Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fatal Winter by G.M. Malliet

Reviewed by Jeanne

Oscar, Lord Footrustle, is estranged from most of his family save for his sister Leticia and her granddaughter who live with him in Chednow Castle—and even they aren’t on the warmest of terms.  He’s getting on in years, though, and he decides it’s time to call the relatives in so he can decide how to divvy up his fortune.  The Christmas holiday finds them all living uncomfortably together, including the much younger ex-wife who feels she didn’t get her fair share in the divorce, the aging aspiring actress daughter and her “writer” husband, and two somewhat shady nephews.  The awkward situation only gets more awkward when Oscar is murdered and Leticia found dead in the greenhouse, apparently of natural causes.

DCI Cotton knows this is a case which will draw a lot of attention and he very much wants to be the one to solve it.  He may not have all the means that would be at Scotland Yard’s disposal but he does have an ace in the hole:  Father Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, who sorted out that other bad business a few months earlier.  He’s sure he can prevail on Max to do some snooping for him.

Max, on the other hand, is trying to calm his household which has been invaded by Luther, the church cat, who’s had to be relocated due to the decorative greenery installed for the holidays. Luther and Thea, Max’s faithful canine companion, are getting along like a balloon and a cactus. Max is also becoming await that he’s forming what Jane Marple would have termed “a most unsuitable attachment,” so getting out of the parish for a few days is probably a good thing.  Besides, Lord Footrustle and his sister are to be buried in Max’s church, so it’s only proper he should consult and offer comfort to the bereaved—if he can find any bereaved, that is.  Most seem only too pleased to be rid of both Oscar and Leticia.

A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet is the second in the delightful “Max Tudor Mystery” series, and while it's sometimes hard to follow a great debut, I'm happy to say that the sequel is just as good.   I praised Wicked Autumn for its humor, which still very much present in this book but isn’t quite as pronounced.  The characters were interesting and the resolution was clever.  It seemed to me that the characters were a bit better developed this time around, and I enjoyed the conclusion very much.  She puts a fresh spin on the English village mystery, retaining the charm while modernizing the concept. There’s even the occasional curse.

There’s a lovely map of the village, a helpful genealogy chart to keep track of relatives, and a brief list of characters. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

Malliet is an American who lived in England for a time.

"This book has a cat named Luther, a svelte mouser!"

"I could totally play that role!"

Monday, February 25, 2013

Irish Country series by Patrick Taylor

Reviewed by Jeanne

Ireland in the early 1960s is the setting for this delightful series of novels about the lives, loves, and ills of the good folk of Ballybucklebo in Ulster.  The story opens with Barry Laverty, a newly graduated doctor, on his way to the village for the first time.  He’s had an offer to work with the local physician, one Dr. Finagal Flahertie O’Reilly, with the possibility of joining him in the country practice.  The first meeting is not an auspicious one:  as Barry approaches the surgery, O’Reilly is tossing a man out bodily with the admonition to wash his feet before he calls again.

To Barry’s credit, he doesn’t use that introduction to flee—though he does consider it.  He soon becomes fascinated not only by the characters he encounters but the whole way of life. 

I’d had this series on my TBR (To Be Read) list for quite some time and finally got around to it.  By the second chapter I was hooked.  The stories remind me very much of James Herriot’s work.  Like Herriot, Laverty is new to his trade, eager to show off his expertise in the latest medical techniques. It takes him some time to realize that people may not appreciate medical jargon or how other circumstances may factor into a patient’s diagnosis and treatment.  This bit of “fish out of water” situation gives the author an easy way to introduce the readers to Ballybucklebo as well. There are eccentric characters aplenty, including the woman who complains of headaches two inches above her head, the self-important local mayor,  Donal the schemer,  Alec Guinness the beer drinking dog, and the good-hearted housekeeper who keeps the household in line.

There’s a good bit of humor in the books, but they aren’t silly.  Some situations evoke pathos without pity or condensation.  Some of the medical scenes can be a bit graphic but never gratuitously so.  There’s a bit of creative cursing and some earthy comments which might offend some, but there’s such a basic sweetness and decency to the stories that most are able to overcome any offense.  In fact, for me the language was one of the draws, because Taylor seems to capture the rhythms of Irish speech and the colorful phrases so well.  It was a delight to read, so.  (And no, that’s not a misprint.  It’s a tribute to the wonderful Kinky Kincaid.) He includes a glossary of terms and phrases at the end of the book.  I haven’t really needed to consult it since most meanings are obvious from the context, but it does make for fun browsing. There are always some romantic subplots and some unpleasant character will get his comeuppance.

In some of his notes about the books, Taylor freely admits that he indulges in a bit of wishful thinking, in that he has both Protestants and Catholics living in harmony.  Taylor is also the author is Pray for Us Sinners, Now and in the Hour of Our Death, and Only Wounded:  Ulster Stories, all of which tackle the complex problems of “The Troubles.”

Taylor is Irish born and is a doctor; in fact, the stories began as a humor column in a medical journal. He now lives in British Columbia.

While you don’t have to read the series in strict order, it is fun to watch the characters adapt and grow a bit and it makes it meaningful when to encounter a character or two from an earlier book.  I’ve also enjoyed watching Taylor become more comfortable and confident in his role as author. I've just read the first three so far, as I was waiting for the fourth to be returned.  As I said, it's not necessary to read in order but I prefer to do so.  Here’s a list of the books in order:

An Irish Country Doctor
An Irish Country Village
An Irish Country Christmas
An Irish Country Courtship
An Irish Country Wedding

Also, there are two books about characters at earlier points in their lives from the current series.  A Dublin Student Doctor is about Dr. O’Reilly as a young man when he was working in the slums of Dublin. While An Irish Country Girl explains the history of Kinky Kincaid, who began life as a farm girl in County Cork.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer

Reviewed by Doris

The Low country of the South has been the setting of choice by a bunch of authors over the last ten years or so. Rich with Southern tradition and legend the area  offers Dorothea Benton Frank, Katherine Wall, Mary Kay Andrews, and Carolyn Hart—among many other authors—a great setting for mystery, romance, and crazy families. Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Boil adds to the genre in a very good way. A first novel, Lowcountry Boil is a lively read with both appealing characters and enough plotting to keep you guessing until the end.  Hopefully Ms. Boyer will use this as a jumping off point for a series of books featuring this crew of characters.

Boyer’s main character is Liz Talbot. Liz’s family has always been on Stella Maris, an island just off the South Carolina coast. Led by her grandmother Emma they have helped protect the island from over-development and commercialization. Liz believed she would marry Michael Devlin—scion of another island family—and live happily for the rest of her life on her island paradise. Then, Michael betrays her and she flees the island to try and forget her first love. Liz marries then divorces when she is again betrayed by her conniving husband, but she does find a career she loves. She and her former brother-in-law set up their own detective agency. Liz discovers she is very good at being a detective and handsome Nate--the former brother-in-law –-is a great friend and all-around great person. While she misses her family and she still pines for Michael, Liz is happy with her job and life. In the middle of big case Liz’s sister Merry calls and tells Liz Emma is dead. For Liz that means returning to Stella Maris, reuniting with her crazy family, and finally confronting her lingering feelings for Michael.

The whole Talbot family is, as we say in the South, a hoot. Merry manipulates Liz unbearably using her little sister status to maneuver Liz frequently and easily. Mama is the proverbial Steel Magnolia no one crosses, and Daddy is slick as either just a good ole boy or sly as a fox businessman. Much put-upon big brother Blake is the Chief of Police of Stella Maris and he is not thrilled his younger sister has returned to embroil herself in his investigations. When Liz realizes her grandmother was murdered and she confronts Blake, he confesses he knew it was murder from the beginning and they have to figure out t who killed Emma and why. The plot thickens and twists to include a hateful cousin who is married to old love Michael, a ghost of Liz’s best friend who helps her solve the case, the slimy ex-husband, and a man who has been dead for twenty-five years.

I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the whole Southern flavor of the book was fun. The cast of characters on the island are just as eccentric and funny as Liz’s family even though they are just a tiny touch stereotypical Southern. The one thing I don’t understand is why Liz hasn’t taken Nate and wrapped him up in a big red ribbon as a gift to herself, but I suspect that may come in future books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cat Poems

Reviewed by Jeanne

Not every book is for every patron.  This is a phrase I have often repeated and firmly believe.  With this in mind, I decided I’d review a book that I thoroughly enjoyed but haven’t heard a word about from the four or five people to whom I gave gift copies.  What’s wrong with these folks? They’re all cat people, for crying out loud.  How could they not like I Could Pee on This; and Other Poems by Cats?  Maybe they just don’t like poetry.

Author Francesco Marciuliano claims to have written this book, but I suspect he actually transcribed it.  Take the poem I Lick Your Nose for example:

I lick your nose
I like your nose again
I drag my claw down your eyelids
Oh, you’re up?  Feed me

Folks, this poem had to have been written by my cat, Fred (aka Crazy Fred) who probably left out the part about drooling in my ear simply because he’s tired of hearing me say he’s a feline Basset hound.

Then there’s the poem Bigger Cat:

I’m not fat, I’m big-boned
I’m not fat, I’m a bigger breed
I’m not fat, it’s just more muscle
I’m not fat, it’s only winter weight
I’m not fat, it’s only a trick of the eye
I’m not the reason you threw out your back
But the next time you lift me,
Do so with your knees

Anyone who knows me will immediately recognize these lines as being from Melon, my plus-sized feline supermodel.
"If you let me on the computer, I could write a book too!"

On the other hand, it’s hard enough to cater to these creatures as it is. Worldwide fame would just make things more difficult, so I think I’ll just let Marciuliano continue to take credit.

In any case, if you like cats and poetry, this book should make you laugh in recognition. The well-chosen and charming cat photos do add to the ambiance. However, if you look up Mr. Marciuliano on the net, the profile photo is author and dog.  Do I sense sequel?

Monday, February 18, 2013

New New Rules by Bill Maher

Reviewed by Nancy

It is apparent from the outset that Bill Maher's ambition is to offend absolutely everybody possible within the pages of his book New New Rules: A Funny Look At How Everybody But ME Has Their Head Up Their Ass. Whatever your race, nationality, political party, weight, gender, sex, or religion, Mr. Maher will injure you and add insult to the injury before you turn the final page of his tome. If this world is made richer by the presence of individuals who don't hesitate to say exactly what they think whether or not it is kind or appropriate, Mr. Maher is certainly providing enrichment.

This reading is not for the faint of heart. There is a great deal of profanity laced with explicit sexual content.  If you are offended by bawdy swearing and bad attitude, do not get near this book. On the other hand, if you embrace irreverence, Bill Maher could be your guy.

If you aren't sure what Mr. Maher's political leanings are, it will not take you long to figure them out.

Actually, I am getting ahead of myself by reviewing New New Rules, because in 2005 Mr. Maher, political satirist and comedian, published New Rules: Polite Musings From  A Timid Observer. I thought this book was so hilarious I bought a copy. When I need a lift at home, I pause at the book shelf and read a rule or two. I guess now I need to buy a copy of New New Rules as well.

The author opines on subjects ranging from casinos, to James Bond Movies, to sex, to marriage, to politics, to schoolbooks in Texas (he says Lee Harvey Oswald was the last person to even notice that Texas has schoolbooks.)

On drugs, he writes: “I wish I had more time to go into the fact that the drug war has always been about keeping black men from voting by finding out what they’re addicted to and making it illegal.”Maher says that since the appearance of Rick Perry (remember him?) on the political scene, George Bush is now known in Texas as “the smart one.”

He also says, “This is the twenty-first century, at least in the blue states.”

The “rules” are laid out in an alphabetical format, and most of the “rules” are short and pithy. This is a book that makes me want to either laugh out loud or read out loud. If there’s no one around to read to I have to settle for laughing.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Reviewed by Jeanne

When Rebekkah Barrow was a little girl, her grandmother Maylene would take her on her rounds to visit the graveyards.  She always told her that the dead need certain things: prayers, tea and whiskey; memories, love, and letting go. She would take three sips from a flask and say, “Sleep well, and stay where I put you.”

Rebekkah didn’t know Maylene meant that literally.

It seems that in Claysville, graves do need minding or else the dead will rise, with horrific results. Let’s just say they aren’t called “The Hungry Dead” for nothing.  Traditionally, this task has fallen to the Graveminder, a woman from the Barrow family, along with the man chosen to be the Undertaker. Now something has gone terribly wrong: Maylene has been murdered and the dead are walking.  Rebekkah and her former lover, Byron, are called to assume their roles as Graveminder and Undertaker, but the two have no idea what they’re getting into, or the dark history on which their town is based.

Marr is best known for her YA horror novels such as Wicked Lovely.  This is her first foray into adult fiction and she does a credible job.  She’s created a very interesting world planted smack in the middle of our reality. It’s a little piece of the Twilight Zone where certain rules are born in the blood and those who leave Claysville will always be called back.  The book blends horror and romance to make an entertaining tale. I especially enjoyed the history behind Claysville and the descriptions of the place where “Mr. D” lives. I won’t go into further detail for fear of spoiling it for others, but it’s a very interesting world. I’m also glad to report that Marr kept graphic detail under control, letting imagination do the rest.

 I liked the folkloric feel to it all, both in the history and in the rituals. Somehow the old superstitions still resonate more with me that the more modern pseudo-scientific explanations (i.e. mutant bunnies or alien invaders or government conspiracies.)

On negative side, I got a bit tired of the way Rebekkah kept turning Byron away repeatedly even after it became obvious they were going to have to work together. I understand her reluctance, but my tolerance for delaying the obviously inevitable has worn thin in novels, unless the reasons for the delay are a lot more inventive than they are here.

There are some intriguing storylines still to be told, if Marr is so inclined, both with Rebekkah and Byron or even some of the earlier Graveminders and Undertakers. I would be surprised if this doesn't turn into a series, given the obvious thought that's gone into creating this world.  I’d certainly be willing to read another book set there, either a continuation of Rebekkah's story or delving into the lives of previous Graveminders; there were some intriguing hints dropped by Mr. D.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars by Sonia Faleiro uses the story of one young woman to examine the contradictions in modern Indian society where immense wealth and immense poverty operate side by side.  Leela is a lively, charming young woman who works as a dancer because she has very little alternative.  Then a politician tries to have the dance bars closed on moral grounds, a move which could produce disastrous for Leela.   Beautiful Thing has won numerous awards, and has been praised for both its insights into Indian culture and for the beautiful writing.  Our reviewer thought it was both heartbreaking and breathtaking.

Another somewhat mysterious world is examined in Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum.  Blum became interested in finding the physical location of the internet the data centers and information hubs as well as the places where the internet was “born.”  While the writing is suitable for non-geeks, some found it a bit dry but fascinating.

Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts takes a look at the women behind the men who helped form our nation.  Since much less has been written about these mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, Roberts relied on primary sources such as letters.  All the women are fascinating, in our reviewer’s opinion, and the book does an excellent job of informing and entertaining. Roberts covers the usual women (Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, etc.) but also some other lesser known but influential women such as Esther Burr or Peggy Shippen.

Less successful, at least to our reviewer, was Julian Barnes’ novel Sense of an Ending.  The plot concerns a middle-aged man who receives an unexpected legacy that causes him to re-examine his life and his past.  The book was described as depressing, with a main clueless main character, and a strange plot twist for no reason.

One of our reviewers who has been disappointed with David Baldacci’s more recent novels decided to re-read an earlier book she had enjoyed.  In The Winner, a down-on-her luck waitress is wins a lottery courtesy of a mysterious and sinister benefactor known as Jackson.  There’s only one caveat:  she must leave the country forever.  After a decade abroad, Luann is so homesick that she returns.  This a breach of her agreement that will bring down Jackson’s considerable wrath and results in a breathtaking game of cat and mouse. Our reviewer said this was still an outstanding book, and if someone wanted to read a book by Baldacci, this is the one to read.

Monday, February 11, 2013

What's Hot for February!

Just in time for Valentine's Day, here's a list of the most desired books as chosen by our patrons!

10. Suspect by Robert Crais isn’t a part of his very popular Elvis Cole series, but fans are lining up anyway.  This standalone novel is about Maggie, who is working her way back to normal after a traumatic stint in Afghanistan, and her new partner, LAPD cop Scott James who is trying to recover from being involved in a shooting that left him wounded and his partner dead.  Can Scott and Maggie discover who was behind the shooting?  Did I mention Maggie is a German Shepherd?

9. Shiver by Karen Robards begins as single mom Samantha tries to earn a living as a repo woman.  She finds the car she’s expected to take, but she did not expect to find a wounded man in the trunk.  Soon Sam and her young son are hostages, and ruthless drug dealers are on their trail.

8. Shadow Woman by Linda Howard has a chilling premise:  what if you woke up one morning and the face in the mirror wasn’t your own?  That’s what happens to Lizette Henry in this new thriller.  She also seems to be missing two years of her life, but has acquired some unusual skills—the kind a secret agent would have—and some disturbing memories.

7. A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson is the conclusion to Jordan’s epic fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time.”  It’s time for the final battle, and humanity’s fate will be decided.  If you’re not sure what all that means, you may want to start with Eye of the World.

6. Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton is a collection of Kinsey stories that reveal a bit more of the beloved private detective’s past as well as some insight into her author.

5. Cross Roads by William Young is the follow-up novel to the immensely popular The Shack.  Anthony Spenser is a proud self-made businessman.  While in a coma from a sudden cerebral hemorrhage, he finds himself in another world where he has a chance to reassess his life.

4. The 12th of Never by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro is the latest in the very popular Women’s Murder Club series.  Need I say more?

3. The 9th Girl by Tami Hoag has investigators Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska on the trail of a serial killer whose latest victim was an adolescent girl—Jane Doe #9.

2. Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb is the 37th book to feature Eve Dallas.  This time, Eve is investigating the case of a woman who died during what looks like a robbery gone wrong.  As most know, Robb is a pen name for the ever popular Nora Roberts.

And the most wanted book is:

Alex Cross, Run by James Patterson has the popular detective being called to case after case.  It appears no less than three serial killers are on the loose, sending the city into a panic.  If Alex isn’t careful, he may find he’s the next victim.

(Note:  I omitted The Bone Tree by Greg Iles from the list. The book is scheduled to be out December 1, 2013.)

While I don’t usually include videos, I can’t resist this time.  While the movie Ted is the most requested, only one reserve separates it from Downton Abbey Season 2. In the third spot is Downton Abbey Season 1. Even if you’ve watched the shows on PBS, it’s worth watching the DVDs for some deleted scenes.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman

Reviewed by Jeanne

Janet Laird was a child of India.  Never mind that she was born to Scottish parents, or that there’s a family castle in Scotland:  India is her home. Since her husband’s death, she’s made a good living teaching violin to the children of a nawab, a nobleman; but the children are going away to school in Switzerland, and soon she’ll be out of a job.  Her son loves living the damp and drafty castle, and is anxious for her to come there to live. Much though she loves her son, the idea isn’t appealing.  Then she receives a letter from an attorney, informing her that she had inherited some property from her grandfather:  specifically, the Jolly Grant House, near Ramachandran’s Treasure Emporium and the Royal Tailors, in the small rural town Hamara Nagar.

Janet is thrilled.  She packs up her faithful housekeeper, Mary, and her parrot, Mr. Ganguly, and makes her way to the town. At first glance, things seem less than promising.  The house has been taken over by a gang of monkeys, and will need extensive repairs.  Janet also discovers the local police chief is a bully.  But the town is vibrant, warm, and friendly, and soon she is happily settled with a make-shift family.  Then word comes that the government intends to build a dam right where the town is located.  Is there any chance they can save Hamar Nagar? 

The book’s intriguing title comes from part of the community plan to save the town.  They decide Hamara Nagar must become a tourist destination.  Janet opens a shop as “Jana Bibi,” a fortune-teller.  Mr. Ganguly acts as her assistant.

I found Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes to be utterly charming, delightful and entrancing.  I wanted to know what happened, but I also didn’t want the book to end. While the town and its inhabitants are idealized, author Betsy Woodman does let us know that there are some darker elements.  She just doesn’t let that aspect overtake the story.  This book reminds me not only of Alexander McCall Smith, but of the earlier Miss Read books:  mostly slices of life in a community where we know and like most of the characters, even the ones who frustrate us at times.  There’s Mr. Ramachandran, the effervescent owner of the Treasure Emporium; Feroze Ali Khan, the tailor who is grooming his nephew to take over the business;  Tilku, a street child, who more or less adopts Janet; Lal Bahadur Pun, a bagpipe wielding Gurkha; and most of all, Mr. Ganguly, a wise bird with a lot to say. Most of all, India herself is a character: a place of wonder, color, and beauty where cultures blend and mostly harmonize.  This is an author who knows and loves the place about which she writes.

After the story itself, Woodman includes a handy glossary of words and a wonderful section about the genesis of the book.  Woodman lived in India with her family for ten years, between the ages of six and sixteen.  She describes a bit of what life was like, which answered some of the questions I had about how authentic certain aspects might be.  She also commented on the origin of certain plot elements. 

If you love books set in exotic locales that have memorable and delightful characters, then by all means give Jana Bibi a try.  The author’s website indicates that this is the first in a series, so I’m hoping I’ll be reading more of Jana Bibi and her friends.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nevermore's Favorite Fiction: Buster the Dog, Jana Bibi, The Bookseller & more

Buster’s Diaries:  The True Story of a Dog and his Man by Roy Hattersley is pretty much as the title describes it.  Buster is a Staffordshire terrier/ German Shepherd mix who is adopted from a shelter by The Man. The setting is London in the 1990s, and is based on Hattersley’s real dog that ran afoul of Queen Elizabeth II by when he was accused of killing a goose in St. James Park.  The “memoir” is charming, clever, and sometimes quite shrewd in its observations. Our reviewer said it made for an enjoyable couple of hours.

Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman is a delightful tale of a British woman who has lived most of her life in India.  Her son is anxious for her to come to his home in Scotland, a prospect she finds rather depressing but her teaching job will be ending soon and she will need to find a place to go.  News of an inheritance in a rural area of India sends her in search of a new home.  Delightful characters and the 1960s Indian setting made this a very appealing book, recommended by our reviewer.

Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham follows the stories of three friends in a small Texas town. Trey Don and John are in sixth grade when orphan Cathy Ann Benson moves to town. The three of them form a strong bond, but as they mature, emotions become more complicated.  Then in high school, a prank goes awry and their lives spin off into very different directions.  This is a glorious soap opera, full of drama and plot twists.

Hugo Marston also hailed from Texas, but the former FBI profiler is now head of security for the American Embassy in Paris.  While buying two first editions from his friend Max, the elderly bookseller is kidnapped by at gunpoint.  Hugo finds the French police less than proactive, so he calls in an old friend from the CIA to help solve the case.  The Bookseller  is Mark Pryor’s debut, but is supposed to be the first in a series, and our reviewer found it promising.

Blaze of Glory is the latest Civil War novel by Jeff Shaara. Set during the Battle of Shiloh, Shaara has the knack of bringing history to life by letting the reader glimpse the lives of the officers and enlisted men alike.  This is the first of a new trilogy.  Shaara’s first novel was Gods and Generals, which was a sort of sequel to his father Michael Shaara’s classic Killer Angels.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Murder of the Bride by C.S. Challinor

Reviewed by Jeanne

Rex Graves, a Scottish barrister, is attending a wedding at the behest of his fiancĂ©e, Helen. The dreary day doesn’t seem auspicious for a wedding, but even so one wouldn’t have expected a poisoned wedding cake.  Rex recognizes the symptoms as arsenic, and soon becomes involved in an investigation in which the how is easier to determine than who was the intended victim or victims or if the murders were a diversion to draw attention away from another crime.

This is the fifth book in the Rex Graves series, but the first one I’ve read.  The action moved along nicely and I enjoyed the puzzle.  There were a number of twists and turns, some good misdirection, and surprises awaited until almost the last page.  I didn’t get overly fond of any of the characters, though, and there were a few expressions that made me pause.  According to the author biography, Ms. Challinor received a degree from the University of Kent, so she is much more familiar with things British than I am, but some of the phrasing seemed American to me.  The solution was very clever, but I won’t say more for fear of spoiling someone else’s enjoyment.

From this book, I don't think it's a series that needs to be read in order.  There were a couple of references to past cases but nothing that made me feel I was missing something important if I hadn't read those books.  Another plus:  the author didn't give away the solution to the previous case, so I could still read that book without spoilers.

The Booklist starred review of the first book in the series, Christmas is Murder, described it as a game of Clue or an updating of a classic locked room novel, in which suspects are paraded in one by one and clever questioning reveals motives and murderer.  I would concur with that description.  Will I read others in the series?  Quite possibly, when I’m in the mood for a straight puzzle; but if I want to read about engaging characters, I’ll choose something else.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Farm Fresh Food

Comments by Jeanne

Near the end of winter, I start craving vegetables.  I think my subconscious knows that soon the Farmers’ Markets will be open and all that wonderful produce will be available.  The catch is in knowing when some of my favorites will be at the market.  Is the gentleman with the white eggplant coming this week? What about those fabulous Mountain Climber beans?

There’s only one way to really know, and that’s to grow some of the things yourself.  Fortunately, the library has a number of books on growing vegetables in small spaces.  Here are some of our newest entries:

Many folks have heard of “square foot gardening,” but how about “square INCH gardening’?  In Fresh Food from Small Spaces by R.J. Ruppenthal takes the concept even smaller, describing how to use even window boxes to grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.  This book is very good for the “how” of constructing containers, including self-watering boxes, cold frames, etc. but doesn’t go into much detail as to specific varieties.  Still, it’s a good book for ideas, and he talks about sprouts for eating as well as for starting plants.  He even includes a few recipes.

Urban Farming by Thomas J. Fox discusses the reasons behind sustainable living before going into more practical considerations.  Don’t be put off by that first part: it really is a very good hands-on, practical book.  It contains projects with step by step instructions, a good discussion of the types of dirt for filling containers, information on good container plants and some trouble-shooting tips.  The writing is friendly but not flippant and is fairly thorough.  The color illustrations are excellent and make it all look very easy. This is a book I’d give to any friend who might want to try growing vegetables or fruits—or to myself, if I weren’t fundamentally lazy.

For the more ambitious among us—or those who want some of the ambiance of Key West-- the library has two new books on domestic fowl.  Raising Chickens for Dummies by Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow is just what we’ve come to expect from the Dummies series:  lots of good information in a readable, non-technical style and basic illustrations.  They cover choosing chickens, housing, feeding and health.  In The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery, part of the emphasis is on natural and sustainable, including using homemade chicken feed.  There are some very inventive houses (some portable) and good fencing ideas.  The book is illustrated with color photographs, including a section on butchering chickens which includes how to remove various organs.  (If you prefer chickens as pets, this might be a part to avoid.)

If your taste runs more to amusing books about OTHER people raising fowl, by all means try Bob Tarte’s Enslaved by Ducks, reviewed previously in this column.  See Kitty Cornered & Enslaved by Ducks

If you’d rather let Mother Nature do all the work, there’s The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer.  This is a guide to identifying edible wild plants.  It includes the best ways to harvest them (note:  some of the harvesting is a lot of work!), prepare and store.  The book is well illustrated with color photographs and warnings about similar non-edible plants.  Thayer is sometimes a bit dry and technical, but he does let his personality shine through occasionally.  While I don’t know that I’d eat something I found in the woods, it does make for interesting reading.  I remember hearing about many of these delicacies from family stories. I also remember reading about too many people who mistook one wild mushroom for another and ended up in intensive care or in a coffin, so I think I’ll just read about these things.