Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, not Revolutions

In years past I would routinely make a list of New Year's resolutions on the order of losing a lot of weight, exercising every day, managing money better, losing clutter, and keeping the house spotless - all of those revolutionary changes that people think they'll do in the glow of New Year's Eve. Like everyone else, though, within days my revolutionary resolutions would be down the drain.

Finally I stopped making resolutions at all. Rather in the spirit of the change to a new year, I began thinking of January 1st as a fresh clean slate where I could do what I want in the year ahead to make my life better. Not that this has made a huge change in my life, but it has taken the pressure off, as well as the guilt when I don't live up to specific goals.

At least this year I have one accomplishment to be proud of, the fact that I'm 25 pounds slimmer than I was this time last year. I haven't been on a diet; I've changed my way of eating. Since I can't be as active as I used to be, I've turned the consumption of sweets and chips and all those really bad things that I love so much into a rare treat - like 2-3 times a year rare. In the process I've become addicted to baby carrots, but believe me there are much worse things to be addicted to.

I think my focus in 2011 might be on clutter containment. I'm the end of the line in my family so all sorts of things have come to roost in our house. I've kept too much "stuff" for the sentimental value of it so I think E-Bay is in my future and maybe, even though I hate even the thought of it, a yard sale.

Do you make New Year's resolutions? Do you keep them? How about New Year's Eve; do you go out and party or stay home? We'll be asleep at our usual time; our partying days are long gone. It's so nice to wake up New Year's Day feeling great and starting the year well rested. Besides we look silly enough without funny hats or lamp shades. :-D

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Evidence by Jonathan Kellerman

There's only one good thing about frigid, snowy weather and that's the extra time for reading. For some reason I'm out of my serious book/mystery/serious book/etc. reading habit for the time being so I've been breezing through fun mysteries. Evidence is the latest and though not really appropriate for Christmas, I sure did enjoy it.

I've read many Jonathan Kellerman mysteries in the Dr. Alex Delaware series, but not for many years. This is his 24th Delaware novel and I've read maybe half that number. I think the reason I stopped for a while was that Delaware is a child psychologist who is an LAPD consultant and some of the earlier books had such creepy villains and psycho children that I needed a break. Delaware is a great character but in this book he takes more of a narrator role.

Delaware rides along with his friend, Detective Milo Sturgis, a gay man whose partner is a doctor. Milo has of course had tough times being an openly gay man in law enforcement but his rock has always been Delaware. Delaware lives with Robin, a lovely woman who builds and repairs guitars. She is internationally known, sought out by the best guitarists, so her schedule rivals that of Delaware's. I don't know if they have married yet or not but they've been together forever.

This story is about sorely dysfunctional adults and ecoterrorism plus a royal family from a fictional island in Indonesia. There is a bald, cold as ice woman architect, a formerly wealthy bigot who is a real nut case, young people who use a type of explosive made partially of Jello to blow up McMansions, and other distinctive characters.

It amazes me that after so many books in this series Kellerman can still come up with such unique characters and maze-like stories. His books aren't great literature but they certainly are fun. Milo for instance is a quirky character who frequently shows up at his friends' house to "clean out their refrigerator." As Robin says when they want Milo to come over, "We've got steaks, let's feed him." Too bad he's currently on an Indian food kick. His partner is having a fit about his cholesterol.

If you also freaked out on Kellerman's wacko kids mysteries, it's safe to return. This one will have you saying, "Oh boy, the kind of people you find in California!" I apologize to California folks, but you know the reputation your state has better than anyone. I assure you there are nutty people in Pennsylvania too.

I am an Amazon Associate and a Barnes and Noble Associate.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day 2010

Just a short post hoping Santa was good to all of you this year. I know you were all super good! ;-)

I'm enjoying a lazy day until the turkey goes into the oven this afternoon. Dave is, of course, working in his machine shop as he does every year, so I can watch the snow when it starts and meanwhile I can read. Then I can watch football while I cook. Now that's my idea of a good day!

I have many wonderful memories of Christmas. When I was a child, I had more presents than I deserved from Santa, and then we were off for two Christmas dinners - first at my mother's parents' in town and then 60 miles away to my other grandparents' for more food. Makes you wonder why I was such a skinny child, but explains why I grew much wider later I guess. I also remember a Christmas when my parents took me out to dinner and I ordered spaghetti! Mom thought that was just me being quirky as usual.

Once when my parents lived in Canada, I flew up from Illinois for the holidays. As we approached Montreal my two seatmates asked if I had ever seen Montreal from the air at Christmas. I said no, so they insisted I sit by the window. What a sight! It seemed like every building down below had colored lights; it looked like fairyland. I'll always be grateful they let me see it.

Earlier in our marriage Dave always spent way too much on me. He has good taste in clothes and I would open box after box of new things to wear, along with books of course. I never knew what to buy him. What he wanted were things for his shop, either costing thousands of dollars or things that I didn't know about and wouldn't have known where or what to buy. I had a terrible time buying for him. Years ago we stopped buying for each other so I don't have those worries anymore.

There was one Christmas, the first year we were married, that we happened to be in a campground in West Virginia Christmas morning. It was only an 18' camper and we were on a month-long trip so I don't know where he hid the presents, but when I got back from taking my shower that morning there were wrapped gifts everywhere. That was fun. That evening in Tennessee though we couldn't find a place to eat out so our Christmas dinner was a can of chilli!

Our tree, when we were home for the holidays, was filled with meaningful ornaments. Every year we bought or made something that was representative of that year: a dove for our first year which is reddish because it "flew" into the shrimp sauce, cookie cutters from the year we were broke and I gave everyone homemade cookies, a tiny bench Dave made for our 7 dwarves that same year. Friends and relatives also gave us ornaments, and I had a baby face drawn by my grandmother that is supposed to be me to hang on the tree.

Due to our health issues, I don't decorate the house now but we enjoy everyone else's decorations and we enjoy having a quiet time of year while everyone we know is bustling around and getting exhausted. This turned out not to be such a short note after all, but I do wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh No, Sue Grafton is Getting to the End of the Alphabet!

Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is a character that I feel like I actually know. I've read all of her alphabet series except for "T" so when I saw "U" at a book sale, I grabbed it - right out from under the nose of my friend who is also a Grafton fan. Of course, now that I've read it, I'll give it to her.

U is for Undertow is a little different than the rest. At first it's confusing to say the least. We're introduced to a family, then someone else, then someone else, and we can't see how all these people could possibly interconnect. From there the story gets more and more mystifying until slowly, gradually we begin to realize, son of a gun, these people are all somewhat involved in the same crime - some victims, some innocent bystanders, some bad guys - and it's a lot of fun figuring how just how this is all sorted out.

As usual Kinsey meets an assortment of almost recognizable characters, people like you run into in your own town. I think that's why I'm so comfortable with this series. Hardly anyone is really outlandish; they're people you can relate to or at least are a little familiar. My favorites, and probably yours too, are her landlord Henry who is now (1988) in his late 80s and Rosie the Hungarian restaurant owner who tells Kinsey what to eat. Although Kinsey is such a loner, I don't know what she'd do without Henry and Rosie.

Kinsey also learns more about her family in this book. Since she never knew she had family until four years earlier and is not at all sure she wants to know about them, this presents the usual trauma.

Since the story is set in 1988, Kinsey does her research in the library and by knocking on doors, and people aren't carrying cell phones and laptops. I like that facet of these stories. She is an old-fashioned detective which makes her work a little more instinctive and more difficult. She uses her people skills to the max digging up a cold case.

I am an Amazon associate and a Barnes and Noble associate.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Good Read by Carol Goodman

Since I enjoyed Carol Goodman's The Drowning Tree so much, I borrowed The Night Villa from our library. Although I didn't like this one quite as much as The Drowning Tree, it is a good read to warm you up on cold evenings.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 which buried Pompeii is the major focus of this story. Our heroine Dr. Sophie Chase is a classics professor at the University of Texas who agrees to go along on a project involving the excavation of a villa in Herculaneum. The people involved stay in a copy of that villa which the wealthy man who is heading up the project had built on the Isle of Capri. Chase has been researching a slave girl called Iusta who grew up at the villa at Herculaneum, a girl who was free because her mother had been freed before Iusta was born. After her mother's death, however, the wicked woman who owned the villa had gone to court claiming Iusta was born afterward and was therefore still her slave. It's quite a story; your heart breaks for Iusta.

There are rumored to be scrolls hidden in the villa that many people are interested in, enough to kill for them. Chase finds herself in a position where she doesn't know who to trust. Even though she is aware of being in danger, she can't do much about it because she mistrusts nearly everyone. She's also vulnerable because she is recovering from a gunshot that damaged her lungs badly. The shooting happens at the beginning of the book.

Goodman writes about classic literature, GrecoRoman history, and poetry so her books are fascinating and you can be sure are accurate. In this one, though, she has hit on one of my pet peeves. Chase is a woman who has been treated badly by two men, one of whom she was deeply in love with. Rather than just moving on and getting over her abandonment by him, she obsesses about him and continues to expect him to show up again. It seems like she thinks about him constantly, and her work is suffering as well. Okay, I know about such things but I have no patience with an intelligent, independent woman who wallows in her misery.

That's my only reason for not liking this book as much as The Drowning Tree though, and so I recommend it for anyone who likes a novel with a tantalizing mystery, intriguing characters with questionable motives, and an exotic setting. You just might have a lot more patience with Dr. Chase than I did; I cheered for her despite my impatience after all.

My copy came from the library and had some interesting information about Goodman at the end. However, you can buy it from or B& and I will receive a little commission.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And in Other News . . .

I just read in the newspaper this morning that the term "beauty sleep" is true. Seems people who get a good night's sleep really are better looking. Since my main talent seems to be sleeping, I should be doggone gorgeous any day now! Of course they were comparing those who got a lot of sleep to people who stayed up all night. Oh well, for a while there I thought there was hope.

Why is it that people who commit crimes are so intent on demonstrating just how stupid they are? You frequently see a case of a burglar getting caught in a chimney or a ventilation system because he thought that was the easiest way in to a store. The latest case of public stupidity is the motorcyclist who entered the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, swiped thousands of dollars' worth of chips, ran out, and took off on his bike. Uh, the casinos have serial numbers on those chips, Buddy, so they know which ones are missing now. Lots of luck cashing them in!

The serious side of today's news: the man who went to a Panama City, FL school board meeting with a spray can of paint and a gun. He was angry because his wife had been fired. He painted something on the wall, drew his gun, ordered everyone out except the school board members, and finally shot at them. Apparently he was seeking suicide by cop since he didn't actually hit anyone when he fired point blank. A security guard wounded him and then he fatally shot himself. My question? How in the world did this guy think his actions would solve the problem of his wife being fired? Now she has all kinds of problems besides her job situation and she's alone - better off without this wacko but still . . .

Then there is the high school basketball player who shoved a referee who called a foul on him. He went nuts and threw the ref on the floor like he thought he was in the WWE (or whatever that wrestling show is). Now he can't ever play basketball again. I'm dumbfounded as to how we got here. Why is violence the first thing so many people think of to solve their problems?

We can't just blame it on video games or television. That may be a component but the vast majority of us see it for what it is, nothing to do with reality. I think we've created a violent society somehow: beginning with lack of simple courtesy, on to road rage, examples like parents of young athletes losing their tempers, widespread gang activity, and even more widespread - bullying. I've been a victim of bullying and you probably have too. Why does it get so out of hand now?

I wish I knew the way to turn things around but the only way I know is for parents to be conscious of what kind of example they're setting for their children. All the school programs in the world, all the public service announcements by celebrities, all the DARE and similar programs aren't going to do it if the kids are being raised by people who are out of control themselves. My generation was lucky in that our parents (1940s and 50s) thought the parents they should emulate were the kind on "Leave it to Beaver," "Father Knows Best," and the "Donna Reed Show." It was a much kinder world and I miss it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Still Life, Louise Penny

The wind is howling, it's something like 16 degrees outside, and the snow is blowing sideways. I'd say it's a good day to finish my Christmas cards (I know, I'm late as usual) and read and, oh by the way, review this first Chief Inspector Gamache novel. I'm a Louise Penny fan now and I have friends who love Chief Inspector Gamache, so when I saw the library had the first book in the series I grabbed it.

Gamache is truly a lovable character and so wise. He's also a good mentor who likes to take on young people and teach them everything he knows about being a detective. This time he takes on a young woman who is smart but has no compassion for people. This one is a mistake for sure. His assistant Jean Paul Beauvoir is his prize pupil, but even Beauvoir can't measure up to Gamache and he knows it.

Louise Penny creates such unique characters with such depth to them that I take my time over her books. This mystery includes a gay couple, a grumpy poet, a teenager with terrible problems, a vindictive woman, and a couple of artists. The wife is quite intuitive, a quality Gamache uses to good effect. These people and others live in a small village in Quebec where a woman seemingly beloved by everyone is found dead. She has been killed with a hunting bow and arrow. You'll learn along the way more than you probably ever wanted to know about bow and arrow hunting and target shooting, but it's actually fascinating as the investigation goes on.

I had many suspects but missed the clues as to the actual killer until the end. That's fine with me, I love to be surprised and then realize the groundwork for that conclusion had been there all along. In other words, I'm getting even more enamored of Louise Penny's books. Now to find the second Gamache novel.

Louise Penny's books are of course available from and I'm an Amazon Associate.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Light Reading for Busy Days

After the intensity of Tami Hoag's Deeper than the Dead, I needed something light and quick to read while hopefully catching up on necessary chores. So, I borrowed this Rosemary Harris book from the library and it was just what the doctor ordered.

This isn't the greatest mystery novel ever written, nor is it the worst. Set in a small town in Connecticut, it's light fun with quirky characters and situations, and a crime solver named Paula Holliday who is trying to make a living with a nursery and landscaping business called Dirty Business. She hangs out at a cafe called the Paradise Diner run by her friend Babe, one of the aforesaid quirky characters.

A group of wealthy soccer moms comes to the diner frequently for the home baked goods and tea. Surprise! One of those expensively dressed women who has become an unlikely friend of Paula's is suddenly arrested and returned to face an old jail sentence in Michigan. She had been convicted of drug dealing more than 20 years earlier but escaped. Reminded me of radical organization members from the 60s being found living a soccer mom life in recent years.

Her husband asks Paula to find out who turned her in. He hadn't known about it, nor had anyone in town, so who did it? Paula's adventures trying to help her friend are very funny, a good escape from the busyness of the season, and short so it isn't impossible to get it read this month either.

It's available from of course. I'm an Amazon Associate.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another Book Sale? This One has a Cash Bar!

Thankfully our high winds and downpours of Tuesday and Wednesday have subsided. Not only that, the sun actually appeared today. That was good news for our county library and historical society's book sale today and tomorrow. Books are selling from noon to 9 pm both days, but from 5 to 9 there is also a cash bar, Christmas trees are for sale outside, and a local man will be selling yule logs on the patio - all taking place at a local inn.

Well you know I couldn't pass that up. After all, as I told Dave, we're trying hard to raise money for the new library building. Then the historical society can take over the entire historical building on the green where at this point books are double stacked, squeezed into unlikely spots, and still most are stuck away in the basement. We really need that new building.

He wouldn't try to keep me away from a book sale anyway so off I went early this afternoon. Walked in and heard, "Now why am I not surprised to see you here?" It was a friend who used to be my editor when I was a reporter for the local paper. About the only time we see each other now is, you guessed it, at book sales. Since there wasn't a big crowd, we had a chance to catch up on each other's lives. It was great to see her, and then I snitched a Sue Grafton right out from under her nose. I must remember to send it to her when I finish reading it. :-)

I spent $25 and came home with a nice stack of mysteries plus two brand new children's books to donate to Toys for Tots. We don't buy Christmas presents anymore but we do remember to donate to good causes and Toys for Tots is one of our favorites. We'll also buy something else for them.

I hope you're all able to squeeze in some fun things just for you during this busy time of year. If nothing else, sit in a hot bath and read for a while. I think women in particular run themselves ragged for the holidays, trying to make everything perfect, and then are too exhausted to enjoy anything. It can never be perfect and the best thing you can give your loved ones is your presence and your love. Happy holidays to all of you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Deeper than the Dead, Tami Hoag

If you haven't read this one and you like exciting mysteries, you absolutely must read it! I was literally out of breath when I finished it yesterday afternoon, tearing through the last chapters as if I were afraid someone would take the book away from me. I had things that needed doing around the house, but they had to wait until I finished and then got my breath back. What a story!

One thing that makes this book so interesting is that it is set in 1985 when the FBI was just beginning to get into profiling. The Behavioral Sciences Unit was at that time housed in a sub-basement of the FBI building in D.C. They were so far underground that, in the gallows humor that keeps them sane, the investigators joked that they were deeper than the dead. One of the major characters in the story is an FBI profiler.

In 1985 people didn't have cell phones, DNA wasn't a part of criminal investigation, nor were computers in most places, and all the CSI techniques we are so accustomed to didn't exist. So in this story we have a serial killer being hunted by old-fashioned hands-on detective work with the assistance of the profiler.

There are three prime candidates for the serial killer and their families are also deeply involved. Four children find one of the bodies half buried in a park. Each family is unique, each has its own secrets and tragedies. Then there is the childrens' teacher, Anne Navarre, the one person who is totally determined to do whatever is in the best interests of the kids. These characters are fascinating.

I picked out the three major suspects and before long I had rejected one as the serial killer, and was leaning toward one of the other two, but I wasn't absolutely certain until just before the end of the book. Meanwhile I was really tense; this killer is a doozy!

I read another review of Deeper than the Dead and intended to put it on my wish list, but it sounded familiar. Turned out it was in my treasure box of books given to me by friends months ago. Lucky me! If you want to buy it, it is of course available from and I am an Amazon Associate. Happy reading!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Queen of the Night by J. A. Jance

I got this Jance mystery from the library even though it's part of her Walker series rather than my favorite Brady or Beaumont series. Maybe because I don't follow the series, I had trouble sorting everyone out for the first quarter or so of the book. Lots of things happening in various places and being introduced to so many new people was quite a trip.

Then I finally got into the story and although it took me until almost the end to be absolutely certain who everyone was and how they fit into the big picture, I did enjoy the book. Since I dislike going back to try to find out who's who, I just bumbled along until the story line got me straightened out.

The book, set mostly in Arizona, centers on a desert plant that flowers only once a year and just as quickly the blossom fades. It's a time for celebration, to admire the sight and smell of this flower. Most of the story happens during the weekend that the flower blooms and you follow the various people, some Anglo, some Indian, as the hours go by. There are also several different story lines; is one of the characters getting senile, will a little girl find someone to love her, and so on?

I finished the book Thanksgiving morning and thanked heaven I have such an uneventful life. There are times when "boring" is good and this is one of them. We ate alone yesterday so we settled on a turkey breast (God bless Butterball) and an afternoon of football, with a nap of course. Today we have leftovers and more football - NO SHOPPING!

If you have left the hectic life behind, this is a good book to capture your interest and also make you grateful for your life. If you like the Walker series and already know the characters especially, you will love this one. (I am an Amazon Associate.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sorry I'm Late for Halloween with a Ghost Story

I wish I had received this book in time for a Halloween posting since it's a perfect English-moors-in-the-mist ghost story. Only 138 pages, it's - well, the only word I can think of is - charming, scary but nonetheless charming. It is made even more so by the little drawings throughout the book which illustrate the adventures of the young lawyer from London who is victimized by the lady in black.

In the beginning our lawyer is an elderly man whose family has arrived at the country home he shares with his second wife, and the young people have gathered in front of the fire to tell ghost stories. They beg him to tell one, after all a man his age should have at least one ghost story to tell. He refuses and goes outside to walk. He has been upset recently and his wife has been concerned about him. That day he decides he must write the story that has haunted his life.

When he was just beginning his career in law, anxious to better his position and willing to take on more responsibility to do so, his boss sent him on a difficult assignment to a village far from London to attend an old woman's funeral and then go through the papers in her house in preparation for settling her estate. He sets off cheerfully but along the way is warned about the village and the house. Something has frightened everyone in the area, but they won't tell him what it is. We aren't told what year this is but from the illustrations and language I assume it is the 1920s.

After the funeral he sees a lady dressed in black old-fashioned clothing in the cemetery and also a line of children along the fence watching. This is the beginning of a strange and unsettling story which will change his life completely before it is played out. Even if you don't believe in ghosts or unexplained spooky happenings, you'll be caught up in this tale.

I really enjoyed The Woman in Black and recommend it heartily. Maybe you shouldn't read it on a rainy, chilly evening though. I read it when the weather was dreary and that was suggestive enough, thank you very much. The book is available from of course and I am an Amazon Associate.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hard Row by Margaret Maron

A rainy day, no pressing engagements, and a Margaret Maron mystery - what could be more perfect? Judge Deborah Knott, star of a Maron series, is one of my favorite fictional characters. I worried when she married Sheriff's Deputy Dwight Bryant that her life might get a little dull. Well, not to worry, her life is just as hectic as ever and she and Dwight are a great crime-solving team.

Add to the mix the fact that Dwight's son Cal is living with them full time since his mother died. The poor kid is grieving for his mom, getting used to a new school, new friends, and a new stepmom with an enormous family nearby all at the same time. Trust Deborah to work it out though. She grew up with all those brothers; she knows boys.

This mystery is unusually gruesome in that body parts are found all over the area near a huge farm which belongs to Judson "Buck" Harris who is divorcing his wife Suzanne, better known as Suzu. They employ many migrant workers. Suzu sees to it that they are supplied with decent shelter and items like refrigerators that work, etc. Buck could care less whether he works them to death or what.

While Dwight is trying to find out who the body parts belong to (the head is inconveniently missing) an Alzheimer's patient disappears and they find his hand too. Now they have two right hands and other parts and the mystery deepens. Meanwhile, there are also other story lines going on, including Deborah's best friend Portland having a baby. The many happy returns are all yours though when you read Hard Row.

I borrowed this one from the library.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Work Song by Ivan Doig

Another blogger read Work Song and enjoyed it so I put it on my list to find at the library. I was encouraged to see they had several titles by Ivan Doig on the shelf. But it turns out this just isn't my cup of tea.

I must say Doig is excellent at characterization. The story is set in Butte, Montana in 1919, where Anaconda owns the copper mines and most of the jobs and therefore the town. There is union unrest, many accidents in the mines, and the threat of the IWW troublemakers (Wobblies if you remember your political history) coming to town to stir things up even more. Along comes Morris Morgan to settle in at a local boarding house and meet the oddest bunch of characters you ever saw. He takes a job as a cryer at Irish wakes but that means he stumbles home drunk every night, so he finds a job at the library, a much more sober and satisfying way to earn a living.

You will learn along the way that Morgan maybe isn't his real name and many other characters also have a "past." Meanwhile the dialogue carries you along quickly. It's a light, funny read, a good way to pass a dreary day without getting down about the weather.

Unfortunately, I like a story I can really sink my teeth into rather than a book I could easily read while I watched a football game too. You may like it as much as my friend Margot did though, so don't let my grumpiness turn you off of this book.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman

I was looking for a more recent title by Carol Goodman at the library but settled for this book from 2004 instead. Sure am glad I didn't miss this one. It's a haunting story that had me looking up myths and Ovid and art history, and enjoying my memories of how the Hudson River above the Tappan Zee Bridge looks in different light and weather. The Hudson is beautiful in any circumstances though, and Goodman describes it so well you can envision it even if you've never seen it in person.

I loved the main character, Juno McKay, who with her father is bringing a famous glass factory back to life. They repair and restore stained glass windows, about which process I learned many interesting things. I'll look at stained glass windows more closely and with more background to appreciate the art and workmanship now. Juno lives above the factory with her 15 year old daughter, Beatrice, and their two greyhounds, Paolo and Francesca.

One day Juno goes to nearby Penrose College, her alma mater, to hear her best friend since college give a lecture on a huge stained glass window McKay's company has contracted to restore. Juno's ex-husband was confined to a mental institution, also nearby, where her friend Christine's family has worked for generations. Everything is intertwined in fascinating relationships. On that day Juno and Christine have some time together and then walk to the train station where Juno sees her friend off. Later she learns that her friend never made it to NYC where she lives and teaches. Christine is never seen again - alive.

This is an intriguing story with great characters and settings. Old relationships and new figure into the tale and although I figured out that one character was up to no good, I didn't suspect the murderer until near the end.

I recommend this mystery novel for people who want a little more to chew on in a mystery. I am an Amazon Associate if you elect to buy it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stray Cats, Basketball, and Stone Walls

On what was supposed to be a lovely, warm, sunny day, it is cold and dreary but our stone wall builder is hard at work this morning. I dearly hope he will finish that wall soon before snow flies - again. The wall is just what this house needed, so beautiful and fitting for the setting. He's an amazing artist. Pictures coming when it's done.

We have had a little snow already. While it was pretty to watch, I'm thankful it melted quickly. I'm so not ready for winter yet. Autumn is my favorite season in Pennsylvania, even when the foliage fails to astonish with its bright colors. This year was gradual colorization which never achieved greatness, but nice anyway.

The saga of our stray cat continues. As of this writing, her name is Scaredy Cat because I still can't approach any closer than 4 feet, and that has only happened a couple times. Mostly she runs away when we even look at her, although she does come to our patio to eat her food most days. She is terrified of the neighbor's dog (who isn't really that interested in her) and this week she's having a traumatic time of it because the stone wall builder brings his black lab with him every day. Toby is still a pup and loves to romp. He's tied up most of the time but the cat is making herself scarce anyway.

We had to do some shopping yesterday, our least favorite way to spend our day so it only happens when absolutely unavoidable. My mother used to wonder if I was really a girl. When I was born, she looked forward to mother-daughter shopping excursions. Too bad, Mom. I hate shopping.

Despite the gloom, today is a happy day. Tonight is the first night of home basketball games for Binghamton University. I love basketball as much as I hate shopping. I can hardly wait to see how the women's team is shaping up tonight; tomorrow night we'll see the men's team and I'm hopeful as I am every year at this time. BU has had some problems with its basketball program in recent years, but tonight is a fresh start with old issues settled. Good times!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

Perhaps I shouldn't write about this book while I'm still under its spell, but I can't resist. This is my first Kingsolver book. She is one of the authors I had promised myself I would read when I retired. I was reminded of her again when we watched a documentary series about the Appalachians that she appeared in a few months ago, and then I saw this book at a book sale.

Poisonwood is an African plant that gives a person an itchy rash like poison ivy. The Price family from Georgia discovers its power shortly after arriving in Congo where Rev. Price has accepted a post in a small village. Price is a hellfire and damnation preacher who thinks he will save everyone in the village and turn their lives around but his brand of Christianity simply doesn't make any sense to the villagers who are happy the way they are thank you very much. For instance, he intends to baptise each one of them in the river, a la John the Baptist, but no way are they going into the river where crocodiles live. He thinks God will protect them; they know people who have been eaten.

Price is accompanied by his wife and four daughters and they tell the story. You get the point of view of each one according to her position in the family, her personality, and her intelligence. It's a wonderful way to really know what goes on. The wife has committed herself to her husband's mission in life and believes in it - until Africa. The daughters are Rachel, a self-absorbed teenager who speaks like Mrs. Malaprop, Leah, the family tomboy who most wants to please her father but never can, her twin Adah, the one who was born crippled and with half a brain because Leah took the nutrition she needed to fully develop but she's the smartest one, and finally little Ruth May who wants to be a big green snake in a tree overlooking everyone.

The best thing about the book is that these become like flesh and blood people, never just characters on paper. Each goes her own way despite natural disasters, war, Congo getting its freedom from Belgium, drought, a plague of driver ants, and tragedy. I learned a lot of the history of the Congo (which is now Zaire) while following the family on their path, and about the land itself, crops, natural forces, and the native people. This is a long book but that's because it needs to be to tell the whole story. I've been engrossed in it for several days, at first reading slowly to enjoy Kingsolver's prose, and then faster and faster as I got totally involved in what was happening.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly. I am an Amazon Associate.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day at Last

Thank heaven this is election day. I sincerely hope this is the end of negative political commercials for a while, but probably someone will begin campaigning for 2012 soon, attacking any and all probable opposition. I've never in my life seen so much negativity. How is the average person supposed to know what anyone really believes or wants to accomplish in office when they all spend their money and time bashing everyone else?

I hate it that we've become so hateful toward anyone who belongs to a different party. Isn't one of the best things about the U.S. the fact that we can disagree and even criticize our government without fear of punishment? Well, no more. Now we need to keep our mouths shut unless we're in the current majority.

Well, it's a beautiful day here in northeast PA. The sun is shining, it feels warm - the cold wind of yesterday is gone - and hopefully everyone is going to the polls.

I've been trying to make friends with a stray cat who had been hanging around here since sometime last summer but I'm not having much luck. It is black and white, long, and has a tail that looks like a transplant from a raccoon. I can't get close enough to tell if it's male or female even though I've been feeding it for almost six weeks now. All I've accomplished is to get it to come to the patio for its food. When I left the food near the shed, the crows ate it. I'm watching for crows who say "Meow" instead of "Caw." Those are the culprits. Meanwhile my girlfriend is warning me about fleas, and I see that big tail is getting full of burrs.

That reminds me, I saw my first pileated woodpecker the other day. As long as we've lived in the country and I had never seen one, but it was a sight to behold. Beautiful red head.

I'm reading The Poisonwood Bible which is long but engrossing so it'll be a while before I have a book review to post. Meanwhile, wish me luck with the cat. Any suggestions how to subdue a very frightened cat?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Innocent Blood by P.D. James

I would have thought I had read all of P.D. James' books but I spotted this paperback at a book sale and realized it was new to me. I have never, ever disliked a P.D. James book and this one is just as good as all the others.

The wonderful characters and the setting are what make her stories come alive. The reader feels like a mouse in the woodwork watching every move and somehow privy to every thought. The heroine in this one is Philippa Palfrey who lives in style in London with her adoptive parents, Maurice and Hilda Palfrey. Maurice is not affectionate and Philippa believes he has used her as a sort of experiment, making her a posh sort of girl despite her background. She thinks she was the daughter of a maid on an estate and the aristocrat who lived there. She thinks her mother is dead. By law, on her eighteenth birthday she is allowed to request a copy of her birth certificate and learn how to contact a surviving parent.

What Philippa learns on that birthday astounds her. Her actual birth parents were exactly the opposite of what she thought and it is her mother who survives. She determines to get to know her mother in order to know who she herself really is. This sets her on a journey of discovery that will change her life forever.

Many other secrets are revealed in the course of the story as well, some of which greatly surprised me, and there is a final secret at the end which may or may not surprise you as much as it did me. Yet when I gave it some thought, it was inevitable.

I really can't tell much more without ruining the story, but I must recommend this one for anyone who loves a good character-driven mystery. Be warned that once you get into it, you won't be able to put it down.

I am an Amazon Associate if you decide to buy it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Cabinda Incident by Michael J. Ulissey

This historical novel is a win from GoodReads. I was interested in it because I enjoy reading stories set in different locations around the world, especially places I don't know much about. Also, this one is based on an actual event in Angola in 1985 when a group from South Africa was caught in an attempt to bomb Gulf Oil operations.

The story is the old one of a multinational corporation taking a third world country's resources and making obscene profits from them without repaying that country by making life better for its citizens. Unfortunately, it's an all too common story, but one that Ulissey is familiar with. He grew up overseas, then worked as an IT specialist for a major oil company in West Africa. He is a doctor and has served in the U.S. Navy as well. This background serves him well in crafting such a novel.

What he has here is a fascinating story, but it is a story in search of characters and sense of place even though it appears to be at least in part autobiographical. The hero, Ethan Archer, has no flaws and we don't really get to know him, or any other character for that matter. Everything he desires comes to him easily and the only bad things that ever happen to him are the deaths of his best friend and his father, but those episodes seem stilted, as though Ulissey doesn't show emotion well.

Ethan is recruited by the CIA and the book begins with he and his trainer Ed on a mission to meet with a rebel leader in the jungle. Then there are flashbacks to Ethan's childhood, before we settle into a chronological account of Ethan's life. By the time we get back to 1985 when he is 26 years old, it's nearly the end of the book. I had to skim the beginning again to remember what was going on but I was still confused.

You'll remember that I like learning about other countries. Here I never had a sense of a change in scene although Ethan travels all around the world. In short, I was very disappointed in The Cabinda Incident because I had such high hopes for it. I think Ulissey is a talented writer and I hope this will not be his last novel because I think he'll get better with time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lost Triumph by Tom Carhart

This book is five years old and I've had it for quite a while but never got around to reading it until now. Nineteenth century American history is my major interest, which of course means I'm also a Civil War buff. Since we live in Pennsylvania and have spent time at Gettysburg, this book promised to answer a question I had long wondered about.

Most people who know anything about the battle at Gettysburg, know about Pickett's charge on the clump of trees. It was the main event of the battle. Pickett's men charged across an open field to attempt overrunning Union artillery and infantry on the other side in a clump of trees. It was, of course, a slaughter and although a few made it across, they were forced to retreat under withering fire. It was a costly defeat for the Confederate army.

My question has been: General Robert E. Lee was by all accounts a brilliant general. The North suffered many losses to this man because of his military planning and that he was such an inspiration to his men. So why would he send these divisions on such a suicidal charge? He would have known they didn't have a prayer of winning that battle.

If Tom Carhart is correct, I now know the answer. I had trouble reading parts of the book because Carhart is a retired military man who writes of the maneuvering of troops and planning for battles that I had to concentrate hard to grasp. I wish there had been more maps; it would have helped me. However, from what a layperson like me can understand, Pickett's Charge was part of a masterful plan that was stymied by General Custer and troops from Michigan.

Jeb Stuart's cavalry was positioned so that they could ride past Union cavalry and attack the rear of the Union lines just as Pickett charged the front. The Union was in a fishhook formation and Stuart's men would have collapsed the hook and decimated the line at the clump of trees. Stuart didn't show up though because, realizing what was happening, Custer personally led Michigan cavalry divisions in a charge of Stuart which succeeded in routing Stuart's cavalry back out of the action.

Lee never blamed Stuart and never admitted to this plan because he didn't want to destroy reputations, and why admit a plan of his had failed. Apparently Lee never discussed the war after he surrendered to Grant. Carhart did years of research to find hints of the truth, finally realizing Stuart had a role that he couldn't fulfill and that Custer was the Union hero of the day. We shouldn't think of Custer only as the guy who led his troops to slaughter by the Indians. He was a brave, though reckless, fighter.

If you have ever wondered at Lee's judgement at Gettysburg and thought he must have lost his mind, you should read this book and see what you think. I think Carhart must be right.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Negative Campaign Ads Drive America Totally Loony!

It's that season again when no one dares to turn on their television because they will be inundated with negative campaign ads. I simply don't understand this. The only winners are the local channels who must make tons of money from the campaign treasuries.

I'm sure we aren't the only ones who are sick of this. It must be the same in every household in America. Well, it proves one thing - politicians do not listen to us - at all!

The channel we watch for news has a "Talkback" segment where people call in or e-mail their complaints (mostly) or compliments (a few) about the channel's programming and news. All year people call in to complain about someone's haircut, or that they only air bad news, or that the morning weatherman is a complete idiot, or to congratulate one of them on the birth of a child. Now most of those calls are overrun by complaints about negative campaign ads, and quite a few of those callers have concluded that since all of the candidates are apparently crooks, they just won't vote at all. This is especially true in a county south of ours where a widespread corruption scandal involving comissioners, judges, etc. has been in the news for the past year.

So far only one candidate in northeast Pennsylvania has a positive commercial in which he thanks the people who voted for him in the primary, thanks his primary opponents for now supporting him, and saying what he would stand for if elected in November. He has only that one ad. Good for him! If only the others would follow suit rather than slinging mud.

I'm not condemning any party or any candidate here. Both parties and all candidates are equally guilty. We seem to have reverted to the supposedly "good old days" of our early history when mud slinging like this was very common. It isn't new at all, but why candidates and their staff people think this type of thing is effective is beyond my powers of understanding. I will vote because I think it's my privilege and my duty as a citizen, but I won't have that good feeling I used to have when leaving the polling place. I'll just be relieved to leave the stink behind.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wishing Nevada Barr a Long and Fruitful Life

I'm a huge fan of Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series but yet I haven't read them all. Life keeps intruding, you know. Anyway, I found a paperback of A Superior Death at a book sale and realized this was one I had missed. It's as heart-pounding and funny and scary as all the rest and I absolutely loved it.

This one is set in Isle Royale National Park on the north shore of Lake Superior. Brrr! Anna has recently transferred from Texas so she's cold, freezing cold even though it's June and tourists are coming in to fish. As usual the characters are fascinating, especially one couple who have taken a sort of hippiness to an extreme.

Under the surface of Lake Superior lie many wrecks. You probably know that the Great Lakes are notorious for weather that blows up so suddenly many ships have gone down through the years. Since most are cargo ships, divers haunt the remains looking for something valuable or just out of curiosity about the ships. You just know there's going to be underwater trouble and sure enough there is. I won't tell more; don't want to spoil your fun if you haven't read this one.

This is an earlier book where Anna is still having trouble coping with the death of her husband, Zach, but keeping on keeping on because she's a strong woman with a good hold on reality. She still hasn't gotten a firm hold on sobriety though. I must say Anna is one of my favorite all-time characters; she's so real it's almost spooky. I recommend any of the Anna Pigeon series wholeheartedly.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Network by Jason Elliott

I won The Network from GoodReads and actually I enjoyed it before I read it. The dust cover, size, and feel of this book is just perfect in your hand. That might sound silly to someone who doesn't read much, but any avid reader will know exactly what I mean.

The story begins with a hawk soaring in the sky and ends with an eagle. In the beginning, in Spring 2001, our hero, Anthony Taverner, aka Ant, has been kidnapped, then escaped and is now on the run from the bad guys. He has no idea who they are or why he has been taken, just that he's going to do everything in his power to get to safety. He is discovered and that particular mystery is solved.

Meanwhile, he has been recruited to find and destroy Stinger missiles hidden away in Afghanistan, and while there to find his best friend who is under cover with al-Qaeda and bring him back to England. He undergoes training that makes Marine Corps boot camp look like kindergarten, and then is sent to Sudan to pry information out of a woman who was married to one of Osama bin Laden's brothers. There's a good balance of rigorous training, calm planning, learning about missiles and weapons, and romance, all building to the operation in Afghanistan where it's terribly difficult to tell who the enemy is. He doesn't dare trust anyone, not even his British handlers, and yet he must trust a select few.

Elliot is a travel writer and this background certainly makes a difference as he describes the scene whether he's in England, Sudan or Afghanistan. He manages to describe the people of each country as well, although not dwelling on any particular person except for those vital to the story. As when I finished The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I feel like I know much more about the look and feel of Afghanistan, this time from the point of view of an adult who is there on a mission.

It's hard to believe this is Elliot's first novel. I have a feeling it has been knocking around in his head for years until it finally poured out in a beautifully evocative thriller that ends with a bang - literally. I do hope he'll write more novels; this one is impressive. Perhaps Ant will appear in future works. He's a hero well worth following.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just Finished Reading . . .

I've been reading an old but interesting book called Writer's Britain: Landscape in Literature by Margaret Drabble. It was published in 1979 and I picked it up at a book sale. I won't review it because of its age, but it was certainly food for thought.

The book features many photographs, most in black and white but quite a few in color. The photographer was Jorge Lewinski. Some show sites, like Tintern Abbey, which are the setting for poetry, some show authors' homes, Sir Walter Scott's home for instance, and some show settings of novels, e.g. the scenes from Thomas Hardy novels. Scott's home was, I believe, the only place I had actually seen so I'm glad to have more of a mental picture of other literary spots in Britain.

One theme throughout the book was something I had never really given any thought to. It just never occurred to me that writers in general didn't focus on scenery as being interesting or romantic or a feature of a story until relatively recently in history. Woodsworth was one of the first to write poetry about a place in a romantic way and that surprised me, I guess because it's so common now. Many previous authors described waterfalls, for instance, with violent phrases and harsh words - crashing, splitting, tumbling, dangerous.

Most authors of prior times either described poor villages and farms from the disinterested or superior point of view of London elite, or as a practical matter living under the delusion that people lived in filth and stench from choice. And there were writers who wrote of the industrial north of England as though the machinery, etc. was beautiful, but most described such cities as eyesores. Most never spoke of the lives of the people stuck in wretched living conditions.

I'll look at English literature a little differently now, I think. Dickens is a great favorite of mine, partly because of the clever names of his characters but also because he wrote of the underclasses with empathy and honesty.

Landscape is such an important part of literature these days. We learn of characters not just by their home and family, but also the effect of their landscape on their character. That's half the fun of reading about people - I think of a book like The Kite Runner for example. It would be very dull without knowing what the boy's surroundings were like, as well as the culture in Afghanistan, don't you think?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Lovely Sunday

We did something yesterday that we haven't done in so long I can't remember the last time. After a few hours of working on a project on our house, we cleaned up and went for a ride in the countryside. The foliage has just begun to be colorful enough to provoke ooh's and aah's, so riding along country roads through our mountain ridge was delightful.

When we got tired of riding, we drove on into Binghamton and then stopped at Appleby's for our favorite salad: pecan-crusted chicken salad. Topped off with iced tea for me and a soda for Dave, it was perfect. We order the half size which is just enough to make you full but not overly full.

I don't know why I'm writing about it except that for a workaholic like Dave and a Scrooge like me who doesn't like to buy gas, the day was such a rarity. Too often we just stay at home and watch football games on television instead of getting out. Since Dave can't walk far, our old habit of long walks on Sunday isn't a possibility anymore. We missed all the fairs and festivals this summer because of that too, although now we're getting a wheelchair, but anyway it was too hot and humid for us. We're the ones who used to complain about how old people get in a rut and don't do anything, and now that's our story.

Maybe the memory of the simple happiness of yesterday will be enough to make us find things we can do. A wheelchair will certainly make things easier. We tire easily so what we do won't be much and it won't be strenuous, but it'll be something we can handle. To begin with, we've signed up to go to a Parkinson's conference in Philadelphia in a couple months. We went last year and thoroughly enjoyed it; the other Parkinson's people have such a great attitude that they're a joy to be around and the information we get is so valuable. Now we're really looking forward to going again.

Also coming up is basketball season and we once again have season tickets for Binghamton University games. I can hardly wait for the games to begin.

Do you find yourself getting into a rut too?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Autumn Days at Home

I was sitting at my desk the other morning thinking how quiet the neighborhood was. During the night with the windows open and no fan noise, I heard coyotes howling for the first time in months. Then it was warm enough to have windows open early and I could hear one lonely bird in a backyard tree singing. That's all. Soon enough of course all the noise started: Dave grinding a metal guard he's building, our stone wall crew started up their equipment and yelling measurements to each other, and traffic. Next door they were planing wood or something. It was a normal day in the neighborhood.

All that noise started me thinking about how quiet it used to be 16 years ago when we moved here. At that time, even though our neighbors had a construction company on their property with a few employees, traffic was limited. Some days there wouldn't be even 20 vehicles go by, and at night only one or two. I did hear a carload of young people stop by our tree line one night. I don't think anyone was too sober; they were giggling and talking very loudly. Finally they went on; guess someone had to answer the call of nature.

Otherwise nights were generally silent. I frequently heard an owl in a tree in our yard, and the coyotes or occasionally a deer chuffing to signal danger. And since we live in the country and people sometimes dump cats out here, we would hear fights and mating noises on occasion. I loved those quiet nights, slept better than I ever had in my life.

Then came the bluestone boom. All the quarries around here that had been closed for some time opened up again. Before dawn huge trucks would load stone and head out for New Jersey or Connecticut, even California. Quarrying is by nature noisy work and we were surrounded by them so the noise would bounce back and forth from mountaintop to mountaintop. All good things come to an end, of course, and finally the sales of bluestone faltered. Now many quarries are closed again, waiting for the next boom.

By that time traffic had picked up enormously, not just stone trucks, but commuters who used our road as a shortcut. Now there were sometimes 20 vehicles per hour rather than per day. Doesn't seem like much if you live in the city, but out here the only time we had been used to traffic was Friday evening and Sunday afternoon when weekenders came and went. And the traffic has steadily gotten faster. I don't walk on our road anymore - too dangerous.

We're having a bit of a quiet spell now for a while, but the seismic mappers have walked throughout the area and blown little charges and the helicopters have picked up their bundles of supplies. Now we await the first of the drilling operations. Then we'll really have noise 24/7 for a while. Things have changed so much since we moved here, but enormous change is coming. Wish us luck!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall Foliage in PA a Bust?

We took a little ride into Montrose, PA yesterday to go to the recycling center, the drug store and the grocery store. What a wild, romantic life we lead; I can hardly stand it. At least Montrose is a lovely little town with Federal and Victorian architecture, nice little shops, a town green, and friendly people. Oops, back to my point, and I do have a point by the way. I noticed something interesting as we road along the country roads.

We had a big hailstorm in the area (northeast PA) early last week. It lasted for 20 minutes in one little town about five miles from us and you could see tire tracks in the hail on the main street. We were in Binghamton, NY that afternoon and came home to a winter scene. Piles of hail here and there and, worst of all, a carpet of green leaves on the ground under all the trees.

Yesterday I noticed how bare a lot of trees are already. It looks like late fall instead of September. There is a little color in the mountains already but peak color is usually the middle of October here. I'm wondering if the lack of leaves on so many trees will ruin our fall foliage which is always so spectacularly beautiful.

Probably there are enough leaves left to make for a pretty October, but I'm guessing it won't be up to par. However, come to Pennsylvania in October anyway. Spectacular fall foliage or not, this is absolutely the best time of the whole year in Pennsylvania. We have warm days, chilly nights, pretty colors, pumpkin fields, and football. Can't beat it!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I don't remember how I discovered Sarah Waters but I enjoyed her book The Little Stranger so much that I've been on the lookout for her other books ever since. I found Fingersmith at a book sale - apparently unread by whoever donated it but they really should have read it. It's quite long but I read the last two-thirds of the book practically in one session, excited and in a rush to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Fingersmith is a slang term for a thief which is what most of the characters in this story are. Believe me, there is no honor among these particular thieves. A group of them have formed a sort of family in the slums of London, and they come up with a plot to make a huge amount of money. Sue Trinder, who has been raised as a daughter by the "mother" of the family, is sent to an estate in the countryside to be a ladies maid to an orphan, Maud Lilly. Maud is 17 years old and has been living for years with her cruel uncle in isolation from the world. Upon reaching 18 she will be wealthy.

And so the plot proceeds and things go along very slowly and I thought the book was dragging unnecessarily. Then suddenly the action picked up and I was astonished at a huge twist in the narration. Waters had led me right down the garden path. That turned out to be only the first turn-around of many in the story. Waters lets the reader become complacent and then, bang, everything changes in a heartbeat. These twists surprised me right up to the end of the book; I was almost breathless when I reached the end. Yet each curve the story took made perfect sense in retrospect

The narration is done by Sue and Maud alternately so the reader gets bits and pieces as known by each girl which you must put together like a jigsaw puzzle. Both characters are fascinating; especially as the story moves along and you learn more about them.

Part of the book is set in a madhouse where conditions are cruel enough to give you nightmares for a long time. I couldn't imagine how Waters was going to get her characters out of all the messes they were in, but of course eventually it all gets worked out. This is well worth the time to read. If you buy it, I am an Amazon Associate.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Computers - Can't Live With Them or Without Them!

I'm back on my computer after a frustrating time of it. I had clicked on something on Facebook that in retrospect I found suspicious. So, I changed my password for FB and my e-mail, then just shut down the computer. I'm not that swift about these things. I know you young'uns will be shocked but computers didn't exist when I was young back in the Middle Ages.

Anyway, yesterday I couldn't get the internet light to come on on my modem. Even I know that can't be right, so I tried every trick I knew and/or could find to try to fix it myself. Got cross and had a headache so I finally gave up in disgust.

This morning I gave up and called tech support. About 5 min. later the light was on and I was browsing! It's a miracle! If that tech support guy had been here, I would have kissed him. Good luck for him that he wasn't here, eh?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Field of Blood by Denise Mina

Last time I went to the library I looked for a book by Denise Mina. I had read about this Scottish writer and that her books are set in Scotland. That put her on my "must" list. Sure enough, this is set in Glasgow where Mina lives, but it involves an Irish Catholic girl, her extended family, and her Irish Catholic fiance.

Patricia "Paddy" Meehan is a girl after my own heart. She's so human, so ordinary, yet so extraordinary that I felt like I had known her forever. I could relate to her feelings of being fat and dumb and that her life was preordained so that her dreams would never come true. In short, she's her own worst enemy and she's like the girl next door. Paddy works as a copyboy/gofer at a newspaper in Glasgow but dreams of being a star reporter, slim, sophisticated, with her own apartment and men falling at her feet, but being single and loving it.

The original Paddy Meehan was a real petty ante criminal who was railroaded into a life sentence for murder. He's no relation but everyone loves to make the connection and tease her about it. The beginning of the novel sort of jumps back and forth from one Paddy to the other and I was a bit irritated at that device, but after a while I was so hooked that it didn't really matter.

The story involves the murder of a child and the attempted railroading of two young boys for the murder. One of them actually did kill the boy but they were forced into it. The other accused is her fiance's cousin and Paddy is determined to clear his name. At times I wanted to smack some sense into her and buck up her faltering ego, but then I understood that she was simply very human and doing her best in awful circumstances. At one point her family and fiance shun her, and then it was them I wanted to smack.

As she follows clues and withstands the jeers of reporters and her family, you can't help but become fond of Paddy. Her character is the best thing about this book and it's why I recommend it.

I'm an Amazon Associate.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett

This book is a library find. I had read a review of it, wrote it down, but then proceeded to forget why I wanted to read it. Turns out, it's the first historical novel from the era of Henry VIII that I've read in years, but I'm sure glad I did.

The story is an embellishment on the true story of a young woman who had been raised as a ward of Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia, and the entire More family during the reign of Henry VIII until shortly before the arrest and execution of Sir Thomas More. It begins when More is a highly favored office holder under the king, but becomes more interesting as the king wants to annul his first marriage and marry Anne Boleyn, both because he's besotted with her and because he needs a son and heir. More is a devout Roman Catholic who views Anne Boleyn as an evil seductress and he will have nothing to do with the king's plans. This of course puts him and his entire family in extreme danger.

Meanwhile, the More children were, unlike most children of wealthy families, very well educated, even the girls. Meg is particularly bright and has a gift for medicine. She loves and eventually marries the man who had been their tutor, John Clement, a physician. In this story he is supposedly one of the princes who actually were murdered in the Tower of London; having been spirited away with his brother to be raised secretly in the countryside. Right, well I guess it makes a better novel this way. Another supposition is that Meg is in reality More's illegitimate daughter.

A large part of the story is based on the true story that Hans Holbein lived with the family for months and painted a portrait of the family. The painting actually exists. What didn't happen? The story has him falling in love with Meg. Again, it's a good story. Holbein is one of the best characters in the book, although my favorite was Meg. She is smart, brave, a questioner, and passionate. It seems like Bennett couldn't really get a handle on Sir Thomas More, but that's understandable because he was such a complex man.

More's book Utopia figures in this novel too, and it dawned on me that I had never read it, although I do own it. So now I'm finally reading a book that was a neglected part of my own education and I'm enjoying it - partly because I have a better picture of the time and the people. All in all, I'm happy to have read Portrait of an Unknown Woman and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical novels.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reserving Judgement on Series

Forever it seems, I've been reading bloggers who love Alexander McCall Smith and his series which began with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Okay, if that many bloggers I usually depend on to recommend books I'll enjoy like them, I'll try the series. I got the first book from the library and read it while we were away earlier this week.

I can say that I found the book charming and the down-to-earth stories lovely little vignettes of human frailties. I liked the descriptions of the surrounding area and Precious Ramotswe's office and home. What I can't say is that this book would entice me to follow the series any further. The word that comes to mind is "fluff."

There is humor in Precious' approach to solving cases and her view of people she meets in her work, and I do like that part of it.

I think I'll try one or two more, hopefully I'll find the next books in the series, and then decide whether I like this type of book or not. I would appreciate some input from my friends at this point. Does the series get better as it goes along? Are his other books besides this series any more interesting? Should I just go on with other authors I really love and forget him?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Kathyrn Stockett has written her first novel based on her own experiences growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, and listening to stories her grandmother's maid told her as she snuggled on the woman's lap. The Help means, therefore, black maids in white households where they were treated as inferior beings who were dirty and carriers of disease. The story is set in the 1960s as the Civil Rights Movement was gradually changing things; it includes, for instance, the horrible murder of Medgar Evers.

Skeeter Phelan, the protagonist, is the character obviously based on the author. She is in her early 20s, a graduate of Old Miss with a degree in journalism, and her married friends and her mother pity her because she doesn't have a man. She doesn't spend her time on her hair and makeup, and she doesn't really care about finding a husband. Her best friend, Hilly, is married and thinks of herself as the leader of the young white married women, and Skeeter of course. She heads the Junior League, tells everyone what to do and what to wear, and they all follow like a bunch of sheep. Hateful is the word that comes to mind.

The other main character is Aibileen, maid to one of the sheep. This woman ignores her little daughter, and the girl turns to "Aibie" who loves her dearly. The stories of Aibileen, Minny and other maids breaks your heart, especially since we all know that's the way black servants were treated in white households. They are humiliated. For instance, Hilly's big campaign is to make everyone put in a toilet for the use of maids because God forbid they should use the white bathroom and contaminate the household.

Skeeter wants to be a writer and after speaking with an editor in New York, she comes up with the idea of writing what it's like to be Aibileen, Minny, or another maid who works for white folks. Her naivete is unbelievable at first but she catches on as she secretly writes her book. The maids who cooperate are putting themselves in serious danger but they've just had enough. When one of them is falsely accused of stealing, by Hilly of course, and ends up in prison, the maids tell Skeeter their stories.

Each of the characters has her own unique personality and character and this is what I love best about this book. I did worry about the dialect used when the maids talk, thinking that perhaps it belittled them. But in truth they did speak differently and it certainly helped separate the conversation without overuse of "Aibileen said" or "Hilly said". Skeeter is a character you can't help but love, but on the other hand I wanted to slap her silly at times.

I think the book drags in some places. It takes Skeeter the longest time to come around to a decision, even in her naive ignorance of the danger, but then she shows real backbone. There are side issues and exaggerated characterizations of a type. Minny's boss, Celia, is a hoot for instance. On the whole, I liked this book but didn't love it. It's a great story, one well worth your time, but it moves like people do in the South on a hot, humid day.

I'm an Amazon Associate.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Surprising Book Sale Find

At our recent book sale I think I got sort of carried away picking up books because I came home with one that I normally wouldn't even take a second look at, Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris. Perhaps it was the eye-catching cover that caught my fancy.

This is the fourth book in the Harper Connelly series and I hadn't read the first three, but it turned out not to matter. I may even go back and read the other ones because I actually liked this. Ordinarily anything paranormal just doesn't interest me at all. By the time I realized the paranormal aspect in this one though, I was hooked on the characters and Harris' writing style. She's very readable and her characters are fascinating and/or hilarious.

This story is complicated and I don't know how I would introduce you to it without giving things away. I'll just say that Connelly was struck by lightning years ago and ever since has been able to sense dead bodies. in the beginning of this story she has been hired by a Texas lady to discover the cause of the death of the woman's father. Connelly can stand on a grave barefoot and "know" how the person died. In doing so this time, because she hasn't been told exactly which grave is his, she discovers a dangerous secret that puts her and her step-brother/partner in harm's way.

Their background is also a story in itself since their parents were drug addicts, and neglected and abused all the children. Too, Connelly's older sister had disappeared years earlier. There has been nothing solid to go on about where she or her body ended up. Family strife is still working itself out in this book in fact.

I read this quickly over a couple days because I couldn't stay away from it. I was fooled time and again as the plot unfolded, but could go back and realize I had simply missed a clue. Never would have thought I would say this because of my dislike of paranormal plot lines, but I really do recommend this book.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: Faster Pastor by Sharyn McCrumb and Adam Edwards

Sharyn McCrumb teamed up with NASCAR/ARCA driver Adam Edwards to write this third book in her NASCAR series. Now don't let that keep you from reading Faster Pastor if you aren't a car racing fan. This is just a very funny book with a cast of quirky, sometimes hilarious characters that will keep you chuckling from first page to last. Car racing fans will find plenty to love in it too, but that part is sort of secondary to the story.

It begins with Cameron Berkley, nicknamed Camber, literally landing in the midst of a grave-side service for Jimmy Powell who had been a NASCAR fan and memorabilia collector. Camber, by the way, is a term which is a "factor in a car's steering and suspension." Anyway, Camber is thrown in the local pokey with a slight concussion, and when he learns about Powell's collection, he muses that it is probably worth at least $2 million. The village of Judas Grove is all atwitter. The town's name is yet another funny story.

The judge, taking all this into consideration, sentences Camber to a fine and two weeks' confinement in jail but, wearing an electronic ankle device, to spend those two weeks teaching the local clergy how to drive a race car. The judge's daughter, a very serious college educated young woman, is assigned to be Camber's minder. At the end of the two weeks, there will be a race and the fastest pastor will win the proceeds from the sale of the collection. Got it?

Now, think about the clergy in your own area. Quite an assortment of people, eh? All shapes and sizes. Now put them into a race car; chuckling yet? This is definitely a character-driven story, and admittedly I used to be an auto racing fan (not any more though), but I loved this book. It took me right out of my hazy, hot, humid summer doldrums and made me laugh out loud.

If you buy it from, I am an Amazon Associate.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What is it with Mel Gibson?

I had recorded the movie "Braveheart" starring Mel Gibson when it was shown on television several months ago. Saturday evening we finally got around to watching it. Since I'm of Scottish descent and know the William Wallace story, I thought I would enjoy it. And perhaps I would have, had it not been for Mel Gibson's more recent history which made me watch the movie with a jaundiced eye. I know his stern version of Roman Catholicism and his respect for his father's anti-semitic views too well.

What I'll call, for lack of a better term, his Jesus delusion was very much in evidence in "Braveheart." After the English killed his wife, for instance, here comes Gibson riding into the village on a donkey, excuse me, horse with his arms extended out to his sides. Sacrificing himself for his people he was. Right? Of course, it was an act and he and the villagers proceeded to attack the English after he had mesmerized them into complacency. Too bad, up to then it was a reenactment of Palm Sunday.

He kept putting this saintly look on his face as he stood in front of his men ready to attack the English army. Then, in the chaos that was war then (and now for that matter), he manages to kill everyone in sight and survive, bloodied but unbeaten.

Finally, after he was captured he refused to take something to dull the pain and prayed to be able to die well without crying out. Jesus pleading with God? When two partial hangings didn't get him to confess, they laid him out on a cross, for Pete's sake, and though they didn't stick a sword in his side, they did castrate and disembowel him but all he cried out was "Freedom!"

This was just too much for me; I burst out, "Oh, give it a rest, Gibson!"

The story wasn't exactly the truth of course; movies never are. However, the real history wasn't too far from what the movie showed, with the exception of Wallace's (Gibson's) love affair with the princess and his superhuman exploits. Wallace was certainly a hero to the Scots, a man who never in his life pledged allegiance to or entered into any agreements with the English. Robert (the) Bruce, Scotland's other hero did consort with the English until finally becoming the man Scotland needed him to be.

I do wish someone with the motive of telling the real story, which is dramatic enough, would have made this movie. Instead it was made as a form of worship to Mel Gibson and his holier-than-thou attitude toward everyone else. Predicting that he would make "The Passion" after "Braveheart" would have been a piece of cake.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Review: Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron

I started going to the library again, despite my growing TBR pile at home. First I'm catching up on authors I always enjoy, then I'll explore new ones. Anyway, Margaret Maron's books are so evocative of a time and place I think I would like to inhabit that I just settle in for a lovely read when I find a new one. The bonus is that the plot is usually interesting as well.

In this one, published last year, Judge Deborah Knott and her new husband will be apart for a few days while she goes to a judge's conference at Wrightsville Beach. He's taking his son up to clear out his ex-wife's house since she is dead now, and he will teach at a conference himself while a friend takes his son camping. He half-seriously tells Deborah to be in bed - alone - by 9 every night, and she worries about him and his son doing such an emotional job.

At her conference a judge who seems to be disliked by everyone, and probably is on the take, is murdered the first night. Suddenly judges are dropping like flies, the detective heading up the investigation welcomes Deborah's help partly because he's interested in her divorced friend, and she is deeply involved in the investigation. Someone from her past turns up which adds a complication for her, and there's a judge who would like to add her to his list of conquests.

As usual in Maron's novels, you see the restaurants, shopping, all the atmosphere of the area, and the food (soft shell crabs in this case). Since she is there early and has free time, you also see the beach. Deborah has lots of friends so the conversation flows, including lots of gossip.

I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but this is pure Margaret Maron. Judge Deborah Knott is one of my best loved characters of all time so I know I'll love the book whenever I see it's part of that series. She is down to earth, smart, loving, a good friend, and has the biggest, most interesting family you'll ever meet. Just don't call her Deb or Debbie! The Low Country is also a character in these novels; it almost makes me want to move there.

So, in short, if you haven't read Sand Sharks yet and like Margaret Maron, what are you waiting for? If you buy it, I'm an Amazon Associate.

Friday, August 6, 2010

It's Book Sale Day!

My computer has a bad case of the slows today and my back hurts sitting at my desk so instead of the review I intended to write, I'll tell you about my morning at our annual book sale.

We have a a Blueberry Festival on the Green in Montrose, PA every August. They sell chances on a handmade quilt (made by a quilting club in town), blueberry everything in food including blueberry pizza, blueberry ice cream, a blueberry pancake breakfast, and everything else blueberry you can think of. They'll even throw some berries in your lemonade for you.

The main attraction for many of us though is the book sale in a gigantic tent. They kept getting bigger and bigger tents, but starting last year they gave up and moved paperbacks, records, games, etc. down to an empty car dealer's building toward the edge of town. I always arrive on the Green the first morning of the two day festival carrying several tote bags and bringing along my husband to carry and/or hold books for me. I look forward to this day all year long.

Dave bought chances on the quilt and he also bought chances on gift baskets this year. While he waited for me, he enjoyed a piece of blueberry pie and a lemonade sans blueberries.

This morning I spent a total of $36.50 which bought 25 books! I have mysteries and classics and an assortment of nonfiction which will keep me happy for quite a while. Even so, I had to quit before I looked at everything because I just couldn't carry any more and it was getting crowded and hot in the tent. The building was even hotter but I got a stack of paperbacks anyway. If I had remembered to take along my list, I might have bought more.

Tomorrow around 2 p.m. they'll start selling books by the bag at reduced prices. Who knows, I may show up yet again. By the way, this all benefits the county library and historical society so any donations or money spent go to one of the best causes in town.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: A Little Death in Dixie by Lisa Turner

I've found a new favorite mystery writer. Lisa Turner lives part of the time in Memphis, the rest in Nova Scotia, and this book is real Memphis. From the first page you feel the molasses-like drowsiness of a hot afternoon in Memphis, and some of the characters are southern belles and some of there men are large and slightly or more corrupt. Croquet plays a part in the story, and there is always the lazy but dangerous Mississippi River. Actually as I read, I was thinking of that new summer TV series, "Memphis Beat," and picturing the detectives as the stars of that show.

Suddenly though all that sleepy southern drawl is overtaken by a fast-paced, exciting story. The cover includes a blurb from Mark Nykanen, author of The Bone Parade: "Riveting Southern suspense. The pages turned so fast they were smoking."

I agree. Yesterday and today I was engrossed every minute and when I had to tear myself away to do something, I couldn't wait to get back to this book. Detective Billy Able is the main character and this poor guy is pulled first one way and then the other. First his partner seems to crack up and then either he's murdered or commits suicide. There is a family involved that includes every stereotypical southern feature (I kept thinking "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") but yet these characters are so much more than that. The story in fact begins as one of the women of this family goes missing. Since she's a drunk, self-centered, and has run off for a binge before, it's a while before people begin to worry.

As each character is revealed more fully, the several story lines are full of twists and unexpected turns. Turner manages to tell the story so that you are reading along thinking you've got some character's number, and then find that there is a deeper mystery to that person. Every time something new is revealed though, you realize that there was foreshadowing but you missed it in the midst of all the excitement. You figure out the villain long before Det. Able does and the villain is such a creep I guarantee you'll hate him, and love it when he gets what he deserves. The fact that you know about him does nothing to ruin the book; you are too wrapped up in following Able's path to discovery.

It's complicated and yet easy to follow, and everything begins to merge toward the end. Not one story line is left out in the ether somewhere, everything gets wrapped up. Dialogue is never forced; people talk just like we really talk. I hate mysteries where the dialogue is just too, too witty. Almost everything about this book is well done. Just a few scenes struck me as too much of a stretch. It's 288 pages and that's just right.

This is a super book. If you like mystery novels, please look for it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Old Book Sale Find is Enlightening

Last year I picked up My Wilderness: East to Katahdin by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980). It's one of those books you can just dip into occasionally and enjoy in odd moments because each chapter is devoted to one of eleven wilderness areas in the U.S.

You may know that Douglas was an outdoorsman who loved to hike and fish and canoe, and he had friends who were wilderness guides. He knew plants and animals like a naturalist so when he takes the reader on a trip through an area like the White Mountains, for instance, he points out flowers, wildlife, geological features, dangers and outstandingly beautiful sites. His descriptive passages are written like a poet, yet sometimes he'll weave into it something appropriate from the law.

The book was published in 1961, at which time most people weren't thinking about saving the environment. Like a prophet, he was literally a voice in the wilderness warning about the threat to wilderness areas from roads, clear-cutting, and overuse. On page 56, Douglas quotes Lorus J. Milnes' The Balance of Nature(1961), "By obliterating other kinds of life, man may be destroying himself as well."

Above all else, Douglas loved to fish, especially for rainbow trout. Not the stocked trout available in most places today, but native fish. Everywhere he goes he fishes the streams and lakes, noting the water birds, surroundings, and joys of landing a big one. Some of the best passages are about the guides he has known and their well-honed skills in a boat or on a trail. He praises National Forest Service employees while condemning National Forest Service policies which at the time were allowing many roads to be built and, worst of all, clear-cutting of national forest.

I know this is an old book, but if you love nature or memoirs of people who are passionate about their topic, keep an eye out for it at book sales and used book shops.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Freedom of Religion: Dead or Alive?

Normally religion is the one subject I absolutely will not touch. After reading Leonard Pitt's excellent column this morning about the protests against building a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, though, I really must weigh in on this topic.

I understand how emotional this is for anyone who had a family member or friend killed or injured 9/11, and for those who are now fighting lung diseases because they tried to save people that day. Thus I understand when they vow to fight this mosque as an insult to those they loved.

On the other hand, it wasn't Islam in general that caused the attacks on 9/11. Islam is a peaceful religion. The terrorists represented a fanatical offshoot of that religion; today's terrorists have the same twisted view of Islam. Blaming all Moslems is the same as blaming all Christians when a Christian person causes mass death. You can't blame all Americans, for instance, because an American citizen blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, can you?

One of the original rights we have enjoyed in this country is freedom of religion. That doesn't just mean all forms of Christianity plus Judaism. It means all religions. Moslems live all across our great nation and contribute to our way of life. Many are native U.S. citizens who bear absolutely no ill will toward the rest of us. They are as American as you and me. Our law says they can worship where they please.

I'm sorry the idea of a mosque so close to Ground Zero is so offensive to many people, but as Leonard Pitts wrote for this morning's newspaper, you can't have it halfway. Either we have freedom of worship or we don't. Letting them have the mosque where they plan should illustrate to the world that we really believe in our Constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: 13 1/2 by Nevada Barr

When I noticed a Nevada Barr at the library earlier in the week, I automatically picked it up since I hadn't read it. I just looked at the title and I always expect it to be an Anna Pigeon book. Well, 13 1/2 is no Anna Pigeon. This is totally different and it blew me away.

If I had known this was a psychological thriller, I might not have read it and that would have been a shame because this is quite a book. I'm always a little put off by psycho killers - now there's a statement for you - and this killer is very spooky. The story begins with the killing of a family, all except two brothers. One nearly loses his leg, actually almost loses his life, and the other is tried and found guilty of the murders.

Meanwhile another story line has a girl trying to grow up in a trailer park down south with a drunk for a mother and a series of step-fathers, then boyfriends who aren't any better. She frequently has to sit outside and wait until the fights are over and both adults are passed out before she can go in. Since she's a lot smarter than her mom, she steals the car and heads for New Orleans.

You know of course that these two story lines will merge at some point, and when they do there will be fireworks. The way the story comes together is a wild ride and I was fooled for a long while. Then I figured things out and was scared out of my gourd. I've known Nevada Barr as a wonderful novelist whose plots are a lot of fun to figure out, but this story raises her even higher in my estimation.

I recommend this book if you aren't put off by some gory scenes and a psycho killer on the loose.