Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More series speak : Barbara Holloway mysteries by Kate Wilhelm

Kate Wilhelm's marvelous series about defense attorney Barbara Holloway is definitely one of my favorites.  I've been trying to catch up on these over the summer.  Although they are involved mysteries, requiring some brain work on the reader's part, they are so well written and flow so smoothly that they are actually relaxing.  They're not the typical beach read, but they do present likeable characters that draw the reader in.  They present believable scenarios, thought-provoking ethical dilemmas, and often a series of realistic and scary "what if's" that pull the reader inexorably to an often surprising conclusion.

In Sleight of Hand, Barbara must defend a reformed pick-pocket who is wrongly accused of lifting a valuable artifact.  When the owner of the trinket turns up dead, the charges are elevated to murder, and, as they say, "the plot thickens."

Wrongful Death begins with the delicious plot twist of having Barbara Holloway as the prime suspect in the disappearance (kidnapping?) of young man whose mother she finds murdered.  It gets more involved, with shocking revelations of crime at many levels, mistaken (or misleading?) identities, and a story that takes the reader right to the brink of a shocking ending.

Fabulous mysteries, great protagonist, and really well-developed characters who keep getting better with each new volume in the series.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Series speak - Broken English by P. L. Gaus

The Ohio Amish Country Mysteries by P.L. Gaus is a series I started reading earlier this year.  Broken English is actually #2 in the series, but the third I've read, and I'm still very impressed with the books.

I'm gradually getting comfortable with the various characters, and the author's rhythm, and getting used to the word "English" as referring to the non-Amish in the community, akin to the term "haoles" in Hawaii, or gringos in Hispanic areas. The term is certainly not meant pejoratively but it takes a bit to become attuned to its usage in this context.

Here we have our English professor Brandon trying to help Pastor Troyer prove that a converted war vet who has every reason to exact revenge is NOT the murderer they are looking for. It's a well-developed mystery with some good red herrings, excellent character development, and again, a gentle but objective portrayal of a way of life different from my own. All in all a very satisfying read.

I enjoy this series and will probably read more, but it's one of those that I wouldn't be able to read more than two at a time without a break. And until you get used to who is who, they're probably better read in print rather than audio

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Multi-tasking away a beautiful Maine summer

Loyal apologies for less frequent posts, but real life has had me going in about thirty different ways this summer. While I'm having fun, and I am still reading, there has been less time to do reviews.  I keep dreaming of a lazy Maine summer with nothing to do but read.  Hah!

I'm frantically packing, organizing and preparing to depart the gorgeous Maine summer for a few weeks of family in the DC/MD/VA area and then for a huge family reunion in Modesto CA. We haven't gotten hubbie's side of the family all together in over 20 years. While we're there, we'll be celebrating several birthdays, an engagement, a wedding (day after the reunion party) and just spreading lots of hugs and kisses among aunts, uncles, godparents and tons of cousins and in-laws.

Here in the Tutu household, we've been spending some serious time going through galley proofs and marketing plans for the launch of Mr. Tutu's (better known as Bob Branco)first book, to be published by Maine Authors Publishing by the end of the summer. Of course Tutu is having a very hard time being objective about this one, so I'll be letting others of you do the reviewing, but I can guarantee that
 is a good rip-snorting at-sea thriller for any of you who like modern day high seas adventures. We'll have the official Facebook page and web page by the end of August in time for the launch, and the book will be available direct order, at some Indies and through normal on-line book channels in both print and e-format.

The piece de resistance is that my laptop is dying and I decided to get a new one this week so I could get important files transferred (I've got a total external backup every night) and not have to suffer the agony of a crash.  But the new one has WINDOWS 8 and ----sorry Microsoft--- but this OS stinks big time.  I pride myself on being very computer adept, but I am practically in tears trying to acclimate to this new system.  I'm so tempted to take the old computer with me and pray.....

All I can say is that I have an even greater admiration for writers -- and editors!!-- than I ever had before. Reading galley proofs is tedious, eye and brain straining, but absolutely necessary, and it takes time. The author can't do it, because he's seen it too much to be able to pick up little nit-noids, and the folks at Maine Authors Publishing have done a wicked good job (that's Maine talk for fabulous) getting this to print. So STAND BY.

Now I'm off to write up instructions for our house sitter, finish the last load of laundry, get the suitcases out of the attic, work on a 200 slide show for the reunion, check with the caterer and venue manager, and make sure all the bills are paid.  I have six reviews in various stages of done-ness, so I'll be posting over the next couple weeks. In the meantime, I hope you are all staying cool and enjoying your summer.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

In Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger leaves behind his Cork O'Connor series to give us a stunning stand-alone coming of age novel.  Krueger has said he thinks this is his best work, and I don't disagree.

Set in New Bremen Minnesota in the summer of 1961, the narrator Frank Drum reflects back from 40 years' perspective about events and how he reacted to them at the age of 12-13, how he helped his 9 year old brother Jake make sense of the adult happenings in their lives, and how their father, a war veteran turned preacher, held the family together through very traumatic events.  There were murders, missing persons (including their 18 year old sister), an emotionally absent mother, and mysterious happenings.

The book opens with the gruesome death of a 13 year old boy who is run over by a train.  Was it an accident?  A suicide?  A murder?  Shortly after, Frank and his brother discover the body of an "itinerant".  Yes there's a murder mystery to be solved, but the book is so much more.  Secret keeping is a central theme. The negative impacts on the lives of those who keep secrets, even when the intentions may be good, are examined in a compassionate retrospective as Frank looks back on the events of that summer, his feelings of guilt, his youthful inability to deal with everything happening, and his relations with his father, his mother and his brother. 

While the characters are all believable and well drawn, it is the setting both in time and place that is one of the stars of this remarkable novel.  The author places the reader squarely in a small town in 1961, from the neighborhood barber shop where men go to be men and catch up on gossip, to the local drugstore/soda fountain, the TV dinners in front of black and white tvs, the bicycles, foot travel, phone firmly hooked to the wall (and only one phone per household), and houses without air conditioning,we are transported to a softer, kinder time, even with the murders festering on the edges.

The reader is reluctant to end the book. The times, the story and the characters are destined to become engraved in the reader's memory.  The title is not correct - - - - this book is in no way Ordinary.  It will certainly be on several Best of the Year lists for 2013.

Title: Ordinary Grace
Author: William Kent Krueger
Publisher: Atria Books (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: secret keeping, murder, coming of age
Setting: New Bremen Minnesota
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now? I like the author.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday Mailbox - July 8th

It's Monday, and now that it's July, Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Tasha at Book Obsessed.  It's been a quiet week for Tutu's mailbox, and I'm actually thankful since I'm getting caught up.  This week I only got one, but I think if I pay attention to the buzz, this one is going to be a biggie.

As a result of the galley grab from this spring's BEA, I requested and got an ARC of The Returned from Harlequin Mira.  I had vowed I wasn't going to take a real book on my vacation in a couple weeks, but I may have to break my promise. This one looks like one to pay attention to.
"Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were."  
Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time.... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep-flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. 
All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human. 
With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.
 I'll keep you posted on this one.  Meanwhile, hop on over to Tasha's blog and see what everyone else got this week.  I'll meet you over there. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Sign of the Cross by Anne Emery

How did I ever miss this one?  Published in Canada in 2008, I won a copy in ECW Publisher's Shelf Monkey giveaway in May.  I'm so glad I got this first one in an ongoing series.  It's definitely going to be one I'll pursue to catch up on all seven now in print.

It has wonderful characters:  Montague (Monty) Collins, the only criminal defense lawyer in his law firm; Fr. Brennan Burke, Irish export with an angelic voice, and a love of good liturgical music; Maura MacNeil, Monty's estranged wife; and a large cast of supporting nuns, priests and admin ladies at the rectory and the school, and barristers at the law firm.  There are ex-girl friends, orphans, and poker buddies.  There are retired cops, current cops, bartenders, thugs, and disappointed parishioners. 

Burke has not led the most exemplary of celibate or vice-free lives, either before or after his ordination.  His Irish charm and matching temper often  put him into situations best described as "dicey."  However, when a young woman who had been employed at the Music School where Burke is the choir director is found murdered, the police immediately identify the good Father as the prime suspect.  Later, a second murder with the same MO and forensic evidence seals the matter as far as the police are concerned, leading them to describe him as a "serial killer."

Collins reluctantly agrees to take on Burke's defense, but cannot get Brennan to open up about anything in his past to help identify who could possibly be framing him, and when Brennan's insistence on testifying in his own behalf backfires, all hope seems lost.

The plot is multi-layered, there are many suspects and scenarios that present themselves along the way.  I especially liked the Canadian court setting.  I knew nothing about how the legal system works in Nova Scotia but Emery explains it well without becoming bogged down in minutiae.

This is a series that has caught my attention.  The delightful and well-drawn characters, the interesting and unusual (for me) setting, and the intricate plotting has me already searching out the next one in the series.  I noticed that they are also available in ebook format and just may load the next one on my Nook for our upcoming trip the end of the month.

Many thanks to ECW Press for sending a copy.  I love those petit paquets from our northern neighbors.

Title: The Sign of the Cross
Author: Anne Emery
Publisher: ECW Press (2008), Paperback, 329 pages
Genre: mystery - legal procedures
Subject: Murder, music, and Irish priesthood
Setting: Halifax Nova Scotia
Series: Collins-Burke Mystery #1
Source: Giveaway from the publisher
Why did I read this book now? I won it in a Shelf-Monkey giveaway and the subject matter attracted me.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal

Title: His Majesty's Hope
Author: Susan Elia MacNeal
Publisher: Bantam (2013), Paperback, 368 pages
Genre: Mystery, government spying
Subject:  World War II spies
Setting: England, Germany
Series: Maggie Hope #3
Source: Early Review program on
Why did I read this book now? I enjoy the series and promised a review in return for a free book.

This series continues to delight me.  Maggie Hope is gradually moving up in the spy world.  She's gone from being Churchill's personal secretary to being a maths tutor/bodyguard for Princess Elizabeth at Windsor Castle (books 1 and 2 in the series).   And gradually the author is revealing little tidbits of information that make us wonder how much of her promotion is fortuitous or how much is part of a very well-thought out plan by the government to let Maggie think she's calling the shots.

In this installment, Maggie has completed her training to be parachuted into Germany where she is expected to plant a secret radio transmitter in the office of one of Germany's top agents (who just Happens to Be Maggie's long presumed dead mother).  While there, unplanned opportunities pop-up, and Maggie is faced with a decision whether to improvise, or stay strictly with the original plan.

As usual our fearless wonder-girl leads everyone on a merry chase, manages to get into and out of all kinds of trouble, and I won't spoil your enjoyment by revealing whether at the end we leave her dangling, captured or dead, or she returns to embark on another adventure (er....mission.)

The historical setting and facts sprinkled throughout this one are fascinating.  MacNeal has certainly done her research and manages to weave a good deal of history into a fun piece of fiction.   If you've read the first two, you'll love this one.  I'd suggest reading at least the second book before you read this one, but even if not, it will still be an enjoyable read.