Thursday, August 30, 2012

HEMINGWAY'S GIRL by Erika Robuck

Key West was a place dear to my heart in the 1950s and up to about 1962. When I revisited in the 1970s, it was a different place. That's why I was anxious to read this story set in 1935 Key West when Hemingway was in residence and the overseas highway was under construction.

The main character is Mariella Bennet whose Cuban mother was disowned by her family for marrying an American fisherman. As the story begins, Hal Bennet has died and Mariella's mother is so deep in grief that it is up to her three daughters to look after themselves. They are desperately poor so Mariella works odd jobs on the waterfront to feed her little sisters and her mother.

Then she meets Hemingway and is hired as a maid in the home where he lives with his second wife, Pauline, and their children. The house is described in perfect detail, and the characterization of both Papa and Pauline are excellent. Papa and Mariella are drawn to each other and Pauline feels threatened; as Mariella struggles to avoid crossing any lines.

Meanwhile, she has met a veteran of WW I, one of many who are working on the overseas highway. I knew there had been a terrible hurricane that killed many of those workers, and the scene in this book carried me away. It was the most powerful scene in the book.

I don't want to give away any more of this excellent story, but just know that this is a wonderful read. I highly recommend this book whether you know Key West or not. The characters and settings will draw you in just as they did me.

Source:  Amazon Vine

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Running of the Bulls in Pennsylvania?

Last week was the final week of the country fair in Harford, Pennsylvania.  Every year they have a special show, which this year was a rodeo.  One evening, as the bulls were being loaded onto their trailer, four of them escaped.  Three were caught quickly but the fourth went on a lively tour of the whole fair.

The place was packed on a warm, but not hot, summer evening.  Families enjoying rides, fair food, animal exhibits, music.  It was ideal, until people began screaming that there was a bull loose.  Well, I can imagine how frightened this animal was.  All these people screaming and running for cover, the loud speaker announcement that a bull was loose and everyone should seek shelter or leave the fairgrounds, kids screaming on the rides, loud music everywhere, and where to go in all the aisles and lights and noise.  The poor thing ran up and down aisles, past booths (one of which was full of decorative glassware), and everywhere looking like a trap.

At one point the bull went behind a candy stand where the people had parked their camper.  He gored a hole in the camper and wrecked their license plate, before he managed to get past the chain link fencing. 

Finally, some men directed the bull into an exhibition hall and slammed the door on him.  Cowboys backed the trailer up to the door and loaded him without further incident.

Several people were hurt in the melee, some when they dove for cover, but one lady in a scooter chair had to be flown to the hospital and later was sent home. Thankfully, she'll be okay.   I'm afraid I see lawsuits in the rodeo's future, but seems to me it was just an accident impossible to predict.

If you're ever in northeastern PA around the third week of August, you ought to stop in to see the Harford Fair.  It's one of the best little country fairs you could hope to find, and it isn't usually anywhere near this exciting.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

LAKE COUNTRY by Sean Doolittle

This is a story for anyone who has ever railed against the sentences pronounced on people convicted of a crime.  It begins as a successful architect with a lovely daughter, wife, and a beautiful home goes to prison for a weekend.  He had been sentenced to two days in jail for every year of his five-year probation.  This is his last weekend in jail for falling asleep at the wheel and killing a young woman driving the car he hit head on.  No alcohol, no drugs, just fell asleep.

Now you can understand how many people, particularly friends of the young woman's family, would be very upset at such a light sentence.  Considering the victim's older brother was killed in action in Iraq as well, it would make some people furious.  How could this injustice happen to such a nice woman as their mother?

The story is set in Minnesota (and I know a blogger there who would love this) with all the beautiful lakes and the good, down-to-earth residents of that state.  Two ex-Marines who knew the other brother are home and dealing unsuccessfully with PTSD and a battle against the bottle.  This is a set-up for yet another tragedy.  

I greatly enjoyed the characters in this book.  They all seemed quite real to me, especially the ex-Marines (I know, I know.  Once a Marine always a Marine) but also TV reporters, a barkeep, the family of the man who killed the girl, and the mother of the victim.  As one of the Marines tries to save his friend from committing a grave injustice, many of these characters are heading to the denouement among the lakes.  There's also a side story in which numbers-running loot is missing and the only character who seemed overdrawn in the meanness department is an enforcer looking to get the money back.

We know whodunit all the time, but how the situation will resolve becomes clear only as the story ends.  Very clever mystery with plenty of nail-biting tension.

Source:  Won from LibraryThing.
Recommended reading for mystery lovers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I hate to gush over a book but this is truly gush-worthy.  I have fallen head over heels in love with the hero's dog, a Great Dane named Spot.  Unlike some series where the hero has a pet, Spot doesn't solve crimes.  His owner, former cop and current P.I. Owen McKenna, is the crime solver.  Spot is simply a dog, a Harlequin otherwise known as "your largeness."  As a former owner of two fawn Danes, I can attest to the fact that Todd Borg obviously owns and loves a Great Dane because he has Great Danehood down pat.  

Now that we have the gushing over with, I totally enjoyed the mystery in this volume.  When twins Melissa and Jennifer Salazar were only six years old and out hiking with their very stern German gramma, Melissa somehow went over a cliff and died.  It has been considered a tragic accident until the brilliant Jennifer is 14 and tries to hire Owen to find out who murdered her sister.  She has always thought it was murder and now she's old enough to do something about it.  Although Owen can't be hired by a minor, he is intrigued by the story, particularly when he sees two people following Jennifer as she leaves his office.  He agrees to look into it unofficially.

Very soon he realizes that not only was Melissa's death probably a murder, Jennifer is apparently also in great danger because she's poking into it.  Owen's girlfriend Street watches over the girl, Spot too of course, as Owen sets off on an investigation that takes some wild twists and turns.  I suspected who murdered the girl but there were other aspects to the story that were surprising to me.  Regardless, I couldn't put the book down.

The other characters in the book are well-drawn and realistic.  I could picture each one easily.  I loved the setting too, mainly in the area of Lake Tahoe, a place I have never been but would love to visit. 

Highly recommended reading for crime lovers and dog lovers.
Source:  gift from friend who knows I love Great Danes. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012


I found this odd little book difficult to get into, perhaps because I was ill, or perhaps because I couldn't get over the desire to slap some sense into Harold Fry.  He's a mousy Englishman whose major desire is for no one to notice him.  He feels he has failed everyone he has ever known, has nothing to offer the world, and that most likely everyone else either despises him or feels sorry for him.

Harold and his wife Maureen have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for years, and she only speaks to him to complain about something petty.  In fact, a rare funny moment in the book is when Harold has gone on his pilgrimage and she doesn't want to do household chores anymore.  It's no fun, she thinks, without being able to slam down the basket and complain endlessly about how much work she has to do.

Their life changes drastically the day Harold receives a note from a woman he had worked with years earlier.   She is in a hospice 500 miles north of his home and wanted to thank him for his friendship before she died.  He remembers that they were indeed friends, and that she had done a huge favor for him for which he never adequately thanked her.  On his way to post a letter back to her, he decides he must go to her, that as long as he is walking toward her, she will live.  And so he sets out - without cell phone, enough money, decent walking shoes, anything.

As he walks, he remembers and he thinks.  We learn why he is who he is.  He learns about people he meets along the way, and to appreciate nature.  He becomes aware of plants and buys a guidebook to learn about them.  He watches the sky change and he walks in rain or dry.

Meanwhile, at home Maureen is so lonely without him she doesn't know what to do.  Finally she becomes friends with a widower across the street who is a great help to her.  He manages to take her out of her malaise a bit.

The whole story has wonderful messages, and the characters he meets are the kind of ordinary folks you might meet anywhere.  There's even a dog he calls Dog who travels part of the way with him and gives him the love he needs so desperately.  I still had the occasional desire to slap Harold silly, but for the most part I admired his dogged dedication to his quest.  I felt sad for him, Maureen, Queenie who is dying and many of the people who helped him.  It isn't an easy book to read, and yet I'm very glad I did read it.

Source:  Random House
Recommended reading

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Reading and Editing but Blogging, Not So Much

I really have been reading, although the past three days it's been slow.  I have a chemo headache that just won't let me enjoy reading at the moment.  I'll be glad when I feel better; this is the pits.

Meanwhile, I've been reading a very long book that I promised to critique for a new writer in NJ. It's fitting for me to do this since it is set where I went to prep school back in the Middle Ages.  My thoughts on it will only be for her, but if she does get it published, I'll share.

I'm also reading about Harold Fry's walking adventure.  Have you read this one?  It's downstairs, I'm upstairs, and I'm much too lazy to walk down and get the correct title.  It's about a shy, sheltered man who has led a life strictly confined to home and job.  Then he receives a letter from an old friend who is dying of cancer in a place about 500 miles north of Harold's home.  He decides to walk the 500 miles to see her, figuring as long as he walks, she lives.  A very strange book, but then I'm in a very strange situation at the moment so I guess it suits me.

At least I've been able to watch the Olympics without guilt.  That's about all I've had the strength and energy to do, but the games have been great.  I'm getting a kick out of the fact that William, Kate, and Harry have been attending so many events and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  And I must say having, supposedly, Queen Elizabeth II and Bond, James Bond parachute into the opening ceremonies was a touch of genius.  Otherwise the ceremony left me cold but that was super.

I'll be back just as soon as I get rid of this blankety-blank headache.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

STONE KISS by Faye Kellerman

This was my first Faye Kellerman mystery although I have read Jonathan Kellerman forever.  Unfortunately this might be my last of hers.  This is a good story with some good characters but it sort of left me cold.

It's one of the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series, and Peter and Rina are the really well-drawn characters.  I did care what happened to them as I was reading, but with some of the others I just couldn't care less.

One of the best things about this novel is that it gave me a peek into a culture I know almost nothing about, Chasidic (I've always spelled it Hasidic) Jews.  Decker's half brother is a rabbi whose brother-in-law is Hasidic.  When the brother-in-law's teenage daughter goes missing, the rabbi calls Decker  in California in a panic, practically begging him to come to New York to help.  Decker's wife thinks they should go and by the way they could also see her grown sons while they are visiting.

In New York Decker is out of his element but he runs into an evil man with a good side (sort of like the prostitute with a heart of gold you know) who helps him.  The problem is that you never know whether this guy is truly helpful or is preparing to kill Decker.  The story is set partly in the city and partly in a fictional upstate NY town with a corrupt police chief.  Decker is in danger no matter where he is but keeps putting off a planned flight to Florida to visit his parents and brother because he just can't quit on the case, even when the Hasidic family lets him know he needs to leave.

There are some passages which stretched my tolerance for fortuitous appearances past its limit, and I thought too many characters were actually ordered from stock.  Nonetheless I can see why Faye Kellerman's novels are very popular and have countless fans.  It just wasn't my cup of tea.

Source:  swap with friend.  Recommended only for people who know and like this author.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Update on My Eventful Summer

This has been a busy, busy week but today I get to stay home and rest.  I have everything done, ready for my treatment to begin.  This coming Monday I see my oncologist and will learn when we start.  I'm very ready to get started; the sooner we start, the sooner we finish.

The verdict is that I will have chemo followed by radiation and I'm still hoping that I will be finished by the end of this year.  I'm determined that 2013 will be a stellar year for me after this 2012 bummer.

Our big book sale is today and tomorrow but once again I'll miss it.  I have so many unread books already, including new advance copies I've promised to review, that the last thing I need is more.  It's a great cause since we're raising money for a new library building but I have other things on my mind right now.   Hopefully the sale will raise as much money as it usually does.  They begin with thousands and thousands of books, but the tents get so hot and crowded that you really have to be a trooper, or dedicated book reader, to take it.

It is supposed to be 88 degrees today and humid.  Wonderful day to sit in front of the fan and watch the Olympics.  I'm reduced to reading during commercial breaks!  :

Meanwhile, I thank all of you for your good wishes and prayers.  Your support keeps me uplifted and optimistic.