Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Lester Higata's 20th Century

Author: Barbara Hamby
Publisher/Format: University Of Iowa Press (2010),e-book: 184 pages
Characters: Lester Higata, his mother Higata, his wife Katherine Subject: life in the Japanese American community
Setting: Oahu Island, Hawaii
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Net galley, ebook from the publisher

Short stories are one of my favorite genres and Barbara Hamby has written a superb collection.  Set in Hawaii from World War II forward, she captures the cadence and ambiance of the setting perfectly.  I lived in Hawaii for two years, back in the 1970's, and then moved to Japan.  My exposure to the Japanese Hawaiians helped ease the culture shock of that move.  As I was reading Hamby's eloquently written dialogue, I could hear my best Hawaiian friend "Auntie" in her lilting sing-song local dialect.  I had no trouble with the vocabulary but the author provides a robust glossary of terminology for those unfamiliar with the language.

As I read, I found myself comparing this to another of my favorite short story collections: the Pulitzer Prize winner: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  Lester Higata and Olive Kitteridge have much in common.  They are involved in many different aspects of their communities, they are aging, the stories in the collections give us a beautiful and fully developed character, and an insight into the life of those in the settings.  Hamby's linked stories include a look back to Lester's wounding in the war and his marriage to a haole (white) woman of whom his mother dusapproved, and give us a sense of community among the other inhabitants of Lipona street.  A truly rewarding reading experience.

A special thanks to the University of Iowa Press for providing the egalley for review. I look forward to seeing other offerings from this author.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Review : Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

Author: Maeve Binchy
Publisher/Format: Books on Tape,2011, 13+hrs,  400 pg equivalent
Narrator: Sile Bermingham
Subject: Alcoholism, single parenthood, friendship
Setting: Dublin Ireland
Genre: fiction
Source: public library

I have always enjoyed Maeve Binchy's charming tales of life in Ireland.  She does not sugar coat troubles, nor does she always bring us "happily every after" endings.  In this latest novel about life in modern day Dublin, we meet Noel, an alcoholic ne'er do well, who is still living with his parents, who doesn't like his job and who isn't exactly motivated to do anything about it, until he is summoned to the bedside of an old girlfriend who is pregnant and dying of cancer.  She tells him he is the father, and she's leaving the baby in his care. And although suddenly Noel has motivation-- a daughter named Frankie--he still needs a lot of help with the totally unfamiliar world of parenthood.

With the generous and enabling help of a cousin from America, who has recently arrived in town for an extended stay, he finds a place to live, he enrolls in college, he gets a roommate who trades him part-time child care for free rent, he learns to cook, and most importantly he joins AA and begins a life of sobriety.  This is not to say the story is all roses, there are lots of thorns - especially the overbearing child welfare social worker who is determined to find an excuse to take little Frankie away from him.  There are dear friends, nosy neighbors, and doting grandparents. It has its scary moments, but it has heart-warming ending. It is a charming story that leaves the reader wanting another chapter.

If you enjoy stories with Irish charm, if you enjoy Maeve Binchy's writing, you will certainly enjoy this one.  It is especially well done in audio.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mailbox Monday- April 25

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!

Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog.  This month Passages to the Past is hosting.  Stop on over and see what everyone else got this week (and don't forget to wallow in some of the glorious historical fiction featured there.)

This week I received three books all focusing on various aspects of World War II.

22 Britannia Road arrived from the publisher Viking Penguin....I'll be posting a giveaway on this sometime in the next 10 days so come back often.  This one is Polish WW II survivors living in London--looks like it's going to be real fun. 

The Soldier's Wife is another publisher (Hyperion) ARC.  Scheduled for publication in June, it's set in Guernsey, features a romance between an islander and a German POW, and the strained relationship between a mother and her teen aged daughter.  It is another setting and time frame I enjoy reading about, so this one is definitely on the reading pile.

And from the publisher (McBooks Press) via the Early Reviewer Program on, I received Wings, A novel of World War II Flygirls.  I'm a navy veteran myself (and although I'm an old lady, I DID NOT serve in WWII) so this once is one I was really excited to get my hands on.  It's fiction, but is touted to fill in the blanks about these often forgotten members of our armed services.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Sampler - April 24th

The Sunday Sampler
Sunday Sampler highlights some of the books I've received for possible reviews or that I pick up in bookstores or off library shelves that for one reason or another just don't make it to the finish line.  This also includes those "try free sample" books available in Kindle and Nook online stores.  These are a good way to decide whether or not to pursue a full-length copy.

Sometimes  a book doesn't live up to it's cover or publisher's blurb.  Sometimes, the writing doesn't pull me in, sometimes the subject matter just isn't well done enough, or I can't figure out the plot.  These aren't necessarily bad books, and to another reader they might even be a great book, but for now they've fallen off my TBR mountain and landed in the DNF pile.

This week, I've had a lot of opportunities to spend short periods of time reading- perfect to go through several of the 'samples' in my Nook and Kindle apps.   Here are a few of them:

Artistic License
Julie Hyzy

The Blurb: Annie Callaghan is an artist living in Chicago, a struggling painter trying to build a career and rebuild her life after kicking out her ne'er-do-well husband. Things become even more complicated for her when she discovers that her last, ill-advised fling with her husband has resulted in an unexpected pregnancy.
My impression: I'm just starting to read Julie Hyzy, and when Nook offered a sample of her debut work (2004) I grabbed it.  Just the 32 pages of the sample were enough to convince me to buy it. Watch for a review sometime this looks like a great summertime read.
The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted
by Bridget Asher

The Blurb: Brokenhearted and still mourning the loss of her husband, Heidi travels with Abbott, her obsessive-compulsive seven-year-old son, and Charlotte, her jaded sixteen-year-old niece, to the small village of Puyloubier in the south of France, where a crumbling stone house may be responsible for mending hearts since before World War II. There, Charlotte confesses a shocking secret, and Heidi learns the truth about her mother’s “lost summer” when Heidi was a child.

My impression: First of all, I love romances set in the south of France.  Although the short sample didn't give an indication that this was a romance, with a title and cover like this, and the story unfolding as described in the blurb, I can see one coming.  I was immediately hooked.  It's going onto the wishlist to get the full copy.

The Wilder Life
by Wendy McClure

The Blurb: For anyone who has ever wanted to step into the world of a favorite book, here is a pioneer pilgrimage, a tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and a hilarious account of butter-churning obsession.

Wendy McClure is on a quest to find the world of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder-a fantastic realm of fiction, history, and places she's never been to, yet somehow knows by heart. She retraces the pioneer journey of the Ingalls family- looking for the Big Woods among the medium trees in Wisconsin, wading in Plum Creek, and enduring a prairie hailstorm in South Dakota. She immerses herself in all things Little House, and explores the story from fact to fiction, and from the TV shows to the annual summer pageants in Laura's hometowns.

My impression:  I was immediately drawn to this book from the blurb because my daughter grew up on these books.  We watched the TV series, we read the books to her, she read (or should I say devoured?) the books herself, and one summer, as we were driving cross country on one of my husband's many PCS moves with the Navy (east coast to Hawaii), we took a 400 mile detour to make a pilgrimage to DeSmet South Dakota.  It was a magical trip for all of us.  But, I couldn't tell from the short sample Nook was offering whether this one is worth buying, so I'm going to try to check it out from the library before I buy a copy to give her for her birthday.


Born Under a Million Shadows
Andrea Busfield

The Blurb:
Told through the eyes of a charming, impish, and wickedly observant Afghan boy. The Taliban have withdrawn from Kabul’s streets, but the long shadows of their regime remain. In his short life, eleven-year-old Fawad has known more grief than most: his father and brother have been killed, his sister has been abducted, and Fawad and his mother, Mariya, must rely on the charity of parsimonious relatives to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence.
My impression from the sample:  Yes, the writing is charming, and yes it sounds like it might be heartwarming story, but  it's not grabbing me.  Maybe I'm just becoming intellectually and emotionally fatigued of stories set in the Middle East and trading on the innocence and vulnerability of children, and if that's so, I'm the one poorer for it. But for now, I'm passing on this one.

That's it for samples this week.  I'll be doing this periodically because there are so many books out there to try, that no one has time to read every one of them from cover to cover.  But one that doesn't quite make it for me may be just your cup of tea, so do let me know if you find any of my "not nows" to your liking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Caleb's Crossing Winners!

We Have Winners!!

Well, I'm as anxious as all of you---I still haven't gotten my review copy of this much-awaited pub, so I'm assuming we're skipping the galley and going straight for the finished book due out in two weeks. I'll get you all a review shortly thereafter. In the meantime, has chosen one of my loyal contest entrants, and another new follower as the winners. I hope they enjoy this one as much as I'm planning to. more suspense................the winners are

JHolden - entry #2
Katie - Entry #40

Congratulations to both of you.  I've sent you an email and need your mailing address no later than 9:00PM Sunday April 24th.  If I don't hear from you by then, we'll have the Easter Bunny pick another winner.

Stay tuned for more exciting giveaways in May.

Review: My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

Author: Robin Oliveira
Publisher/Format: Books on Tape, audio 14 1/2 hours; 384 page equivalent
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Characters: Mary Sutter, James Bleven, William Stipp
Subject: Women in medicine
Setting: Albany NY, Washington DC
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: public library audio download

This one has  a very gutsy- some would say too gutsy to be believed- protagonist, set in the blood and gore of the American Civil war.  Mary Sutter is a midwife by training and vocation.  However, she wants to be a doctor, and is frustrated by the constant refusal of medical schools of the time to let her study and by her failed attempts to apprentice herself to a practicing doctor.

When she sees a call for nurses to help the wounded in the recently declared war against the south, she packs her bags, heads for Washington DC and doesn't look back.  Once again her expectations are dashed.  She doesn't want to be a nurse, she has not credentials, she's young and unmarried, the deck is not stacked the way she wants it.  The story of her back-breaking, spirit crushing work and her medical education in various venues both on the battlefields and in the filthy, unhygienic amputation tents and military hospitals is not for those with weak stomachs.  It is however, a compelling read, giving us a sense of horror at the senseless waste of life and limb.

The telling of Mary Sutter's personal relationships with her mother, her twin sister, her brother-in-law, and the doctors she works with  givie a well-developed character whose motivation is clear, whose actions are believable, and whose pain we can feel.

This is one I'd been trying to get to for months, and I'm really glad I did. It was worth the wait.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert

Author: Timothy Schaffert
Publisher/Format: Unbridled Books, Pub date Apr 19, 2011, e-galley 168 Characters: Ester Myles, Doc, Tiff, Daisy, Lenore
Subject: life in a small town
Genre: fantasy, fiction, YA?
Source: e-galley from publisher via Net Galley

The publisher's marketing copy:
The purported kidnapping of a young local girl and the secretive printing of an infamous, long awaited, infamous YA fantasy novel capture the imaginations of an octogenarian obituary writer, whose eccentric family owns the local newspaper and the printing company, and of her small Midwestern community that profits from the publicity of both.
I had a hard time with this book. It packs a lot into the 168 pages I had in the e-version. The writing is delightful.  Like the flight of the dragonfly on the cover, it flits from character to memorable character, from scene to amusing scene, landing just long enough to hold our interest before zooming off to something else.  The narrator, an 83 year old obituary writer--Esther Myles ("they call me S"), whose son Doc owns the town's publishing press tells us  three or four concurrent stories.  There's a women who claims her child is missing, but no one knew she had a child.  Did she really exist?  Was she really kidnapped? There's the secret publication of a series of YA fantasies (the latest one entitled "Coffins of Little Hope") whose existence must be kept secret, but pieces of which seem to be leaking onto the CB airwaves.   There's the relationship of  Ess's granddaughter to her mother, and the need for the town to do something to keep from dying on the vine.

While the writing is charming, and each sentence can bring a smile, I really had a hard time following the story lines.  The constant scene shift and disconnected stories had my head spinning.  I think many readers will find this one worth their time, and I'm glad I read it, but I feel like I've missed something someplace, and will need to read it again, or find someone who has read it and spend an hour over a good cuppa coffee to discuss it and figure out what it's really all about.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday - April 18

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!
Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog.  This month Passages to the Past is hosting.  Stop on over and see what everyone else got this week (and don't forget to wallow in some of the glorious historical fiction featured there.)  I include not only print books I received but also books that arrived via the virtual E-book route.

Only one in the real mailbox this week but it's one I'm quite pleased with.  I've had a Goodreads account for quite awhile now, but use it mainly to track books I want to look for and don't yet own.  Recently I discovered that they have a great giveaway program to get books out to readers for some publishing buzz.  I was thrilled when I won one!

This is a period of history I'm very interested in, and plan to spend a while taking this one in slowly.  It's over 600 pages, but will certainly revive my memories of the period.  The publisher says :

In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called Berlin “the most dangerous place on earth.” He knew what he was talking about.

Much has been made of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, but the Berlin crisis of 1961 was even more decisive in shaping the Cold War – and more perilous. Its story is packed with lessons for these turbulent early years of the twenty-first century, and it is only now that enough new documentary evidence has become available to tell it fully

My virtual E mailbox had a very intriguing entry this week.   The short story is one of my favorite genres and I'm always on the lookout for new collections.  This one from The Univesity of Iowa press especially intrigued me.  I have lived in both Japan and Hawaii, and this one is pulling me right in. It hopped to the head of the queue.

Lester Higata knew his life was about to end when he walked out on the lanai behind his house in Makiki and saw his long-dead father sitting in a lawn chair near the little greenhouse where Lester kept his orchids. Thus begins Barbara Hamby's magical narrative of the life of a Japanese American man in Honolulu. The quietly beautiful linked stories in Lester Higata's 20th Century bring us close to people who could be, and should be, our friends and neighbors and families.    Starting in 1999 with his conversation with his father, continuing backward in time throughout his life with his wife, Katherine, and their children in Hawaii, and ending with his days in the hospital in 1946, as he heals from a wartime wound and meets the woman he will marry, Hamby recreates not just one but any number of the worlds that have shaped Lester. The world of his mother, as stubbornly faithful to Japan and Buddhism as Katherine's mother is to Ohio and conservative Christianity; the world of his children, whose childhoods and adulthoods are vastly different from his own; the world after Pearl Harbor and Vietnam; the world of a professional engineer and family man: the worlds of Lester Higata's 20th Century are filled with ordinary people living extraordinary lives, moving from farms to classrooms and offices, from racism to acceptance and even love, all in a setting so paradisal it should be heaven on earth.   

Never forgetting the terrors of wartime -- We wake one morning with the wind racing toward us like an animal, and nothing is ever the same -- but focusing on the serene joys of peacetime, Lester populates his worlds with work, faith, and family among the palm trees and blue skies of the island he loves.   

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Sampler

The Sunday Sampler

I've decided to start a new post that I hope will appear at least monthly.  Sunday Sampler will be a chance to highlight some of the books I receive for possible reviews or that I pick up in bookstores or off library shelves that for one reason or another just don't make it to the finish line.

Sometimes  a book doesn't live up to it's cover or publisher's blurb.  Sometimes, the writing doesn't pull me in, sometimes the subject matter just isn't well done enough, or I can't figure out the plot.  These aren't necessarily bad books, and to another reader they might even be a great book, but for now they've fallen off my TBR mountain and landed in the DNF pile.

One of my biggest disappointments was Jean Auel's Land of the Painted Caves.  I'd read all the previous ones in the series, but found I didn't remember the last two very well.  In fact, I realized that part of the problem was that I hadn't liked the last two nearly as much as I liked the first three.  I confess, I merely leafed through this 768 page chunkster, sighing as I tried to find something that would grab me back into the story line.  I had  a  staff member at our library who was dying to read this (she had just finished all of the previous ones in the last 6 months) and she came back two weeks later saying..."I was so disappointed.  There's nothing new in here, and most of the first 300-400 pages is simply a re-hash of what was in the other books."  It's been so long since the previous ones were published that all enthusiasm I had is gone.  Maybe someday............

Another deeply disappointing book was one I almost bought, but decided to check it out of the library first to see if I needed the print version or if an ebook would do. Everyone knows I'm a real fan of Donna Leon's series "The Commissario Brunetti mysteries" so when I saw that there was a companion piece Brunetti's Venice with maps and descriptions of the city and all the places Brunetti walks and visits, I thought "AHA-I'd love to have that."  After strolling along with Brunetti through the first 45 pages, my only reaction is "Meah" If it had color maps, it might be alright, but I found the physical layout, font, and illustrations less than inspiring.  Glad I didn't buy it.  I suspect a good current tourist guide would be much more helpful.

I enjoy a good biography, and as a lady who grew up in Emily Post's home town of Baltimore, and whose life was quite proscribed by the Emily Post book "Etiquette in Society" I looked forward to this one.  Like many biographies, Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners
is lavishly slathered with every possible detail the biographer could find.  Huge, slow to get going, I've put it aside and will attack it again later.  Right now, I seem to have no patience for the details of her husband's business deals.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Review: 13 rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

Author: Elena Mauli Shapiro
Publisher/Format: Reagan Arthur Books (2011), Hardcover, 288 pages
Characters: Trevor Stratton, Louise Brunet
Subject: mementos in a box
Setting: Paris
Genre:  a puzzle mystery or a mysterious puzzle?
Source:  ARC from the publisher

One of the most innovative, imaginative novels I've read in a long time, 13 rue Thérèse is a story within a story, a puzzle, a mystery, and a charming portrait of Paris from World War I through WW II, and up to the present.

Elena Mauli Shapiro, the author actually lived at this address, and found a box of 'treasures' long abandoned there. There's a wonderful conversation on the books webpage where she explains how she came to write the story  Using the contents of the treasure box--old pictures, playbills, postcards, lace gloves, a scarf, a rosary, a crucifix necklace, etc--she rebuilds the story of Louise and Henri Brunet the previous occupants.  But she also gives us the story of Trevor Stratton, the contemporary American researcher who 'discovers' the box, after it is planted by the office secretary Josianne, and his strange reactions to the artifacts as he writes about them.  This part of the story-- the relationship between Trevor and Josianne, and his letters to an unnamed "Dear Sir" are the weakest part of the story, but not weak enough to detract from the overall weave of the story.

We are treated to unrequited love, illicit love, an everyday marriage, and a bizarre compilation of coincidences, conflicts and puzzles. We have a wonderful picture of Paris in the 1930's, of women's roles in that period between the two World Wars.  It's amazing, fun, and thought-provoking.  In addition, Ms. Shapiro has given us a series of QR codes (I had to look that one up!): "Quick response codes" that readers who have such an app on their smart phones can use to bring up enhanced pictures of the treasures in the box.  For those of us who don't have such up-to-date skills and/or technologies, there are enhanced photos, audio and video clips available on the books webpage. It's a veritable treasure box itself. Here's just one example- Louise's scarf:

It's a tough book to categorize or summarize, just as working a puzzle is difficult to explain.  It's a book that is to be experienced rather than read.  There is quite a bit of french in the story, but the author does an admirable job of translating without disturbing the flow of the story.  I hope you have a chance to immerse yourself in this one sooner rather than later.

Many thanks to Regan Arthur books for providing a review copy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas

Author: Rachel Hadas
Publisher/Format: Paul Dry Books 2011, paperback, 240 pages
Subject: dementia, poetry, coping with loneliness
Genre: memoir
Source: review copy from publisher

Subtitled A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry, Strange Relation is a beautiful, profound, emotional, often painful story of a situation that is one many readers may face in the future. Rachel Hadas begins this heart-breaking story:

In early 2005, my husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with dementia. He was sixty-one years old. I was fifty-six. (pg. vii)

George's dementia manifested itself in a progressive, prolonged, irreversible slide into silence. He stopped talking, he stopped reading, he stopped playing music. Not abruptly, but gradually, so that only in retrospect could his family pinpoint the onset of the disease. But the diagnosis proved to be only the beginning. Rachel had to learn to live in a marriage that became a shell.  George was physically present, but she could often not determine whether George was mentally present.  His unresponsiveness became an increasing source of angst.

As his condition deteriorated, Rachel returned to her teaching (she is Professor of English at Rutgers University) and found solace in her poetry, Greek mythology, the writings of Dickens, James, and Wharton among other, and the poems of  Dickinson, Frost, Milton, among others.
I'm a teacher, but first and foremost I am a poet. Since my father's death when I was seventeen years old, poetry has steadily helped m not only to express what I was feeling...but also to figure out what I was thinking. In the case of a situation as elusive and amorphous, but also as powerful and all-pervasive, as George's illness, poetry's gift of trope often shed crucial light on the prevailing gloom. (pg.x)
It was the Greeks who gave her a grounding in assessing her life.
When it comes to no-win situations, mythology furnishes what it is no exaggeration to call classic examples of indigestible choices.  Doctors don't like to use the word tragedy, but myths bring tragic concepts to life. (pg. 22).
She slowly tiptoes through the next few years, re-reading favorite poetry and finding new meanings, writing new poems, several of which are included in the book.  Among my favorites is Vertical and Horizontal quoted here with permission:

Vertical and Horizontal

Slowly you've been sinking out of sight.
You're losing the ability to speak.
I miss you, though, when I lie down at night,

No rage against the dying of the light.
The sun still shines.  But something's sprung a leak.
Gradually you're vanishing from sight.

Your body hasn't changed. Yet though your height
is still 6'4", you are diminished; weak.
Slowly you are sinking out of sight.

No gods, no reasons, nothing to placate.
Habit's force, which keeps me on my track,
makes me miss you every single night.

You striding on, me panting, yelling "Wait!":
all those summers, that was how we'd walk.
Now you are slowly fading from my sight
I miss you, still, when I lie down at night. (pg. 173)

As his silence progressed, Rachel made the painful decision to move George to a facility where he would be able to be cared for 24/7.  She had hired a series of care-givers who came in during the times she was not able to be at home, but finally decided that 'a placement' was best for everyone.
Before George left home--before, to mince no words, I moved him out-- I could work, but with the shadowy weight of his spectral presence on my mind, in my heart. Now I can work more easily in many ways, but with the shadowy weight of his spectral absence, and my undeniable responsibility for, ownership of, that absence, on my mind, in my heart.(pp 142-143).
She discusses her anguish about this decision with members of several support groups she joins, and ultimately with her readers in the chapter "Tithonus":
We are far from being ageless, we wives of the residents. Most of us are over sixty, and it shows. Nevertheless, something about visiting our husbands, especially early in the day, when hours of daylight stretch emptily ahead, reminds of the myth of Eos and Tithonus.  The goddess of the dawn (Eos..) fell in love with Tithonus, a handsome young man. She sought and was granted immortality for her lover, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth for him as well....We wives have not made Dawn's careless mistake; we didn't either ask for or forget to ask for eternal youth for our husbands.  Nor are we immortal ourselves;...Nevertheless, when we visit, we seem young and beautiful and strong--if only by contrast and if only to ourselves. (pp.187, 193.)
This is not a quick read. It needs to be slowly assimilated both on an intellectual and an emotional basis, each reaction requiring different skills, processing and levels of grappling and grasping meanings.  It contains many literary allusions, some less familiar than others.  For readers without that strong literature grounding, the book may be hard going.  However, the poetry is another thing entirely.  It is simple, elegant, extravagant, gut-wrenching, and speaks to the reader without the need for any formal education in the genre.  Obviously, those who read, write and critique poetry for a living will certainly have different experiences of her poems, but those of us who are more casual consumers still have lots to appreciate.  By explaining how she wrote the poems, and what she was thinking as she wrote them, she allows us to accompany her on this troubled, dark, and often depressing journey of loneliness.

Whether Hadas' approach to coping is one that will prove helpful to readers facing similar situations ultimately will depend on the the reader's affinity for poetry and literature, and on their comfort level with solitude.  It is a beautifully written presentation of one woman's journey of isolation and love, worth reading for the poetry even if the story is not one to which the reader can personally relate.

Review: Shakespeare's Trollop by Charlaine Harris

Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher/Format: Recorded Books, audio 6 discs, 7 hours, 194 pages equivalent
Narrator: Julia Gibson
Characters: Lily Bard
Subject: murder in a southern setting
Setting: fictional small town in Arkansas
Series: Lily Bard Mysteries
Genre: amateur sleuth mystery
Source: public library

In this warm and cozy mystery series Shakespeare is the name of a town in Arkansas, not a playwright. Lily Bard, a young woman who works as a house cleaner has evidently come to this small town to escape reminders of a very violent incident in her past.  This is the fourth of six in the series, and I didn't feel I absolutely had to have read the previous entries to enjoy this one. I am however, going to be sure to look them up.  The past sounds every bit as interesting as the present.

In this one, Lily discovers a dead body: one of her clients who had a reputation for being a bit loose with her morals.  One of the trollop's latest and most consistent clients (whom Lily can identify as having been in and out of the victim's apartment) happens to be the local sheriff's brother.  While the sheriff, with Lily's reluctant cooperation, is trying to solve the murder, Lily is also trying to resolve her feelings about her current boyfriend Jack Leeds, a private investigator who seems to be more absent than present in her life.  In the meantime, she continues with her eccentric cast of clients and her personal fitness routine at the gym/karate venue.  The murder is eventually solved with the perpetrator probably being a surprise to most readers.

As with other series by Charlaine Harris, humor abounds, the southern setting is charming but not cloying, and readers can settle down to enjoy a good mystery with likeable characters and an interesting setting.  Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

National Library Week

We've been so busy reading, and celebrating everything good about libraries that I've been quie remiss in wishing everyone in blogger land a wonderful enjoyable National Library Week. This year it also happens that National Volunteer Week is being celebrated at the same time, so here in our small all-volunteer staff library we have double reason to rejoice.

The nice folks at Open Road Integrated Media have done a spectacular job with posts to remind us of the significance and value of the library to every citizen in this world today.  Information may be accessed in a variety of formats, budgets may be huge or non-existent, buildings can be palatial and multi-purposed or recycled closets but the library remains the central pillar of our lives of learning and our quest for information.

The clip here provided by Open Road Media is from one of my favorite writers, Pat Conroy, who describes for us the importance of the library in his life.  His book "My Reading Life" is a proclamation of his love of books, libraries and the people who keep that life alive.

I hope you all have time to visit your local library this week, either in person or online, to take advantage of the incredible range of programs, services, and information in all formats.

Review: An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor

Author: Patrick Taylor
Publisher/Format:Forge Books (2010), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 464 pages  
Characters: Dr. F.F. O'Reilly, Dr. Barry Laverty, Kinky Kincaid,  Kitty O'Hallorhan
Subject: small town life and love in rural Ireland
Setting: fictional town of Ballybucklebo, County Down, Northern Ireland
Series: Irish Country
Genre: fiction
Source: public library

This is the latest in a very cozy comfy series about life in  rural Ireland in the mid 20th century.  When I got the book, I thought the courtship would have to do with the romance of young Dr. Barry Laverty who, at the end of the previous episode (An Irish Country Christmas)  was unceremoniously dumped by the love of his life Patricia Spence.  His hang-dog attitude seemed certain to make life miserable for everyone around him.  Instead, we are actually treated to the more senior Dr. O'Reilly's bumbling later in life courtship of his long time-ago love, Kitty O'Hallorhan.  How the housekeeper Kinky Kincaid reacts to another woman in her doctor-dear's life adds an amusing and heartwarming touch to all the relationships.

Taylor does an excellent job of back-fill in this one so even if you haven't read the others, this will do nicely on its own.  The Irish Country series is a delightful, uplifting, fun, and easy to read look at a town of characters who have flaws, of villains bent on making money on the backs of others who stand to lose, on women who seem stuck in a time warp, on drunks who aren't always as well behaved as they might, of comical animals, shy maidens, mischievous urchins at the school, and old folks hanging onto life--whose hopes and dreams are the hopes and dreams of all of us, and whose doctors manage to keep them well enough in body and soul to live interesting and rewarding lives.

This was a perfect story to balance some more deep and heavy reading I've been doing.  It's a great series, lots of fun, and one needing no catchup wherever you start.  They are also available in absolutely enchanting audio editions.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mailbox Monday - April 11

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!
Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog.  This month Passages to the Past is hosting.  Stop on over and see what everyone else got this week (and don't forget to wallow in some of the glorious historical fiction featured there.)  I include not only print books I received but also books that arrived via the virtual E-book route.

 I only got one new one this week, from a galley sweepstakes at Crown on  Shelf Swareness - Mr. Tutu has already grabbed this one away from me....

The year is 2032. The third Iran-Iraq war is over; the 11/11 dirty bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory; Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup; Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin; Iranian armored units, supported by the satellite and drone power of their Chinese allies, have emer
Force Insertion is the world's merc monopoly. Its leader is the disgraced former United States Marine General James Salter, stripped of his command by the president for nuclear saber-rattling with the Chinese and banished to the Far East.  A grandmaster military and political strategist, Salter deftly seizes huge oil and gas fields, ultimately making himself the most powerful man in the world.  Salter's endgame is to take vengeance on those responsible for his exile and then come Commander in Chief. The only man who can stop him is the novel's narrator, Gilbert "Gent" Gentilhomme, Salter's most loyal foot soldier and as close to him as the son Salter lost. As this action-jammed, lightning fast, and brutally realistic novel builds to its heart-stopping climax Gent launches his personally and professionally most desperate mission: to take out his mentor and save the United States from self destruction.

Infused by a staggering breadth of research in military tactics and steeped in the timeless themes of the honor and valor of men at war that distinguish all of Pressfield’s fiction, The Profession is that rare novel that informs and challenges the reader almost as much as it entertains. ged from their enclaves in Tehran and are sweeping south attempting to recapture the resource rich territory that had been stolen from them, in their view, by Lukoil, BP, and ExxonMobil and their privately-funded armies. Everywhere military force is for hire.  Oil companies, multi-national corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.  Even nation states enlist mercenary forces to suppress internal insurrections, hunt terrorists, and do the black bag jobs necessary to maintain the new New World Order.

This one sounds like it wil be a good thriller for a rainy weekend.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A fun new series (for me): Wind River Reservation Mysteries

It's no secret that my favorite fiction genre is the mystery, and I'm especially fond of mysteries that have good characters, well-developed plots, and interesting settings. The true bonus comes when these mysteries form part of long running, on-going series and  the author doesn't get stale and run out of gas. This past week I've read two more from a writer I just discovered late last year, Margaret Coel. I'm becoming very fond of the two main characters - Fr. John O'Malley, a Jesuit from Boston who finds himself recovering from alcholism as the resident priest at an Arapaho reservation, and Vicki Holden, an Arapaho lawyer who becomes involved with crime, criminals, and whose feelings for Fr. O'Malley promise (threaten?) to provide us with quite an interesting relationship as the series develops.

Author: Margaret Coel
Publisher/Format: Books in Motion audio books, 
Narrator: Stephanie Brush
Characters: Fr. John  O'Malley
Subject: Murder, life on an Indian Reservation
Setting: ficitional Indian Reservation in Wyoming
Series: Wind River Reservation mysteries
Genre: amateur detective
Source: public library audio download

Coel manages to give us an excellent picture of the traditions, rituals, beliefs, and utter despair sometimes experienced by Native Americans remaining on reservations with little economic opportunity to improve their lives.  Through the eyes of O'Malley and Holden, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Chief, the Indian housekeeper Elena, and various tribal elders, we are invited in to experience the beauty of the high plains and the hope and desperation of generations trying to maintain a way of life in danger of disappearing in the name of progress.  I read the first one in the series, The Eagle Catcher, last October, and decided to see if the series was worth pursuing.  They definitely were.

The Fr. John O'Malley character combines  the humanity and vunerability of  J.A. Jance's J.P. Beaumont with the understanding and acceptance of a Van Alstyne or a Brunetti; the settings are reminiscent of Tony Hillerman, or Nevada Barr and the plots are just unique and involved enough to carry the reader from page to page without the hair twisting psychological drama so many current writers seem to be enamored of.  Coel's respect for Indian traditions and rituals is very apparent and is allowed to stand along with and blend well with the Christian ethic espoused by the Jesuits.  The stunning presentations of human frailties, life's big and small problems, along with good police and detective work, and just a hint of romance (or at least good strong friendship) make them winners for me.  I will definitely be looking for the rest of the series - there are 15 in all.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Memoir of the Month: Orange is the New Black

 Subtitled: My Year in a Women's Prison
Author: Piper Kerman 
Publisher/Format: epub from Random House Pub group - 300 pages
Subject: life inside a federal woman's prison
Genre: memoir
Source: Adobe digital edition download from public library

Piper Kerman is not the stereotypical felon.  She is college educated, funny, literate, articulate, she had a good job, good family support, a fiancè, and altogether what most people would consider a good life.  She also made really poor choices during a period of her life and she paid for those choices by having to spend 15 months in the women's prison facility in Danbury CT as #11187-424-her new identify.

With self-deprecating honesty, she gives us a memoir of how she got there, what life was like inside, and her relations with her fellow prisoners.  It is the day-to-day relations with these sister inmates that captures us.  Kerman is quite insightful in her explanations of their plights, in her assessment of the prison system, in her stories of learning to work the system (for instance how to obtain items not available through the prison commissary), and work outside the system (how to get a manicure) and how to work for the system (she worked first as an electrician, then on  a construction crew).  Throughout it all, she shows how she maintained her equilibrium with the help of, and by helping, her fellow inmates.

Their stories are funny, sad, uplifting and depressing.  She has changed names and identifying circumstances, but the cast of fellow prisoners she presents help us understand not only the rules and workings of the prison, but the circumstances that brought many of these women to their current residence.  The stories of mothers separated from their children are particularly touching.

It was an eye-opening memoir: one that does not sugar coat, that does not cry "woe is me".  The author accepts responsibility for her actions and appears to have learned valuable life lessons. She is now working to provide those same opportunities for others who did not have her resources (either personal, financial or legal).  Kerman's work inside, and now outside is actually somewhat inspiring and causes the reader to sit back and think whether or not he or she could have survived the fifteen months the author did.

The book includes an extensive list of Justice Reform Resources and an interview she did for SMITH magazine about her current work.  Kerman also has a facebook page and a webpage Piper Kerman.  The paperback is due out this week, and promises to be well-received.  It's a memoir to make you think.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review : Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon

Author: Donna Leon
Publisher/Format: Atlantic Monthly Press (April 4, 2011) 266 pages
Characters: Brunetti, Vianello, Signorina Elletra
Subject: violence toward women
Setting: Venice
Series: Commissario Brunetti series
Genre: police procedural mystery
Source: E-galley from publisher, Grove Press via Net Galley

Commissario Guido Brunetti is probably my all-time favorite policeman.
  • He lives in Venice.
  • He's still madly in love with his wife of over 20 years.
  • His wife is a gorgeous, rich, educated, independent college professor who fixes him incredible homemade lunches everyday.
  • He doesn't drive a car - he walks or takes the vaporetto (the Venetian water equivalent of a bus!)
  • He has two typical teenage children he has trouble understanding.
  • He hates modernity, cardboard sandwiches, and crowds.
  • He reads Cicero, Tacitus and the Greeks in their original languages.
  • He knows his way around the fine wine world, and often leaves the office to mull over problems at the corner bar.
  • He has a jerk for a boss, and a megalomaniac working for him.
  • He knows when to turn a blind eye to irregularities in process.
  • He has a law degree but chooses to be a policeman.
  • He often leaves his gun locked in his closet at home.
  • He often forgets to carry his telefonino.
  • He takes his wife flowers - often.
  • He has a compassionate, caring, and intelligent manner towards those he works with-including victims, witnesses and even some accused.
  • He's not afraid to trust his gut instincts.

I mean really, what's not to like?  

In this latest (#20) of her police procedural mystery series, Donna Leon leads us gradually along as Brunetti is faced with trying to decide whether the unexpected death of a old lady ruled death by heart attack, was actually helped along by some outside violence.  As he slowly works his way through the stories of those involved, we are again taken into the darker sides of life in the fabled city, into the culture of wife beating, political corruption, police indifference, and officials 'looking the other way' as money, information, and goods are exchanged for favors.  Brunetti's incredible ability to be quiet and listen allows each participant in the event to tell his or her story and give us clues as to what really happened.  The ending is vintage Brunetti and will not disappoint.

This one is Leon at her best, it is Brunetti at his most human and his most vulnerable, and it is definitely Signorina Elletra's star performance to date. For those of you who are fans of this series, you have a treat in store.  For those of you who have not had a chance to sample, these are so well-written that each can stand alone, so what are you waiting for?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Mailbox - April 4th

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!
Created by Marcia at The Printed Page, Mailbox Monday, now has its own blog.  This month Passages to the Past is hosting.  Hop over and see what everyone else got this week (and don't forget to wallow in some of the glorious historical fiction featured there.)  I include not only print books I received but also books that arrived via the virtual E-book route.

The only print book arriving this week is the winner of the 2008 AWP Award for the Novel in Australia (Association of Writers and Writing Programs): The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom.  It may have been the only one, but it's one I really wanted. Thanks to Picador Book Club for the ARC.  Here's the blurb:

From 1941 to 1947, eighteen thousand Italian prisoners of war were sent to Australia. The Italian surrender that followed the downfall of Mussolini had created a novel circumstance: prisoners who theoretically were no longer enemies. Many of these exiles were sent to work on isolated farms, unguarded.

The Paperbark Shoe is the unforgettable story of Gin Boyle—an albino, a classically trained pianist, and a woman with a painful past. Disavowed by her wealthy stepfather, her unlikely savior is the farmer Mr. Toad—a little man with a taste for women's corsets. Together with their two children, they weather the hardship of rural life and the mockery of their neighbors. But with the arrival of two Italian prisoners of war, their lives are turned upside down. Thousands of miles from home, Antonio and John find themselves on Mr. and Mrs. Toad's farm, exiles in the company of exiles. The Paperbark Shoe is a remarkable novel about the far-reaching repercussions of war, the subtle violence of displacement, and what it means to live as a captive—in enemy country, and in one's own skin.
Then via the Net Galley route, I received an e-galley of Kristen Gore's latest: Sweet Jiminy

Hyperion Books: Net Galley - Pub Date 4/26/11 From New York Times bestselling author Kristin Gore, comes a suspenseful new novel set in Mississippi that deftly explores race, family, and an unsolved murder.

In the throes of a quarter-life crisis, Jiminy Davis abruptly quits law school and flees Chicago for her grandmother Willa's farm in rural Mississippi. In search of peace and quiet, Jiminy instead stumbles upon more trouble and turmoil than she ever knew existed. She is shocked to discover there was once another Jiminy - the daughter of her grandmother's longtime housekeeper, Lyn - who was murdered along with Lyn's husband four decades earlier in a civil rights-era hate crime. With the help of Lyn's nephew Bo, Jiminy sets out to solve the long-ago murder, to the dismay of those who would prefer to let sleeping dogs lie.  In Sweet Jiminy, readers will find a lively and compelling story filled with authentic and genuine Southern characters.

Southern fiction is a favorite genre so this is at the top of my virtual pile.
Courtesy of Barnes and Noble's Free Friday program for those of us lucky NOOK owners,  I got a copy of Gary Schmidt's Wednesday Wars.  His books are very popular in our library, not just with Young Adults, but with those of us who are more chronologically advantaged.  I haven't read this one yet, but must get to it soon before the grandchild beats me to it!  For those of you unfamiliar with this Newberry winner, here's a quick snapshot:

Seventh grader Holling Hoodhood has a tough year ahead of him. First of all, his teacher, Mrs. Baker, keeps giving him the evil eye. Second of all, the class bully keeps threatening to do Number 167 (and you don’t even want to know what Number 167 is). Third of all, his father keeps calling him ""the Son Who is Going to Inherit Hoodhood and Associates."" But things are changing in 1967, and while reciting his favorite curses from Shakespeare’s plays, Holling might just find the true meaning of his own story.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sunday Salon - Baseball, Snow and Abandoned Books

We've had a weird week here in Maine: March went out like the proverbial lamb - temps were in the 40's, sun was shining, we could see little shoots of bulbs peeking out of the emerging mud and most of the snow had melted.

Then April came roaring in like a lion, with winds of up to 45 mph, heavy wet snow pulling down tree limbs and power lines, and dumping over 6" here in town. Thank goodness for our new internet which kept working even when our satellite TV didn't so we could track where the storm was heading, and so we could watch the opening day of another Red Sox season--too bad they lost.

As quickly as it came in, it whooshed on through giving us now a pleasant weekend. I took the opportunity while housebound to catch up on some reviews, read some other books enough to know they weren't for me (more on that in a minute) and do a little work on my cross-stitching. My poor Blue Heron may never be birthed at the rate I'm going on this project, although I now have several audio books beckoning and that should spur me on. And now that we're getting close to Easter, big time choir rehearsals are going several times a week--today included.

Anyway, during the past week, I had two books that I was really excited to read that turned out to be disappointments: The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht and Crack In the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester.

The Tiger's Wife has received a LOT of buzz, and everyone who has managed to finish it is raving about it. For me though, I just could not get into a very convoluted combination of past/present stories - some fantasy, some seemed to be oral history, and it just didn't work for me. I have sent it back to the library for now (I read about100 pages) so that the 37 people on the waiting list can have their chance. I may come back to it later, but this type of fiction has never been something I've really gotten excited about, and this one didn't change my mind. I can see where her writing is judged lyrical - she can certainly paint word pictures. They just aren't pictures that appeal to me. Please don't let me put you off if fairy tales and a Balkan setting are for you. You will probably enjoy it.

Now for Winchester's book: This one is subtitled "America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906".  Quite timely I thought, and settled down to read about the big earthquake.  Well, I got to page 240 and STILL hadn't gotten to the earthquake.  I had, instead, completed a graduate level course on plate tectonics, continental shift, modern day geology, etc etc etc.  Not a bad treatise if that's what I was looking for, but I'm afraid to spend any more time on this scientific tome.  It's way more information that I was prepared to digest.  I tried it in print and in audio- and found both fascinating but way too esoteric for me to handle at this point in my life.
Again, this is not a bad book, it's well researched and for someone looking for this kind of information, I'm sure it's a great read.  For me.....  Maybe later...For now...back to the library. 

Now let's get back to stitchin'....

Saturday, April 2, 2011

More Winners

I'm ashamed to say this one is still in the queue to read and review for me, but it is getting some good buzz on other sites, so I'm sure our two winners will be excited to receive their copies. With all this snow we're still having here in Maine, a book set in Florida is rapidly moving to the top of my queue. has chosen

Carol M
as winners.  I have sent them emails and they have until midnite Tuesday April  5th to get back to me with their mailing addresses. 
Thanks to all who participated.  We look forward to seeing you stop by often.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Winners and a Review - A Deadly Cliche - April 1st

Author: Ellery Adams
Publisher/Format: Berkley (2011), Paperback, 304 pages
Characters: Olivia Limoges, Haviland the poodle, Chief Rawlings, the Bayside Book Writers Group
Subject: murder, missing person
Setting: fictional town of Oyster Bay North Carolina
Series: Books by the Bay mysteries
Genre: cozy mystery
Source: review copy from Berkley Crime

Back a few weeks ago when I posted the contest for this one, I hope I whetted your appetite with my demi-review:
Olivia Limoges, out walking with her beautiful companion Captain Haviland--the poodle on the cover--discovers a dead body on her town's pristine beach.  At the same time, there seems to be a growing crime spree in her small town, giving Police Chief Rawlings more than enough to keep him busy, and the Bayside Book Writers Group lots of fodder for future stories. To complicate the plot even more, Olivia has just been given a clue that her father, thought to have been lost at sea over 30 years ago, may in fact still be alive, and she seems to be developing more than professional feelings for Chief Rawlings (in addition to or instead of her current lover????)

Enough to get you interested? If nothing else, that gorgeous doggie sure beats a bare-chested Lothario for cover art in my book.  And of course it has a lighthouse! I know I'm not going to be doing much else until I finish this one. I'll give you my final review when I announce the winners to our giveaway.
 Well I finished it and it was even better than I imagined it would be.  The double mysteries of the crime spree in Oyster Bay, and the question about Olivia's father are both solved in a well-written, well-crafted plot that leaves plenty of room for more adventures in future volumes.  Haviland shines, Olivia's life is expanding, and we are getting to know a terrific cast of characters, each of whom has lots of room to grow, but is already developed enough to reside permanently in our affections already.

I am so excited to be able to give our lucky reader the chance to jump on the bandwagon.  So

Anita Yancey-it's you.
I'm sending an email to you, so send me your US mailing address and we'll get the book right out to you.