What I Read in February 2014

As this long, long winter drags on, only the increased hours of daylight give promise of spring here in Wisconsin.  Oh yes, and I did hear birds singing the other day!  There have been lots of hours for reading…often a good book is a real source of comfort while getting through the cold!

driftlessDriftless by Wisconsin author, David Rhodes, was the February selection for the library book discussion.  We had lively discussions in both the afternoon and evening sessions!  Although we’re all Wisconsin residents, several did not know about the “Driftless” area which has a different topography from much of the rest of WI because the glacier missed this area.  We all enjoyed the book and the discussion was great because we all discovered different meanings and allusions, such as why the area is called “drifltess”, and that many of the characters were driftless, as well.  The cast of quirky characters along with their sad and sometimes humorous adventures seemed to speak to everyone.  For me, it reminded me of many similar situations from my growing up years in rural Michigan.

widestarryskyUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is the love story of Robert Louis Stevenson and  Fanny van de Grift Osbourne.  This is the second novel by Horan, who wrote Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.  It took me awhile to get into this one, but I’d heard great things about it, and I did think it was very good.  I didn’t know much about Stevenson’s biography until I read this.  Their story was quite fascinating!

dutyAfter watching the movie, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, I was very curious to know how much of the thrilling movie really happened.  So I read  A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips.  It was an interesting book, and it seems that most of the movie was an accurate representation of what happened.  There were some elements added to dramatize events, but the story line followed what really happened, and according to photos in the book, Hanks’ character looked much like Phillips.  I highly recommend this as a great non fiction thriller.

pioneer girlNext:  Another Laura Ingalls Wilder offshoot!  Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen is a fictional account of a modern day young woman who is struggling to keep her immigrant Vietnamese family and their expectations of her in the background.  Nguyen creates a literary mystery based upon the true fact that Laura Wilder’s daughter, Rose, actually visited and worked as a reporter in Saigon in 1965.  As Lee Lien struggles to explore her family’s possible connections, she travels take her on adventures across the country–from Madison, WI  and Chicago to San Francisco.  I didn’t find this as entertaining as The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, but it was pretty good.  If you are a Wilder fan, you might enjoy it, too.

still lifeThis was my second time reading Still Life by Louise Penny.  I had read it some time ago, and of course, I couldn’t remember the ending.  I went back to it because I have enjoyed some of her later mysteries immensely, and they all include a similar cast of characters.  She has several books in the series now, and I wanted to start at the beginning and read through them as I have time.  How The Light Gets In came out last fall and had rave reviews, including mine!  I’m planning on it for the library group to discuss in late fall.  Penny is a  very intellectual writer and gives the reader much to think about while trying to figure out the solution to the mystery.

cold storage alaskaCold Storage Alaska by John Straley made me laugh out loud.   What a treat this was in this end of winter season!  If you remember and liked the Northern Exposure television series, you will love this book.  Even if you’ve never heard of Northern Exposure, this comedic story set in the fictional town of Cold Storage opens with Clive being released after a 7 year prison sentence for dealing coke.  His younger brother is a ‘medic’ for the community who served in Mogadishu with the Army Rangers and is now caring for their ailing mother.  There is an unusual dog, a bar, and a band who are just part of a cast of interesting characters making their way in small town Alaska.

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January 2014–Happy New Year!!

Polar Vortex, or whatever you want to call it, it has been really cold here in Wisconsin!   

I finished up 2013 by reading the last two of William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor novels:  Trickster’s Point and Tamarack County. I enjoyed all of his books.  Hopefully, there will be another this year.  Then for the library book discussion I read–

beekeepers apprenticeThe  Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King.  This was the January book for discussion at the library where I work.  It is the first in the Mary Russell series by King.  It is a pastiche based upon the Sherlock Holmes character.  It opens with the young Mary Russell meeting Holmes at his country home where he has ‘retired’ and is keeping bees.  Mary becomes involved in helping Holmes solve a kidnapping.  Many adventures ensue, and as the story evolves, it encourages using intuition and observation.  Most of the book discussion people really liked the book, and one of them mentioned that it is set in the same time period as Downton Abbey.  It is an interesting time period, and I would like to read more in the series.

hgirl 2Hemmingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck is the fictional account of young Mariella Bennet who is a poor girl living in Key West with her mother and sisters.  When Mariella is hired as a maid by Hemmingway’s wife, Pauline, she enters a world she has never experienced–celebrity dinners and off island excursions.   When she meets ‘Papa” at a local bar and attends a boxing match with him, the reader wonders  if she will  have an affair  with him.  As a massive hurricane bears down on Key West, the story is brought to a dramatic conclusion.

Provence70  Another Julia Child book!  Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr, a grandnephew of M.K. Fisher,  brings to us an historic account of how the culinary figures:  Julia Child, James Beard, M.K. Fisher,  Simone Beck, and Richard Olney brought about the reinvention of American taste.  In the summer of 1970, America’s leading voices in the food world converged at Julia’s summer place in France.  Renowned cookbook editor Judith Jones was there, as well.  Even if you don’t like Julia stories or cooking, just reading about the sensuous food and culinary rivalries makes for a nostalgic journey.

After I'm GoneAfter I’m Gone by Laura Lippman is another in the long line of Lippman thrillers.  It is a fast and compelling mystery of a man who disappears and leaves behind five women who must wonder and cope with life after his disappearance.  The women he leaves are his wife, mistress, and three daughters.  Ten years later, the mistress disappears, as well.  It’s a fascinating look at a family, a city, and a very complicated crime.  It will keep you guessing and engrossed until the very end!

star for blakeA Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith is based upon the little remembered act by Congress  in the 1930s,  whereby some Gold Star Mothers were sent to France to visit the graves of their soldier sons who had been buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near Verdun.  This  actual pilgrimage was funded by legislation passed when Congress responded to lobbying from  war mothers who wanted compensation for their loss.  This little known event is the setting for a moving fictional account of mothers visiting the site of their loved ones’ demise.

perfect

Perfect by Rachel Joyce is the anxiously awaited novel by the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  Frankly, I did not like it as much as ‘Harold’.  I did not find the hero (Diana) in this book as nearly as likeable as Harold Fry.  The storyline involves two young boys, and what happens when their ‘perfect’ world is shattered.  I hope some of you readers will give it a try and let me know what you think.

One last reminder:  Still Life With Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen has been released.  I highly recommend it. Happy reading, and try to stay warm:)

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Happy Holidays…happy readers!

I always look forward to a few extra reading hours–one benefit of less hours of daylight as winter approaches.  Of course, the trick is choosing what to read when there is so much available!

Holiday Gift for Readers:  A great gift for those on your list who like to read, or to put on your ‘hint list’ for yourself–The Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissley.  I think that this compendium of true tales from the lives and works of writers would delight any writer or serious reader on your gift list.  There are several entries for each day of the year by date, so the book can be read or referred to year after year.  readers book daysThe entry for November 28 mentions that in 1966, Truman Capote gave his famous Black and White Dance at the Plaza Hotel with numerous celebrities on the guest list. 

What I’ve Been Reading..

More William Kent Krueger books in the series:  Heaven’ s Keep, Vermillion Drift, and Northwest Angle.  Then the library book group read and discussed Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.loving frankI don’t think I’ve written about this book previously in this blog, but I’ve now read it three times!  It is one of those that, in my opinion, is worth re-reading.  It is historical fiction about the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who according to many accounts, was the love of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life.   Nancy Horan, the author, spent many years researching the material.  Although it is a work of fiction, it seems very historically accurate.  We had a good group discussion, and all agreed that it was a very intriguing way to learn about history.  This story takes place during the construction of Taliesin, and some of us in the group had previously toured the estate.

I just completed this book (an advance reading copy) by Anna Quindlen–Still Life With Bread Crumbs.

Will be released on January 28, 2014

Will be released on January 28, 2014

I’ve always loved Anna Quindlen’s writing, and this one is excellent.  It is about a well-known New York photographer who has just turned 60 and moves to a rental “cottage” in the country in order to save on expenses and contemplate her future.  The rented cottage is less than ideal, but Rebecca is faced with challenges and opportunities she never expected.  The story has dilemmas, surprises, tenderness.  I’ll put a reminder in the January post when it gets closer to the release date.

history 101

Another book which would make a great gift is The Smithsonian’s History of American in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin.  This compendium provides a great way to learn of or reminisce about America’s history.  Each entry pairs the fascinating history of each object with the place it has come to occupy in our national memory.  Everything from a conestoga wagon to Julia Child’s kitchen is pictured and described in detail.

black haired girl  Death of the Black-Haired Girl by Robert Stone has had many ‘rave’ reviews.  It has been described as literary fiction from a great American novelist.  I had not read anything by him before, so I requested this to read from the library, and then ordered a copy for the collection of the library where I work.  Stone is known for complex moral dilemmas.  In this one, a professor decides to end his relationship with his student, Maud.  It is a powerful, engrossing tale about complex relationships, the results of infidelity, and the idea that madness is everywhere in plain sight.  Don’t expect it to be a ‘feel good’ story, but it is thought provoking.

book thiefThe Book Thief  by Markus Zusak has been on my shelf for several years!  I finally got around to reading it when I saw that it is has been made into a movie.  I know that it is an acclaimed young adult novel.  I think that I had resisted reading it because I didn’t feel like reading yet another holocaust story.  After finishing it, I can see why it has won awards.  The narrator, “Death”, manages through the unique style of the author, to interject a bit of ‘humor’ and thoughtfulness about the holocaust and life circumstances.  It is worth reading, and I’ve heard that the movie is well done, so I will put it on my movie ‘list’.

forgotten seamstress  The Forgotten Seamstress is the second novel by Liz Trenow.  Her first was The Last Telegram which I read last year.  The seamstress story will be released in May 2014, and it’s a pleasant read with an intriguing plot.  It’s about a young orphan girl who lands in the sewing room of Buckingham Palace in 1910.  There is a mystery about what  happened to her, and a patchwork quilt discovered decades later, may provide clues about what really happened to Maria.

shunning sarahShunning Sarah by Julie Kramer is a mystery set in the Amish country of Minnesota.  It’s an intriguing story by one of my favorite midwestern authors.  Kramer visited the bookstore where I worked and now we are hoping that she may visit  the library where I’m now employed.  We’re going to discuss this book in our discussion group next March.  Kramer’s lead character is Minneapolis star investigative reporter, Riley Spartz.  When Spartz hears about a young boy trapped in a sinkhole, she smells ratings.  Little does she imagine how big this story will be!  It involves a tragic murder in the local Amish community.  Spartz often describes her ‘farm girl’ roots which endears her to me, since I was a farm girl ‘once upon a time’.

Happy Christmas to All!   Please add comments and let me know what you are reading!!

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Ever get stuck in reading a complete series??

William Kent Krueger–The Cork O’Connor novels!!

Blood HollowAs I mentioned last month, I’ve been in a reading ‘orgy’ of the Cork O’Connor novels by William Kent Krueger.  It’s kind of like a ‘soap opera’, following the same characters on their adventures in northern Minnesota, northern Michigan, and the Chicago area.

straight man

Had to take a break to read Straight Man by Richard Russo for the library book club.  We had quite a good discussion, and got a few  laughs as we talked about the trials and tribulations of the middle aged professor.

mercy falls

Next was  Mercy Falls and Copper River by Krueger.  They kept me entranced as the action moved into upper Michigan.

copper river

In the text of Copper River, it was mentioned that it was the setting for a classic bestseller and movie, which, of course, I had to read and watch the movie:

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver, first released as a book in 1958.  The movie followed the book quite closely, and there’s nothing like a movie starring Jimmy Stewart!

anatomy of a murder

If you’ve never seen the movie, I highly recommend it, and the book is good, too!

red knife

Next was Red Knife, by Krueger.  It had a very dark ending, and was probably my least favorite so far in the series.

uncommon appeal

Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith is an Isabel Dalhousie novel which my library group is discussing this week.  Dalhousie is an Edinburgh philospher and amateur sleuth.  A lot of truths and insights about day to day life are mentioned as we follow Isabel on the search for a missing painting.  One of my favorites:  “Life should be kept simple, but small treats and small self indulgences can make all the difference.

stitchesI recently completed  a wonderful new book by Anne Lamott!  Stitches:  A Handbook On Meaning, Hope and Repair.  It is wonderfully inspirational and comforting.  Once I finished it, I wanted to start all over again.  Through the years, Lamott has run the gamut from fiction, “how to write”, parenting, and inspiration.  Her words and advice just make so much sense!

heritage of darknessThe newest release by Wisconsin author Kathleen Ernst, Heritage of Darkness, which is the fourth in her Chloe Ellefson mystery series, is set in Decorah, Iowa near the beginning of the holiday season.  It is rich in Norwegian art and traditions and is set at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.   While trying to solve the murder mystery, the reader is treated to the exploits of the likable Chloe,a museum curator, and her ‘boyfriend’ Roelke, a cop from Palmyra, WI.  Chloe’s mother is featured in this book, as a teacher for a rosemaling class.  It’s a ‘treat’ for mystery lovers, and history lovers, as well.

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October 2013–Great reading: Some new, and some not so new…

burial rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a new book which is getting lots of acclaim for a first novel.  It is set in Iceland in the 1800s and is  based upon real events.  Written in starkly beautiful prose, it has intricate characters in difficult situations.  It is the saga of a young woman who has been charged with the brutal murder of two men and is sent to a remote farm to await execution.  As Agnes’ execution looms closer, the farmer’s wife and daughters get to know her and learn of  Agnes’ side to the love/murder story.

Tale for Time Beinb

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki was my absolutely FAVORITE book in a long time!  It is one of those, that when I put it down, I wanted to start reading  all over again!!  The premise of the story is that an author who lives on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox which has washed up on the beach.  Inside the lunchbox is a diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl.   Ruth, the main character in the book, who finds it, suspects that it is from the Japanese 2011 tsunami.   Ozeki manages to interweave time and space as she reads the young girl’s diary and wants to imagine where the girl is now.  What is the meaning of time, space, and “being”?  This book was the “Big Read” choice for UW Madison this fall.  I think Ozeki did a masterful job of writing thought-provoking, as well as entertaining, material.  I intend to select this for a 2014 fiction discussion at the library.  Also included was a  part of the girl’s diary where the grandmother (a Buddhist nun) teaches her granddaughter how to meditate.  This was very meaningful to me, because I have been working on learning the practice of meditation.  The author, Ruth Ozeki, is a Buddhist priest, and I wonder how much of the story is autobiographical.

Kent Krueger extravaganza–It’s been a long time since I got started on one author and read through a series.  I guess it might be my association with mystery lovers in my library group.  I recently read a review that reminded me of Kent Krueger, who has written a series of mysteries (nine so far) which are set near the boundary waters in Minnesota and feature the part Ojibwe Cork O’Connor.   There is a lot of native American lore, and northwoods flavor in the books.  I am just about to finish the third one, but have to take a break for my next fiction group book.  Then I think I’ll keep going…it’s kind of like a soap opera, following the familiar cast of characters, and much better than most TV these days.  The first three, in case you’re interested are Iron Lake, Boundary Waters, and Purgatory Ridge.

Happy fall reading to all of you!  Let me know if you have good titles to recommend!

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Fall is in the air!

Here comes fall…and with it, lots of good reading!

A wonderful new mystery by Louise Penny!

A wonderful new mystery by Louise Penny!

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny–An excellent mystery set in Quebec.  A well crafted plot involving the murder of the last survivor of a set of quintuplets born in the  30′s and another concurrent plot involving government corruption–a pleasing setting–just before Christmas.  There is a bookstore in the story and a very interesting cast of characters.  Louise Penny is great!!

Borderline by Nevada Barr was a selection for the mystery group at the library.  It is an Anna Pigeon mystery with the Park Ranger on vacation with her husband, Paul.   Anna and Paul are on a river borderlne2rafting trip in Big Bend National Park where Anna is supposed to be taking some time off to recover from a traumatic event which occurred previously in Royale Isle Park.  While rafting on the river, the tourist group encounters the body of a pregnant woman in a “strainer” on the river–except it turns out that the woman is not dead!  In typical ‘Anna’ fashion, she wades into mystery and drama.  I found it to be interesting and found that the group liked it as well.  They had not read Nevada Barr books before!

engagements

The Engagements by Courtney Sullivan is an ‘engaging’ look at the diamond industry and the institution of marriage.  Through an entertaining and intertwined series of vignettes, Sullivan tells a good story while examining our social mores and traditions.  I remember liking her previous book, Maine.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner:  I re-read this for the library book club.  One of the library patrons told me she had read it many years ago and as she read it recently,  she enjoyed it on another level and made observations on elements she hadn’t observed  before–that is my ‘take’ on it, as well.  Stegner was a masterful writer of fiction!

Let the Dead Sleep by Heather Graham:

A ghost story set in New Orleans

A ghost story set in New Orleans

This is my selection for the October meeting of my library mystery group.  It is set in New Orleans and has a ghost story with a little voodoo mixed in.  It’s a quick read and very engaging.  This is the first time I’ve read anything by Heather Graham who is known for romance and paranormal adventures.  This is supposed to be the beginning of a series (McCafferty and Quinn) set in New Orleans.  I liked it!

Coming out in Nov.

Coming out in November

Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson is a  new book by a first time author.  It was sent to me as an advance reading copy by the publisher.  If you like Jodi Picoult books, I think you’ll like this one.  It is a compulsive read with a moral dilemma.  It reminded me of Jacquelyn Mitchard’s book, Deep End of the Ocean, which was picked by Oprah for her ‘Book Club’ and became an instant bestseller.  It is not a great work of literature, but it is an entertaining  ‘thriller’ with an interesting outcome.

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New books for fall…

Frequently, when I open my post office box, I find a book waiting for me.    I am  fortunate to receive review  copies from several sources.   Fall is a very important release time for new books,so, I’ve been reading a lot!  Another new development in my life is that I have been placed in a new position, in charge of adult programming, at the library where I  work.  My work hours have been doubled, and my duties include facilitating two book discussions each month:  a mystery group and a fiction group.  Whew!  This may somewhat curtail  my blogging efforts, but for now I want to write about some upcoming fall releases.  The first is Let Him Go by Larry Watson.  Once I began reading, it was hard to put down:let him goLet Him Go by Larry Watson is his tenth novel.  I have read all of them, and this one seems to me to be his finest!  Watson is a master of sparse, yet powerful, prose.  He sets up a critical situation, grabs the reader by the throat, and doesn’t let go.  In this story the characters are as rich in depth as their options are heartbreaking.   It is set in 1951, but the dilemma faced by grandparents seeking to reclaim their grandson, could have taken place today.  Like Montana 1948, it is set in the American West and is replete with raw human emotions in the face of tragedy and conflict.

five daysThis investigative look at what happened inside Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 is subtitled:  Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital.  Sheri  Fink has done extensive research and exhaustively interviewed many people who were part of or affected by the disaster which kept hospital workers, patients, family members, and pets imprisoned in a hospital after it lost power and was marooned by rising flood waters in the heart of the city.  It reads like a novel, and I found it hard to put down.  When you finish reading it, I guarantee you will not soon forget the stories of life and death decisions made in the midst of a crisis.  It may cause you to rethink your opinion about end of life,’ do not resuscitate’ orders, and medical ethics, in general.  The dilemma is approached from many different viewpoints.  I think this will hit bestseller lists in a hurry–a real page turner!

margot 2The third ‘new release’   I read is Margot  by Jillian Cantor.  It is a re-imagining of the Anne Frank story which is told by Margot, Anne’s sister.    This recounting of the Anne Frank story is told from an interesting perspective.  The narrative is well written, and the imagined story emphasizes the importance of family and how our past affects our future.  There is a love story, as well.  I think it would be appropriate for both young adult and adult readers.

golden boyGolden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin is the author’s first novel.  It is somewhat disturbing because it is about young Max Walker, who is an ‘intersex’ child.  Intersex is the current term for a person who has the sexual organs of both sexes, also known as a hermaphrodite.  The story begins with a violent act which may lead to the Walker family’s secret being revealed.  It is a powerfully emotional book.  It reminded me of the earlier Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, which was set in the Detroit area.  Both books bring to light a condition which is less rare than one would imagine.

turn of mindTurn of Mind by Alice LaPlante is an unusual thriller which will keep the reader guessing.  It’s about a retired orthopedic surgeon who has dementia.  The surgeon is the leading suspect in the murder of her best friend Amanda who lived just down the block.

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos–read for library book group.  It was a crime novel which I didn’t much care for.  I also re-read A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash for the library fiction discussion.

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