Wednesday, February 4, 2015

To Paraphrase the Terminator...I'm Back!

Well, at least for now!  I've read a bunch of books this past January, and two of them were too good NOT to share.  Here's the whole pile:

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

If you like food and pirates, (and who DOESN'T?), then you must drop everything and read Cinnamon and Gunpowder. This is a seriously one-of-a-kind book that has something for everyone: action, adventure, romance, intrigue, delicious dishes, oh, and did I mention PIRATES? Set in 1819, the story follows the plight of talented but kidnapped chef-to-the-English-gentry Owen Wedgewood as he attempts to save himself from the plank by cooking incredible dishes from a not-so-incredible pantry aboard the dreaded Flying Rose. If he fails to impress Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot with his culinary genius, any manner of torture could follow. But luckily for Owen, Mad Hannah has a number of other things to think about, including avoiding vicious privateers and the English Navy while she plots the destruction of the Opium trade in China. Slowly Owen begins to see that Hannah is not as mad as everyone thinks. Cinnamon and Gunpowder is simply a delicious story.  I would love to go back for seconds!!

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

I never really thought about it before I read The Gods of Gotham, but the fact is that the idea of a police force was very controversial when our country started. In fact, the New York City Police Department was founded in 1845 amid accusations that it was a standing army among the free citizens of New York.  At the same time NYC is being overwhelmed by mostly unwelcome Irish immigrants as the Potato Famine is devastating Ireland. So, newly-minted "Copper" Timothy Wilde has a daunting task in front of him, made even more so when he literally runs into ten-year-old Bird Daly. Bird tells him that dozens of Irish children have gone missing, and she knows where the bodies are buried. Is this young Irish orphan telling the truth? Is there a serial killer on the loose? Can Tim help to keep the lid on the tinder box of simmering fear and prejudice that is New York City in the summer of 1845? These are all questions that will be answered for you if YOU read The Gods of Gotham. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Baker's Dozen...and Done

It's been four years of fun, but for now I'm done! (At least for now!) But before I go, here are some sweet picks for you:

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah is a new murder mystery featuring Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. Love Agatha Christie, love Poirot, loved this book!

Jan Karon's Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good is her latest addition to the Mitford Series. The Mitford Series and Fr. Tim rock, but I think the writing itself is getting a little disjointed. Wait for the paperback, or Kindle it.

One of my favorite authors, Louise Penny does not disappoint in The Long Way Home. Chief Inspector Gamache is fascinating as always, and this investigation into the far reaches of Canada takes the reader to a place filled with incredible beauty and skin-crawling creepiness. Terrific!

Sunshine on Scotland Street is the latest in probably my favorite series by Alexander McCall Smith. Everyone who lives in or around 44 Scotland Street is a character, but I am definitely a fan of adorable, put-upon, mother-smothered Bertie. Don't worry, Bertie! Things seem to be looking up. Read and find out how.

Carl Hiaasen is known for his riotous adult books featuring crazy Floridians, but Skink No Surrender is his first book for teens. That's not to say adults won't like it. I did! To read him is to love him.

Another funny man: Dave Barry.  Dave Barry Slept Here is vintage Dave Barry. I like Dave Barry. I vote for Dave Barry for president of everything.

On a more serious note, if you liked Hotel on the Corner of Better and Sweet by Jamie Ford, you will love Songs of Willow Frost. Sweet and heartbreaking but totally worth a read.

And now for some serious escapism in the form of Nora Roberts. The Cousin O'Dwyer Trilogy of Dark Witch, Shadow Spell and Blood Magic. Includes Irish castles, spooky woods, horses, dogs, falcons and hot witches of the male AND female variety. Nothing else required.

The Apothecary and The Apprentices by Maile Meloy. Books one and two of a new series aimed at younger readers, but again for anyone who likes a good story. Takes place in the 50's and brings back memories of bomb drills, black lists and commie paranoia. Not to worry, as usual the kids save the day.

The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear is a stand-alone novel NOT featuring Maisy Dobbs. It DOES give the reader a very real picture of the home front during WWI. I LOVE this author, but do not read if you are depressed.

Adios, amigos! Ciao, amici! Au revoir! Until I feel like writing again...TBC

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Eight is Enough

No, I'm not referring to the circa 1977 show starring Dick Van Patton, but if you know what I am talking about, welcome to my world. I AM referring to my apparent inability to put down a new book long enough to write about the one I've just finished, leaving me with this pile of eight:

I submit that there is nothing wrong with me that a deadline wouldn't cure. Or a threat. So I'm telling myself, through sheer strength of will, that I will NOT read another word until this post is done. Since I'm also my own editor, I can make it as short or long as I like. I can also ignore myself. Ha. Let us begin.

The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal

This is the fourth book in the Maggie Hope Mystery Series, and I'm liking them more with each new addition. Maggie starts out in the first book as a secretary for Winston Churchill, but, as you can obviously tell from the title, in The Prime Minister's Secret Agent she has become much more. If you like mysteries, moral dilemmas, interesting fictional and non-fictional characters and WWII history this series is for you. Keep Calm and we'll Carry On...

O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King

Another great story of Sherlock Holmes and his young apprentice Mary Russell, presuming that Sherlock was real, Watson wrote the stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was his literary agent and Holmes retired to keep bees next door to the brilliant young Mary. Fortunately the writing of Laurie R. King makes this all pretty easy to imagine. O Jerusalem finds Sherlock and Mary in 1918 British-occupied Palestine for two reasons.  One, some really bad people in England want them dead. Two, Mycroft Holmes needs their help in said Palestine. This is the interesting part for me, as I am woefully uneducated in Middle-Eastern history and conflict. Our story finds the tenuous peace between Muslim, Jew and Christian disturbed by the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI. (The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that.) With the common enemy gone all bets are off, and  now a game of political manipulation is afoot. But not to worry, with vintage Sherlock technique all is eventually revealed.

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

Next we have the delightful, entertaining, fluff-a-licousness that is Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. In Top Secret Twenty-One, a Trenton used-car dealer goes missing and those close to him start dying. Bond agent Stephanie has to find him to make rent money, but various bad guys and a feral pack of chihauhaus keep getting in her way. Throw in her hot policeman boyfriend Morelli and the mysterious and steamy Ranger, and you will soon forget everything bad you saw on CNN today. Huzzah for Janet Evanovich!

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellows

Yes, THAT Julian Fellows, so all you fans of Downton Abbey may commence the celebration. Past Imperfect is the story of a group of friends, their experiences during one debutante season in late 1960's London, and their lives forty years later. It is a testament to the brilliance of Julian Fellows that I just now realized the narrator, one of this group of friends, is never named. Or, perhaps that just proves I wasn't paying attention. Anyway, pull up your long white gloves and enjoy this perfectly fascinating look at the not-so-distant past.

Angelica's Smile by Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri is a man. He is also a prolific Italian novelist. Angelica's Smile is the seventeenth installment of his Inspector Montalbano mystery series which makes me very happy, because I now have sixteen new books to look forward to! But back to Angelica's Smile...Inspector Montalbano is dealing with a rash of peculiar burglaries in his little slice of Sicily, and heads will roll if he doesn't solve the case. In between lover's spats with his girlfriend and delightfully long lunches he starts to make progress, but foolishly falling in love with one of the victims is not helping his detective skills. Will he pull his head out of the clouds long enough to make sense of it all? Si!!  Ciao, bella.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

If you've never read Carl Hiaasen you're in for a treat. All of his novels are set in Florida, a place where crazy things seem to naturally occur. So, the fact that Andrew Yancy, disgraced sheriff and current reluctant health inspector ends up with a human arm in his freezer is really not shocking. It's everything that happens after that, including the appearance of a very bad monkey. Read this book! There's nothing like a good literary romp in the Florida Keys to brighten up one's day.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

In case you haven't noticed, I love mysteries and crime fiction, and this debut novel by Robert Galbraith made me very happy:) -- Private detective Cormoran Strike is ex-military police and ex-one lower leg, but that doesn't stop him from being a first-rate investigator. (If only he had clients who would pay their bills.) When the lawyer brother of a supermodel hires him to investigate her death, Cormoran thinks he may finally be able to shake off his creditors, but it won't be easy to prove that she didn't commit suicide three months before. The London Police aren't going to cooperate as they were the ones who ruled her death a suicide in the first place. Witness' memories have become hazy, and the "crime" scene has long been wiped clean. Cormoran's sense of honor almost prevents him from taking the client's money in a seemingly futile attempt to prove foul play, but in the end he agrees, and Pandora's box is opened. Peppered with fascinating characters and sub-plots, The Cuckoo's Calling will call to you until it's finished. Then you can read:

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Did I forget to mention that Robert Galbraith is the pen name for J. K. Rowling? Minor wonder these books are so good! Moving on...The Silkworm is the second in the Cormoran Strike series, and I CAN'T WAIT for more!! -- Owen Quine may not be a very good novelist and he may be impossible to live with, but when he disappears for an extended period of time Cormoran is hired by Owen's wife to track him down. It seems Owen has written a VERY nasty book libeling almost everyone he knows. Gruesome events are discovered, and things don't look at all good for Mrs. Quine, but Cormoran is treating everyone as a suspect. This book is better than the first. Write faster, Mr. Galbraith/Ms. Rowling!

Ta ta for now...TBC

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I've Been a Very Bad Girl

The Put-It-Off-Until-Later Bug has had me in his grip, and May flew by with very few posts. So Sorry. And now I am left with this:

Therefore, I am about to cheat these mostly wonderful books out of proper posts and give you blurbs instead. This is me beginning...

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

(I just finished this, and it was FANTASTIC, so this might be more than just a blurb.)

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin were more than just athletic games. They were the perfect opportunity for the Nazi propaganda machine to convince the world that Germany was a happy place with no evil plan for world domination. They also expected their Aryan athletes to win big, especially in the wildly popular sport of rowing. Enter stage left the American eight man rowing team, the varsity crew from, of all places, the University of Washington. These nine sons of Seattle, a place still considered the boondocks by the elite teams of the East, blew past the likes of Princeton, Penn and Navy to earn the right to a trip to Berlin where they would face the vaunted Germans. Did they win the gold? Of course they did!! But this is such a great story that my heart was pounding as I read about the final race. (Just like Apollo 13 makes me nervous even though I know they make it home O.K.) But this is more than just a story of rowing or the Olympics, this is about determination and commitment and working for something bigger than yourself. Every high school freshman should read this book. And you, too!

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Oh, Orphan Train, how I loved thee. It is a little-known fact that between 1854 and 1929 trains full of orphans departed eastern cities en route to a better life on the farms and in the cities of the Midwest. Babies and children of all ages were displayed for immediate adoption at train stations along the way, and some were taken into warm and loving families. Some were not. Orphan Train is the story of one of these orphans, Vivian, now in her 90's and living in Maine. It is also the story of a modern day foster child, Molly. When Molly is assigned to do community service with Vivian an unlikely friendship blossoms, and both discover their ability to live in the present. Read now. This is a beautiful book.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

No matter what your religion, everyone can learn from this book. Just the basics will change your life, and they are pure common sense! Here they are:

1. Be impeccable with your word.

2. Don't take anything personally.

3. Don't make assumptions.

4. Always do your best.

Simple, but powerful. It might be a little late, but this would make a great graduation gift.

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

If you still haven't bought a Father's Day gift for your various father figures, run out now and buy this book. It is HYSTERICAL!!! I love Jim Gaffigan, and you will LOVE THIS BOOK. Anyone who lives with a wife and five children in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City has to have a sense of humor. His is very well developed. Enjoy!

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

I didn't know much about WWII in Italy, but this book changed all that. Stuck between the Nazis and the Partisans, the people of Tuscany had to walk a tightrope of wartime diplomacy just to survive. Ten years later, members of the noble Rosati family are being brutally murdered, and it is up to Serafina Bettini of the Florence Police Department to learn why. But these crimes reopen the wounds of Serafina's own horrifying experience during the war, for some a war that might never really end. Magnifico!

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P. D. James

The incomparable P. D. James' first book with the female private investigator Cordelia Gray, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman perfectly captures the early 70's in Cambridge. Amongst the sons and daughters of well-heeled Englishmen, untested P. I. Cordelia Gray must fight the still prevalent prejudices against women to discover why an otherwise intelligent young man would hang himself. The denizens of Cambridge soon learn not to underestimate her abilities. It is a mystery worth the read.

The Vintage Teacup Club by Vanessa Greene

Three women, all for different reasons, are hunting down vintage tea sets at flea markets in the English countryside. When they all converge on the same beautiful set at the same moment, they have the brilliant idea to share their find. Thus begins a friendship that will last their lifetimes. This is more romance novel than I usually like, but The Vintage Teacup Club is charming without being syrupy. A great beach read!

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

Bruno Courreges is the sole policeman for the village of St. Denis in the South of France. He is their protector and friend, and he knows EVERYTHING that goes on in his village. He also loves to hunt, fish, grow his own vegetables and cook it all up into delicious French country dishes. Nothing much happens as far as crime goes in St. Denis, that is until an elderly French/Arab war hero is found viciously murdered with a swastika carved in his chest. It appears that someone had a bone to pick with the victim, and it is up to Bruno to figure out who and why. This is the first in a series and I LOVED it! I can't wait to read more about the denizens of St. Denis and their beloved chief of police.

I just finished this today, so here's the photo:

That's it for now!  TBC

Thursday, May 1, 2014

City of Tranquil Light

Confession time:  I would be a terrible missionary. Mostly because I really like my own bathroom.  I would have been an especially whiny missionary in 1906 China, but many MUCH more selfless souls than I gave up their creature comforts to do just that, and that is where our story begins in City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell.

Will Kiehn is the son of Mennonite farmers in Oklahoma, but he feels the call to be a missionary in China. Without any real idea of what he's about to get into, he joins a group of fellow Mennonites led by Edward Geisler, an old family friend. As fate would have it, Edward's nurse-sister-in-law Katherine is also in the group, and Will falls hopelessly in love. From the Mandarin they learn to read, speak and write, the customs they must understand, and the ever-changing dangerous political climate, there is much to learn on their long journey. They somehow find a way through the distrust of their Chinese hosts, and find a place with the people of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng-City of Tranquil Light.  Will and Katherine spend the next 36 years on the North China Plain, experiencing extreme hardship and joy in an alien land they would come to think of as home.

Will and Katherine are based on the true-life missionary story of Bo Caldwell's grandparents. The hardships they faced are astonishing, and the fact that they lived to tell the story even more so. Just the lack of hygiene alone would have killed most people! And wait until you read about the local remedy for stomach pains. I say "ick".  Anyway...City of Tranquil Light is a fascinating and inspiring book, and I hope you ALL read it.


The Snow Child

When a childless couple build a snow girl with cranberry-red lips and yellow straw for hair, they hardly expect her to come alive, but that seems to be what magically occurs in The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Jack and Mabel have come to Alaska in 1920 to homestead a farm. They have come to escape the sorrow of their stillborn child, and with dreams of starting over in the pristine wilderness, but they never expected the harsh reality of the immense physical struggles they would face. During the first snowstorm of winter, they put aside their worries and build a snow girl, giving her a beautiful face and hair, a red wool scarf for her neck and matching mittens for her tree-branch hands. The next morning she is gone, but so are the scarf and mittens. Soon they start seeing a little girl with yellow hair and red scarf flitting noiselessly through the trees, and their lives are changed forever.

Based on a traditional Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child is an extraordinary tale of magic meeting reality, at once enchanted and brutally honest. I loved it. (By the way, it was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist.)


Some Thoughts About Procrastination

I swing between procrastination and being really thorough so either way things aren't getting done quickly.
My evil genius Procrastination has whispered me to tarry 'til a more convenient season.
One of the great challenges of our age, in which the tools of our productivity are also the tools of our leisure, is to figure out how to make more useful those moments of procrastination when we're idling in front of our computer screens.
think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.
Yup, this is me today.