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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hiddensee - A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker

There were so many unpleasant images in the first twenty pages of Gregory Maguire's Nutcracker Ballet backstory, Hiddensee (#704), that I decided it would be too much of a chore to continue on.  There are so many more intriguing books waiting on my bookshelf, I'd rather get to them.  So, thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Maguire!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Pupcakes = A Christmas Novel

I've pretty much given up on reading straight romances, but I couldn't resist the Santa hat bedecked pug on the cover of Pupcakes -  A Christmas Novel (#703).  The story it contained by Annie England Noblin turned out to be just the Christmas treat the cover promised.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Brydie Benson is in her early thirties, newly divorced and living in her best friend's basement in Memphis, wallowing in her misery.  Elliott does what a genuine friend does; she gets Brydie out of her house and back to her first love: baking.  How Brydie manages to stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life, find her true vocation, and find friends and love along the way is the subject of this novel.  It also involves dogs, particularly the older, smelly pug of the cover, Teddy Roosevelt, and a dashing doctor.

I think what I liked best about this book is that addresses the problem of loneliness of many kinds.  Brydie is given a chance to live rent free in a well kept home in a desirable neighborhood of Memphis as a house sitter for a woman who is now in a nursing home.  The only catch is that Brydie must also take care of her beloved pug, Teddy Roosevelt, and bring him to visit her every week.  Everyone in this equation is lonely; Brydie, Teddy Roosevelt, and Pauline, who has been forced out of her home and life when she has a stroke.  What is hopeful here is that it is never too late to form new bonds of friendship and even love.

When Brydie, a professional baker, finds a seasonal job at a big box store bakery for the holidays, she's on the road to recovering the sense of purpose she lost along with her husband and their bakery in the divorce.  It isn't always easy, and I confess that I had to hunt for a hankie towards the end, but there is a happy ending here.  I hope Yule'll love it, too! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Christmas Most Shocking

Rejoice!  Harry and Emmie Reese now have a holiday tale of their own in A Christmas Most Shocking (#702) by Robert Bruce Stewart.  It is indeed a shocking story on many levels - in the manner in which one of the characters meets his end, and in the goings on in the Washington home of the Countess von Schnurrenberger und Kesselheim.

Emmie Reese has been summoned to Washington to record the Countess' life story while Harry stays behind in New York to finish up an insurance case.  Emmie has promised to return home in time for Christmas, but she is showing no signs of returning when Harry receives a series of mysterious anonymous letters hinting broadly at a scandalous affair in D.C.  When he arrives to find himself an unwanted guest of the Countess in a crowded household, things soon go from bad to worse...

The events of this turn-of-the century December are told by two narrators: Harry Reese and by Sesbania, a precocious child staying with the Countess while her parents are in Europe.  It seems that Emmie may have more than met her match in the eye to the main chance Sesbania, which is truly a terrifying thought.

This bawdy and amusing tale will keep you warm on a cold winter's night.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Indigo Girl

Based on the life of the real Eliza Lucas Pinckney, The Indigo Girl (#701) by Natasha Boyd is an engrossing read.  At sixteen, Eliza is entrusted with the running of three estates in South Carolina when her father's military ambitions call him back to Antigua, leaving his wife and two daughters behind.

Eliza struggles to make the plantations profitable in the early eighteenth century with rice and timber.  Her interest in botany leads her to experiment with other potential cash crops.  She learns that the French are making a fortune selling indigo dye, grown on their Caribbean plantations;  the climate around Charles Town seems similar.  Could the crop succeed here?

How she eventually succeeds in profitably growing indigo, surmounting seemingly impossible obstacles with the support of some influential friends and supporters, make for a page turning read interspersed with excerpts from Eliza's own letters.

I found this book particularly interesting because we onw property in the area where indigo was grown in South Carolina.  It was so important to the colony's economy, that South Carolina's state flag is indigo blue in acknowledgement, an interesting fact that Ms. Boyd notes at the end of the book.  If you are interested in learning about a strong and influential Early American woman who today is little known outside the Charleston, South Carolina area, this book is just the ticket.  Highly recommended.

Skipping Christmas

Who knew John Grisham wrote a comic Christmas novel?  I certainly didn't until  Skipping Christmas (#700)  was suggested for my book club's December read.  It's actually more of a novella that was turned into a movie q couple of years ago - Christmas with the Kranks.

Personally, I found it less comical than mean spirited.  The movie version does its best to add an element of Christmas magic to it by expanding the mysterious character of Martin, who only makes a brief late appearance in the book.

The premise is that a few days after Thanksgiving, Luther and Nora Krank drive their daughter to the airport to see her off (in the pre 911 days, when non-ticket holders could actually go to the gates!) as she leaves for a Peace Corps assignment in Peru.  Her mother moans that Christmas won't be the same this year.  The kernel is planted in Luther's head that they should forget Christmas this year altogether and go on a luxury cruise instead.  He didn't count on his wife's resistance, nor the neighborhood outrage when he refuses to decorate his house or participate in the community charities.  Does he succeed in skipping Christmas?  Of course not!  When he's forced to scramble to put together a last minute celebration, it seems it's payback time. 

Well deserved, if you ask me, for both parents.  I found both of the Kranks thoroughly unlikeable.  In real life, there wouldn't have been any Santa (aka "Martin") to smooth things out.  Although Luther does make one generous gesture in the end, I found it unconvincing and uncharacteristic.  It was a case of "too little, too late" for me.  Luther didn't strike me as having a complete spiritual conversion a la Ebenezer Scrooge.  I'm hoping for happier Christmas reading elsewhere.  Ho! Ho! Ho!

Code Girls - The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Liza Mundy's remarkable new book finally tells the long hidden story of the pivotal role an unsung group of American women played in helping America win World War II.  Code Girls - The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II (#699) tells the story of their contributions to the war effort that most of them were never able to reveal during their own lifetimes under penalty of death according to the oaths they swore.

Ms. Mundy relates how the initial women were recruited by secret invitation to participate in vital war work.  Most signed on without knowing exactly what they were in for, but they proved up to the challenge to break the codes the Nazis and Japanese were using prior to US involvement in the war.  Their job took a mixture of talent, tenacity and toleration for the often tedious tasks.  Yet at the same time, there was the excitement of traveling far from home and working closely with a cadre of other women and male officers in their code breaking work.  Although most started as civilians, the Navy soon was recruiting female officers (although at lower pay grades, benefits and status than their male counterparts) using the lure of a couture uniform to encourage the ladies to enlist.  Those working for the Army remained largely a civilian corps throughout the war.

While Alan Turing justly receives credit for helping to break the Nazi's Enigma Coding machines, America's women worked not only on getting the intercepted information into the right hands as soon as possible, they were also the ones who broke the complicated Japanese codes as well, a daunting task.

Once the war was over, in large part due to these women's efforts, however, most of them were "reminded" by the government that it was their "patriotic" duty to return to their places as wives and mothers, and leave the workplace for the returning GIs.  My own mother lost her teaching job to a returning vet herself.  Most, like her, did not look back and chose to move on with their lives; the difference was that most of their families and friends thought that these women had spent the war years as run of the mill secretaries and clerks, not warriors on the coding front.  As they proved here, winning the war took brains as well as bravery.  Now their story has finally been told, and their roles acknowledged.  Thank you, Ms. Mundy.

Monday, November 13, 2017


It just doesn't get much better than sitting down with a new Andy Carpenter mystery by David Rosenfelt in hand.  I know I'm in for an intricately plotted mystery with a slightly cranky, albeit dog loving, protagonist.  I do so enjoy his snarky wit as he reluctantly pursues a legal case that has gone to the dogs.  Collared (#698) is a perfect example.

Andy Carpenter is seriously thinking of not renewing his license to practice law.  After all, he doesn't need the money.  But when a border collie left at the shelter he co-founded turns out to be the "DNA Dog" missing in a sensational unsolved child abduction case from several years back, Andy is pulled into the case by his wife Laurie.  The mother of Dylan Hickman, the abducted child, is a friend of hers, and a prominent businesswoman.  Can the dog provide some clues to Dylan's whereabouts if the baby is still alive?  What Andy uncovers turns the entire case upside down in a series of twists that I did not see coming.

I really like the way David Rosenfelt has developed his characters over the course of this mystery series.  (By the way, if you haven't already discovered these books on your own, they are most enjoyable read in sequence.  Fantastic Fiction is an excellent website source for checking the order of publication for book series.  See the link below.)  Now that Andy has a son of his own, his viewpoint on the Dylan Hickman case is completely different than it would have been at the start of this series.  One thing never changes for Andy, though: his love of Tara, his golden retriever, and the canine world in general.  I can't wait to hear David Rosenfelt speak at our upcoming BookMania!.  If you've read his non-fiction memoir, Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure, you'll know that Andy's doggie devotion is strictly autobiographical!  (See my post of 9/12/13.)

Fantastic Fiction