Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Christmas Hope: A Novel by Anne Perry

This is the first of the "Christmas stories" Anne Perry has written which I have read, though by the list inside the cover, she's been doing this a while. I enjoy her regular series about Monk and Hester, which present a gritty underbelly to Victorian London, as well as a wicked eye to the morals and mores of the time. This small novel, sent to me through the Library Thing early Reviewers program, was a little nugget of Victorian society, wrapped up with a Christmas bow.

Claudine Burroughs, who has grown to dislike both the Christmas season and her joyless marriage, finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time to witness the end of a fight at one of the Christmas parties. A young woman "of the street" is severely injured, and one of the party attendees is accused by three others of harming her. When the woman dies, it becomes a question of murder. It also becomes a question of justice, as Claudine unravels what actually happened that evening.

There are illusions to Hester Monk's clinic, where Claudine happens to volunteer. Bits I liked, bits that are similar to other bits I've read in Perry's novels. But all in all, a fine period piece.

Many thanks to Library Thing and the publishers for sending this to me. It is my final completed read of 2013.

Friday, December 27, 2013

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

I picked this up thinking it would be a break from some of the fantasy YA books I've been reading, and might be like a modern day version of Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Oliver. It is, if you switch pickpocketing and petty thievery with corporate crime, mass killings, and economic disasters. You don't really ever hear any of the characters say, Please, Sir, can I have some more?" They'd probably end up dead if they did.

Very dark, but compelling psychological novel that gives family a whole new slant. Also very different, and much more compelling, than an earlier novel I'd read by this author.

Lots of food for thought, if you discount the crazies.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

Getting a glimpse of Finland that doesn't involve murder, drugs, and detectives, but involves some true Finlanders, some mayhem, and a hare -- priceless.

Warm and fuzzy, the vignettes of this story are not (though the hare is). Charming, honest, direct, they are. Together they tell the story of Vatanen(what is his first name -- it's never told), a journalist, who while on assignment, comes across a baby hare who is injured (most probably by the car Vatanen is in, maybe even driving) and leaves his job, his somewhat unpleasant wife, and the life he knows, to trek around Finland with the hare. The characters he meets are so well drawn, I could picture how the scene would play out in a movie (thinking of the bulldozer driver here, after the forest fire, particularly). The work and situations he finds himself contain humor, and that dark slice of life that part of the world does so well.

I did find the narrative rather flat, as if a retelling, and wasn't sure if it was the translation into English or a style choice of the author, until the end.

Apparently Paasilinna is sort of a national treasure of Finland. I'd like to check out more of his books.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (Vish Puri, #3) by Tarquin Hall

I'm just back from a quick trip to India, courtesy of Tarquin Hall. This is no small feat, as I've been given strict orders by my physician for the past 14 years, that I should no longer take trips to India because of a health condition I have. But Hall deftly flies me on the wings of his words, and the vast girth of Vish Puri back to the land I love.

Had I not already loved this series, I still would have picked up this book because of the title. Yum! Who can resist? (And there's a recipe for that chicken, and a few other delights, in the back of the book, as well as here.) Vish Puri is still is tubby, mustachioed self, sabotaging his scale so his beloved wife doesn't realize he's not very successful on his diet, and tracking down murderers (and a mustache thief as well.)

I always learn a little something extra in a Vish Puri novel, both about the culture, and sometimes history. This time, it was more about the partitioning of India, the more personal aspects, that came through. The things we do to each other in the name of religion and peace break my heart sometimes.

As to Vish Puri, he's tracking down the killer of the father of one of India's rising cricket stars. It takes him through many walks of life, as well as down memory lane, and even into Pakistan.

Best of all, there's book 4 in the series waiting for me to read!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

Music, magic, broken hearts -- the thing country music is made of. In this case, though, it is to cope with one, that makes singer/songwriter Rob Quillen head to Cloud County. He was a contestant on a talent search TV show, who very publicly, very tragically, experienced the death of his sweetheart. He heads to mountains in search of a song he's heard of which will ease his heart, erase the pain. What he finds instead are the Tufa, a people who predate earliest settlers, and who may, or may not (must most likely may) have faerie blood in them, either diluted or full. As Rob begins his search for words written in stone, he encounters locals, many of whom are none too happy to have him in their town. He also attracts the attentions of a feral girl who prowls the area. At the same time, another visitor to the area has gone missing.

When I read the first book in this series of Bledsoe's, <i>The Hum and the Shiver</i>, I really liked it. I was out in search of the next book that my book club is reading, but saw this on the shelf of new arrivals, and grabbed it with glee. Bledsoe didn't disappoint. Nor did he make this a sequel, though some characters have cameos in this book from the last. Instead, it is another tale of the Tufas, and has made me a happy reader.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Boy Who Could See Demons: A Novel by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

How did I get through this whole book without realizing that Alex's last name was Broccoli?

I've come across children with different special abilities, but never one who saw demons, so the premise of this book interested me. There have been friends and family, who have deep troubles and debilitating mental illness, which, especially when talking to others, I refer to as so-and-so's demons. I was curious to see how this would play out.

Well written, captivating, heartbreaking, with a major twist that is similar to one I've encountered in a few other books and maybe a movie. This time, though, the resolution left me feeling edgy, because I wanted to know how the original story would play out (being careful hear, trying not to get into spoiler territory.) It was a perfectly acceptable ending, a good plot arc, but I was left wanting. Even so, I  highly recommend this book. It is a sensitive and illuminating look at mental illness, family love, and healing. And demons.

The One and Only Ivan by Kathrine Applegate

This title came to my notice via my friend Spedbug, who tumbled onto this at the urging of another friend. I am grateful to both.

This is a work of fiction, about a silver-back gorilla, living in a sideshow tourist trap, and the family he creates there. I remember when gorilla this was based on was rescued from the place he'd lived (Oregon maybe) back in the 90's. At the time, it struck me how awful it must have been for him to have lived something like 34 years never seeing another gorilla. I was only a few years older than Ivan at the time, rich in love, family, health, and friends. The thought of not having those elements in my life was so horrific I wept. But Ivan's story (the real one) got better, because he was moved to the Atlanta Zoo, and was the darling there until his death last year. When I heard about his passing, I felt as if a friend had gone out of my life.

I am overjoyed that the story of Ivan, though fictionalized, is captured in this book. For Iva, as portrayed in this book, is not only the one and only, but he is kind and wise.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

This is a brilliant, heart-breaking book. Elizabeth Wein puts an amazing amount of research into her books, truths (dare I say "verity") which takes an extremely well-written fictional tale and expands it into an accurate lesson in history. Like Mrs Morgan, my favorite history teacher in high school, Wein tells a tale of suspense, grief, loss, terror, and heroics, all the while really teaching a lesson in history. You read, not realizing that even the way prisoners are addressed by their numbers, has been researched for accuracy. You learn.

Stories of the Holocaust have become a dime a dozen, but there always is a new generation to learn about man's inhumanity to man in an effort to prevent a recurrence. This story focuses on one particular concentration camp, filled not primarily with those of the Jewish faith, but with women who were political prisoners, resisters,etc. The others who died in concentration camps and the purges are often overlooked. No one should have to die in such circumstances; no one who has should be overlooked. The women in Rose's camp, the stories of the Rabbits, were all a part of our cumulative world history, and it is good that Wein has chosen to retell, re-remember, their names, their story. (I didn't say it's an easy tale, but it is good to remember, to never forget.)

Once again, the bit after the book, detailing the history and research was just as fascinating as the book itself.

Though I think this book is extremely good, it didn't engage my heartstrings the way Code Name Verity did. This book engaged my brain, my consciousness; Verity (and Maddie and Julie) won my soul.

I look forward to more books by Ms Wein.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Truth About You by Susan Lewis

I wanted to like this book a whole lot more than I actually did. This author has been recommended to me as someone who has a good feel of the pulse of real life and issues of women today. Maybe so, but this novel didn't sell me. Perhaps the biggest disconnects for me were in two elements, rooted in today's world, that bug the bejiggers out of me. The first is that yes, we do have a lot of technology, with computers, email, texts, and skype, but I really don't like to have my reading world completely infiltrated by that as well as my real world. I'm one of the few people I know who sets a limit on personal computer use, and won't regularly use it after a certain time in the evening unless for a specific need. Phone goes off, too, at a regular time, only allowing emergency calls from family. Yet throughout this book, electronic communication, even when connections were bad, substituted for personal interactions.

The second plot device that really, really irritated me was the intrusion of something into the story that I have made a conscious decision to avoid: Fifty Shades of Gray. There was way more about a book I have no desire to read or talk about in this novel than I cared for. It was not a successful plot element for this reader, even though the author was using it in a particular manner to advance the story and define certain characters.

As to Julia, a whole lot could have been worked out much easier and earlier, if instead of insisting on talking, then storming off without really speaking, the characters actually talked. Now there's a novel idea.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and the publisher for sending me this book. I'm sorry I didn't like it.

Plot summary available here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Two more: Someone else's love story and the absent one

A thoughtful book, but mostly because Carl Mørck is a thoughtful man. Intuition plays a large part in his police work, examining the dead cases files, but so does intelligence, and observation. He thinks not just outside the box, but perhaps outside the entire room. In this second installment of the Department Q series, Mørck is still combating the elements that broke him just prior to solving the first dead case, still building his department, and still trying to regain his rhythm in life. His investigation of a 20 year old case of the murder of a brother and sister is complicated by several things. First of all, the case is not open -- there was a confession and conviction, and second, there are big players who do not want the investigation reexamined.

I'm liking this series a great deal.

Joshilyn Jackson seems to have a knack in drawing quirky, but realistic characters, in quirky, but realistic situations. This story of tangled lives that become even more entangled after a robbery at a Circle K, had a lot of the good stuff I look for in a book I read for relaxing. I'd just come off of two more serious (and for me sad/depressing) books so this was a welcome balm. Loved the love the characters have for others, as well as the hurt, mistrust, and misunderstandings they have as well. Set in Rural Georgia (and Atlanta), the area I was when reading the novel, was also a treat. Plot summary available elsewhere, but I think I shall always adore Shandi for recognizing the specialness of her son (who reminds me of a kid I know) and the wonderful way William has learned to deal with his world perceptions (his Au-tastic nature, as his best friend says.) The virgin birth (which was documented in a different way than the last virgin birth I read about in a book) was a really fine touch, too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Help for the Haunted by John Searles

I'm not normally a fan of Gothic-ghost story type stuff, but lately have found a taste for it in some of the recent YA lit coming out. I heard about this book from someone or other who read a review and heard an interview with the author, and then it popped up in my radar on the book sites as well.

I thought this tale was well crafted, dark, but with good depth. I'm making the mistake of writing the review a week after I finished the book, and don't have my copy in front of me to refer back to, so will rely on reviews of the plot already out there to give those details. From me, you'll get that I liked the characters, I liked the way the story unfolded, with present day and then back to the time before the murders of Sylvie and Rose's parents -- parents whose occupation was helping "haunted souls" find their peace. Family dynamics in the most normal of families can be twitchy when adolescence hits, and this family was not exempt. But unraveling all the other threads that braid together to tell this tale was a nice read, and a good reminder that things are not always what they seem.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys by Billy Crystal

Billy Crystal is a man I'd like to have as a friend. Unless he's really fooling lots of people, he's a real mensch. There's nothing to date in all that I know of him to give any other indication. Caring, funny, married to the same woman since he was 23, devoted to his friends and family, and able to make the world laugh.

A few things that stood out for me in this book: the people he calls close friends, who inhabit every walk of life, his love of baseball, his athleticism. There were some stories I'd heard before, others that were totally new to me. Some particularly resonated (his bar mitzvah, the passing of his mother, his interactions with Mohammed Ali, the show in Russia.

Good book. If I ever get to have that fantasy dinner, I hope I remember to invite Billy Crystal.

Monday, October 7, 2013

On the Road to Mr Mineo's by Barbara O'Connor

You won't find car chases or superheroes, but you'll find a gentle story of the dreams, worries, and hopes that Sherman, a homing pigeon who has wandered from his home evokes among the townsfolk of  Meadville, South Carolina. Stella wants him as a pet, and enlists her friend Gerald to help her, and a the same time thwart her brother Levi (and his scabby kneed, germ infested gang of friends) from getting him. Amos and Ethel Roper, the Meadville version of the Bickersons, argue about the one legged pigeon (and a little brown dog) who have invaded their barn and their lives. Mr Mineo and his dog Ernie spend their days searching for the wayward Sherman. Mutt Reynard, the Meadville boy who cried wolf, wants to catch the bird to prove to everyone he wasn't lying about a one legged pigeon landing on his head. And Luther and Edsel play checkers outside the Chinese restaurant, and watch the town children run around town on their hunt for the bird. The plot isn't complicated, but is told in such a droll, delightful way, with the characters all very real. I could see a teacher using this as a discussion book in a class. The descriptions, style of writing (with humorous descriptors repeating frequently in the text), and the winding threads of the story would be great to dissect and discuss.  Received an audio version of this book via the Early Reviewer program at Library thing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Weker

What a scrumptious book! The Golem and the Jinni is a wonderful mix of fantasy, magic, history, romance, friendship and folklore. It also brings up some philosophical issues of various faiths, not hitting the reader in the face with "truisms", but leading along the path of examination and discovery.

This debut novel (which supposedly took 7 years in the making) is the story of Chava, a Golem, whose master died aboard a ship from Europe to New York, and Ahmad, a Jinni enslaved by a wizard centuries ago, released from his tin bottle prison in the Little Syria section of New York City.  Though New York of 1899 is big and bustling, it is inevitable that these two supernatural creatures, one forged of clay to serve the whim of a now dead master, the other a spirit of the desert winds and fire, bound to a master that he cannot remember, find each other.

The small details of this story delighted me. I read somewhere that the author incorporated the stories of her family to flesh out the tale. And in her writing, I felt that I was sometimes witnessing the world my grandmother told my mother about (at least relating to Chava. My experience with Arab-Americans came much later in life, in another city entirely.)

A friend recommended this book to me saying, "Just read it. I can't explain it. Just read it."  She was right.

For more plot details,etc, check out the New York Times review. I couldn't say it any better.

PS Thank you, Mary.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart

Despite the fact that I sometimes get irritated when authors take liberties with my beloved lowcountry, I like reading books set in and around Charleston. When this AR copy of Moon Over Edisto fell into my hands, I was prepared to be disgruntled by inaccuracies, and by the problems that often plague AR books: typos, weird printing sequences, etc. However, I was pleasantly surprised on both counts.

The story, told from 5 varying points of view, centers on old family hurts and betrayals which surface as trouble and tragedy again haunts a family. Julia, an artist in New York City, comes home for a brief visit to Charleston, and to the old family home on Edisto, when her widowed stepmother falls ill. Julia's half siblings, young children from this second marriage, need caring for while their mother recuperates from surgery to combat lung cancer. The kicker is that the stepmother is Julia's age, and was her best friend in college. Julia and her own sister, both hurt and bitter after the break-up of their parents, have had nothing to do with her father's new family, seeing them only once at their father's funeral.

The story grows from there, with the careful examination of feelings and circumstance by Julia, her sister, her young half-sister, Julia's mother, and an old friend still in the area. The star of the tale remains the beautiful South Carolina lowcountry, with its beautiful wetlands, and the bounty of the sea and land. It was a nice book to read as summer moves to fall, here on the Carolina coast.  This is the first novel I have read by Beth Webb HArt, and I will look for more.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

50 years from King's Dream

50 years ago, I wasn't there. But I was close. At age 6, my options were limited. It was really only one thing that stopped me from being on the Mall in Washington DC. One thing. One formidable thing: my father.

I grew up in the suburbs of DC. Our neighborhood was squarely in what then was middle class. Moms for the most part were stay-at-home. Dads went off to the office every morning with a kiss; kids went off to school with a packed lunch (and also a kiss), plus, in my case, the admonishment to be a good girl. Most of the neighborhood voted for Kennedy, and were staunch Democrats. Divorce was basically a nonentity; the only single household in the neighborhood was headed by a widow. Most families were of Jewish heritage. All were Caucasian.

My parents were a little different from their neighbors. They'd been born to Jewish families, but each, for reasons of their own, had renounced their faith. When they married, they searched, together, for some place to hang their beliefs. They settled on The Ethical Society. When kids came along, we were raised in Ethical Humanism. There was acknowledgement of our Jewish heritage, in that we lit a menorah, and ate latkes and rugalach, but we never attended synagog unless we went with friends. Instead, we went to Sunday school at the Washington DC Ethical Society. We learned that all people were created equal, and had only some minor confusion when one of us smuggled a bible to our Sunday School class, and created a dilemma for the Ethical parents parents, who had been busy teaching us about anything but our Judeo-Christian heritage, which they had rejected. (But that's another story.)

When the Civil Rights movement began, the adults at the Ethical Society were right on board. While we kids were learning about Buddhism and Taoism, our parents were following the speeches of Dr Martin Luther King. Some from the Society went to join the movement deep in the south -- the equivalent of of Ethical Mission service. We followed. We believed. We sang "We Shall Overcome" and meant it.

But that sultry August before I entered second grade, we knew something special was happening close to us. We knew Dr Martin Luther King, the man with the amazing voice of the cause of equality, would be in our town.

I don't remember all that much of the build-up to the actual March for Civil Rights. I was not yet seven, and my parents had guarded me from some of the horrors that had occurred in our country. But I do remember hunkering down  on the steps, eavesdropping on my parents as they discussed the upcoming event. My mother desperately wanted to go down to the Mall, along with several other adults from Ethical (as my parents referred to their Sunday gathering spot.) But such was life at the time, that she wouldn't go against her husband's wishes. My father, while he believed in the cause, was a realist. He was convinced that there was a real possibility of violence at the March, from the "meat-heads". He refused to let his wife go, and was adamant that his children not attend.

I remember my mother weeping quietly. Happily, my father's worries proved unfounded. The march remained peaceful. But I still remember how my mother's eyes shone as we all sat around our RCA radio, and shared moment when Dr Martin Luther King spoke of his dream.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Folly Beach: A Lowcountry Tale by Dorothea Benton Frank

Dorothea Benton Frank is kind of hit and miss with me. I'll like one book, get frustrated with the next couple, promise myself never to pick up another one, weaken, and she then hits one out of the park. To be fair, most of my frustrations come when there are inaccuracies about my beloved lowcountry. I know novels are fiction, but there are some things with which I just can't tolerate liberties being taken. So, when a friend gave me a copy of Folly Beach I almost didn't read it, because the last DBF book I'd read had been one I'd enjoyed. By all rights, then, this one should have made me shriek and throw it across the room (in a very lady-like manner, mind you.)

This story is told in entwining two parts. That drives some folks crazy, but I like parallel stories. And I particularly liked the thread that was presented as the script of a one-woman play about Dorothy Heyward, wife of Debose Heyward (and author, playwrite in her own right). The other segment was pure Frank: a widow coming home to the lowcountry to heal and grow. That the second tale involved not one, but three cameos by people I know, gave me a bit of a chuckle. I was less tolerant about some errors in location, distance, etc, but hey, I got Gershwin, and Porgy and Bess. (I do have to say that I'd always been told the house Gershwin stayed in was washed away in a hurricane sometime before I first hit Folly in the 1970's, not with Hugo in 1989. And the legend I know is that the bells of St Michael's inspired the first notes of "Summertime". But still, there's a lot of history and legend told in this book that I've heard, too.) I'm always a little surprised at the Yiddish that occasionally slips into these books. I can see people furiously googling "ungapatched" (which is not how I would have spelled it, but recognize it as the same as "ungepatchke" which I learned meant too much of anything, in an un-pleasing over-the-top way.) I'm still wondering about"fachalata" and if it's a play on farkakt aka fakakta. (Look it up.)

I think that the information I learned about Dorothy and Dubois Heyward is what carried the book for me, and what bumped it to a 4 star in my enjoyment. That, and the mention of my dear friend Harriet MacDougal Rigney in the acknowledgements.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Treacherous Paridise by Henning Mankell

My main familiarity with Mankell is as the man who brought eloquence to the basic thriller,through the telling of his stories, with beautifully his flawed, human characters. For that reason, I picked this book off the shelf. For the mystery and glimpse into a different world that the jacket blurb promised, I decided to read it.

Set in Portuguese Africa (Mozambique) in the early 1900's, Mankell's novel is based on one true fact he had learned: a Swedish woman was once the owner of one of the largest brothels in Maputo. She was also one of the largest tax-payers. Then, just as suddenly as she appeared in the records, she disappeared. Mankell has taken that fact and woven a life for a woman born in Sweden, last seen in Mozambique, around it.

To me, it was extra-poignant to read this story, with so much racial tension inherent in it, as the fiftieth anniversary of Civil Rights March on Washington approaches. I was a child, living in the DC area at the time, and I remember the impact vividly, even though I didn't get to the event, itself. Looking back, I am amazed how far we have come, and how much farther we have to go. The book was excellent punctuation to my own internal dialogue.

Don't look for Wallander in this book. You won't find him. But you will find an interesting tale that is written in more than black and white.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Black Widow Club: Nine Tales of Obsession and Murder by Hilary Davidson

I liked reading these short stories of Hilary Davidson. I like her novels, so it was interesting to see where she came from (so to speak) as these stories were written primarily before her first novel was published. Some are award-winners in various venues; all are worth the read. The format of the book is ebook.

What sets these stories apart for me is the delicious sense of humor that comes out in the plots, dilemmas, and results for the characters. This woman has a marvelous wicked streak in her. I'm not letting her anywhere near my weed killer!

Also fun was to see some of the things I know this author loves pop up in some of the stories: travel, old movies, and some of the stars of the golden age of Hollywood.

I'm not normally a fan of short stories, but these each caught my interest. And if I guessed where some might be headed, the journey that the author guided me along to the outcome was enjoyable, and sometimes took a left hand turn, when I expected a right.

Many thanks to Tor for sending me a copy to read.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

I love this book. For real. It's a brilliantly told story of friendship, dedication, bravery, and love. It took me from the England in the grips of WWII, past the second star to the right, and straight on till morning. I wish I could write more, but I'm slightly shattered. Keep a window open for me, please.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler

What a lovely (in every sense of the word) novel. Parallel stories of Alice, youngest daughter, odd (wo)man out, wanderer, and Daniel, living rough, but who loved once, deeply and dearly. Each are lost souls, following the trajectory that fate presents, looking for signs and direction which way to go next. It is a song of love to London, as well, secret spots, and out of the way joys.

Alice has come home because her father is dying. Daniel is living on the streets because when his heart broke, so did his world. Yet this is a story of great hope. It may be tiny and fragile, as an origami flower made from the silver wrapper from a stick of gum, or as big as Hamstead Heath, but it is hope.

The title of the book is presented as a list. As a hardcore list-keeper, that drew my eye to the book on the shelf. The alternating viewpoints of the two main characters are separated by lists kept by the next one to speak. The rawness and authenticity of these lists gave such insight into the characters, a wonderful vehicle for showing the reader inside Alice or Daniel's minds rather than telling us.

I will look for more by this author.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Helsinki Blood by James Thompson

It seems like I've been waiting for this book for a long time. After Helsinki White, I was left numb. The darkness in White chilled my soul. But I wanted more.

Helsinki Blood is the fourth book in the Inspector Vaara series. In the previous book, Kari's world has been frozen apart. His brain is broken, emotionless and damaged, after surgery to remove a brain tumor. This obviously had a huge impact on his life, work, marriage, and role as a new papa. But how it all played out was shattering. I was curious to see how the author picked up the pieces.

It may have been the break between the books, but the tone in this one was very different to me. The ice in Vaara's brain was thawing, and humanity returning. Though since his world (and face and knee) had been blown to hell and back, normality is a long way away. Yet from the start, it's evident that he is healing, as his love for his wife and daughter (and Katt), and concern for their safety become the paramount drive in his life.

The usual cast of characters are assembled, and schemes to curtail the bad guys, save the girl (for there is, indeed, a girl in peril) and keep Kari's family safe and intact unfurl. The only reason I still have all my fingernails is that I read it in less than a day.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

I just have to outright say it. Any book that introduces teens to Rainer Maria Rilke (who happens to be one of my favorite poets), is okay by me, so no matter what, I like this book. My eldest grandgirl (who told me about the book, and is the reason I picked it up to read) took our copy of Rilke off the shelf and read it her first evening here, mostly, I suspect, because it was the poetry Sam read to Grace in the book. That's pretty darn cool.

The story itself is a romance. Wolf meets girl, wolf loses girl, boy gets girl, girl loses wolf -- or something along those lines. Grace has a thing for the wolves in the Minnesota woods behind her home, especially for the golden eyed one who saved her life when she was a child and was attacked by other wolves in the pack. So, when the golden-eyed wolf turns out to be a shape-shifter, who loves her back, you get the romantic set-up. There's some community drama thrown in, as well as pack dominance, and some incredibly irresponsible parents, who should have Child Protection set on them. But all in all, despite plot flaws, I liked the book.

I know there are two other books in the series, which I pretty much (according to grandgirl) guessed the plot, so I may not read them, as I've got a huge TBR pile. But, if I stumble upon either one via BookCrossing or my local library, I'll give it a whirl.

All You Could Ask For, by Mike Greenberg

Picked this book up from a book exchange shelf where I left a BookCrossing book. It's a relatively new publication, and the cover blurb sounded interesting. I absolutely loved the first half, stories of three strong women, who actually may not have known their strength, but come into their own. Loved how the author would finish a section on one, and segue, using the same phrases, into the story of another. These were funny, smart, strong, vibrant characters. Even more fascinating is that it was written by a man, but really felt "right".

The second half of the book dealt with the circumstances that bring the three women together. That was harder for me to read (in fact, I did skim read some of it, because I'm a wuss.) It was indeed an interesting exercise, and I applaud Mr Greenberg, as a man, tackling a tought subject, in the writing of the book, the profits from which go to a foundation the author and his wife created for research to combat breast cancer.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Young William Eng, is a Chinese-American boy, who has lived in an orphanage since he was seven. He remembers his beautiful mother, who had become sad and worn out by misfortune, being carried out of the apartment, after he found her near lifeless in their bathtub. His memories of her are strong and he is convinced that, despite what the nuns at Seattle's Sacred Heart Orphanage say, she is still alive. Then one day, the day assigned by the nuns as the birthday of all the boys at the orphanage, he sees the face of an actress in the movies, hears her sing, and is convinced she is his long-lost Songs of Willow Frost is the story of his search for his mother.

I do have to admit I've got mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it takes place in an interesting time/place, plus has some plot elements that are intriguing. It's also clear that this is a subject very close to the author's heart. It's a story plot line that I really wanted to like. Unfortunately, I never fully engaged in the characters. I like to be able to see a story in 3D in my mind, to have an author shape and craft the characters, settings, and plot so that I feel it, that I can smell the spices in the air, or the stink in the alleys; feel the harshness of a scratchy wool, or the sleek smoothness of silk. For me, I remained in the 2 dimensional world of the pages of the book, rather than the world of the story itself. It may be that I'm a bit distracted right ow -- I had surgery right around when I started the book, and that and pain medication may have impacted my perceptions. I have read another work by this author (rather, listened to it on Radio Reader) and liked it a great deal. So the fault may be in my stars, not the author's words.

I've rounded this up to three stars, because I think any book that makes me look something up has served an extra purpose beyond reading pleasure.

Thank you to Librarything early reader program and the publisher for sending me this AR copy of the book.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (or: I have a huge crush on Neil Gaiman.)

When I was a little girl, I loved my world. I loved the fresh gingerbread the Mrs Piper, old lady down the street, would serve to neighborhood children who came to see the train she set up in her house at Christmas-time. I loved the sun-warmed feel of my brother's broad shoulders, when he carried me piggy back, or the combination smell of starch and cigar that haunted my father's shirts when he hugged me. I loved the sound of a saxophone, when my other brother was practicing, or the way my mother, curled up with a book and a bowl of polly seeds* would scooch over so I could nestle in at her side, cracking the black and white shells for the seed inside.

I love my world now, too. And I love the world Neil Gaiman created in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I'd read that this book started as a short story, and couldn't be stopped. It grew. And it grew into a wonderful tale. Some of it, I feel sure, has deep roots in Gaiman's own childhood. The descriptions ring so true. And while I've heard him talk of his childhood, he's not necessarily mentioned magic, but undoubtedly that was present, for is there not a little magic everywhere, for those who care to look? This is a fairy tale -- not the sanitized, politically correct ones that are circulating today, but a real one, with good and bad, hope and fear, monsters and Hempstocks. Yes, Hemstocks. Lizzie Hempstock, who may, or may not be eleven, her mother, and Old Lady Hempstock, who remembers when the moon was made. And these Hempstocks may be distantly related to Daisy Hempstock in Stardust and Liza Hempstock in The Graveyard Book, or so says neilhimself (though in his blog, not twitter.)

Don't  bother me; I'm reading
I happily immersed myself in this small volume, delighted to be reading my favorite author again, his first adult book in ages, while also begging myself to slow down, because the next book, adult or children's, may be a long time coming. But I couldn't help myself. I gobbled it up, and sighed with contentment. He did it again. A wonderful, scrumptious book. The man is an artist, a magician, a teller-of-tales, and if all the accounts I've heard are right, he's altruistic and a truly decent man.

I think I love Neil Gaiman even more than Mrs Piper's gingerbread. And that's saying a whole lot.

Read the book.

* sunflower seeds

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffifan

Dad may be fat, but he's also an exceptionally funny man, a loving father, and a delightful story teller.

Saw Jim Gaffigan on the Colbert Report, where he talked a little about this book. I immediately went out to get it. Smiled just about the whole way through it. I parented far fewer children than he does, but as a mother, and as someone whose work put her in constant contact with children and their parents, I can say he's nailed much about how the two interact. Maybe not <i>your</i> kids, but you still will have seen or can relate (hate that term --"I can relate") to what he writes. I loved the affection and love he has for his kids and his wife Jeannie (who is not fat, and sounds like a fabulous mom.)

PS The title comes from the first full sentence Gaffigan's eldest son, Jack, (six at the time of book publication) ever wrote.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1) by Sarah Rees Brennan

Even though Unspoken sucker-punched me with the ending, I really liked this book -- maybe even more-so because of the ending. No neat and tidy, kissy kissy ending, but one that makes you say, "Wow, I didn't see that coming! Now where's it gonna go?"

Suppose you had an invisible friend. (I did. His name was Rudy, and he would come visit me whenever I was taking a bath. I last heard from him over 50 years ago, but it does make me look twice at any Rudys I meet, and wonder if he was the cad that deserted a 4 year old. But I digress.) So, suppose you had an invisible friend, and the two of you shared your thoughts from the instants you were born. And suppose your name was Kami, your father was half Japanese, and you lived in a little English village, called Sorry-in-the-Vale. Having an invisible friend you could talk to in you head wasn't common amongst the other villagers, (in fact they thought you quite peculiar for being able to do so.) But, you're bright, articulate, inquisitive, and want to be a reporter. You've got a loyal friend, endearing family, and a mind that wants to squirrel out any news story it can, since you run the school newspaper.

So when the Lynburn family that buit the singularly creepy stone mansion on the hill eons ago returns after being away all of your lifetime, you smell a story. And indeed, there may be one, but first you have to get past all the creepy things that happen: animals being sacrificed in the woods, someone's attempt to kill you, and other weird stuff. Plus there are the Lynburn cousins, two boys your age, one clean cut and preppy, one Marlon Brando in The Wild One delinquent to contend with. But you've got the voice in your head to comfort you, laugh with -- until it turns out that bad boy cousin has a voice in his head, too, and guess what? It's you.

Bad things continue to happen in Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami and her merry band of misfits try to find out what's happening.  And it's a good reading ride, snazzy Gothic, in a YA blend. How cool is that?

Since I've been snookered, I'll pick up book two in the series when I get a chance. After all, I really liked some of the dialogue, and the cover art was good.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan

I really enjoyed this book. It was just plain fun for me to read, tickling my geeky, bookish fancy in all the right ways.

So basic premise is that out-of-work graphic artist/web designer gets job at a seriously different sort of bookstore. For starters, there's very little available stock, and even fewer customers to buy books. But the place stays open 24-hours a day. Why? Because there are customers who use a special section of the store as a sort of library, the books there mysterious, and in code.

So what's a geek to do, but try and figure it out. Add in several startups, google and other 21st century techno-stuff, and good old fashioned bibliotech, and it makes a good mix.  Lots of tongue in cheek (and out of cheek) humor there, too. And of course, every time something was mentioned as a google search or on Wikipedia, etc, I ran to my computer.

Happy czukie.

Edited July 27, 2014 to add that we listened to the audio-version of this book, which was delightful, had an additional clue, and the author, himself, read as the voice of Clark Moffat, the author of <i>The Dragon Song Trilogy</i> aka the book within a book plot element. Definitely fun. But now I want to read Moffat's books even more.  Or go back to San Francisco. Or a bookstore. Or Google. It's all a win.

Tags: audiobooks-about-booksi-liked-itplaces-i-have-beenreadthank-you-charleston-county-libraryworth-the-reread

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Insane City by Dave Barry

I've missed Dave Barry. No doubt about it. And there's no doubt he loves his city, even when he dresses her up like an overweight tart in spangles and a spandex dress a size too small.

Imagine the most meticulously planned wedding, even down to the creation of the cake topper (hand-crafted in Italy and costing more than some college tuition.) Now imagine the bachelor party from hell, rolling like a perfect strike down the alley, toward that wedding. That's Insane City, where Dave Barry takes his reader through a different sort of south Florida than the tourist boards depict: Run-down tourist traps, characters that just might have to look up to see the underbelly of society, illegal immigrants, thugs, pimp-mobiles equipped with porn videos in the dashboard. It's even got millionaires, magic brownies, and the governor of Florida.

With typical raunchy humor, Barry describes a wedding weekend like none other, and a groom on a quest to retrieve the ring needed for the perfect wedding.

Did I mention that there's a horny orangutan involved?

Little Elvises by Timorhy Hallinan

Imagine you're a burglar. But not just any burglar; you're a very good burglar, who has been breaking into homes since you were 14, and never been caught. Not only are you good at your job, you're intelligent, self-educated, particular about grammar, a caring dad, and a loyal friend. And, you're being framed by a cop who wants you to do a bit of detecting to get his somewhat slimy uncle off the hook for a murder it looks like he committed. Got it? Good. You've entered the world of Junior Bender.

This was my second foray into Junior's world, and I still like it. I feel like I've found a successor to two of my favorite authors, who have gone to the great beyond, and left me pining for Spencer and Dortmunder.

Junior takes on the "invitation" to investigate the murder of a somewhat skeezy reporter, a murder which looks to be pinned on a former big shot in the music industry of the 1950's (aka Uncle Vinnie to a corrupt cop). Uncle Vinnie made his fortune back in Philly, promoting young singers in the style of Elvis and Bobby Darin.  Add in the attractive widow of the dead reporter, who seems to be more interested in Junior than her husband, alive or dead, the missing daughter of Junior's landlady, new romances for both his ex-wife and his teen-age daughter which create distinct pains in various parts of Junior's anatomy, a heist of valuable jade, two missing former child music stars represented by Uncle Vinne, and a growing cast of good supporting characters, and Little Elvisestakes on a beat of its own. Plus, Hallinan gives a really thorough and interesting history of the pre-Beatles music, blended skillfully into the story.

A third Junior Bender came out last week, and I've already put in a request for it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

I had a definite problem with this book. Interspersed between the story are some of the most scrumptious sounding cake recipes, and I kept wanting to stop and bake, which put me at war with the part of myself that just kept wanting to read. What a delicious dilemma.

The inside flap reads:
In a remarkable world where many people are blessed with a special Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal ability for cake baking... and no idea of the journey that Fate set in place for her the moment she was born. But when Cady moves into an upstairs room in the town's Lost Luggage Emporium, she meets a curious cast of characters whose lives are tangled with her own in ways she never could have imagined.

Cake baking, magic, living above a Lost Luggage Emporium? What's not to like?! The reader meets the "curious cast of characters" before Cady does and we get to watch what seems to be a tangle of loose ends turn into a braid of exquisite beauty.

Another recommendation from Nancy Pearl on NPR. HAsn't steered me wrong yet.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Evil in All Its Disguises by Hilary Davidson

I found Lily Moore with Hilary Davidson's first book, The Damage Done. What I loved about it, and the subsequent book in the series, was that it contained a good plot, characters that continued to grow and adjust to what life brought their way, and wonderful glimpses of other locations. Evil in All Its Disguises picks up after The Next One to Fall (though I think there's enough background given that each book could be read out of the series.) It also has an in person return of the delicious Brux, who I missed dreadfully in the last book.

Lily, who is a travel writer, has been offered a junket to Acapulco, and heads down south of the border. But things are just not right when she gets to the hotel. There's colleague/friend Skye, who, though known to be flighty, is worked up about some big secret, then goes missing. There are only a few other writers, no visible guests, and, for Lily, and unpleasant realization that the hotel belongs to the chain owned by her ex-fiance, a man she wants out of her life. And things keep not adding up, until Lily finds herself virtually a prisoner in the hotel, held for a bizarre ransom.

Though this book had much less of the travel writing I've come to love from Ms Davidson, there were moments when she teased with a little description of something Lily glimpsed from a window or heard second hand. Acapulco never quite came alive for me, either as beautiful or sinister, however the characters did. Lily's tormented sister, who died at the beginning of the first book, haunts her and provides a cynical, straight shooting moral compass. At one point, she tells Lily, "Deep down, you're pretty superficial", a line I would love to steal and store for sometime when I need a snappy comeback. The recurring characters, primarily Lily and Martin, continue to grow and evolve, keeping the story arc interesting.

I'm looking forward to book #4.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan (4/5 stars)

My favorite mystery authors have been dying off, one by one. With the demises of Donald Westlake and Robert B Parker, I was fearful of finding a decent story, told with intelligence and humor. But thanks to Nancy Pearl's recommendations NPR for books under the radar, I've discovered Hallinan, and his Junior Bender, and am a happy girl.

This is apparently the first in a newish series for Hallinan. (I've got the second requested at CCPL, and just saw that another one is due out any moment. Bender (whose first name is actually "Junior" . His father was a junior, but despised the name so much that he didn't want to saddle his son with it, so just gave him the Junior bit) is a burglar. And he's smart. He's been doing his craft since he was fourteen, and hasn't been caught yet. But, he's in for a bit of a tough time when he basically  blackmailed to work for one of LA's crime bosses. There's trouble on a movie set for a film the boss is producing and Bender is put in charge of keeping things straight and getting the job jobbed.

Only problem is, it's a porn movie that is to star a former child actress/American sweetheart, currently down, out, drugged, and on a pretty impressive downward slide. And it turns out that Junior has a heavy dose of compassion in his make-up, as well as brains.

The writing and dialog is good, filled with amusing bits. The twists and solutions Junior comes up with were also amusing. Junior is unashamed that he's a burglar, sees some benefits in a work schedule that keeps him pretty free most of the month, and lives mostly out of hotel rooms since his marriage ended. He has a good relationship with his young daughter. He reads a lot, and has pretty much charted a educational course that is probably better than what most undergrads get at a majority of universities. He's a self-made burglar, and comfortable in his own skin.

Looking forward to the next book with Junior.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Out of Warranty by Haywood Smith

The basic premise of this book is amusing enough -- after experiencing astronomical expenses for an unusual health condition, a relatively newly widowed Cassie teams up with an equally ill Jack to fight insurance companies in the health care equivalent of a green card: finding a new husband with healthy insurance benefits to have and to hold and cover her health care expenses.

It may sound a little mercenary, but it was all handled in a humorous, tasteful manner. Cassie and Jack's relationship and understanding of each other was a nice plot element to watch. This was a nice gentle, read, that was perfect for my back porch in the summer. The thing that pushed this novel from a three to a four was Haywood Smith's  descriptions of what life is like when you have a serious, but relatively unknown illness. Smith gave Cassie the illness that she, herself, has: a congenital degenerative arthritis, compounded by systemic fungal infection. In my case, it's an allergy to natural rubber/latex and resultant airway disease.  Both illnesses are not commonplace, and often cause blank stares when mentioned to others. Both necessitate huge lifestyle changes, both in terms of what can be in your home, how to clean, what to eat, etc.

So, because I thought Smith presented a glimpse into a world I know very well, and for the character, Jack, for having a heroine who is physically flawed, and for fun shout outs to the Atlanta area (which I am familiar with), I added an extra star.

Without a Summer by Mary Robinet Kowal

This is the third in the series by the wonderful Mary Robinette Kowal (I can verify that "wonderful" having spent time with her in person) and I'm pretty enamored of the series. She's created a world, extremely similar to our own, only with a different sort of magic (for I am convinced there is real magic in our own world.) The books have often been compared to Jane Austen, and while I can see the similarities, in my mind, I feel that though they share a time in history, a love of character and conversation, some character names, and some gentle poking of fun at society/conventions, the Glamourist Histories are truly a world apart. The author's notes at the end of each book have always also been informative. This woman does her research!

With plots that have enough twists to keep those readers who said "I saw that coming" at bay, the three books each have exquisite detail, delicious conversations, and thought provoking insights. This one expanded the concept of glamour and the magic of this particular world in an interesting tangent, that of coldmongers, used for their skills of keeping food, homes, etc cool at a time when refrigeration was not around. Add in some social inequity, strife, throw in a handful or two of greed and treachery, a pinch of betrayal, stir well, and top with a little romance, and <i>Without a Summer</i> serves up a sumptuous read.

I look forward to seeing where Mary Robinet Kowal takes Jane and Vincent, next.

PS I'm waiting for the return of the wicked Livingston.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Here I go Again by Jen Lancaster

Sometimes karma can be a real bitch -- especially when you're a total bitch to those around you when you're in high school. Lissy Ryder was the queen of everything back then, and now she's riding (if you can ride a downward slide) on the results. She's lost pretty much everything she wanted (I can't say cared about, because all she cared about was herself). Instead of being the darling of her high school reunion she's the demon. Life isn't pretty.

Think about it. They say, "paybacks are hell." But what if you could go back and undo your wrongs, to avoid the damage you've done others, and restore the world to some sort of better place? Remember though, valuable lessons taught by Buddha and Marty McFly. You can't change the past without changing the future; all those butterfly wings, pond ripples, and missed first kisses. Lissy learns the hard way, and at 37, actually begins to grow up.

I picked this up after seeing reviews on Goodreads, librarything, and The BookReporter. The reviews were basically right. It's kinda fun when chic lit makes you think and makes you laugh as well.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me by Patricia Volk

It is my habit to listen to NPR and it was on one of the shows that I heard an <a href="http://www.npr.org/2013/06/10/189222503/in-shocked-patricia-volk-honors-two-formative-femmes">interview with Patricia Volk</a> about her book, <i>Shocked</i>.

I'm woefully ignorant about the world of high fashion, so the name Schiaparelli did not immediately strike cords with me. Yet as I read, I realized that her influence even peaked into that small home in a middle class, mostly Jewish neighborhood, where I grew up. But the interview was so alive, fascinating, that I immediately headed to the library to request the next available copy of the book. Luckily for me, the wait was just two days.

This was a voyage into a completely different world than my own. Though I grew up surrounded by strong, beautiful, fascinating, forthright women, they were nothing at all like either designer/artist Elsa Schiaparelli or Audry Volk, the author’s mother. It was a glimpse not behind the curtain, but more of one from backstage to the spotlight itself, to see how women of fashion and a prestige my family never experienced lived.

The juxtaposition of the the life of these two women, and how they helped shape Volk, not so much by example, but by helping her to build her mind and ideals into a life she, herself, wished to live, is fascinating. Richly illustrated with photographs and fancy from the world of both women, dotted with dashes of the famous, the memoir reveals lives rich in conviction, passion, flare, and some flamboyance. I loved that each chapter began with a quote from each woman, and then unrolled with Volk's take on a subject or situation. And Volk also reiterates the theme of how a single book can change a life. I would add my own belief, that it is the books you read, and the people you meet, who help shape the person you become. While this book will not change who I am, it certainly has expanded my knowledge and filled in some interesting bits of information. I'm glad I read it.

Some takeaway bits that particularly delighted me:
Schiap (the name she preferred over her given one) regularly scheduled dinner engagements with just herself, and then ate dinner, alone, in her library.

A quote from Bruno Bettelheim: "Books lie in wake for our readiness."

A quote from Patricia Volk: "No book is the same twice."

I was ready for this book. Now I wonder what I'd think on a re-read.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I tell time by the hydrangea bushes in my back yard. As the leaves green with awakening of spring, I carefully check for the first hint of buds. The days grow longer, lighter; I watch those buds flesh out, puckering into what will become individual blooms in a ball of purple, blue, and white. And I know that when those flower bloom in fullness, it will be June. June: the month I think of as Bumma's Bounty which marks not the anniversary of a passing, but for me celebrates the memory of a special soul.

Other years I've written a lot about how I've marked the month. This year is different. I am remembering her in deed, action, and donation but it's all much more low key. We've put this home on the market and soon hope to move back downtown, where we can be more directly in the city we love, rather than out here on the island. This is a beautiful home, but it was built for many more people, and the two of us rattle around in it, using only one floor except when we are graced with overnight guests.

It's odd having people traipse through the house, considering if they want to buy it. I definitely feel a difference in the vibrations or energy after viewings. There are pictures of our sanctuary on line in the listing, and I know that somewhere, someone is pouring over them the way I pour over online listings for places downtown. I feel a little vulnerable, as if I am living in a fishbowl.

Leaving here is really an ending to the nuclear family we started back in the 80's when bumma moved in with us just before her first grandson was born. We were three generations tucked into a house downtown, and we thrived there. Circumstances changed, and we built this haven on the lake. It was a place of healing for me. It was the place our son launched from the nest. It the family home for brothers, cousins, and other assorted relations. It was my mother's last home on this earth. Those are all tough things to leave. But I've learned that if there is one thing my love and I are good at, it's building a home filled with love.

I've also learned, since that rotten year of 2009, a year that started in hope and ended in stunned recovery, that it is true: memories find their home in the heart, and thus are easily portable. When I forget something small, like where my keys are, or turning off the water after filling the tea kettle, I feel the first panics that this may be a sign of a failing mind. My panic has two branches: the possibility of becoming a burden to those I love the most, and the thought that all those memories of loved ones lost will be really lost for good.

But for now, I tell time by the hydrangeas. They remind me of my mother. Hydrangeas and rosemary (for remembrance) from our garden went with her as the ambulance took her to the hospice. Some of the blossoms and some roses dried from my father's funeral, were cremated with her. The final few, which resided with her ashes (now scattered) are in the care of a dear friend, who will be my surrogate and take them to my father's grave, bringing it all full circle-- just like the circle that is closing with our time here on the island.

I don't think I'll see another springtime in this home by the lake, tucked away on a sea island off the coast of Charleston. But maybe, just maybe, wherever we move, we can plant some hydrangeas. When they bloom, I'll know it's June. I'll feel my mother's embrace.

Earlier posts from previous years of Bumma's Bounty
here and here, though there may be some overlap.

Serena, by Ron Rash

If you're wanting warm fuzzies, inspiring female role models*, altruism, or characters you'll hold in your heart, this is not the book for you. But if you want a well written novel about the early days of the depression, logging in North Carolina, development of the US National Park System, and one of the most ruthless women you'll meet in literature, pick Serena up.

This book takes place near our cabin, just over the NC state line, which is one of the reasons I like to read Ron Rash -- he sets many of his works in my stomping grounds. I've hiked and camped in these hills, and treasure the beauty of the land. It amazes me whenever I realize how much of this breathtaking landscape was brutalized by the forces of man. In Serena the reader is given a back seat into the logging industry, circa 1929, and a glimpse into the lives of the George and Serena Pemberton, and their partners in a large logging company. George Pemberton had the misfortune to not follow the advice my mother-in-law gave her teenage sons (the bit about having a good time, but "keep your pecker in your pants") and before his marriage to Serena impregnated a local girl. As the Pembertons narrow their focus on their plans for the company ("narrow their focus" being a euphemism for killing off their partners and competition), the Missus shifts her focus to the problem of to her husband's bastard, and the plot thickens.

Beautiful, clever, passionate, ruthless -- that's Serena. And this book plays out the suspense of the rape of the land, and the single-minded quest for power of one intense, memorable woman.

*unless you want to be the next Lucrezia Borgia or
Cruella de Vil.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

If Lincoln didn't keep a set of secret diaries, he should have. Brilliant minds like that should have many outlets. Loved the mix of fact and fancy, though there were a couple of historical documents I wish I had the oomph to look up to see how they actually read.

Best thing I liked about this vampire story? The hot and sexy card isn't played.

As the story moved into the later years of Lincoln's life, I was struck again by how much tragedy he endured personally, beyond the near shattering of the country. It's no wonder his shoulders sagged and his face grew more haggard before his encounter with John Wilkes Booth.

Plot is described elsewhere, but if you're into history, alternate history, and fantasy, maybe give this one a whirl. Some people are too interesting to die, it seems, and Lincoln lives on in this book and the film of the same title.

(Rating is more of a 3.5 out of 5, but I rounded up to a 4 because of exceptional cover art.)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Summer of Dead Toys, by Antonio Hill (Publish release date June 19, 2013)

Barcelona is climatically on the other end of the spectrum from the settings of the Nordic Noir I've been reading, but Antonio Hill packed a similar wallop of characters, mystery, into the pages of The Summer of Dead Toys, plus added the promise of a new series/Inspector to check out.

Hector Salgado, an Argentinian, now a inspector in Barcelona but now on probation after an episode violence in one of his cases, is asked to unofficially look into the apparently accidental death of a well-to-do young man. But Salgado discovers the case not to be as clear-cut as assumed. His journey to discovery takes him through some of the shadier parts of Barcelona life, the areas tourists will probably never see. The story unfolds with craft, skill, and intelligence. The descriptions of Barcelona painted the city in my mind's eye. The book kept me interested, with two main threads of action, realistic characters, and enough tension to make me nibble a fingernail or two. And, for those who like a little noir/darkness in their reading, there's enough of that seamy underbelly exposed to satisfy.

For me, the book is a clue in itself, that this is a series to keep in mind for future reading. There are enough interesting interactions between characters that will probably be recurring, enough realism, enough trueness in the relationships. Salgado, himself, seems to be that intelligent, flawed central character, the kind of which I like to follow in stories. The book, itself, is translated, but interestingly enough, the author is the actual translator, as that's what he does when he's not writing mystery/detective novels. While there is a little roughness in the telling of the tale, I think that will smooth out with time and more writing.

Many thanks to Read It Forward for forwarding this on to me. I will pass it along, now, knowing I'm passing on a good book.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Here Comes Mrs. Kugelman by Minka Pradelski (Release date July 9)

I'm a big believer in the the value of stories. I treasure the ones I learned from elders in my family, true or not. For the thing about stories is that the truth can slip as time and memory blur the edges of a tale. But a gifted storyteller is a treasure for the ability to craft images, characters, and situations for their audience.

In this novel, the storyteller is Mrs. Kugelman. She enters the world of the narrator, a young woman named Tsippy Silberberg, in a rather haphazard way. Tsippy, who has some rather peculiar quirks of her own with her eating habits, is in Tel Aviv to pick up an inheritance left to her by her father's sister. Bella Kugelman enters Tsippy's life with a knock on the door, and a story to tell. Through her words, the inhabitants of Bedzin, a small, predominantly Jewish, Polish village on the border with Germany, come to life again. She tells of day to day life, before the war, before the invasion, before the Holocaust. It's a time when children played pranks in school (or were even still in school, since those were closed almost immediately when things got bad), when people went to the rebbe for blessings before new ventures, when families sent their cholent to the baker on Friday, so it could cook in the oven all day on the Sabbath, and they would not be working to do so. Mrs K's tales take the reader right up through the start of the end of a way of life, painting a vivid picture of what was lost, both in lives and lifestyle.

The stories charmed me, especially since some of my own family probably lived a similar life. The bits in between didn't carry the same type of interest for me, and oddly enough, either did the two main characters.  The subplot of the relationship of Mrs Kugelman's stories to Tsippy's own life was a nice touch, but lacked the clarity of the mini-plots about the villagers of Bedzin. Indeed, just as kugel is often a side dish to a holiday table, Mrs Kugelman was more of a side character to the people she talked about.

I'm told the author is both a sociologist and documentary filmmaker and that her own parents were Holocaust survivors. Her interest in these survivors, their families, and the impact of horrors that occurred in that awful time, helped round this book out in a realistic way. This is her first novel. I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.

Thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and to the publisher for sending me this copy of the book.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

New Spring by Robert Jordan

Though this book has been out since 2005, I'd not read it. At first, it was because I'd put the series aside for a while. When I started up again, Robert Jordan had died, and the series was being finished by another author, with the able help of Team Jordan. I decided to save New Spring to read until I'd completed the final book, so that I could end my Wheel of Time with Robert Jordan's actual writing. And I also wanted to read it before this year's JordanCon, which happens next week. Mission accomplished.

I did love the filling in of details to the beginning of the Wheel of Time story, especially since it involved some of my favorite characters. (Note: the first time I put the series aside, it was when Moiraine disappeared and Lan went off.)And I loved stumbling into some of RJ's catch phrases. So much fun, especially since I know the end of the story and who really is Black Ajah/darkfriends. :)

Ah, Jim, I miss you. As a friend, as an author, as the creator of a world that has brought so many people into my life through love of your writing. Thank you for sharing your vision with the world, and letting us into the world of the Wheel of Time. You are loved and missed.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio (ARC Copy- Release Date May 28, 2013)

The Last Camillia twists two separate tales, divided by time, together into a one story. There's Flora, who left her home in New York City, on the eve of WWII, to go to England. Though her family believed she was headed to work in horticulture, she was really a pawn for an international flower smuggling ring. Her task was to find the last known specimen of a rare camellia, thought to be in the gardens of a country estate. Posing as the nanny for the children of the household, Flora digs up real dirt, in the form of criminal activities happening on the estate, above and beyond the caper with which she is involved. Add in romance, and mystery, and Flora's story is rather compelling, as she tries her best to unravel the intrigue and not become tainted by evilness.

The modern day thread revolves around Addison, a successful garden designer, who, frightened by the ghosts from her past, escapes with her husband, to the English country estate his parents recently purchased. Once there, while trying to keep her own history a secret, she begins to try unraveling the mysteries of the manor, and just why locals think the place is trouble.

The tales were well told, though a little abrupt/choppy in places. I never particularly warmed to several of the main characters, and at least for Addison, wanted her to talk to her husband directly, to be honest. But then there might not have been a story. Ah well.

For a while we had a garden design business, plus living in Charleston, where Camellias are plentiful and adored, I was interested in some of the botanical and horticultural aspects. That one of the main characters was from Charleston was sort of fun, but the references to the city captured none of the flavor. In fact, one reference, (which may be gone in the final edition, since what I read was the ARC) jarred me enough that I lost the train of the story. But I slipped back into the worlds of Flora and Addision and walked with them as they tried to find truth, and keep clear heads and hearts.

I will keep my eyes open for more of Jio's work, for even though I wasn't entirely swept away by the novel, the journey I did take was pleasant, and has given me a bouquet of thoughts.  And that's a good thing to come away with when reading.

Many thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program and the publisher for sending me this copy of the book.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Clover House; by Henriette Lazaridis Power (Release date April 2)

Books take me places. Sometimes the journey is through time and memory; sometimes it's to a distant place, bringing the flavor of the land or the scent of the wind to me through words. Sometimes the journey is internal, echoing an experience of my own. The Clover House is the rare novel that braided these three types of journeys together for me, and bound them neatly inside its cover.

There are two threads of story in this book. One follows Callie Brown, who heads to Greece to receive her inheritance left to her by her beloved uncle, who has recently died; the other is the back story of her mother's life as a girl in Greece. The relationship between Callie and Clio, her mother has always been intense, difficult, and distant, though seemingly, Clio's relationship with everyone is fraught with tension. There is brittleness and bitterness in both women, the tension a palpable element in their relationship as well as how they relate to the close-knit kin who live in Patras. The damaged relationship with her mother has made it difficult for Callie to accept closeness and love at all, and she determines to try and sort things out with her mother, as well as discover her real feelings about Jonah, her fiance back in the US.  Plus, she is determined to unravel the mystery of what fractured her mother's ability to love, and fractured her family as well.

What made this book so vivid for me were the descriptions of Carnival in Patras, and the picture drawn of Greece during Clio's childhood, how the approach of WWII and the days that followed.  I visited Greece once, over 40 years ago, and still can recall the quality of light on the hillsides, and a special kind of earthy reality to the land. Power's writing helped transport me through time and space, to revisit, and also learn more about this land she so clearly, and so dearly loves.

My own relationship with my mother was almost diametrically opposed to the mother-daughter dyad in the book. But as Callie sorts through the possessions of a lifetime, left by her uncle, I was sorting through the remnants of my mother's life. It was a life I thought I knew fairly well, but the process of clearing out her possessions and souvenirs has opened new dimensions, shown me new aspects, and even told me new tales of a life well lived. Callie's experience so clearly shadowed my own task (when I was not busy reading) that at times I had to take breaks to remember which discoveries were hers and which were mine. I also learned, as Callie did, that the stories we grew up with may just be reflections of what actually happened. I wrestle now with the decision to maintain the stories my siblings and I were told, or do I go for historical accuracy? Or a blending of the two?

What is ultimately important, and what The Clover House weaves so well, is that the fabric of human existence, the story of our lives, is not perfect. We may have uncertainties, we may make mistakes, we may make bad decisions, but the outcomes are not final. We can reweave the pattern or mend the broken thread -- but to do so takes a strength of character, and a strength of heart.  This book is about finding that courage.

(After reading the book, I went to the author's website, which delighted me for many reasons, including her "about" note and the wonderful pictures of her family back in Greece. I can see where she got some of her ideas for the story, but the imagery that brought it to life for me was her own skill with words.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lei-ing memories

Today, I had a flashback to my childhood. As I walked into the dance studio, I saw a friend was wearing a beautiful lei, which her husband had given her for her birthday.

I remember my parents dancing in our living room, in the days before Multiple Sclerosis messed with my mother's balance and strength.  At one point, my mother took up hula dancing. (I've written about that before, and am now republishing the post, and another one, on dancing with my mom at Spirit Moves, from an old blog to this one, should anyone care to read them.) The summer before I started kindergarten, my parents went to Hawaii, which I think sealed the deal for my mom and hula.

I looked at those purple blossoms gathered together, sitting lightly around my friend's neck, and suddenly, I was seeing my mother at my wedding. Months before Javaczuk and I wed, when I'd asked my mother what type of flowers she wanted to have as mother of the bride, she didn't even consider the traditional corsages.  "Can I have a lei?," she'd asked. "It will be like having your father's arms around me," How could I say no?

Heather and I adjust Ruthe's lei before the wedding ceremony; March 11, 1984

Today, as our group gathered in the wonderful Spirit Moves studio, I felt the soft petals of an invisible lei settle on my shoulders, and danced, once again*, with my mother.

Bumma's Bounty: Dancing with the Stars (Originally posted June 30, 2011)

All month, I've been experiencing the generosity of my mother's spirit by sharing memories of her and some of her bits and bobs she left behind with others.  I've made donations in her memory to some of the causes she loved, and to some that remind me of her, that she didn't know about in her lifetime.  I've shared her story with a number of new friends, including someone beginning the final journey with her own mother.  Hearing of how bumma's friends and family showered her with love in her final days, (what I've labeled in in my mind as "The bumma Love project"), she's decided to try a version for her mother, and for herself, to help ease the sadness she is experiencing. This has given me happiness, as have the thank-you's that have come in from people Bumma's Bounty 2011 has touched.

Today, the last parcel I'm sending out of bumma's, for this year, was mailed.  It would have gone out sooner, but one thing I was looking for went missing.  I searched all over for it, but the gremlins seem to have stored it away for now.  Perhaps the recipient, as perfect as I thought, was not the real intended.  Perhaps it was for another reason -- that bumma wanted me to find something else instead. As I searched for this item, I found a necklace that Erico and Heather gave bumma for, I think, her 75th birthday.  It is a piece of pale turquoise, cradled in gold.  I'd forgotten all about it, and was blown away by the memories it evoked, seeing my mother wear it.  I slipped the chain over my head, and it nestled against my heart as I continued my search (unsuccessfully, I might add.)

Soon, it was time for me to head to my dance class.  I have to say that I've never considered myself a dancer.  I took some sort of dance with a formidable woman named Batya Heller  when I was 4 and 5.  She scared the living daylights out of me, and carried a stick she thumped on the floor to count out rhythms.  My main memory of her is that she proudly told us she even slept with her toes pointed.  I dreamed of pink tutus and toe shoes, and secretly covered the classy carrying case one of my classmates had for her ballet slippers.  What I got was Batya Heller and her stick.  As a little girl, I remember watching my mother practice hula in her room.  She swayed gracefully to the music, her hips and hands telling stories.  (I've written about that <a href="http://bookczuk.blogspot.com/2013/04/aloha-oe-originally-posted-july-04-2005.html">here</a>, previously.)  One of bumma's last requests to me was that I try something new, and be good to myself.  Last year, I decided that I would honor that promise by starting yoga, which bumma loved.  At the studio, I was introduced to <a href="http://nianow.com/">Nia</a>, which was a type of dance that I could gallump through and feel good.  Over the past year, I've seen how my body has responded to the freedom of movement it experienced through dance, so much so, that I find myself heading off to the studio 3 or 4 days a week to dance, and have even added belly dancing into the yoga/nia mix (wouldn't Bumma have <i>loved</i> that?!)

As the music started, today's dance began with some gentle arm movements and hip-swaying, reminiscent of hula.  Suddenly, the air around me was filled with my mother's scent.  It startled me so, that I almost began to weep.  I looked around, expecting to see her face.  But then I realized that the gold chain and pendant I wore must have carried a little remnant of her perfume.  As I danced, and my body heated up and moved, it was released.  I danced in the arms of my mother.  Bumma found a way, two years later, to send out her essence and embrace me. I danced with a star.