Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Reinhart

Reviewed by Jeanne

Cherry Tucker is back in her hometown of Halo, Georgia after earning a degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design, hoping to earn a living with her art. Alas, commissions are far and few between, so when she hears that the Bransons want a portrait of their son Dustin she grabs her portfolio and makes her pitch. The fact that Dustin is deceased and his stepmother thinks a coffin portrait would be nice doesn’t faze her—well, not much, anyway. Not as much as finding out that her rival Shawna, a “smooth-talking Amazonian poacher who wrestled me for the last piece of cake at a church picnic some fifteen years ago,” is going after the commission as well and Shawna’s penchant for hearts, polka dots, and curlicue letters has made a mighty favorable impression on the bereaved.

To make things worse, Dustin’s stepbrother Luke is back in town. Luke has the knack of turning Cherry into a puddle of butter and then sticking her with the check at the local Waffle House. Cherry’s strong resolve to have nothing to do with him doesn’t last any longer than her Las Vegas marriage to another local hunk, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to resist—for a couple of minutes anyway.

Cherry isn’t really interested in who brained Dustin in the garage. She just wants to get a paying job, even if it means sneaking into the funeral home after hours and doing her sketches for the portrait. Then someone bashes her over the head and ransacks the funeral home, making it seem that Cherry is adding grave-robbing to her resume. A girl just has to clear her name, doesn’t she? So Cherry starts asking questions, and gets answers that involve things like meth labs and illegal poker games.  This has the unfortunate side effect of drawing some unwanted attention Cherry's way.

Then there’s Cherry’s family who, as the T-shirt says, put the fun in dysfunctional. Her sister Casey is a waitress at the local diner and cooks fried chicken that would make Col. Sanders look for a day job, while brother Cody is a typical car-crazy young man with a collection of them up on blocks. Grandpa is a retired farmer who likes to keep his goats around, especially Tater who thinks Cherry’s beat up truck is a rival that needs to be butted into the next county.

Portrait of a Dead Guy is a good, light mystery with an entertaining heroine and engaging cast. Larissa Reinhart knows her Southern landscape—she even mentions Bristol Motor Speedway—but she doesn’t lay it on with a trowel. There are some moments that are a bit over the top, but it’s all in good fun. Two points stood out for me: the first is that Cherry doesn’t set out to solve the murder and really doesn’t care who offed Dustin, which is a refreshing change from most amateur sleuths. Secondly, the sections in which Cherry talks about art show a true passion for form, color, and composition, giving some needed heft to her character.

The second book in the series is titled Still Life in Brunswick Stew and is due out in May 2013. My name is on the reserve list.

If you like your mysteries down home, with an impulsive heroine and a cast of characters, this might just be your cup of sweet tea.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nevermore: Jefferson, Boy Kings, and More

History seemed to be Nevermore’s theme this week.  The first book mentioned was Your Inner Fish:  A Journey into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin.  Our reviewer found it a fascinating look at how various human organs and structures have their beginnings in very different forms of life:  a fish, a sponge, or a fly.  Shubin is a paleontologist and professor of anatomy, but the book is written so that a layperson can understand it.  Another member decided to read it as well.

A Cultural Handbook to the Bible by John J. Pilch is a collection of essays which tries to expand our understanding of the Bible by explaining the culture at the time.  Our reviewer wasn’t certain that was relevant; that it was written so that it would be applicable no matter the time or culture.  Other members found it to be both entertaining and enlightening.

Two new books about Thomas Jefferson also drew comments. In Master of the Mountain:  Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,  author Henry Wiencek makes a compelling case that Jefferson had realized that agriculture was not the way to wealth.  Breeding and selling slaves was far more profitable.  Our reviewer noted that this is not the picture we like to see of Jefferson, but it’s important that people see historical figures in full context.  Jud mentioned the award-winning YA book Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, which dealt with Jefferson and his relationship to his slaves in a fictionalized way, but fiction backed up by much research.  Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson:  The Art of Power is a more conventional portrait, emphasizing the intelligence, the passion for the new nation, and the appreciation for fine things, like books and wine.  Our reviewer called this the traditional view, seeing Jefferson as a product of his time.

Stranger to History:  A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands by Aatish Taseer is a book that’s both personal and global.  Taseer’s mother was Sikh, but his father was a Pakistani Muslim.  After his father’s assassination, Taseer embarked on a tour of Islamic countries as a way to try to understand his father and his father’s faith.  Taseer offers some fascinating insights into the various cultures and beliefs. The author is a journalist who has written for Time, The Financial News, and Esquire.

Our last reviewer was impressed by Domingo Martinez’s memoir of growing up Mexican in Texas in the 1980s.  In Boy Kings of Texas, the reader is introduced to a macho culture that often lures young men into traps, causing them to repeat mistakes.  Even with the same country of origin, the Texas Mexican community is far different than its California counterpart, but both struggle with identity as both Mexicans and Americans.  The book serves as both a coming of age story and a sociological examination of a culture.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough

Reviewed by Jeanne

I’m a fan of some of the old mystery authors: Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, and others. One of my all time favorites was Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe, the overweight orchid aficionado, gourmet, and avid reader who solves mysteries while seated at his desk drinking beer. Wolfe’s aversion to doing investigations in person meant he had to have an assistant. Archie Goodwin acts as Wolfe’s eyes and ears. He’s a wisecracking and energetic, and never misses a chance to thumb his nose at certain cops whom he feels don’t deserve their badge. In short, Stout melded the gentleman detective genre with the hard-boiled school to produce a wonderful hybrid.

Unfortunately, Rex Stout died in 1975, which meant no new adventures from him short of a seance. In 1986, with permission from Stout’s estate, Robert Goldsborough wrote Murder in E Minor with Archie and Wolfe investigating the murder of a conductor. Goldsborough’s mother had been a fan of the series and he’d begun the story to entertain her. He went on to write six more, with the last one appearing in 1994. As someone pointed out, the story about a murdered writer who was continuing the series of another author seemed to be a good tongue in cheek way of ending the series.

I’d read several of Goldsborough’s books and while they weren’t quite up the originals, they made for a pleasant diversion. I hadn’t thought of them in some time, until 2012 saw publication of  Archie Meets Nero Wolfe. I liked the idea of finding out how the first meeting of these two played out-- or at least one writer's view.

Archie is fresh off the farm, albeit with a two week diversion to college, and trying to make his way in the big city. He gets a job as a night watchman, but that job ends when he shoots two people. Although the Crash of ’29 is still a couple of years away, the economy still is tight for young guy looking to do more than wash dishes. He meets up with aging private eye Del Bascom and offers to work as an assistant for next to nothing. Then they’re called in to help with a huge case: the young son of a tycoon has been kidnapped, and Nero Wolfe is on the job. Wolfe suspects an inside job, but the tycoon is sure all his employees are loyal. The police aren’t to be brought in, but they’re plenty suspicious of Archie and company, especially after they’re spotted in the vicinity of a murder. Not coincidentally, the murder occurs just where the ransom money was to be dropped.

There have a been a lot of post WW I books lately, but most of the ones I’ve read are either set in Europe or else are America as seen through immigrant eyes. Archie is originally an Ohio farm boy, and while he's a bit of a greenhorn, he’s neither awed nor cowed. He knew he was looking for a faster paced life and quickly adapts. Prohibition is still on the books, but that doesn’t mean the booze doesn’t flow for those in the know. The plot is well done, complete with the standard Wolfian gathering of suspects for the denouement. The characters are serviceable. Sometimes a line or two wouldn’t ring quite true, but since it’s been several years since I read Stout’s work I don’t know if that’s a true impression or false memory.

Frankly, I enjoyed the book. If you haven’t read Stout’s work this makes a nice introduction.

Of course, I read a few online reviews and was a bit dismayed to find that most of the criticism was of the nit-pick variety. For example, one searched for references to the kidnapping case (mentioned in passing in Stout’s works as an early case) to conclude that it couldn’t have happened in 1926.Don't get me wrong:  I do understand many fans' desire for absolute fidelity to the original and to a point I'm sympathetic.  On the other hand, if I held for absolute authenticity in any work by another author, I would have missed some very fine Sherlock Holmes stories written by Laurie King, Nicholas Meyer and others.

This brings me to the question I had pondered: would non-Stout fans like this book? My answer is yes, and probably more than the avid fans looking to pounce on every variation from the original books. If you like period mystery pieces with a bit of the hardboiled about them, then give it a try or just go straight to Rex Stout’s books.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll add that I enjoyed the A & E Nero Wolfe, even if the actor playing Wolfe didn’t match the one I’d imagined. Tim Hutton was a dandy Archie and the series was fun. They took liberties but caught the spirit, at least to my way of thinking; much more so than the short-lived NBC series in which Wolfe was secretly a softie.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hail to the Chiefs by Barbara Holland

Reviewed by Nancy

History can be fun. No, no, I'm not kidding. If you did not enjoy history in school, here's your second chance. You can have fun reading some history and there will not be a teacher lurking about, waiting to give you a grade.

The book you need to read is Hail To The Chiefs by Barbara Holland. Ms. Holland, who died in 2010, was an author and essayist who lived in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

If Ms. Holland had not been busy writing, she could have come down from the mountain and been our stand-up history comic. I am not kidding. Her book offers a summary of presidential mischief, quirks and accomplishments from George Washington to Ronald Regan. The book also includes entertaining tidbits regarding presidential wives.

Barbara Holland definitely had a way with words. A great deal of this book, which devotes a few pages to each president, is laugh out loud material. As she states in her discussion of Millard Fillmore, "in the nineteenth century, whenever anything happened the bystanders got together and formed a political party about it." Fillmore was a member of the Anti-Masonic Party, and the author sums him up in this way:  “He wasn't a bad man - in fact, he quite nice. He was just wrong a good deal of the time.” She further states, "In July of 1850 Millard Fillmore found himself President and hit his stride at being wrong."

Or try this tasty tidbit. "James Monroe is remembered for the Monroe Doctrine, which some consider John Quincy Adam's finest achievement."

On Abraham Lincoln she states, "Lincoln never had much fun being President because of the Civil War all the time. It was all ready to roll when he took office, and five days after it was over he was dead as a duck. He had the war, the whole war, and nothing but the war."

On James Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, and the run up to the Civil War she gives us the following:  “He thought if he just sat still and kept his mouth shut, things wouldn’t fall apart until he could hand them over to the next man and run like hell.”

See?  History can be fun. Seriously, it would have been ok with me if this woman had taught half the history courses I ever had.

The fun just never stops. Here’s what Ms. Holland had to say regarding one world conflict: “I don’t recommend your trying to understand World War I unless you plan to make a career of it, and I don’t recommend that either.”

President James Garfield could write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other hand AT THE SAME TIME. I once worked with someone who could render backward cursive writing with her non-dominant hand, but I believe this may top that.

In the section on Ronald Regan, Ms. Holland takes five pages to render a summation of the plot of “Bedtime for Bonzo,” former President Regan’s most famous movie. I believe I have watched parts of that movie, but never the movie in its entirety at one sitting. Upon reading the plot summary I realized why. Even when I was eleven I doubt I could have gotten through it; however, I enjoyed Ms. Holland’s summary immensely.

I suppose it could be a sly “editorial comment of omission” from Ms. Holland that the movie summary constitutes the entire section on Regan. There is nothing about the Iran-Contra difficulties, John Hinckley, Jr.’s assassination attempt on Regan’s life, supply-side economics,  the invasion of Grenada, or any of the rest of his time in office.

If you think you don’t have the desire or the time to read this book, at least get hold of a copy and have a look at the portrait of Millard Fillmore. Mr. Fillmore resembles what current celebrity personality? Correct! Alec Baldwin. It's something about the eyes. Maybe also the mouth.

I felt I was astute to notice this and wondered if anyone else had, so I fooled around on the internet a little. Gee whiz. I'm not the first. If you've got a moment for some silly entertainment, plug "Alec Baldwin Millard Fillmore" into a search engine. The resemblance is uncanny.

As if the body of the text weren’t side splitting enough, most of the footnotes are a riot. I know I’ve gone on enough about all this, so I’m not going to start quoting footnotes, BUT there’s one you just have to read. It’s in the chapter on William McKinley. In the library copy of the book this is on page 174. Start midway through the fourth paragraph and read the text preceding footnote 14. Don’t worry about the context. Just read the last half of that sentence and then the footnote. HA!

I know if I can get this book into your hands you will not be able to keep from reading it, so you’d just better get in to the library and check out that footnote!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Downton Abbey still stands. . .

Reviewed by Jeanne

“… and the Crawleys are still here.”  These lines spoken by actress Shirley MacLaine summed up the feelings of millions who have been following the story of Lord Grantham's family, their friends, and their servants. While the story is more soap opera than history, the show does give viewers a bit of insight into life in the early 20th century.  Whether you’re taken by the class dynamics, the shifting social mores, the incredible costumes and sets, or the whole family saga, we have books that will add to your enjoyment. They're also a good way to pass the time if you're on reserve for the DVDs of the first two seasons!

World of Downton Abbey features wonderful color photos, additional information on the cast and characters, and an overview of British society at the time.  The informative text is by Jessica Fellowes, niece of TV series writer and creator Justin Fellowes.  There is some production information, but the book is more concerned with story and setting which makes it a treat for Downton fans.  In fact, it was so well received that a second book, Chronicles of Downton Abbey, came out in 2012.  Also by Jessica Fellowes, this book picks up after the “Great War,” as the Roaring Twenties begin.

Filming for the series is done at Highclere Castle, home of the Earl of Carnarvon.  The real family has a fascinating story of its own:  the Fifth Earl sponsored Howard Carter in his Egyptian excavations that resulted in the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. His second wife, Lady Almina, was an heiress who opened Highclere as a hospital for wounded officers during WWI.  (Downton Abbey’s Cora is very loosely based on Almina.) Her story is told in Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey which was written by Fiona Carnarvon, the present Countess of Carnarvon.

If you’re interested in the real story of those in service at the time, then try Below Stairs:  The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey by Margaret Powell.  Her personal story of life as a kitchen maid in a London house in the 1920s caused a sensation when it was originally published in 1968. It remains one of the most memorable books about the era as seen from a member of the working class. 

Unsurprisingly, the popularity of the series is inspiring other novels set in the same time period.  Ashton Park by Christian author Murray Pura is the first in a series about another family of a Great House, set during World War I.  As to jacket copy says, “Join the lords and ladies, servants, and household staff of Ashton Park as they face the perils of war and affairs of the heart.”  Just in case you don’t see the similarities, the line below it reads, “If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll enjoy your visit to Ashton Park.”

Downton viewers who tuned in early may have been attracted to “Call the Midwife,” a new series based on the memoirs of former nurse Jennifer Worth who worked in the East End of London after World War II.  At the time, about half of the births were home births; living conditions were dreadful; and medical care was scanty at best.  Worth’s book Call the Midwife became a bestseller, and it was followed by two more.  Worth was praised by the Literary Review as “a natural storyteller” and her book as being “gripping, moving, and convincing from beginning to end.”  

Monday, January 14, 2013

What the Cat Saw by Carolyn Hart

Reviewed by Jeanne

Nela Farley is adrift. She’s lost her job as a journalist and her solider fiancĂ© has been killed.  Since Bill’s death, she thinks she hears snatches of random thoughts from cats.  It started with Bill’s cat, so Nela isn’t sure if it’s her subconscious projections or if she’s just losing her mind.  She has no idea of what to do next, so when her flighty sister Chloe calls and asks Nela to fill in at her job and to cat sit for a deceased co-worker Nela jumps at the chance.  When she arrives at the apartment, Nela thinks she hears Jugs the cat mourning his late mistress—and a hint that what happened might not have been an accident:  Jugs was watching when Marion fell. When someone tries to ransack the apartment, Nela begins to wonder if the cat might not be right.

Once she starts work at the Haklo Foundation, Nela discovers that a number of disturbing incidents have occurred over the last few months, from an employee’s car being set on fire to the theft of a $250,000 necklace.  Nela really doesn’t want to become involved, but when the police seem to doubt her story of an intruder she decides she needs to start doing some investigating simply in the interest of self-preservation for herself and her sister.
Meanwhile, reporter Steve Flynn is just getting over a very painful divorce, but there’s something about Nela’s face that attracts him: she seems sad and alone. He resists, because he’s just been very badly burned by his previous relationship and he’s not anxious to risk his heart again.  Besides, Nela just seems too good to be true.

Hart is a long time mystery writer with several series to her credit. The first one I read was “Death on Demand,” the series about bookstore owner Annie Darling.  This was followed by the "Henrie O." series.  More recently, Hart has dipped a bit into the supernatural with a mystery series in which the detective is a ghost named Bailey Ruth.  The books are all what might be termed “cozies,” though Hart prefers the term “traditional mystery.”

I confess I haven’t kept up with the latest Carolyn Hart books.  The last ones I read seemed to lack that spark, a sense of fun, which kept the earlier books moving.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Hart herself was feeling a bit restless, leading to the new series.  I have mixed feelings about What the Cat Saw.  On the plus side, I liked the concept and I like the way it was executed.  Nela and Jugs don’t have long conversations. She gets flashes and fragments of what he’s thinking, but she’s left to figure things out on her own. Speaking strictly as a cat person, I would have liked to see Jugs used a bit more as a character. (I have to admit that the fabulous cover was one reason I decided to read this book.  It captures the essence of the premise perfectly.)  I also enjoyed the movie references; Nela and Chloe watched a lot of old movies with their grandmother so characters are often described as being like Jimmy Stewart in a certain movie or Van Johnson.   However, I have to say that the first part dragged a bit.  There are a lot of characters to meet in the Foundation but few of them seemed to have distinct personalities.  Also, Nela was somewhat detached from the other characters.  Her emotional relationships were mostly with people who were not present:  her sister and her late fiancĂ©.  It’s not until half-way through the book that sparks begin to fly between the equally wary Nela and Steve, but then the story does pick up.  There is a bit of repetition in the book, the most annoying of which was a line about giving someone a deadline.  There was no evidence for any such deadline; it was the merest speculation.

The resolution was a surprise. Some of Hart’s misdirection didn’t work for me, but she still managed to fool me as to who was behind it all.  While I won’t be on the edge on my seat waiting for the next one, I will give it a try.  This has the potential to be a good series.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Get Cookin'!

Comments by Jeanne

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to learn to cook, do we have a book for you!  Southern Living Home Cooking Basics:  A Complete Illustrated Guide to Southern Cooking carries the byline “great food made simple” and it tries to live up to the billing. Lavish illustrations start you off right with pictures of basic equipment with tips on what to look for when buying, then the book moves on to pictures of herbs, basic techniques such as the proper way to chop a vegetable to the names of the different cuts of meat.  Step by step instructions with photos of the process as well as the finished product make this book a real winner for new cooks or anyone wanting to improve on his or her cooking techniques.

Martha Pullen may be best known for heirloom sewing techniques, but there’s more to life than smocking and quilting.  Food, for instance!  In Martha Pullen’s Southern Family Cookbook, she collects her family recipes along with memories to make a personal cookbook.  She also encourages readers to do the same thing to preserve their favorite recipes and memories for future generations.  Some photos are included, as are Bible verses.  The book is divided up in the usual way (Breads; Soups, Salads, and Sides; Beef & Pork, etc.) and the layout is clean and easily read.

On the other hand, if you’d rather know where to eat than how to cook, you might try Chefs of the Mountains by John E. Batchelor.  This book is a combination of profile, recipes, and travel guide to Western North Carolina.  Batchelor isn’t a chef, but enjoys good food and likes finding out the stories behind some of his favorite restaurants and the folk who do the cooking.  The book is divided up by location and includes Asheville, Banner Elk, Blowing Rock and Boone.  There are some recipes included from each chef but the book is more about people and where they work. I found their stories to be very interesting; some knew from the start that they wanted to go into the culinary arts, while others stumbled into their careers. For example,  one "Deadhead" followed his love of rock climbing to NC and ended up a chef, though his first food job was at Pizza Hut.   Another has degrees in biomedical engineering and chemical engineering, but she was drawing to cooking after living in Paris. This would be a terrific book to take with you on your next NC visit!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nevermore: Bertie, Joseph Anton, Moving the Mountain, Black Box

Jud read Alexander McCall Smith’s  Bertie Plays the Blues, the new book in the 44 Scotland Street series. For the uninitiated, the stories revolve around the inhabitants of a neighborhood.  Sometimes their paths intersect but overall there are usually several stories all going on at once.  Bertie is a little boy with a genius for music.  He has an over-the- top mother who is determined to see to it that Bertie is well rounded, whether Bertie wants to be or not.  She enrolls him in various classes (yoga, music, etc.) and wants him to play with girls.  Bertie’s father is a feckless sort, allowing the mother to take the lead in childrearing.  He’s also more than a bit absent-minded.  Like many of McCall Smith’s books, the theme here is everyday ethical challenges and how people handle them.  They’re slice of life tales, day to day parables, and are utterly charming.

Moving the Mountain by Feisal Abdul Rauf asks Americans to take another look at Islam.  Rauf, the so-called “Ground Zero Iman,” argues that it’s up to American Muslims to show the way forward for the rest of the Islamic world.  He explains the tenets of Islam, making distinctions between the parts that sprang from local custom and those that are central to Islam. 

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie is a collection of essays about the thirteen years he had to spend in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him.  The title refers to the name he picked as an alias to use for his own safety, combining the names of Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.  Our reviewer felt there was too much personal information, especially about his former wives, and not enough consideration given to political, intellectual, and practical concerns.  One comment was that Rushdie was not a likeable character.

The Black Box by Michael Connelly has Harry Bosch trying to solve the twenty year old murder of a journalist who was killed during the Rodney King riots.  Most reviews have been good, but our reader didn’t think it was one of Connelly’s best.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich

Reviewed by Doris

Janet Evanovich has built up a huge fan base for her Stephanie Plum series. The incompetent lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter and her menagerie of friends are taking off on another adventure called Notorious Nineteen.  Currently Notorious Nineteen sits at #3 on the NYT Best Sellers list as proof that her fans are still buying this series even though it is a burned out mess. Unless you are a devoted fan of Evanovich’s characters, don’t bother to read this redo of everything Evanovich has been doing through the first eighteen books. (I have noticed a definite slip in the requests we get for the Plum books, but perhaps that’s just my own growing disdain for them shading my view. I like to think our patrons are much more discerning than the average reader!)

What do I mean when I say “re-do?”  Stephanie loses at least one car to a bomb or fire or in this case an RPG in every book. In Notorious Nineteen that happens about six pages into the book. No one is shocked or even mildly surprised. Of course, then Ranger loses one of his beautiful black Porsches and Morelli loses his truck to bombs or fires.  Stephanie ends up driving around in her deceased uncle’s big blue retro Buick just as she does in every book.

Stephanie regularly turns up at her parents’ home for dinner. Her mother is now drinking full glasses of “iced tea” which is really liquor, and her father is still a jerk. Grandma Mazur is still crazy and still trying to be Stephanie running around solving crimes and sleeping with hot men but she is no longer funny.  And speaking of hot men, there is still the back and forth between Ranger and Morelli although Stephanie thinks she might love Morelli and he is her future. Of course that doesn’t keep her from melting every time Ranger looks at her. Typically, Morelli wants her to give up the bounty hunting and danger and be the little wife, while Ranger lets Stephanie be herself with an occasional “Babe” thrown in when she does something really stupid.

Lula, Stephanie’s sidekick, is still eating tons of greasy food and wearing spandex four sizes too small. She still carries a gun she cannot use. She does have what may be the only adventure with some humor—it involves a nudist beach she and Stephanie must visit so they can interview a witness. Meanwhile, she and Stephanie still have some cretin of a criminal either expose himself or manage to totally outsmart them several times.

Is there anything in this book that makes it readable? Well, this one has a little mystery plot unlike most of the others. Two men with large bonds posted by Stephanie’s employer have disappeared after being admitted to the hospital with appendicitis. No one saw them leave. No one has any idea how they got out without staff or cameras recording it. One of the guys who embezzled five million dollars from senior citizens has a wife who is looking for the stolen money.  The other missing man was tied to organized crime and maybe there was a hit out on him. In desperate need of money as usual, Stephanie tries to find the two skippers. I thought Evanovich laid down a very clear track as to what happened to the missing men, and I had figured it out by the end of the third chapter.  What I thought was highly obvious just went over the heads of Stephanie and even Morelli who is supposed to be the hotshot detective.

When I finished reading Notorious Nineteen I sent an email to Evanovich saying much of what I have written here. This is the response I received from one of her assistants.

          “Ken here, Alex's assistant. I'm helping with the email.
But what about the hundreds of thousands who still buy and enjoy the books? We get dozens of           letters every day from people who tell us they love the series and the latest book. In addition, new readers are writing to us all the time who tell us how thrilled they are to have recently discovered the series. Also, the social media is humming with comments from satisfied readers. It seems to me that they'd be pretty disappointed if Janet abruptly ended the series.”

I guess I won’t be winning the Fan of the Month award from Evanovich! I don’t want Evanovich to just quit writing the series. I would like to see some growth in the characters (and the writer) that makes them something more than a waste of ink and paper. I would like to see her develop a real plot other than moving from fire to fire and bad choices. If she is going to keep writing the series then she needs to bring something more to the books than slapstick.  If she cannot do that, then, yes, end the series. Let Stephanie grow up!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Nevermore: Becoming Odyssa, Forgotten, Phantom and more!

Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis was the first book up for discussion, prompted by Ms. Davis’ appearance at the library Monday night. Over a hundred people showed up to hear her stories of the Appalachian Trail. She is the current record-holder for the fastest time walking the Trail, but her book is about her first trip, whe was just out of college and looking for direction for her life. She decided that walking the Trail would give her time to consider. She didn’t expect how much the journey would change her life.

In Phantom by Jo Nesbo, policeman Harry Hole has fled Oslo for Hong Kong, but returns to prove a young man’s innocence. Our reviewer was really looking forward to this new book in the series but said a friend had warned her that this one was slow going at first. She gave it over a hundred pages before she gave up in disappointment. She had really enjoyed his other novels, but felt this one just dragged.

Army Special Agent John Puller suspects that his aunt’s death was not an accident, so he goes into action to find out what exactly is going on in the Florida town of Paradise. This is the plot of the new David Baldacci thriller, Forgotten, and it drew mixed reviews from our members. One said it lived up to its title and would best be forgotten: she found it formulaic and repetitive. There were gangs, shooting, more gangs, more shooting, and a few beatings thrown in for good measure. Another reader enjoyed it, saying that Puller was a hero for standing up for the “Forgotten” people of the title and that it was a good, fast paced novel.

Even with winter upon us, it’s hard to keep a good gardening book down. Why Grow That When You Can Grow This? by Andrew Keys lists a number of popular plants which may not do well in a particual space (or do TOO well) and suggests alternatives to the current plant fads. Color photos and clear explanations will have gardeners making notes for spring.

In Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, author Robert Kaplan presents a survey of how geographers view terrain, climate, and physical features of a place influence people and their culture.

The book everyone was still talking about was DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes, the book which uses genetic testing to see the difference between who Americans think they are and what their genetic heritage actually is. Several members were considering checking into the National Geographic Genographic program. At least two members decided they also wanted to read the book.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Purrs of Wisdom

Reviewed by Jeanne

Since this is the start of a new year, I thought it appropriate to post my review of Purrs of Wisdom:  Conscious Living, Feline Style by Ingrid King.  Ingrid writes the Conscious Cat blog  ( which I read each morning as I drink my coffee and prepare to face the day.  She posts stories about her cats, Allegra and Ruby (who sometimes post their own opinions and stories), along with product and book reviews, and meditations about living for both humans and cats.

Purrs of Wisdom is a collection of the latter columns.  They're short, thoughtful pieces in which she writes about ways to simplify and enrich one's life. She believes that the animal-human bond is a vital element in contented living; certainly animal therapy has become an accepted practice in the US, with animals being used in nursing homes, schools, and in places where physical and psychic trauma has occurred.  For example, both dogs and cats are being employed in Sandy Hook to bring comfort. Many have a holistic slant, with an emphasis on healthy living.  Most of her observations come from watching her cats, who live in the "now," without worrying about what might be or if calamity awaits around the corner.  In the essay "Navigating Turbulent Times," she offers five practical and easily doable suggestions to keep from letting negativity from getting you down.  She is a big believer in organic food, natural healing, de-stressing, and communing with nature, be it our pets or that maple tree in the yard.  In her author statement at, she writes, "I have always believed that animals come into our lives to teach us. First and foremost, they teach us about unconditional love. But they also teach us to stretch and grow, to reach beyond our self-imposed limits, and to expand our consciousness. I've been fortunate to have a number of these animals in my life - and in my case, they've always been cats."  This is a good summation of the book's philosophy and purpose

While people who don't care for cats may find it easy to dismiss some of her suggestions or find them too simplistic, I like the book because it is casual and to the point. She doesn't try to pad the book with excess verbiage. Her mantra of "moderation" makes goals seem achievable.  There are some areas in which I don't quite agree, or else I know that suggestion isn't one I'll follow, but that's part of why I like this book:  she doesn't require that you agree with everything she says, unlike other self-help books which make the reader feel that not following the prescribed path equals stupidity and failure.  Personally, I've never found that attitude to be particularly helpful. Ingrid never scolds or lectures, but writes encouragingly, with gentleness and compassion. It's a nice quiet chat with a friend.

I've enjoyed reading this book one essay a day, much as I read the daily blog posts. One problem with doing this review is that I've read many of the entries already online; but then that's a recommendation in itself because I obviously enjoy the writing and content enough to make these essays a part of my day.  I'm a chronic worrier, and I appreciate the ideas to try to tame some of the psychic monsters.

Ingrid is also the author of Buckley's Story which tells of a very special cat in her life and the lessons she learned from Buckley.  I haven't read that one as yet because I know it's going to make me cry.  I will, though, because I like the way Ingrid tells the stories of the current cats in her life and I know I'll find Buckley's Story to be enlightening and entertaining.
Ingrid King & Amber
For more information about Ingrid King, plus a list of her recommended books (yes, there are dog books too!), visit her site  Her books are available through both as physical books and ebooks.

Full disclosure:  I was given a copy of the book to review, but that didn't affect my opinion.

Purrs of Wisdom by Ingrid King
ISBN 978-0988343702
Publisher:  The Conscious Cat