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Friday, July 29, 2011

A trip to the library yesterday means there are a lot of novels in the book bag.  I'm trying not to dive in because I've got two books in progress that need to be finished.

I've also been downloading a bunch of light reading (mysteries, etc.) to my Nook for the trip to Edinburgh.  In addition to the fiction, I've downloaded The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth:  A Life by Frances Wilson after reading Dorothy's review.  I should be more than set for the long, long flight, any spare time while in Edinburgh, and the longer flight home.  Coming home is always longer, isn't it?  It doesn't much matter how far you've traveled, the trip there is always full of anticipation, and the trip home is always full of exhaustion.

I love my larger Kindle for reading at home when I've exhausted my interest in the TBR pile.  However, the Nook is better for travel, and a Nook the size of a paperback book can hold so many titles, so many entertaining hours.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Another Three Reviews

Envious Casca by Gerogette Heyer is one of her mysteries, not a Regency novel.  I have to admit that I didn't have the same feeling about this novel as I have about some of her Regency Romances which delighted me as an adolescent.  A Manor House mystery: a Christmas celebration turns disastrous when the irascible host is murdered.  Although there are a number of red herrings, the guilty party seems obvious from even before the murder.  I didn't find the characters as charming as in some of the Regency novels and the repartee wasn't nearly as witty.  Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it--just not as much as I hoped.

Love the cover, though.

Fiction.  Mystery.  Originally published in 1941; current 2010.  396 pages.

Outwitting Trolls by William Tapply is part of the Brady Coyne series, and the first in the series that I've read.  Coyne, a Boston attorney, finds himself hired by the wife of an old friend who has been murdered.  Although a fast read, I wasn't much impressed.  My favorite part is when a character is described as having a "meandering nose."  Not enough to tempt me to read more in the series.  The descriptions of Henry the dog's trips to do his business got old quickly.  The book is very short, and an alarming percentage of the text has to do with Henry.  I love dogs, but frankly, if the dog is discussed mainly in terms of his feeding and bathroom habits, I'm just not interested.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  273 pages.
The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi is another "new to me" author.  While the book had an interesting detective and a mythic undercurrent, I didn't find it all that entertaining.  Zouroudi does an excellent job of describing an insular society on a small Greek island, but I found the culture (and the opinions about women) too oppressive to get much pleasure from the mystery.  I really liked the idea of  "detective" Hermes Diaktoros, but somehow his character never really worked for me.

Fiction.  Mystery.  2007.  324 pages.

Well, I am beginning to catch up with some of my reviews.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just Some Thoughts...

What bothers me and what I consider a flaw in many current mystery/crime novels  is the weird and gruesome manner of the murders.  Trying to make each murder more profane than the last is becoming a bit hackneyed in so many mystery/crime novels now, especially those dealing with serial killers.  Novelists seem to be in a kind of (excuse my crudeness) pissing contest for unusual and obscene murders.

After a while, the graphic mutilations and weirdness become overdone in novels and on television.  Let it rest a while.  I love mystery/crime novels, but prefer to have technique, plot, and characters (especially characters) take the forefront.  Maybe it is just me, but I don't read mystery/crime for the weirdness of the murders. How about you?  What do you like best in this genre?  Favorite authors?

Currently reading two excellent nonfiction works:  Musicophilia:  Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks and Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura  Hillenbrand.  Unbroken is on loan from my SIL; both she and my brother loved it.

Nonfiction is always slower reading.  There is no feeling of rushing to a conclusion, and absorbing information slowly is much easier when the reading is slowed down.
I've been letting my yoga and my walking slide.  Skipping my morning sadhana at least every other day and not attending night classes.  Boo!  I need to get back to at least every day with my personal practice...just because I feel so much better when I'm consistent.

Also, need to be watching my diet which has taken a turn for the worse this summer.  I've been indulging in way too much ice cream!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Three Reviews

The Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne  (pseudonym of Jonathan Freedman) was mainly interesting because it was informative about events in Lithuania during WWII.

From Booklist: 
Despite his thorough disenchantment with the law and the UN, former human-rights attorney Tom Bryne agrees to return to his former workplace to handle some damage control. Headquarters security has killed an elderly British tourist, Gerald Merton, and with the UN already in the spotlight because of the arrival of a new Secretary General, officials want a quick, quiet resolution. The question on everyone’s mind: Was the victim a terrorist, or was it all a horrible mistake? It doesn’t take long for Tom to figure out that finding the answer won’t be easy: a Holocaust survivor, Merton kept shocking secrets about himself and the Nazis that some very powerful men don’t want exposed. Bourne (pseudonym for an award-winning British journalist) brings some lesser-known history into focus here, integrating brutal descriptions of Nazi terror into his modern-day thriller. If his plotting runs somewhat amok, his prose is sharp and clear, especially when he’s dealing with history. It’s also no stretch to imagine some readers diving for the history books or the Internet to find out more about the real endeavors that fueled the fictional Gerald Merton’s life. --Stephanie Zvirin 

It IS the history behind the novel that is so intriguing.   In the Author's Note, Bourne gives a little more information about the group of Holocaust survivors who sought revenge following the end of the war.  Mostly resistance fighters from the ghettoes, about 50 men and women formed a group known as the Nokmim, the Avengers.  Bourne (Freedman) also mentions nonfiction books about the group that I may decide to seek out. 

While the novel is fiction, it has a factual basis that is both informative and fascinating concerning several real incidents and real people.  Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was the Jewish photographer George Kadish who took clandestine  photographs (often through the buttonhole of his jacket using a small concealed camera) of the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania and the horror of the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads) that came to the concentration camps formed from the Jews of Kovno and "shot thousands of Jewish men, women, and children, primarily in the Ninth Fort, but also in the Fourth and Seventh forts. Within six months of the German occupation of the city, the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators had murdered half of all Jews in Kovno."
 By way of fiction, we often learn of historical incidents that we were previously unaware of. The novel was a "thriller" in some ways, but lacking in something story-wise; it is the fact that so much is based on real events and people that make me value the reading of the novel.  I learned a lot, some of which was very surprising.

Fiction.  Historical fiction, Contemporary fiction, Thriller.  2010.  423 pages.
The Fourth Day by Zoe Sharp is an action-packed thriller.  My first thought was that Charlie Fox (Charlene Foxworth) was a female Jack Reacher--a mythic kind of figure.  

From Publishers Weekly:  
In Sharp's adrenaline-packed follow-up to Third Strike, Brit Charlie Fox, a close-protection specialist (or bodyguard) now working for a Manhattan company, seeks to extricate schoolteacher Thomas Witney from Fourth Day, a cult in the desert near Los Angeles. Thomas infiltrated the cult five years earlier because he believed that Fourth Day's charismatic leader, Randall Bane, was responsible for the death of Thomas's college-age son, Liam, who perished during an ecoterrorism protest. While Charlie and her lover, Sean Meyer, manage to get Thomas out, they're unprepared for either his complete about-face on Bane or the intense interest that Homeland Security suddenly has in the cult and Thomas's insider knowledge. The relationship between Charlie and Sean has always been fraught with tension, but a startling personal revelation and Charlie's decision whether to keep this information to herself as she prepares to go undercover into Fourth Day considerably raises the emotional stakes.

Definitely a fast-paced novel, suspenseful and entertaining, yet, I  have forgotten why I turned the pages so quickly!  I'd read another in the series if I happened on it, but don't think I'd seek it out.   

Fiction.  Thriller.  2011.  448 pages.

Trespasser by Paul Doiron was OK.  I didn't dislike Mike Bowditch, nor did I particularly like him. 

Product Description:

In Paul Doiron's riveting follow-up to his Edgar Award-nominated novel, The Poacher's Son, Maine game warden Mike Bowditch's quest to find a missing woman leads him through a forest of lies in search of a killer who may have gotten away with murder once before.
    While on patrol one foggy March evening, Bowditch receives a call for help. A woman has reportedly struck a deer on a lonely coast road. When the game warden arrives on the scene, he finds blood in the road--but both the driver and the deer have vanished. And the state trooper assigned to the accident appears strangely unconcerned.
    The details of the disappearance seem eerily familiar. Seven years earlier, a jury convicted lobsterman Erland Jefferts of the rape and murder of a wealthy college student and sentenced him to life in prison. For all but his most fanatical defenders, justice was served. But when the missing woman is found brutalized in a manner that suggests Jefferts may have been framed, Bowditch receives an ominous warning from state prosecutors to stop asking questions.
    For Bowditch, whose own life was recently shattered by a horrific act of violence, doing nothing is not an option. His clandestine investigation reopens old wounds between Maine locals and rich summer residents and puts both his own life and that of the woman he loves in jeopardy. As he closes in on his quarry, he suddenly discovers how dangerous his opponents are, and how far they will go to prevent him from bringing a killer to justice.

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2011.   320 pages.

It feels good to get these out of the way.  Combined and shorter reviews will help me catch up.

Oops, Forgot to Post the Winner

The winner of The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge was Rebel.  Easy enough, as there were only two people who posted by Friday night.  I wrote Kailana on one and Rebel on the other and let Edgar bat them around a bit, then picked one.

Let me know where to mail it, Rebel!

Bybee, you would really enjoy this one.  It is a fascinating look at the brain and what can now be done with new technology!  Doidge knows how to keep you interested even when it gets technical.

I'm still reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks (pretty much "the brain on music")  and find that my lack of musical knowledge is a drawback, but love the remarkable way people can describe the way music can affect the brain. 

We went to Baton Rouge this weekend for grandson Max's birthday.  We all had a great time, especially the Birthday Boy!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Time for a Give Away (STICKY POST)

When I ordered my copy of The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, I didn't check the receipt closely and received not one, but two copies.  Originally, I read this as a library book, and I wanted my own ...just not two copies!  You can read my review of the book here.

Therefore, the second copy is up for grabs.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me something you've read lately (or are currently reading) that you've really liked.

I'll use the Random Number Generator on Friday, July 22 to determine the winner.
Tomorrow night, I'll do the drawing.  Pretty easy, so far.  Only two people seem interested!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In the Belly of Jonah by Sandra Brannon

In the Belly of Jonah is the first in a series featuring Liz Bergen and FBI Agent Streeter Pierce.  When the body of Jill Brannigan, one of Liz's summer interns, is discovered brutally murdered and mutilated, Liz becomes involved in the investigation because one of the FBI Agents is a college friend. 

Because she so badly wants the killer brought to justice and because FBI Profiler Lisa Henry is someone she knows well, Liz offers her home as a place to stay when Lisa and Streeter Pierce are unable to find hotel rooms.  This puts Liz close to the investigation, but not really included.  However, because of her knowledge of the victim and certain aspects of mining technology, she is able to make some observations that pan out well for the investigators.

For a first novel (and the first in a series), the author does a good job of setting up the characters.  Although Agent Streeter Pierce will evidently feature strongly in successive novels, his role here is somewhat limited.  Brannon concentrates her attention on the development of Liz's character.

What worked best for me was the establishment of Liz's life, both her family involvement and her work background, including her friend Joe.  This information is not terribly detailed, just enough to give you a sense of Liz's work, friends, and family that can be detailed more fully in future books.  I don't think Liz is nearly fully-formed yet, but don't you think that is part of the pleasure?  Watching a character evolve?

One of the best things about discovering a new author with a debut book is knowing that you can watch the author continue to develop and refine techniques, plots, and characters.  

I'm not especially thrilled by the weirdness of the murders.  Have you noticed how often current mystery/crime novels have strange, gruesome, fantastic murders?  Maybe this one bothered me a bit more because I liked the victim, despite the little we get to know about her. 

Next in the series is Lot's Return to Sodom. This may be one that I'll download as an e-book for the trip to Scotland.

Oh, ho!  I take that back...Amazon Kindle is offering Lot's Return to Sodom as a FREE download.  Said and done!  Can't beat that.

Kay (thanks again, Kay!) sent me her copy and now I get the next book for free, too! 

Other ReviewsKay's Random Acts of Reading, Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile, Book Visions  

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2010.  252 pages.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oliver Sacks

I just started Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks.  I ordered this book a while back, then lost it in the stacks, and had pretty much forgotten about it.  Yesterday, I was packing up library books, sorting books that I need to review, and looking for something I really wanted to read...and there it was.

Seizing it up, I took it outside to read when taking breaks from working on the little Alzheimer's quilts (and, for brief periods, doing a bit of housework).  The preface held me fast.  All of a sudden, I wanted to write down everything in the preface to share with you!  How silly and time-consuming that would be, but there will be a few hints.

My interest in "brain books" has taken me through some fascinating reading over the last couple of years and there are certain names (Stephen Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, William James, Simon Baron-Cohen, Darwin, Gerald Edelman, Daniel Levitin, William Penfield, V.S. Ramachandran, and more) that crop up again and again (which is how I came to Oliver Sacks in the first place).

My "brain books" are for the lay reader; they are case studies of interesting phenomena and never fail to engage me.  Now, I've found a new favorite.

Some excerpts from the preface:

"...for virtually all of us, music has great power, whether or not we seek it out or think of ourselves as particularly "musical."  This propensity to music--this "musicophilia"--shows itself in infancy, is manifest and central in every culture, and probably goes back to the very beginnings of our species.  it may be developed or shaped by the cultures we live in, by the circumstances of life, or by the particular gifts or weaknesses we have as individuals--but it lies so deep in human nature that one is tempted to think of it as innate...."

"Listening to music is not just auditory and emotional, it is motoric as well:  'We listen to music with our muscles,' as Nietzsche wrote."

" [music] may be especially powerful and have great therapeutic potential for patients with a variety of neurological conditions."

"Some of these patients have widespread cortical problems, whether from strokes or Alzheimer's or other causes of dementia; others have specific cortical syndromes--loss of language or movement functions, amnesias, or frontal-lobe syndromes.  Some are retarded, some autistic; others have subcortical syndromes such as parkinsonism or other movement disorders.  All of these conditions and many others can potentially respond to music and music therapy."

I'm already engrossed.
Don't forget to comment on this post, if you'd like a copy of another great "brain book" by Dr. Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself:  Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander

Dangerous to Know is the 5th in the Lady Emily Hargreaves series of light historical mysteries.  I liked it better than Tears of Pearl, but didn't find it much more believable.

The mysterious Sebastian continues to be the most interesting character--much more interesting than Lady Emily and her husband Colin.  The first three books in the series were fun, but these last two haven't been nearly as much so.

Tasha Alexander had been compared to Laurie King and Deanna Raybourn, but King and Raybourn are much better at plot and characters. 

Fiction.  Historical Mystery.  2010.  306 pages.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Perfect Alibi by Sheldon Siegel

Perfect Alibi is a Mike Daley mystery, but this is the first book I've read in the series.

Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez used to be married, but now they are both law partners and life partners without marriage.  When their sixteen-year-old daughter's boyfriend is arrested for murdering his father, Mike and Rosie have a vested interest because their daughter is the boy's alibi.  Mike takes the case when asked, although he has reservations and recommends another lawyer because of the family's connection to the defendant.

I wasn't that impressed with this novel.  It was interesting, but not compelling, and I found both teenagers annoying.  They are obviously keeping some things back, which seems pretty silly considering the seriousness of the charges.

Is Bobby Fairchild guilty of killing his father?  Is Grace an accomplice?  Or can Mike and Rosie discover the real murderer and motive?

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  359 pages.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The heat is just oppressive...and a bit depressing.  This has not been a stellar garden year with so little rain and such high temperatures.  We did get a little rain last night...the first in weeks, but we are way behind in rainfall for the last two years.

Knowing that they would be cooler, I checked the temperatures for Edinburgh, and right now the temperatures are in the high 60's!  I'm so looking forward to the Fringe Festival.  Erin, Amelia, and I will be there in August!

Books to be reviewed:

In the Belly of Jonah by Sandra Brannon (Kay sent me this one!)
Miss Peregrines' Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (loved the old photos)
Fourth Day by Zoe Sharp (Charlie Fox is like a female Jack Reacher)
Trespasser by Paul Doiron (new to me mystery author)
Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander (Lady Emily hasn't been as interesting in the last two books)
Perfect Alibi by Sheldon Siegel (not that great)

Currently Reading:  The Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne

Amelia recommends The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (which was already on my list) and The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston (which she says makes her doubt the verdict in the Amanda Knox case).  Preston and crime reporter Mario Spezi wrote this nonfiction best seller, and George Clooney will play Douglas Preston in the film version.  Now, that should be worth watching.

Although Preston and Spezi were originally trying to determine the identity of the Monster of Florence, interesting facts concerning those who participated in the Monster of Florence investigation seem to make the Amanda Knox case worthy of renewed interest and doubt.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ten Beach Road by Wendy Wax

Ten Beach Road is an ARC sent to me by Joan Schulhafer and a great little beach read.  It is definitely chic lit, but one that I enjoyed.

When Malcolm Dwyer's Ponzi scheme falls apart, the victims include three women from different backgrounds who find themselves left with nothing but shared ownership in an old mansion in desperate need of repair.  The setting is a beautiful Florida beach, but the magnificent house is in no condition to bring the deserved asking price.

The new co-owners meet to view the house and discuss what they can do to re-coup a little of their lost savings.  Strangers to each other, they finally take advice that includes them camping out in the mansion and doing much of the repairs themselves.  As the three throw themselves into the hard, sweaty work of restoring Bella Flora to its original beauty, they develop skills and endurance that they didn't know they had.  And their growing friendship surprises them all as they become a strong support system for each other.

Madeline Singer's husband has lost everything in the Ponzi scheme and his job as well.  His depression leads him to the couch and avoidance of any effort to recover, so Madeline is the one who must make the attempt.

Avery Lawford, part of a husband/wife team with a television show focusing on home remodeling, finds herself forced out of the show.  Having already opted out of the marriage, she has depended on the inheritance from her father to see her through, but her father was also a victim of the scheme, and Avery has no back-up finances.

Nicole Grant, owner of a successful match-making company, also finds that she has lost everything, and while she has no experience with the kind of mundane world that will be hers as she toils through the heat, humidity, and grime of house restoration, she, too, does her best.

There are some secrets that will eventually come to light, but the story isn't a mystery, it is about the relationships, successes, and failures that all three encounter during their months at Bella Flora.

If you are headed on vacation or just want a book to help combat the heat, Ten Beach Road will fill the bill, taking you away to a lovely location where others do all the hard work.

Fiction.  Chic Lit.  2011.  404 pages.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Return by Hakan Nesser

Hakan Nesser's The Return is an Inspector Van Veeteren mystery, a police procedural set in the fictional town of Maardam with an irascible, but intuitive Inspector as the protagonist.

When a body is discovered missing head and hands, the first difficulty is to discover who the victim is.  Eventually, it is determined that the corpse is that of a man who disappeared the day he was released from prison.

Inspector Van Veeteren does much of the piecing together from his hospital bed as he recovers from surgery.  (I was making the comparison to Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time and Inspector Alan Grant when Inspector Van Veeteren mentions that his condition reminds himself of that very novel and situation.)  And just as Grant comes to the conclusion about Richard III's innocence in the death of the two princes, Van Veeteren comes to believe that Leopold Verhaven was also innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted.

So...if Verhaven wasn't guilty, who actually killed both the two women and Verhaven, himself?  When Van Veeteren discovers the real murderer, he faces an ethical question.

I think I'll be looking for more of Hakan Nesser's work.  In the first 5 novels, Detective Inspector Van Veeteren is still with the police force;  in the last five he is retired from the force and owns an antiquarian bookstore, but he occasionally aids investigations

Fiction.  Mystery/Police Procedural.  2007.  322 pages.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

Where Shadows Dance is the newest Sabastian St. Cyr mystery and my favorite so far.

This series is set in Regency London, and the date in which this one takes place is July, 1812.

When surgeon and anatomist Paul Gibson receives his latest corpse from the body snatchers, he is excited because he believes the body to be that of a young man who died in his sleep from a heart ailment, and Gibson is eager to learn more about the heart.  What he discovers instead is that Alexander Ross was murdered.  What to do?  He can't go to Bow Street because obtaining the corpse is a crime.

He realizes that he must turn to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, who enjoys few things more than solving murders.  Although initially, Alexander Ross appears to have no enemies who would wish him dead, the more Sebastian digs, the deeper he finds the web of diplomatic intrigue.  The death of the well-liked young man may have much more far-reaching consequences than anyone thought.

When a second body turns up with the same cause of death, St. Cyr finds himself wondering just how much Lord Jarvis, his powerful and frequent opponent knows.  And how much his daughter knows as well.

I think this one is the best in the series so far, which doesn't mean there aren't a few flaws.  Some of the plot complications seem a bit labored, and Hero Jarvis' remarkable behavior in the latter part of the book was a bit over the top.  Not that it bothered me unduly as I like Hero so much better than Kat.  A fun romp and a bit of romance!

Fiction.  Mystery/Historical Fiction.  2011.  339 pages.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

Bella Pollen's Summer of the Bear is my favorite book so far this year.   I finished it well before we left on vacation, but was (and still am) so far behind on reviews that I'm only getting around to it now.

When Nicky Fleming, the lovable husband, father, and career diplomat dies under strange circumstances in Germany during the Cold War, his family is left with too many unanswered questions.  The story examines the terrible grief of his wife and three children as they try to get on with their lives.

Each character, including the charismatic Nicky, is so beautifully wrought that each seems completely real.  Letty, his disconsolate wife, relocates with their three children to a remote island in Scotland's Outer Hebrides where Letty spent the best years of her childhood and feels safe in a community of odd and interesting characters.  Her hope is that the sanctuary of her beloved island will help heal her fractured family.

Georgie, the oldest daughter, has some secrets she is not ready to reveal about her trip to East Berlin with her father.  Alba, the middle child, is angry at everyone and everything.  Jamie, the youngest, never gives up hope that his father, who he has decided is on a secret mission, will return eventually.
Letty struggles with the accusation that her husband was a traitor.

And then there is the bear...

Letty, in her grief, becomes emotionally distant.  Georgie tries to maintain a kind of peace in the family.  Alba's anger finds many outlets.  Jamie trusts that his father will keep his promise.

The writing is beautiful, and I found the plot seamless.  Pollen mixes reality, mystery, coming of age, and myth with consummate skill.

Alba and Jamie take center stage--the girl with no faith left and the boy who subsists on faith in his father.  The two are often in conflict, at least on Alba's side.

"It annoyed Alba that people accused her of hating things indiscriminately.  It wasn't true.  She had her reasons for feeling the way she did and they were good ones.  For example, she despised over-polished furniture, easy-listening music and shiny food, as represented by, say, the glaze on doughnuts or the sweaty sheen of a tomato ring.  She resented fish, loathed any form of sentimentality and strongly believed that doors should be kept either open or shut, never in-between.  This short list, selected entirely at random, did not constitute the sum total of Alba's wrath at life.  Far from it.  Alba incubated a fresh grievance for each day of the week.  In fact, if someone cared to ask her--and God knows, she often wished they would--she could dredge up bona fide irritation for every letter of the alphabet."
Jamie is the most frequent object of her wrath.  And poor Jamie worships Alba.

The lack of communication that occurs after Nicky's death is in large part responsible for the misery his family continues to endure.  The author allows the information to leak out through each family member and through memories of their past in Berlin in such a skillful way that reader eagerly grasps each new piece of the puzzle.

Superbly written and masterfully plotted, Bella Pollen has completely captured me with The Summer of the Bear.  Highly recommended.

Fiction.  Contemporary Literature.  2010.  438 pages.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Chime by Franny Billingsly

Chime was recommended by Nancy of Bookfoolery & Babble.

Briony is wracked with guilt.  She is a witch, and she believes her powers were responsible for her stepmother's death and her twin sister's mental peculiarities. Her stepmother supposedly committed suicide, but Briony feels differently:
"...the villagers are wrong about Stepmother, and so is Father.  She would never kill herself.  I'm the one who knew her best, and I know this:  Stepmother was hungry for life."
The quote which appears so early in the book holds great significance.

To deal with the guilt, Briony indulges in self-hatred.  What she says about herself and what she actually does, however, are often at odds.  She says she cannot love, but although she  often becomes irritated with Rose, Briony does take care of her, worry about her, and try to keep her healthy and happy.  When Rose is threatened, Briony is prepared to risk everything.

The style is unusual, the language, often rhythmic.  There were several places when I thought the author caught an idea or situation perfectly.  I like this one:

"What a strange word, craving. What is it, really?  It's hard to describe, despite the fact that it keeps you up all night.  It's trickier than pain.  It's an itch stuck below your skin."

The novel is a YA novel, but I eagerly turned the pages.  A little fantasy, a mystery, a bit of romance...

Fiction.  Fantasy.  2011.  361 pages.

Back Home

We had a lovely trip.  It has been years since Fee and I have been to Hot Springs, and we were surprised at the urban sprawl.  We spent most of our time in the historic downtown area and enjoyed it.  We were there for one of the Hot Springs Gallery Walks which was a chance to view the works of various local artists.  Hot Springs is #4 in the top 100 Small Art Towns in America.

Then on to Memphis, where we stayed at the Peabody and were able to see the famous duck walk.  The kids were more fun to watch than the ducks themselves.  We visited Beale Street, but it was so hot and humid, we were looking for places to sit and cool down more than for the music!

We sat on the Silky O'Sullivan patio for a while with cold ones.  The facades are all that are left of the buildings on this corner, and the patio is just right behind the facades.

One of the best things we saw in Memphis was the Belz Museum of Asian & Judaic Art.  The collections were truly awe-inspiring!   If you visit Memphis, this exhibit is one you don't want to miss.
No pictures were allowed, so the above are those I could find online, and they are not the most impressive pieces we saw.

The Peabody had a Fireworks on the Roof party on Sunday night.  We watched a spectacular display from the roof, but the children were once again the highlight.

On to Natchez where we watched another fireworks display from our balcony on July 4th.  It was even better than in Memphis!

And finally, home again.  To all the chores, duties, errands, etc. of real life.  How will I ever catch up with my blog reading? 

Also, I thought I'd scheduled some reviews to post while we were gone, but evidently only one was published, the others are still drafts.  Ah, well.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman

The Sleepwalkers is author Paul Grossman's first effort.

From Publishers Weekly

Set in Germany in the fall of 1932, Grossman's less than stunning debut features Berlin police detective Willi Krauss, who's become a minor celebrity, despite being Jewish, after cracking the notorious Child Eater case. As the Nazis plot to gain control of the country, Krauss looks into the death of a beautiful young woman found floating in the River Spree with her head shaved and her fibulas surgically removed from one leg and replanted in the other. Meanwhile, the Weimar republic's president, Gen. Paul von Hindenberg, orders the policeman to work on another case, the disappearance of a Bulgarian princess. Though the author does a decent job of conveying the atmosphere of fear as Hitler manipulates his way to power, clich├ęd plot elements, such as a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold love interest for his hero, undercut his efforts at realism. Given the inherent lack of suspense (Krauss's detecting won't prevent the Nazis from succeeding), Grossman doesn't adequately compensate with complex characterizations. 

I think that about sums it up.  Especially since you know from the beginning that Willi will fail -- unless this is alternate history (and it isn't).  I was also a little uncomfortable with the relationship between Willi and Paula for several reasons, even knowing that the tone of Berlin at the time was largely risque.  The name dropping of every famous Jew who left Berlin became tedious, especially since Willi seemed to know most of them. Two or three would have set the time frame nicely, but so many was overkill.

It was a fearsome time.  A time when nightmares became reality and uncertainty about the future gave everything a  fantastical atmosphere.  I mean, really, who could have dreamed that the atrocities of the Nazis could ever come to pass?  The authorities in Berlin could scarcely believe it when Hitler came to power.  Grossman does a good job of creating a nightmarish atmosphere in the days before the  Weimar Republic fell victim to the Third Reich.

The little note at the end that the character of The Great Gustave was based on an actual person was interesting.  Erik Hanussen was the clairvoyant to Hitler, all the while hiding his own Jewish identity. 

Fiction.  Historical Fiction/Crime.  2010.  309 pages.

hot springs, arkansas

We are staying at the Arlington here in Hot Springs. Last night was a Gallery Walk, which was a lot of fun.

In a little while, we will be heading to Memphis. ;) I'm learning to use my new I phone! It is a slower process than typing.

Friday, July 01, 2011


I discovered a new blog the other day:  Fyrefly's Book Blog.  Maybe the title gives you a clue to some of her reading preferences.  What I enjoyed most about her blog is the inclusion of haiku book descriptions! 

Recently, I was considering returning to the 6 word sentence reviews, but Fyrefly's haikus would put them to shame.

Here is the haiku in her review of Indigo:  In Search of the Color that Seduced the World by Catherine E. McKinley:
Being obsessed with
indigo is not the same
as loving blue jeans.

More books in the mail:  

Ten Beach Road by Wendy Wax-- an ARC from Joan Schulhafer Publishing; three strangers are left with  part ownership in a ramshackle beach cottage when their financial manager disappears with all of their money.

and Tout Sweet -- a memoir by Karen Wheeler, who decided it was time for a change.  She left her career as a fashion editor, left London behind, and purchased a house in rural France.  From Sourcebooks Publicity.