Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Last Books

Simon from Stuck in a Book started this but I couldn't stop with 10!

1. The last book I gave up on - probably The Underground Railroad for my book group.   I am sure it is well written and compelling but the first chapter was so violent and depressing I put it down until it was due at the lib.

2. The last books I reread – the entire Flambards series; how I love these books by K.M. Peyton.
3. The last book I bought for myself – The War That Saved My Life.  Initially, I read this from the library but recently I bought one copy for myself and one for my niece Katherine, who also loved it.

4. The last book I lost - I lent my hardcover copy of Betsy in Spite of Herself to a friend who was going to Milwaukee with her daughter.  I am sure it is somewhere in their house so perhaps not lost forever.
5. The last book I wrote in the margins – when I was in law school, I wrote in the margins of my textbooks but I don’t do this normally.   However, within the last couple months I came across an error in a library book and corrected it in light pencil.  Someone (perhaps not a librarian) will thank me.

6. The last book I had signed – The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968 by George Howe Colt at the Harvard Coop in November.  You can’t get an ebook signed now, can you?

7. The last book I said I read but actually didn't – The Faerie Queene - despite being a 16th century History and Lit major.  Sorry, Edmund Spenser!

8. The last book I had to replace – Autumn Term by Antonia Forest.   Both my copies are missing and although I hope they will turn up, I didn’t want to risk not being able to find one so I ordered a paperback from England several months ago.

9. The last book I argued over – Dawn’s Early Light by Elswyth Thane.   I was practically (but not quite) speechless when some of my book group did not appreciate one of my absolute favorite books.  

10. The last book I couldn’t find – I read about an Irish mystery series by Jo Spain but the first entry, With Our Blessing, had not been published in the US so I had to order it from England.

11. The last book I insisted someone read – The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen.  This is the first in a great series about two detectives.
12. The last book I gave as a gift – I like to give every reader in my family a book for Christmas.  One I gave this year was The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh, part of an appealingly repackaged Crime Classics series I saw in England (and had to restrain myself from bringing them all home) from the British Library.  I chose this one for my mother because of our trip to the other Cambridge in April.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar

Thank you to Sprite Writes for including me in the Virtual Advent Tour she has organized for four years. For those who don’t know, Advent is a liturgical season leading up to Christmas which includes the four preceding Sundays. Growing up, my family often had an advent wreath with pink and purple candles which we loved lighting before dinner.
Katherine reads the enclosed note to Winona

As an adult, my favorite holiday tradition is the Betsy-Tacy ornament exchange. Every year, the fans of Maud Hart Lovelace’s beloved Betsy-Tacy series, set in turn of the century Minnesota, participate in secret ornament exchange to honor a Christmas shopping expedition our heroines made in 1903 or so with their friend Winona Root:
There on a long table Christmas tree ornaments were set out for sale.  There were boxes and boxes full of them, their colors mingling in bewildering iridescence.  There were large fragile balls of vivid hues, there were gold and silver balls; there were tinsel angels, shining harps and trumpets, gleaming stars.
“Here,” said Betsy, “here we buy.”She looked at Winona, bright-eyed, and Winona looked from her to the resplendent table.“Nothing,” Tacy tried to explain, “is so much like Christmas as a Christmas-tree ornament.” “You get a lot for ten cents,” said Tib. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas on the Island (Book Review)

Title: Christmas on the Island
Author: Jenny Colgan
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, October 2018
Genre: Fiction
Plot: On the remote Scottish island of Mure, winter is stark, windy, and icy—yet the Christmas season is warm and festive . . .
It’s a time for getting cozy in front of a fire and spending time in the one pub on the island with the people you love—unless, of course, you’ve accidentally gotten pregnant by your ex-boss, and don’t know how to tell him. In the season for peace and good cheer, will Flora find the nerve to reveal the truth to her nearest and dearest? Will handsome but troubled future-father Joel think she’s the bearer of glad tidings—or is this Christmas going to be as bleak as the Highlands in midwinter? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Message from Absalom (Book Review)

Title: Message from Absalom
Author: Anne Armstrong Thompson
Publication: Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1975 (available as an ebook from Endeavor Press)
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Susannah Clarke is former CIA, now safely in the antiques business. On an extended group tour of Bulgaria, she encounters John Novak, once a colleague but now operating under cover. He recognizes Susannah and secretly visits her, arranging for her to receive a secret message relating to the operation he is running which must be hand delivered to the President. When Novak is killed outside her hotel, every American tourist in the vicinity is under suspicion by Novak’s enemies, which include local Bulgarians and their Russian masters. In fact, Susannah falls under dangerous suspicion and must try to outwit the brutal KGB in order to finish her vacation without further incident - if she wants to see her home again . . .

Audience: Fans of Helen MacInnes, Evelyn Anthony, Mary Stewart, Anne Stuart

My Impressions: I requested Message from Absalom from the library when I saw it had been recommended by Susanna Kearsley, an author I have enjoyed for many years (in fact, since I read about her book, Mariana and persuaded someone to get me a copy from Transworld in London nearly 30 years ago).  It reminded me a lot of the best work of Helen MacInnes, whose books I started reading in high school (another author introduced to me by my mother). MacInnes wrote 25 books from 1941 to 1984 (four of which were made into movies) about smart, attractive women who find themselves caught up in espionage and use their ingenuity to live (mostly) to tell the tale. My favorite is While Still We Live which is set in Poland (and which I just recommended to a coworker today). As mentioned above, this book by Anne Armstrong Thompson is reminiscent of MacInnes.  Thompson  is an American who earned a graduate degree at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy just outside Boston.  I don't know if she actually had espionage experience but clearly she was very interested in international affairs and that is why she applied to Fletcher.
Anne Armstrong Thompson

Susannah is an intrepid heroine but this is a very scary book, set primarily in Bulgaria, which at the time was a communist country, and I was on edge the entire time I was reading it. The fearful locals don’t interfere with the Bulgarian security police and they don’t interfere with the KGB. There are a number of men who wish Susannah ill and the reader knows, chillingly, that they could make her disappear painfully and effectively. Ironically enough, one of the threats to Susannah is an American traveling with her who thinks she can be blackmailed into sleeping with him. There are some plot developments that seem like overkill but reveal one of the book’s most interesting characters, a man involved with Israeli Intelligence, who at first seems like a possible love interest for Susannah (by this time she really needs someone on her side!). I can see why this book is a favorite of many - the chemistry between Susannah and one of the main characters is very well done, as is the ongoing tension - and I will keep my eyes open for a copy to own, as well as pursuing some of Thompson's other books (easier now that several appear to be available in ebook format).

Off the Blog: This is the week I mail (and receive) mysterious packages in the annual Betsy-Tacy Ornament Exchange!  Stay tuned!

Source: InterLibrary Loan. Thank you to the Rockland Memorial Library!

Map image copyright to

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Once a Midwife (Book Review)

Title: Once a Midwife, a Hope River Novel
Author: Patricia Harman
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Welcome to Hope River, West Virginia as midwife Patience Hester, along with her family and friends, face the challenges of the home front during World War II, in Patricia Harman's latest novel.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Start Without Me (Book Review)

Title: Start Without Me
Author: Joshua Max Feldman
Publication: William Morrow, Trade Paperback, 2018 (originally published 2017)
Genre: Fiction
Plot: This novel explores questions of love and choice, disappointment and hope in the lives of two strangers who meet by chance in a story that unfolds over one Thanksgiving Day.

Adam is a former musician and recovering alcoholic who is home for Thanksgiving for the first time in many years. Surrounded by his parents and siblings, nieces and nephews—all who have seen him at his worst—he can’t shake the feeling that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always be the one who can’t get it right.

Marissa is a flight attendant whose marriage is strained by simmering tensions over race, class, and ambition. Heading to her in-laws for their picture-perfect holiday family dinner, her anxiety is intensified by the knowledge she is pregnant from an impulsive one-night-stand.

Adam and Marissa meet in an airport restaurant on Thanksgiving morning. Over the course of this day fraught with emotion and expectation, these two strangers will form an unlikely bond as they reckon with their family ties, their pasts, and the choices that will determine their way forward.

Feldman casts a knowing eye on the traditional Thanksgiving family gathering, as he explores our struggles to know—and to be—our best selves. Ironic and sad, Start Without Me is a thoughtful and sometimes painful page-turner for the holiday season.

Audience: Fans of bleak dark fiction such as Revolutionary Road (which my book group read in 2014) or movies like Lost in Translation

My Impressions: This was a fast and somewhat entertaining read that was a vivid contrast to my family’s upbeat Thanksgiving where criticism, if any, would have been for the person (usually me) who offers to help once all the work in the kitchen is complete. I know I am fortunate in my family and it was not very appealing to read about so many dysfunctional individuals. I think I would have liked the family of Needham police the best and they were just a distant memory to Marissa, the main character. Still, it was interesting to see how these two lonely characters connect and how that fleeting intersection has the potential to change their lives – at least, we think so, although the author doesn’t make any easy predictions, leaving the reader to guess what will happen.
“Because what if I get back inside and do something stupid?”
She grinned back at him, also knowing, and a little sad. “Imagine that.
He looked at the house, looked back at her. “I feel like I’m nine again and I have to play Chopin in front of a thousand people. What am I supposed to say to them?”
“You don’t have to say anything. Just walk in the door. That’s all you have to do.”
Purchase Links: HarperCollins * IndieBound * Barnes & Noble * Amazon

Off the Blog: I was reading this dark tale of Thanksgiving over Thanksgiving weekend and at the same time as The Perfect Weapon by my talented classmate, David Sanger, which also portrays a bleak future - but under cyberwarfare rather than people warfare. It is also well written and very accessible, and my book group enjoyed hearing him speak tonight.
Source: I was provided a copy of Start Without Me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Tour Stops

November 15th: Write – Read – Life
December 4th: Comfy Reading
December 5th: Jackie Reads Books
Monday, December 10th: As I turn the pages

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Five Things

I found the missing wine in the freezer! I remember now I popped it in to chill for a few minutes before my book group arrived. . . several weeks ago. It’s lucky they were satisfied with the first bottle – usually we can polish off two to three. And also lucky it did not explode.

I just made Pumpkin Pie as well as the Caramel Cashew Bars my friend Jen served at the last Betsy-Tacy party. Cross your fingers they pass muster!
I concentrated the cashews on the left in case anyone dislikes nuts

Fun book – Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating.   

Most emotional moment: Monday night when Harvard coach Tim Murphy awarded the Yale game ball to former player Ben Abercrombie who had traveled from Alabama to Boston for The Game.

My brother’s new puppy Chloe, just eight weeks old, is the cutest dog ever. I can’t wait until he and his family go on a trip so I can puppy sit and have her all to myself.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Dangerous Duet (Book Review)

Title: A Dangerous Duet
Author: Karen Odden
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, November 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Nell Hallam lives in 19th century Victorian London with her brother Matthew, a young Scotland Yard detective. A gifted pianist, she wants to study at the Royal Academy, and to earn the tuition she has taken a position at the Octavian music hall, disguised as a man. Two men guess her secret: Jack, the taciturn son of the owner, and Stephen, a well born musician down on his luck. However, when the crime ring Matthew is investigating intersects with Nell’s theater world, she is plunged into danger and must make life-changing choices.

Audience: Readers who enjoy quality historical fiction with some romance and suspense; authors such as Tracy Grant, Kate Ross, Diana Norman (all of whom I admire greatly)

My Impressions: What a delightful story!  I don’t know how I missed this author’s debut, A Lady in the Smoke, but A Dangerous Duet is exactly the sort of book I like: well written and well researched historical fiction set in England, varied characters. an engaging heroine (you know how much I like orphans) who is poor but honest, ambitious, and loyal to her brother and friends.  For an attractive young woman to operate in disguise as a man requires suspension of disbelief but, as I always say, a talented storyteller can either charm or distract you from thinking skeptical and disruptive thoughts.  This is an enthusiastic recommendation, and I look forward to more from Karen Odden.

Purchase Links: Barnes & Noble * IndieBound * Amazon * HarperCollins

Off the Blog: It’s Harvard-Yale weekend and the 50th anniversary of the famous 29-29 tie! I ran into several members of the ’68 team at a book signing tonight and look forward to several fun days. Beat Yale!
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Review Stops

November 6th: Into the Hall of Books
November 7th: Jessicamap Reviews
November 8th: Write – Read – Life
November 9th: Literary Quicksand
November 12th: The Desert Bibliophile
November 18th: Ms. Nose in a Book
November 19th: Instagram: @biblio_files
November 21st: Reading Reality

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Spite Game (Book Review)

Title: The Spite Game
Author: Anna Snoekstra
Publication: Mira Books, Trade Paper, October 2018
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Everyone does bad things when no one is watching

Mercilessly bullied in high school, Ava knows she needs to put the past behind her and move on, but she can’t—not until she’s exacted precise, catastrophic revenge on the people who hurt her the most.

First, she watches Saanvi. Flawlessly chic and working hard at a top architectural firm, Saanvi has it all together on the surface. But everyone does bad things when they think no one is watching and Ava only wants what’s fair—to destroy Saanvi’s life the way her own was destroyed.

Next, she watches Cass. She’s there as Cass tries on wedding dresses, she’s there when Cass picks out a cake, she’s there when Cass betrays her fiancĂ©. She’s the reason Cass’s entire future comes crashing down.

Finally, Ava watches Mel. Mel was always the ringleader and if anyone has to pay, it’s her. But one tiny slipup and Ava realizes the truth: Mel knows she’s being watched, and she’s ready to play Ava’s games to the bitter end.

Audience: Fans of very dark suspense, books like The Chalk Man and I Know You Know

Purchase Links: Barnes & Noble * IndieBound * Amazon

My Impressions: Anyone who has ever been bullied or offended has contemplated revenge. Usually, the bright light of day sends such thoughts back to one’s most ignominious depths. Ava, however, is obsessed and can’t move on with her life until she has punished all of those who made her last year of high school so miserable. This poses a problem for the reader: while she was indeed unfairly tormented, her revenge plots are excessive and are hurting her more or as much as her victims, which makes it very hard to root for Ava. Why can’t Ava recognize her machinations are ruining her life? Will she survive her own plots?

Two well known revenge books are The Count of Monte Cristo and Mockingjay, third in the Hunger Games series. I was trying to think of revenge stories I enjoy and wondering if all of them threaten to destroy the life of the revenge-seeker. One frequent theme is heroine seeking to punish a man by making him fall in love with her, whereupon she will dump him. Invariably, she falls in love with him and he can’t forgive her – or at least not right away. There are also books where the hero is trying to make the heroine fall in love with him for revenge. My favorite revenge story doesn't fall into either category: The Dinosaur Club by William Heffernan, in which a man who has been downsized gathers together his fired ex-colleagues, and calling themselves “The Dinosaur Club” they plot to ruin their former employer. It’s a page-turner I recommend.

Off the Blog: In addition to finishing The Spite Game, I used this day off from work to plant tulips and catch up on The Resident, which features Matt Czuchry from Gilmore Girls.
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. You can visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:

Review Tour:

October 29th: @scaredstraightreads
October 30th: From the TBR Pile
October 31st: Jathan & Heather – excerpt
November 1st: Cheryl’s Book Nook
November 2nd: Wining Wife
November 5th: @wherethereadergrows
November 8th: Why Girls Are Weird
November 9th: Books & Bindings
Monday, November 12th: Midwest Ladies Who Lit
November 13th: @thecityofdarkclockwork
November 14th: @mountain_reader and Really Into This
November 15th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
November 16th: @novelgossip
November 20th: @bibliotrix.lestrange
November 23rd: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey (Book Review)

Title: Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey
Author: America’s Test Kitchen
Publication: National Geographic, hardcover, November 2018
Genre: Cookbook/Travel
Description: Explore Italy, region by region, and recipe by recipe with stunning photography and mouth-watering recipes.  The experts at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston and National Geographic bring Italy’s magnificent cuisine, culture, and landscapes–and 100 authentic regional recipes–right to your kitchen – or your armchair.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Massachusetts Election Haiku

Question 1

Better access to
Nurses is preferred until
Fear of high costs equals No

Question 2

Repeal Citizens
United so Koch Brothers
Can’t buy elections

Question 3

Is wrong when based on gender
Or any other time


(Gender-based identity)
Must be prevented

(Q3 needs work: the longer words are a challenge)

Early Voting

Early voting’s great
But even Nate Silver lacks
Knowledge who will win


Why don’t people vote?
When so many fought so hard
For the privilege

On Election Day
The Bay State will lead the way
Repudiating Trump

Will you vote today?
Send a message to DC
That hate won't prevail

Man in the White House
Is more appalling each day
Not my President

Politics is grim
Root root root for the Red Sox
Escape ‘till November


If the Midterms fail
To send the needed message
We’ll feel even worse

It's harder than it looks!   Anyone want to join in?

Marilla of Green Gables (Book Review)

Title: Marilla of Green Gables 
Author: Sarah McCoy
Publication: William Morrow hardcover, October 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: This book imagines the life of Marilla Cuthbert before she took in orphaned Anne Shirley, beloved heroine of Anne of Green Gables.  In 19th century Prince Edward Island, Marilla and her older brother Matthew lived in Avonlea in the newly built homestead known as Green Gables.  

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Witch of Willow Hall (Book Review)

Title: The Witch of Willow Hall
Author: Hester Fox
Publication: Graydon House, trade paperback, October 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Massachusetts, 1821
Plot: In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall. Mr. Montrose is a prominent businessman and is busy with new ventures while the women in the family have little to do but squabble.  The estate seems sleepy and idyllic, but a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia and her younger sister, Emeline.
All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, and Lydia will be forced to draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end, for good or for evil . . .  Audience: Fans of dark and haunting books such as The Widow’s House and Imaginary Girls
The Barrett House parlor
My Impressions: The premise of this book was interesting and it was certainly an atmospheric Halloween-season read as I flew from Boston to St. Louis yesterday but I couldn’t help thinking my mother’s verdict would have been: “Overwrought!” and I have to agree.  How many scandals can one family experience in a few months?  Rumors of incest, a broken engagement, mysterious sobs on the night, ghostly figures, a young lady carrying on improperly in public, another calling on a young man without a chaperon, a tragic death, an attempted suicide, a much-telegraphed pregnancy, a dramatic illness and recovery, blackmail – and that doesn’t even include finding out your ancestor is a witch or the many scandals in another character’s past (birds of a feather flock together).  I became weary of all the drama and it was not very convincing.   For example, if you know your sister is a liar and wants to hurt you, why would you believe anything she says that contradicts more reliable sources?  If you are being blackmailed, maybe it is time to stop hiding things from your father, who might be able to help (mine would have!), rather than trust someone already proven to be completely unreliable.  Perhaps better not have tossed so many elements together like a salad but woven them together more subtly or simply crafted the plot less extravagantly in the first place.
Barrett House, the inspiration for Willow Hall
The strength of the book was the depiction of the sisters’ menacing new home, Willow Hall.  It is not surprising to read that author Hester Fox based this on real-life Barrett House in New Ipswich, New Hampshire at which she interned long ago.  I liked that it had made such a lasting impression on her.   Fox writes with precision and careful research most of the time but a good editor would have replaced the jarring “like” with “as” and made a few other judicious replacements to maintain the 19th century feel.  
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes. 

Review Tour:

September 24th: Moonlight Rendezvous
September 25th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
October 2nd: Jessicamap Reviews
October 3rd: A Dream Within a Dream
October 8th: Cheryl’s Book Nook – review and excerpt
October 11th: Broken Teepee
October 15th: Laura’s Reviews
October 16th: Booktimistic and @booktimistic
October 17th: @hotcocoareads
October 18th: @bookishmadeleine
October 19th: Books and Bindings
October 19th: @bookishconnoisseur
October 22nd: Really Into This
October 23rd: Fuelled by Fiction
October 24th: Katy’s Library and @katyslibrary
October 25th: Bookmark Lit
October 26th: Girls in Books and @girlsinbooks
November 3rd: The Lit Bitch