Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pumpkin Pied

Title: Pumpkin Pied
Author: Karen MacInerney
Published: September 30th 2015
Format: ebook; Kindle Edition, Pgs 29
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Series: A Gray Whale Inn Short Story

A short story that adds the perfect feel for the beginning of the fall season.

Usually I complain about half books, but since this is not technically in that category, I can just go with the flow of starting a simple short story to kick-start the autumn season. Pumpkin Pied is not intended to move the series forward or to fill in any story gaps. It is just a quick snippet to settle into with a cup of coffee and a throw blanket.

It is fall festival time on Cranberry Island and with no guests at the Gray Whale Inn Natalie Barnes is free to participate in the island’s activities this year. Unfortunately, there is some shenanigans going on with the giant pumpkin competition, stories of a local ghost and now someone has splashed the corn maze with blood and has left a pig’s heart in full view. Then things take an awful turn when there is a fire and the old feelings of the land being cursed arise again.

To top it off, the field where the activities are held belongs to a home that will soon be placed on the market and the community of Cranberry Island may soon lose this gem and the festival that goes with it. That is unless a way can be found around the sale of the property to an outsider.

As Natalie said, “Who knew that harvest festivals could be so full of drama”.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Truth According to Us

Title: The Truth According to Us
Author: Annie Barrows
Published: June 9th 2015 by Random House
Format: ebook; Hardcover, 486 pages
Genre: Fiction
Source: My thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

You might have second thoughts as you begin, but I recommend that you stick with this long and meandering book. The characters take on a life of their own the deeper you delve in and when their story is over, you will miss them deeply.

Taking place in the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia during the late 1930’s, the reader is introduced to the Romeyn family. Told mostly through the eyes of young Willa and her aunt Jottie Romeyn, you see a family that loves deeply but yet there is tragedy that they must face.

What brings it all to the forefront is Layla Beck, the daughter of a U.S. Senator who has been banished from her family when she turned down a marriage proposal that her father thought was ideal for her. Layla had other ideas and now has to face the cold cruel world without her family’s money or influence.

During the depression, the Federal Writers’ Project created jobs that would help bring the realities of the time to the rest of America. Layla, now ensconced in the Romeyn’s home is to write the town’s history for their upcoming sesquicentennial.

Sparks fly when Layla moves into the Romeyns’ home, she sees first-hand this town’s many eccentricities and has to carefully balance each story’s truth. Having to battle both its people and her own family back home, Layla is determined to succeed. With her digging, old wounds are revealed and both Jottie and Willa will be the ones that suffer the most.

Like most families, there are secrets and tragedies. Felix Romeyn, the single father of Willa and Bird, is a gone a lot, though that does not mean that he cannot manipulate from afar. He loves his daughters, and they love him desperately, but there is more to his story.

Twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn, with her feisty spirit and indomitable curiosity, is very reminiscent of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. She loves her life, but when the realities can no longer be ignored, she must fight with everything she has to keep her family together. This will have a lasting effect and to see her spark of ferocity and devotion leave her will bring the reader to tears.

Jottie Romeyn is Felix’s sister. Eighteen years ago, she lost the love of her life and since that time, she has shut herself off. Her whole world now revolves around taking care of her nieces. When the past is finally exposed, decisions have to be made. Can she forgive? Does she have a choice? If there is a choice, will she make it?

The time and the place of this book is as much a character as any one living human being. Each person had a role to play and it is up to each character to perform their assigned part or to break from their character and live another life that was being offered. Not everyone is that strong. Not everyone is able to give up their comfort and challenge the future. When it comes to family, can you separate loyalty and the truth? Sometimes you have to make you own truth and make the best of what is left.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Serpent's Tooth

Title: A Serpent's Tooth
Author: Craig Johnson
Published: June 4th 2013 by Viking
Format: Hardcover, 335 pages
Genre: Police Procedural
Series: Walt Longmire #9

Granted, from time to time Craig Johnson takes a windy route to tell a story and A Serpent’s Tooth is no different. What begins with a Mormon “lost boy” arriving in Absaroka County looking for his mother ends with an illegal oilrig going up in flames and bullets and knives flying.

You also have to throw in a man that claims to be a 200-years-old that has quite a unique story and who seems to show up at the most interesting moments. All the while, Walt and his regulars are dealing with a polygamous compound that is hiding secrets and a few bodies. Oh, but we are not done yet – it appears that the CIA is involved because someone in this ragtag group was once an agent who seems, as a defense mechanism, to have forgotten who he really is. Confused yet?

You can just feel the author’s mind turning as he is trying to meld the different parts of this story. Bring in a “lost boy”, add a little conspiracy, a dash of frontier justice, a smattering of backward thinking, a whole mess of cover-up, then spice it up with attitude and just as you think it is finished, throw in a twist that brings Walt Longmire to his knees.

I enjoy the books so much more than the television series. When it comes to a Walt Longmire book, there are multiple layers. The people, the places, the situations and most importantly the humor that gets the sheriffs of Absaroka County through the most harrowing of situations. I once read that Craig Johnson has more book ideas then time, so I know that I will be inglook forward to whatever it is that he has planned for this group.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Place We Knew Well

Title: A Place We Knew Well
Author: Susan Carol McCarthy
Expected Publication: September 29th 2015
Format: ebook; Hardcover, 272 pages
Genre: Fiction
Source: My thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group - Bantam Dell for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Intense and poignant, melding fact and fiction, leaving the reader with an ache and a tremendous feeling of loss. Sarah Avery’s life did not work out the way that she had planned. She was going to study opera and have a life. She had grace and the voice of Lauren Bacall. That all changed when her sister Kitty became pregnant, Sarah had to forget her dreams. As their mother said, someone had to become the sacrificial lamb. Sarah is now married to Wes Avery, a Georgia farm boy who after returning from the war owns a gas station in Orlando, not too far from the McCoy Air Force Base.

The old anxiety and depressive fears are returning to Sarah. A Place We Knew Well is taking place during the Thirteen Days in October when the Cuban Missile Crisis is looming heavy over the nation. Sarah is already fragile with the impending doom and alcohol and Nembutal are no longer taking the edge off.

As the missile crisis is gearing up and ¬¬Kitty reentered their lives, though they had been told that she had died years before, the Avery family is spinning out of control. There is one part of their daughter Charlotte’s life that has been kept a family secret and that is about to be revealed. The Avery family cannot withstand any more devastation but that seems to be where they are headed. The older seventeen-year-old Charlotte gets the more independent she is, the more potential for disaster Sarah sees and she cannot allow this to happen.

As Wes tries to keep a firm grip on his family, he sees that everything is slowly running through his fingers. As he goes through the normal motions of everyday life, he knows that nothing will ever be the same. Feeling hollow and helpless against the slow steady drip of rising dread, Wes takes on each new disaster until there is no more strength within him. He realizes that he can no longer help his wife and if he does not make the right choices, he too will lose his daughter Charlotte.

This is a sad book, a book that is surrounded by the death of hope. Sarah has to grieve the death of a dream. Wes has to mourn the simple sweet life that they had – how could he have not seen what was coming? Charlotte, the one innocent in this whole story, has to mourn the mother that she loves but at the same time, never knew. Each having to face what hurts more, the truth or the lie.

How do you grieve a dream? The person that you thought you were, the life you thought you had. Try to figure out where you came up with the idea that you could dream, plan, buy, or will into existence a life without suffering. The answer – in any way you must.

For Charlotte and Wes, the world was saved but their family was lost. As I said, this is a sad and heartbreaking book.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Hidden Secret

Title: A Hidden Secret
Author: Linda Castillo
Published: June 2nd 2015 by Minotaur Books
Format: Kindle Edition, 74 pages
Genre: Short Story / Fiction
Series: Kate Burkholder 6.5

A short story that falls after “The Dead Will Tell” and before “After the Storm” tells the story of an hours old infant abandoned on the doorstep of the Amish Bishop of Painters Mill, Ohio.

Knowing the implications, Police Chief Kate Burkholder is called in and within days, the whole story is revealed. A sad tale of young love. A story of hope. An inevitable ending that brings peace to a family that has been hurting for their own lost child.

Short stories are not for everyone. Rarely do they move a series along, but sometimes they are just what you need. A filler before you take on another book that will lead you in a different direction from the last book that you had read. I love Linda Castillo’s writing. She gets to the heart of the story without all the fluff that other writers feel that their audience needs.

If you have not had a chance to reader the Kate Burkholder series, please start with “Sworn to Silence” and you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Casual Vacancy

Michael Gambon .... Howard Mollison Julia McKenzie .... Shirley Mollison Abigail Lawrie .... Krystal Weedon

I gave up reading the book about a third of the way through. With 25-ish characters, I had a hard time keeping everyone straight. Knowing that I needed more of a visual approach, I switched over to the video. Granted, keeping the characters straight was easier, but still, the overall story was not that entertaining.

Pagford is a village in turmoil since the push to move the lower classes out and a high-class spa in. The village council is divided, but when Barry Fairbrother dies and his seat on the council becomes available through a casual vacancy chaos ensues. To complicate matters further, the town explodes when videos and gossipy blog postings run rampant exposing what the members of the council would like to keep hidden.

Multiple stories abound with the town’s people fighting amongst themselves, children battling their parents and at the same time, central character Krystal is trying to save her mother. Add in strong women trying to man-up their husbands and a second stage has been set with nothing is as it seems in this idyllic village.

Abigail Lawrie is a fantastic actress and to be honest she is the only reason that I continued with the second and third episode. She carries the whole series with her honesty and vulnerability. Julia McKenzie is a deliciously evil mother-in-law with her snide comments and pixie smile. Then there is Michael Gambon, how could you not love his pretentious character; he is what drives most people to do the most awful things.

Based on a 500+ page book, I am sure that much was left out of the series, but what was included showed a very sharp picture of how things are never what they appear. Not a miniseries that I would recommend, but if you do chance watching, do it for Abigail Lawrie alone. She is the one shinning things in this adaptation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Circling the Sun

Title: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Published: July 28th 2015 by Ballantine Books
Format: eBook; Hardcover, 384 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: My thanks to Netgalley and Random House - Ballantine for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Years ago, I read West with the Night by Beryl Markham and the feel of it has always stuck with me. I could not quote specific parts of the book just that it was a remarkable read and both the feel and the woman have stayed with me.

After bringing Ernest and Hadley Hemingway to life in The Paris Wife, I could not wait to see what Paula McLain could do with Beryl. A woman most notably known as the first woman to fly a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic from east to west in 1936. There is so much more to this woman. Beginning with the fact that her mother abandoned her when she was just four years old only to return sixteen years later assuming that her daughter would take care of her and ending in her final years in her beloved Kenya.

Growing up an ex-pat in colonial Kenya in the early 1900’s on her father’s horse farm in the Rift Valley, 100 miles north of Nairobi, taught Beryl about the people and the place that she would always call home. It taught her courage and strength and to know that she was her own person. She never limited herself by thinking that a woman could not do something; she just had to find her own way and prove that it could be done and that she was the best choice. Whether that be the first certified female horse trainer at the age of 18 in Africa or a record breaking aviatrix – she was a feminist before the word was even invented.

There was a rivalry with Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, the author of Out of Africa, when it came to Denys Finch Hatton. The ex-pat community was small and insular so affairs and rumors were part of everyday life. Unfortunately for Beryl, people were more interested in her personal life than her public accomplishments. There were husbands, there were affairs, but that should never undermine her achievements as an individual.

Beryl Markham never fit into the world that was designed for the women of her time. She was too determined and too unwilling to be held back by the limitations of her class or gender. She was a fascinating woman growing up in a fascination time that she was determined to make all her own. Paula McClain brought Beryl alive a second time for me showing once again the courage a woman can have when the other options do not feel right.

Friday, September 4, 2015

One Pot, One Bowl

Title: 4 Ingredients One Pot, One Bowl: Rediscover the Wonders of Simple, Home-Cooked Meals
Author: Kim McCosker
Published: February 12th 2013 by Atria Books
Format: Paperback, 208 pages
Genre: Cookbook

I admit I was curious as to how four ingredients could create a simple main course that would be palatable. Not that I am a food snob, but I like to cook and rarely do I find simple recipes that pack enough flavor.

Kim McCosker reinvents easy main courses, but for me, they are lacking in flavor depth. Granted, the beginning of the book states that salt and pepper are not included in the four ingredients, but then again rarely are there any other seasonings listed. You will have to dress up each according to your personal likes. For instance, her version of Sloppy Joes includes ground beef, onion, bell pepper and ketchup. That is it. For me, even with salt and pepper, there is no flavor.

I would consider the recipes here as a starting point. There are some very good ideas and the pictures really give you a feel of how they should look, but it will be up to you, as an individual, as to where you want to take them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Curious Beginning

Title: A Curious Beginning
Author: DeAnna Raybourn
Published: September 1st 2015 by NAL/Penguin
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery / Romance
Source: My thanks to Netgalley and PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.
Series: Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1

Is it possible to be in love with a character after just one chapter?

Veronica Speedwell is attending to the funeral of Nell Harbottle, a woman that was not her aunt though that was a title that she had claimed for herself out of convenience. Both Nell and her sister Lucy had taken in Veronica and reared her though she was a foundling, orphaned and illegitimate. The small family moved a great deal when the gossip became too much and if it were not for the kind and loving nature of Lucy, now deceased, Veronica would have been the victim of the resentment that Nell had felt at the exclusion from the Christian folks that she had so longed to be a part of.

Veronica’s wit is biting and a bit crass for the time, but I am completely entertained by her. She never intends to shock anyone, it simply happens. She speaks her mind and lets the cards fall where they may and from the looks of it, it is a habit that she does not tend to curb.

For a woman of her time, she is direct and determined to be a mistress of her own fate. Being an obstinate and willful child has prepared her for her future – lepidoptery and her next butterfly expedition where she has found that men can be just as interesting as moths. Making it a rule that she never got involved with English men, foreign trophies were collected and quickly forgotten once she returned to England.

Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach comes to Veronica’s aid and in doing so, she has embarked on the single most significant decision of her entire life. She is a woman in search of an adventure. Little did she know that this adventure would culminate in death and finding out her true heritage.

With Max now unable to continue helping, she has been placed in the care of Stoker (Revelstoke Templeton-Vane) a man with his own troubled past. They are quite a partnership – when one sees the forest the other studies the trees. This does not mean that they are constantly battling. There will always be a feisty discussion and a battle of wits, there is a strange connection that is not yet finished.

The first book in a continuing series will have you wanting to read more. From the main characters on down, they are well drawn and quite colorful. You will find yourself laughing at the banter and at a point or two gasping. This is the first book that I have ready by Deanna Raybourn and I am so glad that she has created a world that I look forward to returning to.