Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Books In for 2013

Before I shelf these, here are the last books to make it through the door in 2013:

1.  Curse Of The Mistwraith, Janny Wurts, fantasy, book 1, Paperback Swap
2.  Traitor's Knot, Janny Wurts, fantasy, book 6, Paperback Swap
3.  A Snug Life Somewhere, Jan Shapin, memoir, sent for book tour
4.  The Sense Of Touch, Jan Parsons, anthology, sent for book tour
5.  The Blood Of Heaven, Kent Wascom, historical fiction, Christmas gift
6.  The Last Dark, Stephen Donaldson, fantasy, Christmas gift
7.  On The Floor, Aifric Campbell, mystery, Christmas gift
8.  Flyover Lives, Diane Johnson, memoir, sent for book tour
9.  Brain, Dermot Davis, literary fiction, sent by author
10.  Twisted, Jonathan Kellerman, mystery, purchased
11.  I Shall Be Near To You, Erin Lindsay McCabe, historical fiction, sent by publisher

Guests On Earth by Lee Smith

Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, is noted in the 1930's and 1940's for its caring and innovation therapies for those with mental illnesses.  Evalina Toussaint comes to the hospital in 1936 after losing her mother and being an inconvenience to her father who is married to another woman with whom he has children.  Evalina is depressed by these events, and Highland is considered to be a good solution to both Evalina's issues and the fact of her existence.

She is to grow up at the hospital, staying for years although it is acknowledged that she doesn't really need treatments after a while, and she becomes part client, part staff.  Evalina has great musical talent which is developed by the wife of the hospital's founder and most famous doctor.  She develops relationships with the other patients and staff members, coming to consider them her friends and family.

Evalina is sent to a boarding school, and finds love with a man she meets through her musical work.  After their whirlwind affair, she finds herself once again depressed and at loose ends, and returns to Highland Hospital for another stay of years.  Once again, she develops friendships with those who surround her.

There is Dixie, the typical Southern belle, who is inexplicably depressed at times.  Jinx is a seventeen year old delinquent, sent to the hospital in lieu of jail.  Zelda Fitzgerald is the wife of famous novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and the most famous patient of the hospital.  Pan Otto is a groundskeeper who came to the hospital as an abused child and never left.  As Evalina makes her life there, it becomes clear that many of the patients would never be hospitalized in todays' society.  In the 1930's and 1940's, with their emphasis on conformity, many people, especially women, ended up in institutions when they couldn't fit into the lives around them and couldn't be coerced by normal societal strictures to conform to the picture of an approved way of life.

Lee Smith, a North Carolina author, has written a touching novel of society and the way it handles those who do not fit into the normal molds.  The clients are portrayed sympathetically and the reader comes to empathize with their inability to handle life's trials.  The book is an accurate portrayal of how mental illness was handled, with insulin and electric shock therapy, with art and gardening and long walks.  This book is recommended for those interested in North Carolina history and those interested in how we treat those who are different than us. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo

A series of deaths have the police playing catch-up in Oslo.  The victims don't seem to have any relation to each other that anyone can find, but each has been killed at five o'clock and has had a finger severed.  On each body jewelry has been found that contains red star-cut diamonds; the kind of jewels that are called The Devil's Star.  In each case a bicycle messenger has been spotted in the vicinity.

Detective Harry Hole is pulled onto the investigative team.  Although he only has three weeks left until his dismissal from the police department, he is the best they have and the only one with serial killer experience.  He has been dismissed both because of his drinking and because he insists that one of the department's rising stars is in fact a criminal himself and heads up a smuggling ring.  Since he refuses to recant his accusations, and since he won't or can't stop the drinking, a decision has been made to release him from the force. 

Harry is of two minds about this.  While he can't really imagine doing anything else, perhaps it is for the best.  When working, all else goes out the window, keeping him from relationships.  The horror of what he sees keeps his drinking fueled.  But will he be able to keep away from what is central to his life?  Can he find the killer before his time as a detective is up?

Jo Nesbo has scored another hit with this latest Harry Hole novel.  The reader cannot help but be attracted to Harry in the same way that his friends are, recognizing his essential goodness while repelled by his single-mindedness and determination to drink away his problems.  No author can pull the reader into the inside of a murder investigation like Nesbo, or provide as many shocks along the way to a solution.  This book is recommended to mystery readers, and to fans of Harry Hole.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Republic Of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora is in trouble.  In exile with his best friend, Jean, he is seriously ill.  They succeeded in their last caper, but at a price.  Lamora has been poisoned, and none of the doctors and healers Jean has found have been able to heal him.

Finally, Jean approaches a Bondsmagi, Archdame Patience.  Bondsmagi are to be avoided at all costs, but without their help, Lamora will soon be dead.  Patience is able to reverse the poisoning, but there is a price.  There is always a price with Magi.

The Magi are about to enter the Five Year Plan, an election that determines the Kouncil that will rule the city they protect.  Each side is involved in maneuvering the election to obtain a victory.  Who would be better at trickery than the Gentlemen Bastards, Jean and Lamora?  She obtains their services and promises them help after the election in leaving the land. 

Jean and Locke take up the challenge, but there is one thing Patience forgot to tell them.  The other side has purchased the services of another member of the Gentlemen Bastards clique; Sabetha, the only woman Locke has ever loved or ever will.  They are pitted against each other, each knowing the tricks and wiles of the others.  Which side will win, and will the battle end the love of Locke and Sabetha before it can be given another chance?

Fans of Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastard series will rejoice to read this third entry in the series.  The characters are compelling; the tone sprightly.  Locke is a force to be reckoned with, loyal to the death to his friends, and willing to stop at nothing to fulfill his missions.  The book moves between the current battle and the time that the Bastards worked together in a play, The Republic Of Thieves, when Locke and Sabetha's love first bloomed.  There is fantasy but it is just a background accompaniment to the action, not overwhelming.  This book is highly recommended to fantasy lovers and readers interested in a rollicking tale that will leave them obsessed and anxiously awaiting the next installment in the story. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Best Food Writing 2013, edited by Holly Hughes

Holly Hughes has a long history of editing a compilation of the best food articles of the year.  She has put together a food anthology each year since 2000.  This years, Best Food Writing 2013, is another worthy effort and will be enjoyed both by those who identify themselves as ‘foodies’ and by those just interested in good writing that explains someone else’s obsession. 

The book contains articles by well-known food writers.  Authors include Michael Pollen, Corby Kummer (senior editor at The Atlantic for three decades), Matt Goulding, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl and Jonathan Gold, the first ever food writer to win a Pulitizer Prize.  Some of the articles are written by chefs, some by food critics, and many by those who write about food for their living. 

The articles range both in subject and voice.  There are articles that cover food fads and fashions such as slow eating, the local resourcing trend, the tyranny of chefs who have gone from those providing a service to those who give diners what they want to cook rather than what the diner wants to eat, and the emergence of food trucks.  There are humorous articles about cooking ribs and fighting squirrels.  There are emotional pieces that describe the role that food has in discovering love, parental connections, the connection between food and gratitude and food and memories.  There are profiles of chefs and descriptions of dinners with more than twenty courses.  There is complicated food, simple food, expensive food and comfort food.  

The reader will enjoy learning about the subject.  Each article is a gem in its own genre.  There is a short biography of each author before the piece, and the book is organized into subjects such as The Way We Eat Now, A Critical Palate, Farm To Table, The Meat Of The Matter, Home Cooking, To Be A Chef and Personal Tastes.  Those interested in cooking and food will find much to interest them, and those who are more mundane cooks will enjoy the view into the world of those for whom food is a compelling interest.  This book is recommended both for food enthusiasts and those interested in the subject of cooking and why it matters.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

10 years Calamity came and life changed forever.  The Epics arrived; superhuman individuals with amazing powers.  At first, humans believed the Epics were heroes, but they quickly learned that was wrong.  Epics came to rule and they rule with an iron fist.  Any resistance or even getting in an Epic’s way for a minute results in death.  They regard men as tools to further their rule.  No one can fight them. 

But some still want to.  David was eight years old the day he saw the most powerful Epic, Steelheart, up close.  He and his father were in a bank when Steelheart came in and killed everyone he saw without hesitation.  He didn’t see David, and David knows Steelheart’s greatest flaw.  He saw Steelheart bleed.  Every Epic has a fatal flaw and only by using that flaw can each be defeated. 

After years of study and plotting, David is about to get his wish to fight the Epics.  He works his way into a team of Reckoners.  Reckoners are the counter-terrorists and are humans willing to sacrifice everything to kill an Epic.  David is made part of the team for his extensive Epic research and his ability to improvise.  He joins Prof; the Reckoner team leader and his crew of Tia, Abraham, Cody and Megan.  Together they plan to not only fight the lesser Epics but to take down Steelheart himself.  Is there any chance they can succeed? 

Brandon Sanderson has written a story straight from the world of graphic novels, using words to paint the visual images.  He has created a new world, populated with recognizable heroes and evildoers and set them in a struggle from which only one side can emerge.  The words deliver a punch and the action is nonstop.  This is the first book in the Reckoner series and readers will be waiting  impatiently for the next.  This book is recommended for those who enjoy movies such as The Avengers or Superman and Batman. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On The Horizon, December 17, 2013

Not a lot of reviews to post this week.  I'm in the middle of about eight books, so there will be lots of reviews soon, but I haven't finished any of them yet.  But the books keep rolling in.  Here's what's hit the doorstep lately.

1.  Savage Girl, Jean Zimmerman, historical fiction, won in contest
2.  The Spook Light Affair, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Dark Mirror, Barry Maitland, mystery, sent by publisher
4.  May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes, literary fiction, purchased
5.  Vanishing Point, Ander Monson, literary fiction, sent by author
6.  I Am Abraham, Jerome Charyn, historical fiction, sent by publisher
7.  Finn, Jon Clinch, literary fiction, Paperbackswap book

That's all!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Entertainer by Margaret Talbot

Lyle Talbot is not a household word, but he was the stock in trade of the entertainment business.  While they might not be able to name him, many viewers would recognize him as a character actor in the 1930's on.  Lyle studied his craft and participated in all the entertainment venues of the times.  In The Entertainer, his daughter, Margaret Talbot, reviews his life and the entertainment industry in its many facets.

Lyle grew up in the Midwest.  He got his start in entertainment as a teenager, when he started touring with carnivals and repertory troupes.  In these years before movies became popular, there were many of these groups touring town to town, bringing entertainment to those whose lives didn't offer much otherwise.  From this experience, he learned to be a professional; to always come with lines learned and on time, to make sure the show would always go on.

In the 1930's, Lyle got the call to Hollywood.  With his clean-cut looks and tailored elegance, he was touted as the next leading man.  That didn't happen, but he worked for decades in the movies and rubbed shoulders with such names as Clark Gable, Pat O'Brien, Loretta Young, and Mae West.  Lyle was a man about town, known for his romantic life as well as for his acting.  He was also one of the original twenty-four actors who started the Screen Actors Guild, as a protest against the grueling work schedule expected of actors at the time.

Like many actors, Lyle found it hard to resist the lure of Broadway.  He left Hollywood and worked in one of the longest running plays around the time of World War II.  He also spent his summers throughout his life doing summer stock to keep up with the world of live theatre.

When television grew up, Lyle transitioned to it.  He became a regular on the Ozzie and Harriett show, one of the most popular early shows.  He played the next door neighbor.  One of his sons, Stephen, played another familiar character.  He was one of Jerry Mathis's friends on Leave It To Beaver

Margaret Talbot has written a fascinating, well-researched book about her father's life and about the various forms of the entertainment world.  She tells the good as well as the bad about her father, but there is no doubt she loved this kind man who spent his life bringing joy to others.  This book is recommended to those interested in the early days of Hollywood and television, as well as those interested in the life of an actor.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Last Snowman by JC Little

This charming tale is especially appropriate with winter closing in for another year.  A mother is watching her children building a snowman from her kitchen window.  As she watches, she realizes that it will probably be the last snowman her fourteen year old daughter will build, and the book explores this bittersweet moment.

As the mother of a fifteen year old, I recognized the sentiments expressed in this book.  When children are small and need us twenty four hours a day, we can find ourselves wishing they would grow up and leave us more time to ourselves.  When they do just that, we are torn.  While we are proud of our children's independence as they learn to stand on their own two feet and experience life for themselves, it is difficult to realize that this time in our own lives is coming to a close, and that we will need to find new ways to relate to our children as they become adults.

All this is expressed succinctly in the story of the last snowman.  The illustrations are also adorable and portray that tug of war between child and adult.  This book is recommended for all parents and for children old enough to understand how their changes affect the adults in their lives.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Explanation Of Everything by Lauren Grodstein

Andy Waite has a fairly decent life.  A widower raising two young daughters, he is a biology professor on the tenure track at a college in New Jersey.  Maybe he doesn't have everything, but what he has is enough.  The college isn't first tier as he imagined when he was the protégé of one of the most famous evolutionists of his time, but it is good enough.  He hasn't gotten massive research grants, but the college lets him work on his selected research projects without interference.  Maybe he doesn't have a love life, but he isn't sure he wants one after losing his wife the way he did.

Andy's favorite class is one he teaches in the fall.  Nominally outside his field, he teaches the evolution course, familiarly known as the 'there is no God' class, where he guides students through evolutionary thought and writings.  This year, however, things are a bit different.  A female student, Melissa, has come to him to ask him to supervise her independent study.  She wants to research the intelligent design theory.  Andy has no use for this theory and his first thought is to say no, but Melissa is so disarming and in need of a mentor that he agrees to take it on.

Soon Melissa has worked her way into his family's life.  She volunteers to babysit, and babysitting is something a single parent finds hard to resist.  His girls love her, and he can't deprive them of this comfort, even though she talks about religion with them, and soon, they are asking to go to church.  Even Andy starts to wonder why Melissa seems so content, so able to handle the obstacles life throws at all of us.  Could he have been wrong all these years?

Lauren Grodstein has written a novel that lays out the arguments on one of the most divisive issues in modern life.  There are few who don't have an opinion on the subject of religion, and each side is firmly convinced the other just doesn't understand how life works.  Readers will be interested to watch Andy grapple with the issue and to follow his thought processes over months of exploration.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy books about issues and how individuals react to them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On The Horizon, December 10, 2013

It's been a fairly busy week for books.  I won a contest and got three Charles Todd books!  Here's what I've gotten lately:

1.  Hunting Shadows, Charles Todd, mystery, won in contest
2.  The Walnut Tree, Charles Todd, historical romance, won in contest
3.  Proof Of Guilt, Charles Todd, mystery, won in contest
4.  The Secret Rooms, Catherine Bailey, nonfiction, sent by publisher
5.  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan, literary fiction, purchased
6.  Mayhem, Sarah Pinborough, mystery, Vine review book
7.  The Alhambra Decree, Lilian Gafni, historical fiction, sent by author
8,  The Longest Date, Cindy Chupack, humor, sent by publisher
9.  Leave Tomorrow Behind, Judy Clemens, mystery, sent by publisher
10.  The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, literary fiction, sent by publisher
11.  Mastermind, Maria Konnikova, nonfiction, sent by publisher
12. The Boxed Angel, Robert DiGiacomo, Historical mystery, sent by publisher
13. The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco, literary fiction, purchased

A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson

Chief Inspector Alan Banks moved from London to the country for the lower crime rate he expected to find and for the most part, he is right.  So he is surprised to have his Sunday dinner interrupted by news of a murder.  Harry Steadman has been murdered and buried in a field.

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely murder victim.  Steadman had been a professor.  When he came into an inheritance, he and his wife had bought a house and come to the area to retire.  They had spent time in the area twenty years before as newlyweds and learned to love it.  Steadman had an interest in the local history and spent his time excavating local sites for his research.

Who could have borne him enough hatred to kill him?  His wife seems heartbroken, and has an alibi from the neighbor she spent the evening with.  There was a skirmish with a realtor who wanted to develop a site that Harry felt had historical interest, but it was hardly heated enough.

After investigation, Harry starts to wonder if the roots of this murder extend into the past; that past when he visited the area before.  He had befriended a young teenage couple and they accompanied him on his archaeological visits.  The young man had gone on to college, become a professor himself, and a colleague and friend of Harry's.  The young woman had become a fairly successful folk singer, but returned to the village.  They drifted apart and some wondered in Harry was the reason. 

This is Peter Robinson's second Inspector Banks mystery.  The reader is transported to a rural English countryside, and the way crime occurs and is handled there.  The ending is enough of a surprise to delight the reader and make them eager to continue the series.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Kept by James Scott

When Elspeth Howell returns to her family's farm in 1897 after working away from them for months, the first thing that strikes her is the silence.  She moves quietly into the farmhouse and she sees what no mother should ever have to see.  Four of her five children lie dead, as does her husband.  Before she can look for her remaining son, she is hit in the chest by the blast of a shotgun.

Elspeth doesn't die although she isn't sure how she will continue to live.  When she is well enough to travel, she and Caleb, her son, leave the farmhouse.  They leave to track down the killers Caleb saw and watched from the barn.  They plan to wreck revenge on those who have stolen so much from them.

After weeks of travel, they find themselves in the small town where Caleb was born, as the signs point to the murderers having fled there.  They move into the local hotel and take jobs, searching, ever searching.  Not only are they searching for the men who led them there, they are searching for each other and for the love they need to survive as a family again. 

James Scott has written a stunning, original novel that is so powerful that its images will be blazed into the reader's mind.  He portrays a brutal world, unfeeling for its inhabitants, a world in which life must be fought for against the elements and the others who are also fighting for survival.  Scott's genius is that he can portray such a world and at the same time portray the tenderness and love that a family provides; its support for one's weaknesses and forgiveness for one's sins.  Caleb and Elspeth are such original characters that their story will remain in the reader's mind long after the novel is finished.  This book is recommended for all readers; it is a literary tour-de-force. 

A Wonderful Holiday Gift Idea For Book-Lovers Everywhere!

Wondering what to get the book-lover on your list?  Or wondering what gift to give that expresses your personality to the recipient?

Wonder no more.  Penguin has come out with a wonderful line of t-shirts and tote bags based on their classic series.  It is a curated series of lifestyle goods from Penguin Classics, featuring the best of our book designs from the award-winning Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions. Our t-shirts and tote bags are high-quality items designed and produced in the US. 

Available for purchase online, these custom t-shirts for adults and children and book-friendly cotton tote bags, designed with exclusive Penguin Classics cover art from beloved books such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Candide, Heart of Darkness, Moby-Dick, The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Wizard of Oz, and more. These collector-worthy goods feature cover art by leading graphic and comic artists and illustrators working today including Chris Ware, Seth, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Rachell Sumpter, Jillian Tamaki, and Lilli Carré.
I plan to order more than one.  What a great holiday gift! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Blooding Of Jack Absolute by C. C. Humphreys

Jack Absolute fans, rejoice!  Jack is back with all his charm and bravery.  In this novel, we get the back story of Jack and how he came to be the man he is.  It starts with his early years, when he thought he was the bastard son of a second son of the Absolute family; an outcast who was treated badly by the elder son who he lived with.  When his father came into the title instead, Jack finds out that his parents were actually married and he is no bastard.  He is the heir apparent to the Absolute fortune, and moves from being a thick country lad to London, where he is raised as one would expect from his position, with boarding school, trips to the theatre and a gang of friends.

Jack also gets his education in love.  In a pivotal point of his life, he is balancing three women.  Clothilde is the daughter of his French tutor, and he has a pure love for her.  His love for Fanny is sensual but secret as she is the mistress of a powerful man.  Then there is the actress who always has time and a bed for Jack when he needs one.  When Jack becomes the target of both Fanny's protector and his childhood enemy, his luck runs out.  He finds himself in a situation that his father must help him avoid, and afterwards, both of them must leave England.

Jack finds himself in the British army and then quickly sent to the colonies to help in the conquest of Canada.  The enemy are the French and their Indian allies.  Only sixteen, Jack soon is immersed in the business of war, and his blooding is soon accomplished.  After a battle, he is separated, and we then find out how he meets his Mohawk friend, Ate.  They spend a winter together and after that, are brothers of the heart for life.

C.C. Humphries has created a character that is so lovable, so brave and so full of life that it is a delight to read about him.  The history is well-researched, and the reader is transported to another age, where life was cheap and honor was everything.  Jack is that scamp whose charm and well intentions lead one to forgive him any trespass.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and anyone interested in a wonderful read.  It is one of my favorite series and I can't wait to read the next Absolute tale.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On The Horizon, December 3, 2013

Here's a list of what's come in lately and is on the list to be read and reviewed:

1.  Our Love Could Light The World, Anne Leigh Parrish, anthology, sent by publisher
2.  Fear Nothing, Lisa Gardner, mystery, sent by publisher
3.  Crystal Ships, Richard Sharp, historical fiction, sent by author
4.  Children Of The Revolution, Peter Robinson, mystery, sent by publisher
5.  A Burnable Book, Bruce Holsinger,  historical fiction, sent by publisher
6.  Above All Men, Eric Shonkwiler, sci-fi, sent by publisher
7.  Steeled For Murder, KM Rockwood, mystery, sent by author
8.  Flash History, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ann Atkins, biography, sent by author
9.  In Mint Condition, Ambannon Books, anthology, sent by publisher
10.  Flamingo Moon, Carolyn Holm, women's fiction, sent by author
11. Shadow Play, Frances Fyfield, mystery, Paperbackswap
12.  Where The Moon Isn't, Nathan Filer, literary fiction, Shelf Awareness win
13.  Dark City, F. Paul Wilson, Suspense, sent by publisher

This doesn't count all the Kindle books I've accumulated over the past two weeks.  I'm reading Luminairies by Elenaor Catton, Mystery Walk by Robert M. McCammon and The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo on various Kindles.  As always, more great books than I can read quickly.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

White Fire by Preston & Child

What do an upscale ski resort, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, a carnivorous grizzly bear, serial arson, an undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story and mining operations have in common?  All are ingredients in the latest rousing FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast mystery.

Corrie Swanson, a criminal justice student and Pendergast's protégé, has come to Roaring Fork, Colorado, to work on her thesis.  She wants to study the historical case of a man-eating grizzly who killed eleven miners in the early days of the settlement.  When she falls afoul of the law and ends up in jail, Pendergast arrives in time to save the day.  Coincidentally, he arrives in time to witness a series of grisly fires, set in some of the town's biggest mansions, where the structure and those inhabiting it both are consumed by flames. 

As Pendergast helps the local law enforcement, he keeps coming back to an old story.  Oscar Wilde had visited the town back in its mining days, and left with a story that was unbelievable.  He shares it with Conan Doyle, who uses the grisly details in a Sherlock Holmes story, one that was never published as it was outside the realm of what the public would accept.  Pendergast comes to believe that this story has ties to the modern murders occurring in the town and that finding the story will be the only way to solve the mystery.  Corrie is also working on the murders and apparently, someone believes that she is getting close to a solution.  She is targeted for murder herself with a series of increasingly violent incidents.  Can Pendergast solve the crimes and save Corrie from her curiosity?

This is the thirteenth Pendergast mystery, and fans of the series won't be disappointed.  Readers who have not read the prior novels in the series will not be left in the dark; while there are touchstones for former readers there is no need to know the events leading up to this case.   The action is non-stop and the crimes grisly enough to satisfy any mystery lover.  The solution is complex and satisfactorily ties up all the threads in the story.  This book is recommended for mystery lovers.