Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A bookish journey to Jerusalem...

Esther's hand raced over the paper as if the colored pencils might be snatched from her, the quivering inside her wild, foreign, thrilling. All this time she hadn't known that "blue" was actually seven distinct shades, each with its own name--azure, Prussian, cobalt, cerulean, sapphire, indigo, lapis. She pressed the waxy pencils on the paper, amazed by the emerging hues....In this stolen hour at Mademoiselle Thibaux's dining-room table, she could draw without being scolded for committing the sin of idleness, God forbid.
Talia Carner's Jerusalem Maiden immerses the reader in the world of the Haredi, a community of ultra-orthodox Jews, at the turn of the 20th century when the Ottoman Empire is coming to an end. At the heart of the novel is Esther Kaminsky, a young girl who finds herself torn between her passion for art and her desire to please God. She feels her talent for creating beautiful sketches and oil paintings must come from God, but according to her strict culture there are no Jewish artists, drawing portraits is especially forbidden, and "marriage is the greatest destiny for girls". Esther struggles to accept her destiny without giving up her own desires and dreams. But she can't choose her art without betraying both her family and her God. She is trapped by her birth. And I really felt for her.

I found this book fascinating, especially learning more about the Haredi culture; I couldn't believe the strictures placed on women in this very narrow and pious community. It was pretty eye-opening, and also frustrating and a bit maddening. (And it made me very glad Esther's life isn't mine!)  Still, to be able to visit not only Jerusalem, but also Paris in the early 1900s, made for an amazing bookish journey. Both places are always so interesting and fun to read about. As for Esther, her story is moving and poignant and ultimately bittersweet. I cheered for her, cried for her, and wished I could change her world for her...or that she would do something amazing and brave and change it herself. But not all books have happy endings. I can't say I loved this book, but it was an interesting read and Esther is one of those characters I won't soon forget. Probably because I felt so bad for her most of the time.

Happy Reading!

Similar reads:
     The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
     The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Anatomist's Wife

I don't know why it took me so long to read The Anatomist's Wife by Anna Lee Huber, especially considering it contains so many of the elements that I really like in a book. For example, it's a mystery with suspense, atmosphere, and good writing. And it's set in Scotland in 1830, a time period and place that I love. But most of all, it has well-crafted and memorable characters like Mr. Sebastian Gage and Huber's most engaging of protagonists, the infamous Lady Darby, who also narrates the story. I ended up really liking this intrepid heroine. Here are five passages from the book that'll show you why:

Death was not unfamiliar to me. I had seen more than my fair share of corpses in my lifetime, and I had been quite happy to escape them for the last sixteen months. So I hardly relished the appearance of yet another one, and in my sister's garden no less. I shivered, feeling the fear and shadows stir inside me I had worked so hard to lay to rest since my husband's death.

I had never been very successful at the art of flirtation. I knew my sister was quite capable, having listened to her and Philip verbally banter with one another daily for over a year. My brother Trevor also seemed competent in the arena, if the number of young ladies in London angling for a marriage proposal from him were any indication. I, on the other hand, seemed to be missing that mysterious skill.

It didn't matter what Gage believed. I knew that I was innocent, and so did my sister and brother-in-law. All I could do was focus on what I had set out to do in the first place--protect my sister and her family by finding the real killer--and in the process, prove my innocence, perhaps once and for all.

Several hours in my studio did much to soothe my tattered nerves worn raw by the events of the last sixteen hours. The familiar roughness of the charcoal in my hand as I sketched the outline of a new portrait comforted me. Its musk of earth and ashes permeated the air, clearing away the lingering memory of blood and death. I lost myself in the sweep of lines, forgetting time and place.

I had always known that I was a solitary person. Even when wed to Sir Anthony, even while living with my sister and her family, I knew the truth. I was alone. And likely would always be. That normally did not trouble me, but lately I had begun to feel the weight of such a truth, the isolation of such a life, and it upset me more than I would have liked to admit. But I didn't know how to change that. My temperament, my talent, seemed to naturally hold me apart from others. The scandal had only exacerbated the problem.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April's Bookish Art...

Peter Ilsted -- Interior With Girl Reading, 1908

"A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted
to a world we cannot enter in any other way."
--Caroline Gordon

Sunday, April 16, 2017

From the L Shelf...

Author:  Con Lehane
Title:  Murder at the 42nd Street Library

I checked this book out because of the title. I just couldn't resist a murder mystery set at the 42nd Street library in New York City. (Which is a research library, not a circulating one.) The main character, Raymond Ambler, curates the library's crime fiction collection; he's also a "doggedly curious fellow" and an amateur sleuth. So when a writer is murdered at the library, Ambler can't resist poking his nose into the matter. What he uncovers is past scandals and old rivalries, professional jealousy, greed, unexpected connections, murderous secrets and a growing list of suspects. Who knew the bookish world could be so dangerous?

What can I say? With a plot that includes two murdered writers, some clever librarians, one dedicated homicide detective, a couple of runaways, an all-knowing Irish bartender and a few surprises along the way, this is a winning mystery. I really liked Ambler and his fellow librarian and friend, Adele; they're both fun, engaging characters. The dialogue is great. And I loved the setting. This was a very entertaining find from the L shelf. I can't wait to read Lehane's next Raymond Ambler mystery.

Happy Reading!

P.S. If you do read this book, ignore the sentences that didn't make sense because they were missing a word, or had an extra word that didn't belong, or even had the wrong verb tense. Unfortunately, I noticed several mistakes like that as I read this book. Makes you really miss the days of editors.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Baby Doll

"I hadn't been ruined by the world yet. I was pure. Untouched....And I was all his. A girl who would never say no. I was the girl who obeyed his every request. I was his perfect, obedient baby doll."

Lily Riser and her identical twin sister, Abby, are inseparable. Even when they argue, which is quite often, they always make up. Until the day Lily doesn't come home from school. Abducted and held captive for eight years, Lily finally manages to escape her kidnapper and return home. Only she's not the same. She has a six-year-old daughter named Sky now; she also has scars and memories no young woman should have. But she's home with her mother. And with Abby.... Only they're not the same either.

Hollie Overton's Baby Doll has a lot of similarities to Emma Donoghue's Room, but the twin connection between Lily and Abby puts a unique spin on an otherwise familiar premise. The narration alternates between Lily, Abby, their mother, and Lily's abductor, but I actually didn't mind the alternating view points. In fact, the shorter chapters help keep the story moving at a pretty fast pace. Lily was my favorite character, and the majority of this book is her story. But how her abduction affected her twin sister adds an interesting layer. Some of Overton's choices at the end bugged me a little bit, but not enough to ruin the rest of the book. Overall, I enjoyed this psychological suspense novel; it's compelling without being dark or graphic, and it focuses on the characters and their efforts to keep moving forward with their lives rather than on what Lily endured at the hands of her captor, which I appreciated. I hope Overton writes many more.

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Loving Arches...

"Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit,
and as vital to our lives as water and good bread."
--Edward Abbey

Pine Tree Arch

I was only about six years old the first time I visited Arches National Park in southeastern Utah.  After far too many years away I finally went back last week with my sisters. And despite the cool temperatures and even colder wind, this place was even more amazing than I remembered.  Here are some of my favorite sights from my short spring break trip to one of the prettiest national parks in the United States.

Double Arch

These sandstone cliffs
burnished red by wind and time--
fragile bridges to the sky.

Delicate Arch

"Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear (but) the earth remains ... and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break. I sometimes choose to think that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun."
                                --Edward Abbey

And while I didn't see any new birds on my trip to add to my
life list, I did see quite a lot of ravens. They criss cross the skies
above the crowds and through the arches like we are merely
trespassers in their world of sun and rock and sky. I loved them.

Happy Dreaming!

Related reads:
     Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
     Arches National Park by Day & Night (photographs) by Grant Collier

Friday, April 7, 2017

Lovett's Latest:

10 Reasons to read The Lost Book of the Grail:
      *  A literary quest
      *  A lost manuscript
      *  An ancient secret
      *  A hidden treasure
      *  A mysterious saint
      *  Crypts and codes
      *  Humor
      *  Mystery
      *  Friendship
      *  And Romance!

Arthur Prescott, who loves books and all things King Arthur, teaches English at the University of Barchester, but he is happiest in the Barchester Cathedral Library with its ancient books and manuscripts. He hopes to solve the mystery of Saint Ewolda, and maybe find the Holy Grail, too, which he believes is hidden somewhere in the Barchester Cathedral. Then Bethany Davis, a younger American woman, shows up at Barchester in order to digitize the library's manuscripts and turns Arthur's world upside down. Together they embark on a quest to find the lost Book of Ewolda, decipher the secrets it contains, and hopefully follow it to the Grail.

Charlie Lovett skillfully weaves together the present and the past in this engaging literary mystery. And he sets it all in Anthony Trollope's Barchester, which makes it even better. I love the way Lovett writes. And I really liked Arthur and Bethany--the sparks between them, their disagreements and witty banter, and the way they worked together to unlock the secrets of Barchester Cathedral. And though it never upstages the mystery, I liked their romance, too. The Lost Book of the Grail is a very enjoyable read....though I think I still like Lovett's previous books just a little bit better. But that's only because they are ALL so good.

Happy Reading!

Previous novels by Charlie Lovett:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Piece of the World

I love when fiction and art combine. Andrew Wyeth is one of my favorite American artists, and Christina's World is one of his most recognizable paintings. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline is the fictionalized story of Christina Olson, the woman who inspired the painting. She and Andy Wyeth met one summer in Maine. He was a young man soon to be married; she was a middle-aged spinster. And yet, as Wyeth himself said, when they met "there was a very strange connection. One of those odd collisions that happen." Their quiet friendship deepened over the years as Wyeth studied and sketched her house and the fields around it; he even took over one of her upstairs rooms from which he worked and painted every summer for twenty years. But this book is not about Wyeth. It's about Christina:  her childhood, her physical infirmity, her family, and her hopes and disappointments. It's a lyrical and fascinating portrait of the unassuming woman who inspired a masterpiece. This is an amazing read, so beautifully written, and interesting, and quietly compelling. I loved it. A Piece of the World is historical fiction at its best.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Short Poems I Love...

      Between the moon coming out
      And the sun going in, --
      the red dragonflies.

The Coyote in the Zoo
by William Stafford

A yellow eye meets mine;
I suddenly know, too late,
the land outside belongs
to the one that looks away.

     I felt like kissing swords                                   
     because their glimmer                            
     reminded me of your smile.           
 --Antara  (Pre-Islamic Knight Poet)

by William Stafford

They operate from elsewhere,
Some hall in the mountains--
quick visit, gone.
Specialists on branch ends,
Craft union. I like their
clean little coveralls.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Girl Without a Name

We call her Jane, because she can't tell us her name. Can't or won't, I'm not sure. She lies in a hospital bed, a strangely old expression upon her teenaged face. We don't know her age either .... Jane Doe is our mystery.

Doing her rotation in the children's psych ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman does everything she can think of to bring Jane Doe out of her catatonia and help her regain her memory. But Jane's progress seems to be one step forward, two steps back. Then there are Zoe's own problems:  the recent death of her mother, her ADHD, and her current probationary status with the hospital. And while Dr. Berringer, her attending, seems supportive, Zoe suspects that he's hiding a serious problem of his own. Plus, the detective on the case keeps telling Zoe to stay out of his investigation, but she just can't help looking for the truth about Jane Doe on her own.

This character-driven mystery by Sandra Block is her second with protagonist Zoe Goldman, her flawed and imperfect yet ultimately appealing and likeable heroine. (And you don't need to read the first one in order to enjoy this one; I didn't. Though reading any mystery series in order is probably best.) I liked that this story took place in the psych ward of a county hospital, and I thought Jane Doe's case was interesting. And while this book reads fast, I didn't find it super suspenseful. Still, I have to admit that I didn't see the ending coming. All in all, The Girl Without a Name is a fun read. I'll definitely be going back to read Little Black Lies, Block's first Zoe Goldman novel.

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 27, 2017

A fun fantasy...

Title & Author:  Nightlife by Rob Thurman
Genre:  Urban Fantasy
Setting:  New York City
First lines:  Most kids don't believe in fairy tales very long. Once they hit six or seven they put away "Cinderella" and her shoe fetish, "The Three Little Pigs" with their violation of building codes, "Miss Muffet" and her well-shaped tuffet--all forgotten or discounted. And maybe that's the way it has to be. To survive in the world, you have to give up the fantasies, the make-believe. The only trouble is that it's not all make-believe. Some parts of the fairy tales are all too real, all too true. There might not be a Red Riding Hood, but there is a Big Bad Wolf. No Snow White, but definitely an Evil Queen. No obnoxiously cute blond tots, but a child-eating witch...yeah. Oh yeah.  There are monsters among us. There always have been and there always will be. I've known that ever since I can remember, just like I've always know I was one. Well, half of one anyway.

My thoughts:  Meet Caliban Leandros and his older, very protective, half-brother, Niko. For years they've stayed one step ahead of Cal's monstrous father and the other supernatural beings like him. But now the Grendels have caught up with Cal, setting a trap for him that he might not be able to escape. And suddenly the fate of the human world depends on whether or not Niko can win the fight of Cal's life.

Talk about a roller coaster ride of magic and mayhem! This book is a lot of fun. Mostly because of the relationship between Cal and his brother, Niko, and also because of Cal's smart-ass attitude. They're quite a pair; they reminded me a little of Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural. But they're not all Nightlife has to offer. There's also a seventeen-year-old psychic, a puckish fellow named Robin, and a grundle of Grendels. Thurman's created a memorable cast of characters in this very entertaining and fast-paced fantasy. I can't wait to check out the sequel.

Happy Reading!

Similar books:
    Charming by Elliott James
    Something From the Nightside by Simon R. Green
    Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Friday, March 24, 2017

A bookish update...

Just finished reading:

(I loved this book! Set in Salem, Massachusetts, this mystery dealing with witches and three murders in the more recent past is every bit as good as Barry's The Lace Reader.)

Just checked out of the library:
The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block
Moonshine by Rob Thurman
Indiscretion by Jude Morgan
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
Where Angels Rest by Kate Brady

Love this quote:
"It would be a good thing to buy books if one could also buy the time to read them; but one usually confuses the purchase of books with the acquisition of their contents."

Love this bookish tee:

And also this one:

Am looking forward to:  
My upcoming spring break and being able to spend a few days
 in Arches National Park with my sisters. Gotta love those red rocks, blue sky and sunshine!

Up next:

Happy Reading!

P.S. You can find the above tees at this website along with several other fun bookish gift ideas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Language of Sand

"We was a term she hadn't uttered in a while. For Abigail, there was no more we. To her, we meant her family, her husband and son. Her main frame of reference was as we:  We bought a new house. We're having a baby. We're going out to eat. Now all that remained was I. It was the second of only two one-letter words in the entire dictionary, the first being A. Each was defiantly singular. The language would be nothing without them. Abigail felt she was nothing without we. She missed we." 

When life as she knows it ends one night in heartbreaking tragedy, Abigail Harker seeks refuge at the lighthouse on Chapel Isle, a secluded island in North Carolina's Outer Banks. It was where her husband loved to go as a boy. Where she hopes to be able to grieve in peace. But the caretaker's cottage isn't exactly the haven she thought it would be:  it's isolated and rundown, very rundown, and it's also apparently haunted by Wesley Jasper, the former lighthouse keeper who experienced his own tragedy in 1902. And while many of the islanders are friendly and welcoming, some are not. And the words that Abby once loved as a lexicographer seem to have failed her. For there are no words to deal with her loss. Still, she's doing her best to keep moving forward. But then there's a rash of robberies on the island. And an approaching hurricane. And Abby begins to think coming to Chapel Isle might not have been such a good idea after all.
"Whether you stay here in Chapel Isle or take the next ferry home, it won't make a bit of difference. It's like trying to serve two masters. You've got the grief and you've got your life. The one you choose to serve is up to you."
 I loved this book:  the lyrical writing, the exploration of words and language, the quirky cast of island characters, and Abby's own reinvention of her life. Ellen Block is an amazing writer, and The Language of Sand is a magical story full of hope and heart. There's nothing I would change about it. Best of all, there's a sequel:  The Definition of Wind. 

Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bookish Art for March...

Lovis Corinth -- Girl Reading, 1888
I love books. I love that moment when you open one and sink into it;
you can escape from the world into a story that's way more 
interesting than yours will ever be.
--Elizabeth Scott

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A bookish confession...

I love disaster/survival books, both fiction and non-fiction. Reading about how ordinary people manage to survive in impossible situations from plane crashes to blizzards to massive power outtages has always fascinated me. Each story makes me wonder if I'd be able to survive something similar, and how I would go about doing it. So when I saw Jim Cobb's book Prepper's Survival Hacks:  50 DIY Projects for Lifesaving Gear, Gadgets and Kits at the library, I couldn't resist checking it out. And it's awesome!

Did you know a child's crayon can be used as a candle? Or that with a little Vaseline and some cotton balls you can make your own firestarters? Or did you know you can build a buddy burner out of some corrugated cardboard, melted wax and an empty tuna fish can? There are SO many cool DIY projects in this book; I want to try them all! I've been working on my own personal Bug Out Bag all week (which is just your basic 72-hour emergency kit packed in a backpack), and I think this weekend I might  try turning an empty Altoids tin into a candle. Or maybe my own small survival kit. So if you're secretly a prepper at heart like me, give this little book a read.

"Fair warning, though:  Not only can this stuff be fun, 
it can be downright addicting."

Happy Prepping!

Some of my favorite survival stories:
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
One Second After by William Forstchen
Stranded by Melinda Braun
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Trapped by Michael Northrup
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mist of Midnight

"All the while, someone here in England had also
claimed to be Rebecca Ravenshaw."

I love a good Gothic mystery,  especially when it has a touch of romance in it.  The plot of this one revolves around Rebecca Ravenshaw, a daughter of missionaries who was raised in India. Newly orphaned, she's just returned to her family's estate in England only to discover that there was another young woman claiming to be Rebecca Ravenshaw who arrived there before her. A young woman who subsequently died at Headbourne House and was hastily buried at midnight. Now everyone at Headbourne suspects that the real Rebecca is an imposter. And there's no one to verify her claim. Only a distant relative, Captain Luke Whitfield, who's handsome and charming, but not necessarily trustworthy; after all, he stands to inherit her estate if she can't prove she is the real Rebecca Ravenshaw. And if she does, will her fate be the same as the imposter's?

My thoughts:  I had a lot of sympathy for Rebecca's plight. Aside from Mrs. Ross, Rebecca's elderly chaperone (and Rebecca herself, of course), I didn't feel like I could trust any of the other characters in this book. Not even Capt. Whitfield. Which definitely added to the tension surrounding Rebecca's situation. I especially didn't like her French maid. And no one in the household ever seemed willing to tell her the whole truth about the imposter and what happened to her. Rebecca herself had a lot of pluck; I liked that she never lost her head even while she was losing her heart.  My only complaint is that this story didn't read as fast as I think a Gothic mystery should; in fact, there were times that it dragged a bit, but maybe that's just because I was so impatient for everything to be resolved one way or another. Towards the end, this book felt more like a Gothic romance than a suspenseful Gothic mystery, but overall, I ended up really enjoying Sandra Byrd's Mist of Midnight. 

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bookish Gold...

Looking for some bookish gold? 
Try one (or more!) of these eight "gilded" reads:

1. The Gilded Lily by Helen Argers
(Think Edith Wharton but with a happier ending!)

2. A Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont
(This is a very fun mystery set among the moneyed elite of Newport, Rhode Island.)

3. The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray
(Set in 1871, this YA gothic revolves around two American siblings 
and the grand estate they unexpectedly inherit in England.)

4.  The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
(Anita Hemmings must pass as white in order to attend Vassar College
in this well-researched historical fiction novel.)

5.  The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey
(This is the first book in Bailey's 'Lady Fan' mystery series.)

6.  In a Gilded Cage by Rhys Bowen
(Spunky Molly Murphy is back to solve another mystery.)

7.  Gilded by Christina Farley
(This YA fantasy is set in modern-day South Korea and has 
an engaging heroine named Jae Hwa Lee.)

8.  The Gilded Age by Mark Twain
(No one makes fun of America and Americans like Twain!)

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Reading Barbara Pym

Whenever I try to describe the plot of a Barbara Pym novel it never sounds like much. For example, Less Than Angels is about a group of anthropologists living and studying in London. There's Deirdre Swan, a first year student, Mark and Digby, two grad students hoping to get field grants, and Tom Mallow, the handsome one who's just returned from a two-year stint in Africa. And I mustn't forget Alaric Lydgate, also back from Africa, recently retired from the Colonial Service because of ill-health, and living next door to Deidre.  Tom lives with Catherine Oliphant, a writer, and is working on his thesis. Then he meets Deirdre. Who meets Catherine. Who meets Alaric. And none of them are ever the same again.

See? It doesn't sound like much, does it? But somehow, with her wit, charm, and keen insight into human nature, Pym can take the simplest of plots and turn it into a delightful story that sings. Less Than Angels is no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed this "simple" novel. But the best way to appreciate Pym's genius is to experience her writing and wit for yourself. So here are a few of my favorite Pym-isms:
"She sometimes felt, as she climbed the worn linoleum-covered stairs, that she was worthy of a more gracious setting, but then there are few of us who do not occasionally set a higher value on ourselves than Fate has done." 
"There are few experiences more boring and painful for a woman than an evening spent in the company of one man when she is longing to be with another."
"Deirdre, like Tom, was tired after the long walk and was glad when the time came to go to bed and dream about him. But dreams can seldom be arranged as we wish them, and Deirdre's were of Digby Fox, of all people." 
"The day was coming to its end, and although it had been tiring and upsetting it had at least been full and that, she supposed, was all to the good. Pain, amusement, surprise, resignation, were all woven together into a kind of fabric whose colour and texture she could hardly visualize as yet."
 Happy Reading!

Bookish bonus:  Since I pulled this book off my TBR shelf I get to count it as one of the ten books I'm reading for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge.
Books read so far:  3.  Still to go:  7.

Other Pym posts:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A bookish journey to Zimbabwe...

Title & Author:  The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
First line:  I knew there was something not quite right about Dumi the very first time I ever laid eyes on him.

Summary:  Vimbai is the best hairdresser in Harare and all her customers know it. Then handsome, smooth-talking Dumisani comes along and dethrones her. "To be dispensable is a woman's worst nightmare and I was beginning to live it."  Despite her jealousy, Vimbai can't help liking Dumi. She even offers to rent him a room in her house. And for awhile, she thinks their friendship might become something more, until she discovers the secret he's been keeping. "I shall regret the next thing I did for as long as I live."

My thoughts:  What I loved about this novel is how Huchu so deftly intertwines Vimbai's story with that of Zimbabwe's. Not only do you get to know these unique characters, but you get a taste of Zimbabwe, too--its language, customs, culture, problems and political woes. I thought it was interesting how so many of the characters in this novel were still influenced by the English even though they'd won their independence from Britain years earlier. Huchu doesn't dwell on the past, but the past influences these characters' lives in many ways.  There isn't a happy ending for anyone in this book, but it is so worth reading. Vimbai and Dumisani are two characters who will stay with me for quite some time.

Title & Author:  The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe by Douglas Rogers
First line:  I was five thousand miles away, drunk and happily unaware at a friend's birthday party in Berlin, when I learned that the first white farmer had been murdered.

Summary & thoughts:  This well-written memoir explores the other side of Zimbabwe's complicated history--that of the white farmers. Rogers focuses on two of them: his stubbornly independent and resilient parents. Born in Africa, they weathered Zimbabwe's War of Independence, raised their children, built up a successful tourist lodge in the hills above Mutare, only to see it all threatened by Robert Mugabe's second land grab in the early 2000s.  Rogers meets former soldiers and young guerillas, black farmers, members of the MDC party campaigning against Mugabe, old friends, and of course, other white farmers who have lost their homes and farms and are just struggling to survive.  What comes through most of all in this humorous yet poignant memoir is how much all of these people love their homeland.
"...my first love is Zimbabwe. This is where my heart is, this is where my blood is, this is where my roots are, this is where my children were born. My Zimbabwe..."
 This is an incredible story, and reading it right after reading The Hairdresser of Harare made it even more meaningful. Both of these books are amazing, and read together offer quite a picture of this complicated land.

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Coming Attractions...

Some of my favorite authors have new books coming out this year and I'm very excited!
 It all starts tomorrow with Charlie Lovett's newest:

Then, on March 7th, comes the next Mercy Thompson novel by Patricia Briggs:

And in April there are new releases coming from both C.S. Harris and Elliott James:

Sadly, I have to wait until September before the newest suspense/thriller from Sharon Bolton hits bookstores here in the U.S.A., but I'm definitely looking forward to reading this one, too:

Now if only they would set a release date for Simone St. James' next novel life would be perfect! So, what coming bookish attractions are you looking forward to in 2017?

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 24, 2017

A bookish gem...

"All towns need a bookshop."

But what Broken Wheel, Iowa, really needs is Sara Lindqvist. She's a bookish, quiet girl who prefers books to people, but who has come all the way from Sweden to meet her pen pal, Amy Harris, only to arrive on the day of Amy's funeral. Luckily for her, the residents of this shrinking town are determined to make her feel welcome and wanted. They get Poor George to chauffeur her around town, they treat her to lunch, let her stay in Amy's house, and even try to set her up with Amy's handsome nephew, Tom. In an attempt to repay their many kindnesses, and to honor Amy's memory, Sara opens up a bookshop on Main Street, filling it with all of Amy's books. Now if only she can convince the residents of Broken Wheel to read them.

This story has everything I love:  pen pals and letters, good books, humor, charm, friendship and romance, heart, and a town full of quirky, fun characters. I loved it! Seeing the town pull together on Sara's behalf was very entertaining, and her effect on each of them, especially on Tom, made me smile. This bookish gem is a novel I would happily buy and read again and again; it's that good!

Happy Reading!

Similarly delightful reads:
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Carved in Darkness

       It was October first.
       Sabrina rolled over and stared at the wall. She knew the date. Not because she'd checked her calendar or because the leaves on the trees outside her bedroom window were turning from green to gold. No. It was because she hadn't been able to take a deep breath for weeks now. The feeling that someone was watching her. The long hours stretched between the setting and the rising of the sun spent wandering her silent house, kept awake by the certainty that if she closed her eyes, she'd never be able to open them again. That was what told her what day it was.
      Fifteen years ago, today, she'd been kidnapped. Held for eighty-three days. Raped. Tortured. Left for dead in a churchyard.

Carved in Darkness by Maegan Beaumont is such an intense read it left me breathless. And the killer who is after Sabrina is downright scary. Be warned, the bits with him in it are pretty dark and graphic. Luckily, most of the book centers around Sabrina Vaughn, who has managed to stay off the killer's radar for the past fifteen years. Until now. Someone's tipped him off that she's still alive, and now he's determined to get her back. At any cost. As for Sabrina, she's a lot stronger now, but still a bit broken inside:  she's a homicide detective who's afraid of the dark and who has a hard time trusting anyone, including her partner, and an even harder time admitting she might need some help. That's where Michael O'Shea comes in; he's after the killer, too. And at first he wanted to used Sabrina as bait, but now he just wants to keep her safe.

This book definitely qualifies as a thriller. It's very suspenseful and Beaumont does an excellent job of maintaining that tension from the first page to the last. It's not a perfect read, some of the things about Michael's situation felt a little far-fetched, and Sabrina's roommate and younger siblings had such minimal roles I wondered why they were there at all, but overall I ended up liking this book a lot, although I could have done without all the language in it, especially all those F-bombs. But if you don't mind that...

Happy Reading!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

February's Bookish Art...

Jean-Jacques Henner -- Woman Reading
"Lost in a book is a great place to be found."
-- Shannon Taylor Hodnett

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Another serendipitous find from the M shelf...

Title:  Arrowood
Author:   Laura McHugh

Then:  "My little sisters were neither alive nor dead, hovering somewhere in between, in the hazy purgatory of the missing. I had been the sole witness to their kidnapping when I was eight years old, and I had spent my childhood wondering  if the man who took them might come back for me. He was never arrested, and no bodies were ever found."

Now:  Leaving her master's thesis unfinished, Arden Arrowood returns to her family's ancestral home, Arrowood, in Keokuk, Iowa, to the very house from which her twin sisters disappeared seventeen years ago. The house itself feels the same, and Ben Ferris, her first love, still lives nearby, but so many other things have changed. Even her memories of that fateful September afternoon when Violet and Tabitha went missing don't feel so reliable any more. And when Josh Kyle shows up investigating the mystery of her sisters' disappearance for a book he's writing, Arden can't help wondering where the truth actually lies. Only not everyone in Keokuk wants her digging up those long-buried secrets from the past.

My thoughts:  What a great read! I loved McHugh's words and imagery, and the way she builds such quiet suspense all the way through to the end of the book. And her characters are very well-written:  Ben and Josh are likeable, Heaney, the care-taker, is a little creepy, Arden's mother is so passive and superficial it made me want to slap her, and Arden herself, who hasn't been able to move forward or find her own happiness because of what happened to her sisters and her own sense of guilt over it, felt very authentic and real. I liked her a lot. I would definitely recommend this mystery to anyone who enjoys a good story.

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Bookish thoughts...

On Wives and Daughters.
I still haven't read this Elizabeth Gaskell novel, but I did see the BBC version of it a couple of weekends ago, and I really enjoyed it. The characters are great, especially Roger and Molly. In fact, Molly reminded me a lot of Fanny Price, Jane Austen's unheralded heroine from Mansfield Park. I even liked Cynthia, Molly's outspoken and flirtatious step-sister. Sometimes a good movie-version of a book makes me feel like I no longer need to read it, but this one just made me want to read the book even more.

On books and art.
You know I love me some art, especially when it's bookish art, which is why I do an art post every month. And why I couldn't resist buying this book:  Women Who Read Are Dangerous written by Stefan Bollman. It is full of amazing art with paintings by a variety of artists from Charles Burton Barber to James Tissot. Every page offers a different painting of a woman reading. So, if you want to see some great art, check this book out. Or just stay tuned ... I'll be posting some of my favorites in the coming months.

On reading to your children.
In Amanda Ripley's well-written and well-researched The Smartest Kids in the World, she makes this statement:  "When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading all around the world....Read to your kids!....Could it be that simple? Yes, it could."  Just something to think about.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Some bookish happiness...

Sometimes I just want a book that not only makes me smile, but that ends with a happy sigh. Drops of Gold does both. Written by Sarah M. Eden, this Regency romance has endearing characters, a nice dose of humor, and a happy ending. Is it perfect? No. Is it predictable? Yes. Do either of those things lessen its enjoyability quotient? Not for me.

Want a brief summary?  Newly orphaned and now penniless, 19-year-old Marion applies for the job of governess at Farland Meadows with a forged letter of recommendation and an assumed name. As Mary Wood, her job is to take care of young Caroline Jonquil, whose widowed father, Layton, is haunted not only by grief, but by guilt. Marion does her best to bring joy to both Caroline and her father, never intending to fall in love with Layton Jonquil--not just because he's her employer, but because she has secrets of her own. Only Layton is a hard man to resist. I bet you can guess the rest. The thing that makes it fun is that Layton's six brothers show up in some of Eden's other novels.

So, there you have it. My happy book of the week. The one that made me smile and sigh at the end. But as much as I liked Drops of Gold, I have to admit that I liked Eden's The Kiss of a Stranger and Seeking Persephone even better. So you might want to start with those.

Happy Reading!

Monday, February 6, 2017

A bookish journey to South Sudan...

"After two hours, the sounds of attack faded. I took stock of my situation. I had just turned 13. I was naked. I carried no food or water. My village had been destroyed. I had become separated from my mother and siblings. Armed men who spoke a foreign tongue combed the forests and grasslands, and if they found me, they would most likely kill me. The only good thing I could imagine was that I might be safe for awhile ... It was then that I realized the man who sat beside me was not my father."

God Grew Tired of Us is the memoir of John Bul Dau, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. His Dinka village was attacked by the djellabas, Arab militia, when he was just 13. He escaped to a refugee camp in Ethiopia almost 300 miles away. Then, when Ethiopia erupted into its own civil war, John and tens of thousands of other Sudanese refugees were forced to flee again, this time to Kenya. There in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, John went to school where he learned to read and speak English and even earned his high school diploma. He was brought to America in 2001 where he had to learn to adapt to an entirely new way of life. John's refugee story is a truly amazing one. He survived the bullets and beatings of his enemies, hunger, thirst, disease, fear, and even crocodiles in his long journey from Duk Payuel in South Sudan to Syracuse, New York. And throughout it all, he never lost his faith in God or his hope for a better life.

I loved this book. It's very well-written, and it gave me a much better understanding of and empathy for refugees throughout the world.  John Bul Dau has such a resilient spirit. I really admired  his optimism, and his gratitude, and the way he and the other Lost Boys worked together and helped each other to survive. Even in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances, John stayed true to the values of his Dinka heritage. And he never gave up. That's what makes his story so remarkable and inspiring...and so worth reading.
"In the 19 years since that August night, as one of the 'lost boys' of Sudan, I have witnessed my share of death and despair ... (but) I know that I have been blessed and that I have been kept alive for a purpose. They call me a Lost Boy, but let me assure you, God has found me."
Happy Reading!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Lost by Michael Robotham

I slump back in bed, smelling bandages and dried blood. Holding up my hand I look at the gauze bandage, trying to wiggle the missing finger. How can I not remember?... For me there has never been such a thing as forgetting, nothing is hazy or vague or frayed at the edges. I hoard memories like a miser counts his gold. Every scrap of moment is kept as long as it has some value....Now for the first time I've forgotten something truly important.

Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz is fished out of the Thames with his ring finger missing, a gunshot would to his leg, and no memory of how he got there, or what he was investigating when he got shot. He thinks it might have to do with Mickey Carlyle, a little girl who went missing three years earlier, but he can't remember anything else. Luckily, he has Ali Barba, a fellow police detective, and psychologist Joe O'Loughlin to help him follow the clues, retrace his steps, and figure it out.

Whenever I'm in a bookish funk, I know there are certain authors I can count on to pull me out. Michael Robotham is one of those authors. I like his main characters, and he always weaves together a complex page-turning mystery. And his books never disappoint. Lost is the second book in his Joe O'Loughlin mysery series, and is told from Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz's POV, which made for an interesting change from his other books which are told from Joe's POV.  And while I've been reading (and enjoying!) these books out of order, it's probably best if you read them through from the start. My favorite so far is Say You're Sorry, but I've liked every Robotham novel I've read. Which is why he's become one of my go-to authors.

Happy Reading!

Another favorite Robotham read:

Monday, January 30, 2017

Bookish first impressions...

Books with great first lines grab me every time; here are a few books I've recently read where the lines that followed were just as good as the first:

Our Dragon doesn't eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
(A truly magical read; just check out Melody's review if you don't believe me.)

There were plenty of good ways to die.
Cold Copper by Devon Monk
(This is the third book in Monk's Age of Steam series were steampunk fantasy meets the American Wild West. Cedar Hunt, the main character, and Will, his brother, are great!)

By the time Gib Cameron found us, my sister and I were failed southern belles who could no longer count on the kindness of strangers.
When Venus Fell by Deborah Smith
(An enchanting Southern blend of romance and mystery.)

The grave stones were black.
Legend in Green Velvet by Elizabeth Peters
(One of my favorite Peters' mystery; plus, it's set in Scotland!)

The winter rain slashes at my face like icy razor blades, but I don't care.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley
(The fabulous and funny Flavia de Luce is back!)

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Bookish thoughts...

On Herta Műller's The Land of Green Plums.

The First Line:  When we don't speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.

Set in Romania during Ceauşecu's reign, this story follows four college friends over the years as they endure searches, interrogations, and the rising tides of fear brought on by the oppressive society in which they live. They hide their poems, guard their conversations, and use secret codes in their letters. They're assigned jobs after college, then those jobs are taken away. And they each dream of escape.

"Back then, when Edgar, Kurt, Georg, and I were still students, there were lots of things we saw in the exact same way. But bad luck fell on each of us differently, once we were scattered about the country. We remained dependent on one another. The letters with hairs in them only served to let each of us read his own fears in the handwriting of another...Each of us imagined how we might desert our friends by committing suicide. And we each accused the others--without ever saying so--of being the sole reason for our not going through with it. In this way, we each became self-righteous, armed with a ready silence that blamed the others for the fact that we were each still alive instead of dead.

This book drew me in with the first sentence and didn't let go until the last. It's a challenging, yet compelling read, with a narrative style reminiscent of two of Virginia Woolf's novels:  Jacob's Room and The Waves--which means this novel isn't exactly simple or straight-forward, but if you have a little patience, all the pieces do eventually come together. Műller's storytelling is unflinching, and sometimes heartbreaking; there's also a lot of poetry in her prose. To be honest, when I decided to read this book, I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it, or even get through it, but I ended up really liking it! So here's to another outstanding read in 2017.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dance Night

Like Stella Gibbons and Barbara Pym, Dawn Powell is an author whose novels are often overlooked and underappreciated. Born in Ohio in 1895, she moved to New York City in 1918 where she lived and wrote until her death. Dance Night is her third novel; I've had a copy sitting on my shelf gathering dust for almost two years. I don't know why I let it sit so long. I love the way Powell writes! And I have to say, I spent a very happy weekend immersed in the lives of young Morry and Jen and the other characters living in Lamptown, Ohio. Here's a small taste of this American classic:

"Morry leaned far out the window and looked above and below, but there was no woman in the sky nor any sign of a miracle for blocks around. Girls from the Works in light dresses wandered, giggling, up and down the street waiting for the Casino Dance Hall above Bauer's to open, farm couples stood transfixed before Robbin's Jewelry Store window, the door of Delaney's Saloon swung open, shut, open, shut, releasing then withdrawing the laughter and the gaudy music of a pianola. Everything was as it was on any other Thursday night in Lamptown."

"Suddenly he thought he had lived over stores long enough, he wanted someplace to stretch his long limbs, someplace where he belonged...Morry felt homesick for spacious houses set in spreading lawns fringed with great calm shade trees--he was homesick for things he had never known, for families he had only read about, he missed people--old friends that had lived only in the novels he had read." 

"The Chicago train thundered by with a fleeting glimpse of white-jacketed porters and lit-up dining cars. Morry and Jen watched it hungrily, they were on that train whizzing through Lamptown on their way to someplace, someplace wonderful.... The train went ripping through further silence leaving only a humming in the air and a smoky message painted on the sky.  Morry and Jen looked quickly at each other--this was the thing that always bound them--trains hunting out unknown cities, convincing proof of adventure far off, of destiny somewhere waiting of things beyond Lamptown..."
 Happy Reading!

Backlist Reader Challenge Update:  2 books read, 8 to go.

My 5 favorite Dawn Powell novels:
     The Locusts Have No King
     Dance Night
     The Wicked Pavilion
     The Happy Island
     A Time To Be Born

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Bookish Art in January...

Franz Eybl - Girl Reading, 1850
"A mind that is stretched by a new experience
can never go back to its old dimensions."
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, January 19, 2017

From the M Shelf...

"...it's the people that matter."

Partitions by Amit Majmudar

1947 was a turbulent time for Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus in India--the summer of Partition when Pakistan split away and one country divided into two. It is into this maelstrom that Majmudar sets his characters:  Sonia and her twin boys, Shankar and Keshav, whose Brahmin-born father, though dead, still watches over them; Simran Kaur, a young Sikh girl whose own father would rather see her dead than defiled; and Ibrahim Masud, an elderly Muslim doctor whose compassion sees only wounds to heal, not ethnicities or creeds.

Living in Lahore, Sonia knows she and her young sons "have to leave.  This is Pakistan now. The land meant to be pak, pure. Pure of them." But at the crowded train station, Shankar and Keshav get separated from her and must head east into India on their own.

In the Punjab, Masud watches his neighborhood as it burns and realizes "he isn't Ibrahim Masud to anyone but himself now. His profession, too, means nothing. Muslim:  that's suddenly the defining thing about him ... The official line is that he can stay if he wants or leave for Pakistan. His choice--stay here in India or shift west. Just over there. Like crossing the aisle on a bus." 

And then there's Simran, who refuses to drink the poisoned milk her father prepares for her and the rest of her family, and who must flee her own home in order to stay alive. But once on her own, navigating the refugee-filled roads and trying to avoid the men who would use her, or sell her, she begins to rethink her decision.

My thoughts:
I loved these characters, especially Dr. Masud and his stammering gentleness who "knows that caregiving is neither Muslim, nor Sikh, nor Hindu. Or rather it is all three of these." And I loved Majmudar's unconventional narrator--the spirit of the twins' dead father--who knows what's ahead for his sons and for Simran and Masud, and who watches over all of them until their journeys finally intersect. I also loved Majmudar's lyrical prose. And how much I learned reading this book about Partition and the violence that ensued on both sides during it. And to think, I almost didn't check this book out of the library; I would have missed out on so much if I'd left it sitting on the M shelf. I'm so glad I didn't. Because this book is amazing!

Here are just two of my favorite quotes from Amit Majmudar's Partitions:

How little we knew each other, though for centuries our homes had shared walls. How little we will learn, now that all we share is a border.

If there is one thing dangerously abundant right now, it is certainty. Certainty makes possible in men the most extreme good and the most extreme evil. A land like the Punjab, five rivers and three faiths, could do with a little less certainty.

 Happy Reading!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Spring Tide

     The Beach Case.
It sounded so trifling, he thought. A beach and a case. So harmless. But he himself had never called it the beach case. He thought it degraded one of the most repulsive murders he had investigated. It sounded like a newspaper headline. He himself had always referred to the case as the Nordkoster. Concrete. What a policeman would say.
     And unsolved.

This is the cold case police student Olivia Ronning decides to investigate over her summer break, partly because it's a case her father once worked, partly because the murder victim, a pregnant woman drowned by the spring tide, was never identified. But it's not an easy case on which to find out any new information; Olivia's father is dead, and the other officer who investigated the murder is missing. Still, Olivia is persistent. She even makes a special trip to Nordkoster Island. But the more questions she asks, the closer she comes to some very ugly truths...and to certain people who do not want her digging up the secrets of the past.

There are several other story lines in this Scandinavian crime thrillers: some young toughs have not only been beating up the homelss, but filming the horrific attacks to post online, and protests have ramped up against Bertil Magnuson, one of Sweden's richest and most influential businessmen, and his illegal mining practices in Africa. But while there's a lot to keep track of, authors Cilla and Rolf Borjlind do an expert job of weaving all the separate parts together into one compelling and suspenseful thriller.  I really liked Olivia as a character, along with Jelle, one of the homeless men. And I found the overall mystery intriguing. Some of the twists I guessed, but there were others I didn't. At 473 pages, Spring Tide is a long read, but it's also a good one. I never bogged down once. Here's hoping the Borjlinds write more just like it!

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wise Words...

Swedish proverb:  Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more;
whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more;
and all good things are yours.

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.
--Albert Einstein

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Service to others is the rent you pay
for your room here on earth.
--Muhammad Ali

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.
--Booker T. Washington

Happy living!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Remains of the Day

"It is sometimes said that butlers only truly exist in England.
Other countries, whatever title is actually used, have only manservants."

I've been meaning to read The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro ever since I saw the movie version of it starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. And since one of my bookish goals this year is to read books from off my TBR list, I decided it was time I finally checked it out of the library...and checked it off my list.

The book begins with Mr. Stevens setting off on a motoring trip to visit his old friend, Miss Kenton. He hopes to induce her to resume her role as housekeeper at Darlington Hall for his new employer, an American gentleman named Mr. Farraday. While on this trip, Mr. Stevens thinks back on his life and his many years of service as the butler at Darlington Hall. He also reflects on his former employer, his past interactions with Miss Kenton, and on what it means for a butler to serve with 'dignity'. It's a quiet, thoughtful, and sometimes sad novel, but for me it lacked the immediacy of story and place that the movie has. In fact, I found the pacing a bit slow at times. So, while the book is definitely good, I think the movie is better. The novel does have some beautiful writing, however. Just check out this quote:
"Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? ... Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy."
Happy Reading!

Backlist Reader Challenge:  1 book read; 9 to go.