Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Shout Out: This is Your Life, Harriet Chance

The Publisher says:
 With Bernard, her husband of fifty-five years, now in the grave, seventy-eight-year-old Harriet Chance impulsively sets sail on an ill-conceived Alaskan cruise that her late husband had planned. But what she hoped would be a voyage leading to a new lease on life becomes a surprising and revelatory journey into Harriet’s past.  Here, amid the overwhelming buffets and the incessant lounge singers, between the imagined appearances of her late husband and the very real arrival of her estranged daughter midway through the cruise, Harriet is forced to take a long look back, confronting the truth about pivotal events that changed the course of her life. And in the process she discovers that she’s been living the better part of that life under entirely false assumptions.

My impressions:
While the story itself is more than enough to make me want to take a look, it is the format of the book that kept me turning pages.  Evison uses the flashback device very effectively, and has an omniscient narrator telling us (and Harriet) about various events in her life today and in the past.  Harriet's gradual discovery of what she knew and when she knew (or should have known) it is a poignant portrayal of aging, loneliness, denial, and forgiveness.  In learning to forgive others, she comes to forgive and accept herself.   A delightful, thought-provoking read.  

Title:This is Your Life, Harriet Chance 
Author: Jonathan Evison
Publisher: Algonquin Books (2015), 304 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Aging, self-discovery
Setting: Alaskan cruise
Source: Net Galley, electronic review copy from the Publisher
Why did I read this book now? It's being considered for the Maine Readers' Choice Award and I'm on the selection committee.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Shout Out: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

 The Publisher tells us
Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.
 My Impressions:

This is one of the most innovative detective stories I've read in a long time. Portraying strong women as  protagonists in a decidedly non-feminist setting made for some interesting situations.  I kept seeing early silent film reels running through my mind with Al Capone style gangsters, tin lizzies, fainting flappers, and stereotypical "Little House on the Prairie" homemakers.  But......these women were far from stereotypes.  They were strong (and headstrong), competent, organized, innovative and at times able to be quite stubborn in their quest for justice.

Several reviewers commented that they were able to guess the outcome from the "spoiler" printed on the book's cover.  Since I read this as an e-galley, I didn't pay attention to the cover, and it was only at the end that I realized the story is based on a true but long forgotten adventure. That said, I won't add anything else to spoil the fun.  I will say though that I look forward to more adventures of the Kopp sisters.

Title: Girl Waits with Gun 
Author: Amy Stewart
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015), Edition: 1st, 416 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: Women in law enforcement
Setting: New Jersey 
Source: Public Library electronic overload
Why did I read this book now? It's being considered for the Maine Readers' Choice Award and I'm on the selection committee.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Shout Out: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

The Publisher says:
 In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life.
   Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, Judy Blume imagines and weaves together a haunting story of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed by these disasters. She paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.
In the Unlikely Event is a gripping novel with all the hallmarks of Judy Blume’s unparalleled storytelling.
My Impressions:

I always associate Judy Blume with YA books, and didn't realize this was geared to a much wider audience.  Based on true facts and events, the story is so attention grabbing, so well told, that the reader does not want to put this one down.  I was up very late two nights in a row finishing this one.  The characters are instantly accepted and believable, and the riveting story takes the reader on a true roller coaster of emotions.  It definitely is a book that would make a great Christmas gift for readers from 13 to 100.  For those of us who grew up in the post-war era of the 50's it's a true treat.

Title: In the Unlikely Event
Author: Judy Blume
Publisher: Knopf (2015), Edition: First Edition, 416 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: Emotional trauma

Setting: New Jersey
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now? It's being considered for the Maine Readers' Choice Award and I'm on the selection committee.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Shout-Out: A Spool of Blue Thread

 The Publisher says:
It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon...' This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They've all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself. From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we also see played out our own hopes and fears, rivalries and tensions - the essential nature of family life.
My Impressions:

I've never been a fan of Anne Tyler, even though she writes about my home town Baltimore in almost every book.  This one however, is exquisite.  The characters she develops carefully let us into their psyches as they struggle to come to grips with aging - both their own and their parents.  It is a story so ordinary in its universality, but so special to each person involved.  Anne Tyler may have hit her peak with this one.  I never thought I'd appreciate her writing, but this one truly resonated with me, and I suspect will ring true with many readers today, no matter their age.

Title: A Spool of  Blue Thread
Author: Anne Tyler
Publisher:Knopf (2015), Edition: 1St Edition, 368 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: Aging and family relationships
Setting: Baltimore
Source: Audio download from public library Overdrive
Why did I read this book now? It's being considered for the Maine Readers' Choice Award and I'm on the selection committee.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Shout-Out: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The publisher says
Vianne and Isabelle have always been close despite their differences. Younger, bolder sister Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne lives a quiet and content life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. When World War II strikes and Antoine is sent off to fight, Vianne and Isabelle's father sends Isabelle to help her older sister cope. As the war progresses, it's not only the sisters' relationship that is tested, but also their strength and their individual senses of right and wrong. With life as they know it changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

My impressions

I'm not sure what I was expecting but those expectations were far exceeded by the read.  Ms. Hannah has given us a well researched book with vivid characters, a page-turning plot, and a lasting impression of the existence of the essential good in human beings.  While there is evil a plenty, there is also love, hope, and forgiveness to salve the wounds of betrayal, despair, neglect and all the hardships of war.  This one is definitely going to be on my Top Ten list for 2015.

If you enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See  you will definitely want to read this one.  This is certainly Kristin Hannah's  best in a long line of good novels
Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (2015), Edition: First Edition, 448 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: The French Resistance during World War II 
Setting: Countryside of France
Source: Public Library
Why did I read this book now? It is being considered for the Maine Readers' Choice Award and I'm on the selection committee.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Review: Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Coral

  The Publisher says:
 A deeply divided nation. Vicious politics. A shamelessly partisan media. A president loathed by half the populace. Smuggling and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Armed citizens willing to stand their ground and take law into their own hands. . . . 
That was America in 1881.
All those forces came to bear on the afternoon of October 26 when Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers faced off against the Clantons and the McLaurys in Tombstone, Arizona. It should have been a simple misdemeanor arrest. Thirty seconds and thirty bullets later, three officers were wounded and three citizens lay dead in the dirt.
Wyatt Earp was the last man standing, the only one unscathed. The lies began before the smoke cleared, but the gunfight at the O.K. Corral would soon become central to American beliefs about the Old West.
Epitaph tells Wyatt’s real story, unearthing the Homeric tragedy buried under 130 years of mythology, misrepresentation, and sheer indifference to fact. Epic and intimate, this novel gives voice to the real men and women whose lives were changed forever by those fatal thirty seconds in Tombstone. At its heart is the woman behind the myth: Josephine Sarah Marcus, who loved Wyatt Earp for forty-nine years and who carefully chipped away at the truth until she had crafted the heroic legend that would become the epitaph her husband deserved.
  My impressions:
 I don't think I ever actually knew what happened at the O.K. Corral.  Other than my exposure to the Wyatt Earp series on TV when I was a child, I knew nothing about the Wild West.   Russell paints a clear and easy to read picture of this era and area of US history and geography.  Each character is so well developed that we feel we are really there along for the ride as rivalries and loyalties wax and wane among the major and minor players.

Not only does the author lead the reader up to the fatal shooting, she takes us past that occasion to follow the characters to the end of their lives.   A well-developed and thoroughly enjoyable read, even for those who are fans of westerns.  Although touted as a western, this belongs much more to the historical fiction genre and should appeal to a wide range of readers.

Author: Mary Doria Russell
Publisher: Ecco (2015)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Subject: Law and order
Setting: Arizona and environs
Source: Public Library
Why did I read this book now? It is being considered for nomination for the 2016 Maine Readers Choice Award and I'm on the selection committee.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: Corridors of the Night by Anne Perry

 Corridors of the Night
A William Monk Novel

 It's been quite a while since I read any of this series, and I'd forgotten how enjoyable they are.  William and Hester Monk have aged a bit, and others in the series are also growing older, but with age comes wisdom.

In this episode, Hester discovers that one of the doctors at the hospital where she is temporarily working has a brother who is a scientist working on a cure for "white blood disease".  He is actually developing the early protocols for blood transfusions, but is using young children (bought off the streets of poverty) to be blood donors.

When a wealthy patient's daughter demands that her father be given this on-going treatment, Hester and the three children involved are kidnapped and held at a hidden location so the treatments can continue.  Hester is convinced that if the patient dies, she and the children will be killed to cover up the mess.

Monk sets out to find her.  The rest will be up to the reader to discover.  It's a good read, with excellent insight into Victorian medical practices. 

I received the audio book version of this from the Early Reviewers program of LibraryThing.  Well worth reading, and kudos to the production company for a well-done audio.

Title: Corridors of the Night
Author: Anne Perry
Publisher: Recorded Books Inc. (2015)
Genre: Mystery, historical fiction
Subject: Victorian medical practices
Setting: London
Series: William Monk Novels
Source: Early Reviewers program,
Why did I read this book now?  I promised a review in exchange for a review copy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Just Checking In

Wow!   It's been awhile since I've had enough free time to post.   This has been a very different year for Tutu.  RL (Real Life) has been overtaking my priorities, and while I've been reading at a steady pace, I'm not reading as many books, and find, after everything else happening, that I don't have the mental energy to drum up a decent review.   I know I should be reviewing some very good books to get the word out, and hope to do a series of "shout outs" soon to let you know about a few I've come across.

To very patient publishers who have granted me access to e-galleys, my apologies.  I'm trying to give you input via the Net Galley or Edelweiss feedback forms.   If I'm not posting a review about a book you offered, it's probably because it didn't interest me enough to finish it.   AND THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF THOSE LATELY.    I'm not sure if it's me, or if it's just a shift in writing styles and subjects, but I'm finding less and less about which to enthuse.

In the meantime, I've been dealing with family on both coasts - 2 deaths, auto accidents, serious illnesses, lost jobs, and long distance eldercare issues.   I want to give a huge public thank you to my sisters and sisters-in-law all over the country for all the support they've been giving. To my children and their spouses and three gorgeous fun-loving grandchildren, special hugs and kisses for keeping the joy in my life.  Finally a special thank you and huge heart full of love to my husband for his gorgeous sense of humor, fantastic emotional support, and all the wonderful "honey-do's" he does for all of us.

Hope your holiday season is full of joy and blessings.