sure you include your email address. NO EMAIL, No ENTRY.
  2. Leave me another comment saying whether you're a follower or become a follower and tell me.
  3. Blog about this on your blog (sidebars are OK) and leave me the link to your post.
  4. I don't tweet or twitter, so you may leave one extra comment between now  and February 15th.  Just say "extra entry".  
  5. Go to Michael Palmer's What If scenarios on facebook, leave a comment and leave me the link. (separate entry).
  6. Maximum - 5 entries
  7. US addresses only - no PO Boxes.
  8. Deadline is 11:59PM February 15th EST.
Good Luck

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Author: David Mitchell
Publisher/Format: Recorded Books MP3 audio - 19hours;
Publisher/Format: Random House (2010) read as ebook 496 pages
Narrators: Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox.
Characters: Jacob de Zoet, Orito Aibagawa, Ogawa Uzaemon
Subject: feudal life in 19th century Japan,
Setting: Nagasaki  and Dejima Japan
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: public library

This is definitely going to be one of my top 5 of the year.  It has everything...lush scenery, a heart-stopping-page- turning plot, memorable characters, a sense of history, and a delicate brush of language so suitable to the Japanese temperament.  It definitely put me in mind of James Clavell's Shogun, a book I read and loved while we were living in Japan many years ago.

Mitchell gives us a love story, a warrior story, and a well-researched view of the Dutch East India Trading Company in the waning days of its prominence.  Jacob de Zoet, nephew of a Dutch pastor, has signed on as a clerk for a five year stint in the company at their office on Dejima, a small man-made island off the coast of Nagasaki.  There he meets the young Japanese mid-wife who is training under the resident Dutch doctor.  When the midwife is kidnapped by a cult living high in the mountains, de Zoet wants to rescue her.  From there we see a long struggle to find the group, and convince authorities of the atrocities being perpetrated.

The story is very involved. There are many sub-plots, a shipload of characters both Dutch, English, and Japanese, all presented realistically, often with warm humor, but without the overblown romanticism one often finds in books about feudal Japan.  Although I lived in Japan for five years, and traveled around quite a bit, I'm not an expert.  I do know enough however to be able to say this is as good as it gets for story-telling.  It's as real as it can be, and it shows us a people with an innate sense of dignity, a code of honor, and a country of exquisite beauty.  Mitchell even gives us a particularly beautiful poem to describe a setting at the beginning of chapter 39.  It is obvious why he was once again on the Booker Prize Long list for 2010.

I read this on my e-reader along with listening to  the audio book. Both formats are elegantly done and I will probably even purchase a print copy to keep in my permanent library.  I could not pass up the chance to hear the wonderful Japanese pronunciations of English words.  One of the major characters is the interpreter  Ogawa Uzaemon , and his puzzling over words and meaning brought back many fond memories of my struggle to make myself understood.

David Mitchell's prose does not have that problem.  It is absolutely perfect.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: In the Company of Others

Author: Jan Karon
Publisher/Format: Viking Adult (2010), Hardcover, 368 pages
Characters: Father Tim Kavanaugh, Cynthia Kavanaugh
Subject: family secrets; redemption
Setting: Ireland
Series: Fr. Tim
Genre: fiction
Source: my own shelves

I am a fan of Jan Karon's Mitford series, out of which this book and its prequel Home to Holly Hills sprang.  The gentle, fun, caring people of the town of Mitford captivated me.  And Fr Tim Kavanaugh with his goofy dog, his shy and tentative walk through life were always comfortable, interesting, and well-developed stories.

Home to Holly Hills, the first in this new "Fr Tim" series was a stretch, taking the main character out of the comfortable setting of Mitford and taking him through a gut-wrenching return to his home town to discover his long-forgotten, or kept secret past.  It was barely believable, but all of us who loved Fr. Tim put up with it.  Now comes this latest one, and it is enough to make a reader cry.  It's a poorly disguised excuse for a religious tract to offer conversion to Jesus as salvation.  Those of us who loved the Mitford series knew all about Fr. Tim's religious beliefs and didn't need the proselytizing that really pops up in this one.

It is not as well written as the previous ones, with a story inside a story that spreads confusion about what is going on, and why it's being introduced. In addition, her attempts to make a mystery story out of this family drama are annoying.  There are characters that are stereotypical Irish drunks, the obligatory loopy dog, the dying old lady itching to be saved, and people with enough secrets stored up to sink the proverbial ship.  I just couldn't warm up to this group, and can't decide whether I want her to continue this series or not. A true disappointment.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: As Always, Julia

Editor: Joan Reardon
Publisher/Format: e-galley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 424 pages
Subject:  life in Europe in the 2nd half of 20th century
Setting: France, Germany, Norway, Boston
Genre: correspondence
Source: e-galley from publisher via Net Galley

While I've enjoyed watching Julia Child occasionally on TV, and I own a copy of her famous cookbook, I have always felt somewhat intimidated by this matriarch of elegant meal prep.

"As Always, Julia" brings Julia Child to earth, and makes her not only approachable, but warm, human, funny, intelligent and someone you'd want to have for a next door neighbor. I had no idea who Avis DeVoto was until I read this book of letters between these two. I have not yet seen the movie in which she evidently becomes known to Americans, but she is introduced quite well in this collection of letters. Covering a span of over 30 years, Avis and Julia kept up a witty, no-holds-barred trans-Atlantic correspondence covering everything from how to poach fish, how to write, edit and publish a cookbook, the chilling impact of McCarthyism on American life, finding housing in France, Norway, Germany, to whether or not to use a pressure cooker for long simmering soups and stews.

Starting as pen-pals and continuing for several years before they had a chance to meet, the letter-writing cemented a friendship that coincidentally involved an unofficial business relationship, and reveals two well-educated, very talented women living out their lives in roles new to both of them. Their letters were at times about subjects many would consider banal, but they offer a glimpse into a world all but forgotten in today's high-tech environment.  It is a book that is big, bold, heavy and not easily read in one sitting.  Therein lies the beauty of it -- it can be read and savored, like a good wine, in small sips over a lingering period of time. For fans of Julia Child, it is a must read.

Joan Reardon has done a yeoman job of editing and compiling the correspondence to make it interesting, engaging, and compelling.

Special thanks to Houghton Mifflin for making the e-galley available for review.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mailbox Monday - January 10

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.  Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at The Printed Page, is now on a blog tour! Rose City Reader kicks off 2011.  Please stop on Rose City Reader  and see what everyone else got this week.  As a bonus, she's also featuring a giveaway. I got behind reporting my deliveries over the holidays, and this concludes the catch-up I started last week.

There were several ARCs I received from Hachette Book group in the past few weeks.  The first was

Hell's Corner by David Baldacci..

The fifth adventure of the Camel Club and the seemingly invincible Oliver Stone.  I've seen mixed reviews of this one, so I'm anxious to get into it myself to form my own opinion.  I may have to go back and read one of the earlier ones since it's been awhile but I'm going to be sure to get to this one.  It's been a favorite series of mine all along.


Christmas Mourning by Margaret Maron

 This one arrived shortly before Christmas and I put everything aside to read it.  I wanted something comfortable, engaging and fun and it didn't disappoint.  My review was posted back on December 30th.  At that time I said that you didn't necessarily have to read it as a holiday would be good any time of the year.

The Sherlockian by  Graham Moore

 I'm always up for a good mystery.  This one arrived just last week and it's going to be one on the 'sooner rather than later' pile.  Here's the blurb:

In December 1893, Sherlock Holmes-adoring Londoners eagerly opened their Strand magazines, anticipating the detective's next adventure, only to find the unthinkable: his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning -- crowds sported black armbands in grief -- and railed against Conan Doyle as his assassin.

Then in 1901, just as abruptly as Conan Doyle had "murdered" Holmes in "The Final Problem," he resurrected him. Though the writer kept detailed diaries of his days and work, Conan Doyle never explained this sudden change of heart. After his death, one of his journals from the interim period was discovered to be missing, and in the decades since, has never been found....
Or has it?....
When literary researcher Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes enthusiast society, The Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he's about to be thrust onto the hunt for the holy grail of Holmes-ophiles: the missing diary. But when the world's leading Doylean scholar is found murdered in his hotel room, it is Harold - using wisdom and methods gleaned from countless detective stories - who takes up the search, both for the diary and for the killer.
And finally I received an autographed copy of
A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer.

You'll be hearing more about this one very soon.  The publication date is in early February, and I'm going to have an extra autographed hardback edition (not an ARC) to giveaway to one of my lucky readers.  So check back here often for details.

To wrap up the mailbag news there was an audio book from a contest win at Metroreader:

Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace.

Here's what they're saying about this one:
Published when Wallace was just twenty-four years old, The Broom of the System stunned critics and marked the emergence of an extraordinary new talent. At the center of this outlandishly funny, fiercely intelligent novel is the bewitching heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. The year is 1990 and the place is a slightly altered Cleveland, Ohio. Lenore’s great-grandmother has disappeared with twenty-five other inmates of the Shaker Heights Nursing Home. Her beau, and boss, Rick Vigorous, is insanely jealous, and her cockatiel, Vlad the Impaler, has suddenly started spouting a mixture of psycho- babble, Auden, and the King James Bible. Ingenious and entertaining, this debut from one of the most innovative writers of his generation brilliantly explores the paradoxes of language, storytelling, and reality.  This sounds perfect to keep me awake on a long drive I have planned for next month.

What did you find in your mailbox this week?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Review: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher/Format: Hachette audio 10 hours 45 min, 336 pg equivalent
Narrators:  Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren
Characters: Jack, Ma, Old Nick
Subject: kidnapping, abuse, captivity
Setting: Room and Outside
Genre: fiction, suspense
Source: public library audio download

It is easy to see why this was such a talked about book in 2010 and why it was on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize.  The writing is exceptional, the story compelling, and the characters so well portrayed that the reader feels they are living the story with them.  The story is told entirely in Jack's words, a point of view that brings a fresh and engaging yet terrifying perspective.

ROOM is Jack's world.  Jack is a 5 year boy, imprisoned in an 11x11 shed with his mother.  Ma was abducted 7 years ago by Old Nick who visits periodically bringing supplies, and especially the "Sunday Treat." Because Jack knows only what is in ROOM, his world image is limited. They have rug, matress, chair, table, shelf, stove, toilet, bath, wardrobe and rocker, to all of which Jack attaches almost anthropomorphic characteristics.  They watch TV, but, with the exception of Dora the Explorer, he views that as "OUTSIDE" and scary, and mostly not real. He cannot conceive of 'others' as real people.  The pair bonds in an extraordinary fashion, and while Jack's intellectual development and vocabulary bloom from all the games they play and the TV they watch, his social development is non-existant. He has never spent a minute separated from his mother.

Reading this book is a chilling experience, but one that is very, very satisfying in the end.  Having the story told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old whose only experience of the world is through the prism of TV, the five books his mother has managed to con out of Old Nick, or whatever memories his mother chooses to share is what really makes this such an incredible story. I really don't want to give away anything because the tension needs to build for the reader (or listener) to enjoy the full impact.  I listened to the audio where Jack's voice is perfectly done. The cadence is perfectly for a five year old.  I intend to get a print copy to add to my permanent collection, but feel this is one book that is just as good in audio (if not better) than print. It is my first 5 star read of the year.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher/Format:Simon and Schuster audio: 14 discs 432 page equivalent  Characters: Vida Winter, Margaret Lea, assorted twins and foundlings
Subject: family relationships and secrets
Setting: early 20th century England ???
Genre: mystery, Gothic drama, story-telling, ghost story
Source: public library

This one defies description.  It can be a ghost story, a fictional biography of a story-teller, an unfinished collection of short stories, a mystery, a gothic tale of horror ala Jane Eyre, but whatever genre the reader tries to fit this one into, it will defy characterization.   A New York Times best seller in 2006, this was chosen by our local book club for the January selection.

It's a many layered story in which Vida Winter, a recluse and aging author of twelve tales of her life over the years, has finally decided to allow the thirteenth to be published, and the world is waiting.  She chooses Margaret Lea, a quiet biographer working in her father's bookstore,to help her write the final story.  Margaret has her own hidden childhood riddle to uncover .  As Ms Winter dictates her story to Margaret, we find stories buried in stories, ghosts flying in and out, foundlings, governesses, tales of twins separated and reunited, mad relatives in attics, bumbling but loving household help, the ubiquitous British solicitor, and surprise after surprise.  It's not the kind of book I normally would be attracted to, but I found myself unable to stop reading it once it began.The setting, the exquisite characterization, the unraveling of clues leading to more mystery, all held me rapt.

In my book club last night, only one person in the group gave up on it, the others read it and all agreed they thought it was worth reading. Several found it confusing to follow in parts, several found that parts of it were rather contrived, and we all had trouble nailing down the time frame in which the story took place and in assigning a specific genre to it.

We all agreed it's an intriguing book that could have done with a trim here or there (there were several sub-plots nominated for elimination) but all things said we can recommend it to anyone who wants to pick up an engrossing book.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: The Girl in the Green Raincoat

The Girl in the Green Raincoat

Author: Laura Lippman
Publisher/Format: Harper Collins Advanced Reader'se-proof, 176 pages 
Characters:Tess Monagham, Crowe, assorted dogs
Subject: missing persons
Setting: Baltimore
Series: Tess Monagha
Genre: private detective mystery
Source: e-galley down loaded courtesy of NetGalley

A great way to start the new year....a novella featuring one of my favorite private sleuths, Tess Monagham of my hometown, Baltimore MD.  In this one we find Tess pregnant, confined to total bedrest, and absolutely unhappy about life in general, lack of wine, lack of sleep, lousy food, and not being able to stick her nose into everything she's used to doing.  As she stares out the window each day, she notices a Girl in a Green Raincoat walking a greyhound, and becomes fixated on her.  When this mysterious green lady doesn't show up, and the dog is running loose, Tess' fertile mind spins all kinds of scenarios.

In a story reminiscent of the Hitchcock thriller Rear Window, and the Josephine Tey story Daughter of Time, Tess sets out to solve the mystery, directing her minions from her sickbed.  The ending is spectacular, surprising and edifying.  It's a quick read--originally published as a serial in the New Yorker.

Many thanks to Harper Collins for making this available through Net Galley.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mailbox Monday - January 3rd

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.  Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at The Printed Page, is now on a blog tour! Rose City Reader kicks off 2011.  I haven't been too good about posting deliveries for the past month, so I'm going to catch up here.  Please stop on Rose City Reader  and see what everyone else got this week.  As a bonus, she's also featuring a giveaway.

The very "bestest" thing in my mailbox was the gift of a Nook from my daughter.  I've been wanting an e-reader, now have one, and I'm finding I love it even more than I ever would have imagined.

Over the past three weeks, I've received several books for review.  Many of these are coming now as e-books, so  my e-'mailbox' has filled up with goodies to load onto my Nook for reading and review.  Among those I've gotten are

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto
edited by Joan Spearman.
Here's the blurb:
With her outsized personality, Julia Child is known around the world by her first name alone. More than 200 letters exchanged between Julia and Avis DeVoto, her friend and unofficial literary agent open the window on Julia's deepest thoughts and feelings. This riveting correspondence, in print for the first time, chronicles the blossoming of a unique and lifelong friendship between the two women and the turbulent process of Julia's creation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one of the most influential cookbooks ever written. 
 I can't wait to dive into this one.  I love memoirs, letters and food...and this has it all!

The Boo by Pat Conroy

Bestselling author Conroy's debut novel, now being re-issued.  I just finished reading and reviewing his latest book My Reading Life, and wanted to look at this one to see how and if his writing has progressed and/or improved over the years...   Set against the richly drawn military school backdrop that Conroy would return to in his bestseller The Lords of Discipline, The Boo is an unforgettable story of duty, loyalty, and standing up for what is right in the face of overwhelming circumstances.
The Girl in the Green Raincoat
by Laura Lippmann
In this modern twist on Rear Window, Tess Monaghan has been put on bed rest for the last two months of her pregnancy.  Day after day she watches a girl in a green raincoat in the park with her greyhound, until one day Tess ominously notices the dog running loose. Convinced some harm has befallen its owner she  becomes dangerously obsessed with learning her fate.
As a native Baltimorean, I'm always anxious to read the latest from one of Charm City's best...
My Christmas mailbox (gifts from friends and family) brought me

Rainwater by Sandra Brown

I confess I've never read anything by Sandra Brown.  She is enormously popular in our small town library where I work, so I'm looking forward to seeing what all the excitement is about.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ford Country by John Grisham
Returning to the setting of his first novel, A Time to Kill, longtime bestseller Grisham presents seven short stories about the residents of Ford County, Miss.  Each story explores different themes-mourning, revenge, justice, acceptance, evolution-but all flirt with the legal profession, the staple of (former attorney) Grisham's oeuvre.

These two came from my secret book Santa in an online book group I belong to.  THANK YOU THANK YOU KIM

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
The blurb:
Lacey Yeager is young, captivating, and ambitious enough to take the NYC art world by storm. Groomed at Sotheby's and hungry to keep climbing the social and career ladders put before her, Lacey charms men and women, old and young, rich and even richer with her magnetic charisma and liveliness. Her ascension to the highest tiers of the city parallel the soaring heights--and, at times, the dark lows--of the art world and the country from the late 1990s through today.
When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view...she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.

And yes....there were also print books received from publishers for review...I'll give you a rundown on those next week.  In the meantime, my new year is off to a rip-roaring fun start.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ongoing Challenges

The Everlasting TBR Shelves

At the end of the year I did a re-cap of all the challenges in which I participated during 2010.  This year I have made a different challenge resolution.  I'm challenging myself to avoid formal challenges and instead make as big a dent as possible in the current TBR pile.

That's not going to be as easy as it sounds.  I have five full shelves of books sitting here physically staring me in the face.  That's over 100 books right here in this room alone.  That doesn't count the ones in the bedroom, the guest room, the living room, or the attic. And I have over 35 audios waiting, and about 10 ebooks from Net Galley for reviews (and I can get many many many more of those if I want), and I have been told by my darling daughter that my new NOOK is in the mail and should be here any time.  That will be great for perhaps handling some of the more than 250 books I have listed on my Goodreads account which I use to track those books I see recommended by you my fellow bloggers or by my buddies on

Last year I got almost 90 free books, either as ARCs or winning contests (thank you fellow bloggers). So even if I restrain myself from entering contests and requesting review copies, I still figure I'll have 50 more to add to the pile, and then I have to stay out of libraries, and stay off the internet.  Not going to happen!!!

SO......I going to try something different.  I always have at least 4-5 books going at once.  Always at least one audio (I do a minimum of 1.5-2 of those a week), I now want to have at least one ebook going, and there are two book clubs a month where the books are picked for me.  So I've listed all the physical books I want to pick from this year in a spreadsheet, I have another list of all the wish books I've seen and want to read, and I'm going to let pick from those lists to get me to read them.  So every month, I'm going to read 2 ebooks, 4 audios, 3 from the shelves, 2 bookclubs, 3 from the TBR list (books I can get from the library,on the NOOK etc), and 3 ARCs.  I usually can read at least 15 a month, so this should be do-able.

Oh...I almost forgot -- I have a list of at least 12 books I've read before and want to re-read.  Hmmmm....maybe one a month!

And....there are three ongoing challenges I'm still participating in:
  • The US Presidential biography challenge: I've finished through Madison, and would like to get to at least through Millard Fillmore this year.
  • Fifty States (Fiction or non-fiction) challenge: I've finished 25 of the fifty states.  I'd like to check off another 5-8 as I read this year.
  • The Dewey Decimal Challenge:  This one will take until I die.  I've read 70+ of the 800+ currently used subcategories.  I just keep adding them as I find them.
A year from now, I'll be very happy if I have accomplished half of what I said here.  But one can always dream.   Just please all of you make a New Year's Resolution that you will NOT run any neat contests, you will NOT offer up delicious reviews of irresistable books, and you will NOT entice me to add to my TBR pile. YEAH  ........ RIGHT......

I wish all of you a year of good health, lots of happiness, and beautiful reading to bring a smile to your face and warmth in your bones.  Happy New Year!

It begins...

happy new year Pictures, Images and Photos

May you have a year full of peace, health, happiness and as many books as you want.