Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman.

This novel seeped into me slowly, but ultimately, I was as utterly absorbed in it as it was in me.  Goodman skillfully mingles high-tech IPOs, motherless daughters, tree-sitting environmentalists, mystical Judaism, foodie sensuousness, and three distinct love stories--and all with none of the usual head-spinning associated with that list.  I was rapt, and truly delighted.
--Becky Dayton, The Vermont Book Shop, Middlebury, VT

Release Date:  July 6, 2010

July 13 Update:  The Cookbook Collector is sitting on my reading table.  I've fondled it, read some random pages, and my bookmark is now making its way through the pages.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank

Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank has been on the "gotta get to this book" list for some time. Now that a follow-up book, Lowcountry Summer, has just come out, I figured it was time to get to Plantation which I had downloaded to my Kindle last year.

From Publishers Weekly (via amazon)
...this colorful contemporary romance effortlessly evokes the lush beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry while exploring the complexities of family relationships. When Caroline Wimbley Levine learns that her mother, Miss Lavinia, has supposedly gone mad, she leaves the big city bustle of Manhattan and returns to Tall Pines Plantation. Caroline originally left Tall Pines to escape her feisty, eccentric mother and her drunken brother, Trip, but when Miss Lavinia dies, Caroline is forced to come to terms with her family's troubled history as well her failing relationship with her husband. As Caroline reminisces about her past rebelliousness and her childhood, she realizes that her father's sudden and tragic death many years before served as a catalyst for the family's disintegration. Caroline and Trip also learn that their seemingly selfish and self-assured mother was not so uncaring after all. While most of the story is told from Caroline's point of view, journal entries written by Miss Lavinia open several of the chapters, providing the narrative with additional texture and warmth. Although the novel is short on plot, readers will enjoy immersing themselves in the lives of these deftly drawn, heartfelt characters.

On bookshelves
Turning out lights, I looked around at what Richard and I had built in the last thirteen years. We had six rooms of travel memorabilia from our wanderings. Our bookshelves were crammed with learned opinions on every area of psychology and psychiatrics in and out of print. Those were Richard's. They were his library and his weapons. My books were on textiles from around the world, Japanese gardens, obscure religions such as the cargo cultures of West Africa. Sometimes it seemed that he focused on the mind of man whereas I studied the spirit and what man held sacred. Our bookshelves were as good a starting place as any to see the differences between us.

On a doctor's office
His walls were covered with diplomas and citations and photographs of what appeared to be open-air-market people in Istanbul and Greece. He apparently liked to travel and to read. In addition to bookshelves of reference materials on various skin diseases, he had a small collection of leather-bound old books--classics--probably first editions. He treasured books. He couldn't be all bad.

On appreciation and simplicity
But when the red ball of the sun slipped under the Edisto River that evening, I was pretty sure that life didn't get much better than being in the place you loved most, surrounded by the people closest to your heart.

Plantation was a story of a family finding its true self again after years of misinterpretations and misunderstandings. I enjoyed seeing Caroline Wimbley Levine find her heart and home, although it seemed at times that she certainly was taking a lot of needless side trips along the way.  I have put Lowcountry Summer on my library reserve list; however, I see from many reviews that this follow-up to Plantation is getting some of the same bad reviews as did Return to Sullivan's Island. Sometimes, unless it is clear that the author set out to write a series, characters may be best served by our remembering them as we last knew them in print or as we, the readers, chose to imagine what happened next.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

Dedication: For Peter

First Sentence (from Prologue): This story I have to tell you has to be true because even I couldn't make up this whopper.

Personal note: Lavinia Boswell Wimbley took a fancy to the poetry of Rod McKuen.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

John Murphy, the original "Owl"
(Rockport, MA ~ October, 1965)

In one of the stars I shall be living.
In one of them I shall be laughing.
And so it will be as if all of the stars
were laughling when you look at the sky at night.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Deadly Dance by M. C. Beaton

There are 20 books in the Agatha Raisin mystery series by M. C. Beaton (Marion Chesney). With The Deadly Dance, I now have read five--not in order. A double volume of the first two (Agatha Raisin and the Quice of Death and Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Pet) just arrived, and will be next up in my education on the life and times of Ms. Raisin.

What can we say about Agatha? You may like her, you may dislike her--either way, she's a bit addictive as a character. You want to know more about her and her men. You want to zero in on those characteristics that make her so very unlikeable--the same characteristics that keep her loyal friends close to her despite constant rebuffs and slights.

In The Deadly Dance, there is this one sentence that portrays Agatha to a fine point: "Dripping with sweat and bad temper, Agatha erupted into the entrance hall." Erupted: Yes, that's Agatha!

This fall, The Agatha Raisin Companion will be published in the UK. Early blurbs promise a celebration of all things Agatha--recipes, biographies, the Cotswolds, and, of course, Agatha's men. I'm just wondering about those recipes...those of you know know Agatha know that if it can't be microwaved, she doesn't cook it--not to mention the disasterous results when she does try to cook. How many kitchens have fallen prey to her attempts to cook a turkey?

The Deadly Dance--a quick, easy read and an enjoyable hour spent in the Cotswolds.

Rating: 3/5 (Mystery Scale)

Dedication: For Richard Rasdall of Stow-on-the-Wold, his wife, Lyn, and children, Luke, Samuel and Bethany, and with many thanks to Richard for freeing up Agatha's brain.

First line: The thing that finally nudged Agatha Raisin into opening her own detective agency was what she always thought of as the Paris Incident.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seaworthy by Linda Greenlaw

Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, described Linda Greenlaw as "one of the best captains, period, on the entire east coast."  Now, after ten years away from the helm, Greenlaw has gone to sea again and chronicles her return to the Grand Banks in Seaworthy - A Sword Captain Returns to the Sea.

From Publishers Weekly (via amazon)
After a 10-year hiatus from blue-water fishing, Greenlaw went cautiously to sea, seeking a payday and perspective on her life. Thanks to The Perfect Storm phenomenon (both book and film), she was celebrated as America's only female swordfish boat captain. She was now also a mother and an author who relished a new challenge, traveling 1,000 miles from her Maine home with an eager crew of four guys—three of them experienced sailing buddies—looking for swordfish on the 63-foot, six-and-a-half–knot steel boat Seahawk on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It was a 52-day trip—and a sensational misadventure. Nearly everything that could go wrong, did, including her arrest for illegally fishing in Canadian waters. Greenlaw chronicles it all—a busted engine, a malfunctioning ice machine, squirrelly technology—with an absorbing mix of nautical expertise and self-deprecation. After inspecting the Seahawk, Greenlaw calls it rough, but stable and capable. Then she writes, "Although I was referring to the boat, I couldn't help thinking the same could be said of her captain." From mishaps to fish tales, Greenlaw keeps her narrative suspenseful. Between bad luck and self-doubt, she moves from experience to wisdom, guiding both crew and readers on a voyage of self-affirmation.

On returning to the sea
The obvious risks inherent in commercial fishing--like those to life, limb, and livelihood--are concerns of mere mortals.  Real fishermen risk other things that are less easily explained.  In my present situation, the risks involved in returning to something I'd once felt so passionate about were many and not as tangible as fears for personal safety or pocketbook.  I risked falling out of love with fishing itself.  I'm good at catching fish.  Is this why I like to do it?  What if I were to suddenly realize that I did not enjoy the hunt?  What if I were absolutely turned off by blood and guts?  What if my heart didn't race with the tugging of a fish on the line?  And, God forbid, what if I'd lost the ability to catch fish?  My entire identity and self-definition were at stake.  Disillusionment, should it occur, would hit hard.  The half-full glass was not my style.  Perhaps the same scenario could be seen as enlightenment.  Either way I spun it, learning the truth was worth the risk, I concluded.

On making decisions
Maturity can't hold a candle to youthfulness.  Unless, I considered, it's a mental/emotional thing.  This endurance test would certainly go beyond physical.  Mentally I needed to be stronger and wiser.  Decisions were once based on gut reaction.  I'd often made the right decision for the wrong reason.  I'd done things purely from the strength of knowing that I could.  Now maybe I would be more thoughtful with the realization of the possibility that perhaps I could not.  I hoped that the past ten years had taught me something.  I must be smarter now than I was when I'd last captained a swordboat.  But what about quickness of mind?  Would I react to emergencies fast enough?  I had always prided myself on my mental reflexes in the face of danger or disaster.  I had always been confident beyond reason.  Maybe it was healthier to be wiser, more mature, and less confident.

On swordfish (vs. clams)
When I say "I love swordfish," I am not necessarily commenting on them as a meal, although I surely do enjoy them in that capacity.  Swordfish are the most interesting creatures!  They are fascinating and intriguing in their unique combination of fish and sword--like a unicorn, but real.  The facts and figures surrounding swordfish perhaps explain what makes them so worthy of my life-time pursuit of them.  The speed at which they travel, the distances they cover in their migration, and their strength all contribute to the quality most frequently attributed to them, elusiveness.  I can't imagine a life spent digging clams or trapping slime eels--they're just so...ordinary.  What's to know about a clam?  You traipse around the clam flats looking for holes in the surface of the mud.  One hole, one clam, as my Aunt Gracie used to say.  You see a hole, you dig, and you find a clam.  Big deal.  A clam does not possess the ability to dodge the digger.  Swordfish, in contrast, are mysterious and challenging and sexy.  You never hear stories about the giant clam that got away.  Clams have no personality.  You've seen one clam, you've seen them all.

On a relationship with fish
This game is a dance of sorts, or a collaboration.  We, the fish and I, both have our jobs to do.  Any given day it's a toss-up which of us is doing our job better.  Sometimes I feel like a gallant saltwater cowboy busting broncos.  Other times I just wait for my horse to be shot out from under me.  Damn fish.  I laughed to myself.  Our relationship is weirder than any I'd had with humans of the opposite sex.  And I'd had some weird ones.

On a sunrise
Darkness waded in cautiously and headed west.  Hesitating waist-deep, then plunging into the murky chill, the diving night splashed light onto the opposite horizon, which swam like spawning salmon up the riverlike sky.  The sun hatched as if it were a baby chick, pecking from within the shell until fully risen, yellow and warm, and as unsure as I was.  Quite a grand entrance....

Ahhh phrases
Ripe and one sliver shy of full, the cantaloupe moon shone a flashlight beam along our path as we steamed east through the Gulf of Maine. 
Far from worrying, I didn't have a care in the world as the Seahawk glided effortlessly along, bobbing slightly as if nodding her head or tapping a foot to some unheard music. 
My mood wasn't made any lighter by the bickering that rose from below.  The crew sounded like young brothers in the backseat on a long car ride. 
When he sang a ballad about the hardships of life at sea and harsh treatment by superiors, I felt as transparent as the gal in "Killing Me Softly."
I am a fan of Linda Greenlaw's writing and have attended three of her book readings/signings.  Each time as I sat in the audience, I marveled at the tenacity and strength of this seemingly slight woman standing in front of me.  She fishes, hauls lobster traps, cooks, manages crews of salty fisherman (some loyal and hardworking; others, not so).  And, she writes--from the most technical details on commercial fishing and seamanship, to the mysterious escapades of Jane Bunker, and finally to a turn of phrase about the moon or the ocean that causes you to stop reading and just be in the moment of that phrase.

Yes, if Linda Greenlaw writes it, I will read it.

Rating:  4/5 (Non-fiction Scale)

Dedication:  This book is dedicated to the hardworking men of the Seahawk:  Arthur Jost, Tim Palmer, Dave Hiltz, Mike Machado, and Nate Clark.

First line:  The cell door closed with the mechanical, steely sound of permanence.

Books by Linda Greenlaw
THE HUNGRY OCEAN: A Swordboat Captain's Journey
ALL FISHERMEN ARE LIARS: True Adventures at Sea
THE LOBSTER CHRONICLES: Life on a Very Small Island

Jane Bunker Mystery Series

Co-written with her mother, Martha Greenlaw

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

Heart of the Matter, the latest from Emily Giffin--what can I say?  I had a coupon and the cover is purple, and so went my pledge to library more/purchase less.

From Booklist (via amazon)
Tessa Russo is celebrating her wedding anniversary with her handsome husband, Nick, a pediatric plastic surgeon, when his pager goes off. At the hospital, he meets his new patient, six-year-old Charlie, who has been badly burned while roasting s’mores. Charlie’s mother, Valerie, a high-powered lawyer who has raised Charlie on her own, is wracked with guilt. As Charlie goes through various grafts and surgeries to repair the damage done to his face and hand, Nick and Valerie become close. Tessa, a stay-at-home mom who has misgivings about leaving her professorship, recognizes the distance growing between her and Nick but isn’t sure what to attribute it to or what to do about it. The premise is a familiar one, but Giffin injects freshness by getting inside both Tessa’s and Valerie’s heads and by making both sympathetic, fleshed-out characters. Giffin’s talent lies in making her characters believable and relatable, and readers will be enthralled by this layered, absorbing novel.

On becoming your mother
On Sunday afternoon, Nick, Ruby, Frank, and I are shopping for Halloween costumes at Target--our idea of quality family time--when I realize that I've officially become my mother.  It's certainly not the first time I have sheepishly caught myself in a "Barb-ism" as my brother calls such moments.  For example, I know I sound like her whenever I warn Ruby that she's "skating on thin ice" or that "only boring people get bored."  And I see myself in her when I buy something I truly don't want--whether a dress or a six-pack of ramen noodles--simply because it is on sale.  And when I judge someone for forgetting to write a thank-you note, or driving a car with a vanity license plate, or, God forbid, chewing gum too enthusiastically in public.

On what women do  (My comment:  They do?)
...all women compare lives.  We are aware of whose husband works more, who helps more around the house, who makes more money, who is having more sex.  We compare our children, taking note of who is sleeping through the night, eating their vegetables, miding their manners, getting into the right schools.  We know who keeps the best house, throws the best parties, cooks the best meals, has the best tennis game.  We know who among us is the smartest, has the fewest lines around her eyes, has the best figure--whether naturally or artifically.  We are aware of who works full-time, who stays at home with the kids, who manages to do it all and make it look easy, who shops and lunches while the nanny does it all.  We digest it all and then discuss with our friends.  Comparing and then confiding it is what women do.

My plot summary?  Take a single mother with a badly injured child and mix with a somewhat happily married renowned pediatric surgeon. Toss in a the surgeon's wife who's wondering "is that all there is," and you have the Heart of the Matter.

While Giffin explored in depth the single attorney mother and the former college professor housewife and made each of these characters evoke sympathy from me, I felt some annoyance that the story never really got inside the doctor's head to understand what he was thinking and feeling. 

Next time, I'll be strong and remember my pledge...or I'll just honestly admit that I may have aged out of this kind of story regardless of the come hither purple cover.

Rating:  2.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

Dedication:  For Sarah, my sister and lifelong friend

First line:  Whenever I hear of someone else's tragedy, I do not dwell on the accident or diagnosis, or even the initial shock waves or aftermath of grief.

Lullaby of the Leaves, Vince Guaraldi
Unchained Melody, Righteous Brothers
Jupiter Symphony, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, Johann Sebastian Bach
Night Swimming, REM
Sarah Smile, Hall & Oates
Beck CD (unspecified)
Georgia on My Mind, Willie Nelson version

Monday, June 14, 2010

Angel's Peak by Robyn Carr

Angel's Peak by Robyn Carr was the June selection for the Barnes & Noble (Burlington, MA) Romance Readers group.

Product Description (via amazon)
Four years ago, Air Force sweethearts Franci Duncan and Sean Riordan reached an impasse. She wanted marriage and a family. He didn't. But a chance meeting proves that the bitter breakup hasn't cooled their sizzling chemistry.  Sean has settled down in spite of himself—he's not the cocky young fighter pilot he was when Franci left, and he wants them to try again. After all, they have a history…but that's not all they share.  Franci's secret reason for walking away when Sean refused to commit is now three and a half: a redheaded cherub named Rosie who shares her daddy's emerald-green eyes. Sean is stunned—and furious with Franci for the deception.  News travels fast in Virgin River, and soon the whole town is taking sides. Rebuilding their trust could take a small miracle—and the kind of love that can move mountains.

Nothing flagged.

Interesting that while the reading group generally liked this latest installment in Carr's Virgin River series, we really tore the book apart and spent well over an hour hashing through the details--attention usually reserved for books we DON'T like!  The book is 373 pages long; however, Sean and Franci's story is pretty well tied down and resolved on page 283.  So why the need for almost another 100 pages?  We felt information on the other characters of Virgin River was somewhat lacking in Forbidden Falls; however, Angel's Peak was more about catching up on everyone with Sean and Franci's story thrown in for good measure.

Moonlight Road, the August group selection, will be our final visit to Virgin River.  We're all ready to pack up and hit the road for another town and new loves and lovers.

Rating:  3/5 (Romance Scale)

Dedication:  For Beki Keene, who remembers every detail.  Thank you for your lovely, committed, local friendship.  I treasure every e-mail and visit.

First line:  Once the sun sent down in Virgin River there wasn't a whole lot of entertainment for Sean Riordan, unless he wanted to sit by the fire at his brother Luke's house.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Other Family by Joanna Trollope

The Other Family is the latest from Joanna Trollope who has been writing fiction for more than thirty years--The Rector's Wife, A Village Affair, Marrying the Mistress among many others.

From Booklist (via amazon)
When popular crooner Richie Rossiter dies, his longtime partner, Chrissie, is left bereft and angered that she never got Richie to divorce his first wife and marry her, providing security for her and their three daughters. In addition, money becomes a serious issue since she was his manager. Then she learns that Richie amended his will to leave a treasured piano and the rights to songs he wrote early in his career to his first wife, Margaret, and their son, Scott. Chrissie, who refused to ever fully acknowledge Richie’s first family, is left to wonder whether he actually loved her, while Margaret finds herself enormously relieved to discover that she was remembered. The prolific Trollope skillfully engineers a heartwarming story of renewal and hope as she brings the two families closer together. Scott reaches out to Chrissie’s youngest child, providing her with both comfort and a link to her dad’s childhood in Newcastle. Hurt feelings and issues of abandonment vie with the impulse to forge ahead and to heal in this intelligent and moving novel of modern family life.

On a tea caddy
Tamsin was taking tea bags out of a caddy their father had brought down from Newcastle, a battered tin caddy with a crude portrait of Earl Grey stamped on all four sides.  The caddy had always been an object of mild family derision, being so cozy, so evidently much used, so sturdily unsleek.  Richie had loved it.  He said it was like one he had grown up with, in the terraced house of his childhood in North Shields.  He said it was honest, and he liked it filled with Yorkshire tea bags.  Earl Grey tea--no disrespect to His Lordship--was for toffs and for women.

On Dawson, the cat
Today, he had ignored his breakfast.  It was untouched and he had removed himself to his favorite daytime place, stretched along the back of the sofa in the bay window of the sitting room, to catch any eastern sun there might be, and also any passing incident.  He would not, Margeret knew, involve himself in anything that required exertion, but equally, he liked to know what was going on.

On ablutions
A bath, an application of this and that to her face, a prolonged session with the immense variety of toothbrushes the fierce young hygienist at her dentist now insisted on, a vigorous hairbrush, a well-laundered white cotton nightdress with picot edging--they all added up to something that, some days, Margaret looked forward to almost from the moment she woke in the morning.

My first experience with Joanna Trollope was in 1999 when she was writer-in-residence for Victoria magazine and her novella Daughter Number Three was serialized in that publication.  Since then, I have been entertained by several of her domestic dramas, but alas, not so with The Other Family.  The story dragged on and meandered, and I found some of the characters annoying.  This was a story of a family's grief and their journey to reconciliation; unfortunately, I did not care enough about the characters to take comfort in the resolution of their story.

Rating:  2.5/5 (Fiction Scale)
Source:  Library
Dedication:  To Jason
First Line:  Looking back, it astonished her that none of them had broken down in the hospital.