Book Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise PennyLouise Penny is the author of a series of mysteries about the magical village of Three Pines in Quebec, Canada. She is a delight to read, and her books keep getting better and better!

The most recent, KINGDOM OF THE BLIND, has recently been nominated for an Agatha and a Lefty by the Left Coast Crime convention in the Western U.S.

KOTB is both a mystery and a celebration of community, as the members of Three Pines work together and eat together and look out for each other. When the blizzard blows fierce, they eat and drink and stay warm together. When it stops snowing, they dig each other out, and of course connect the snow tunnels to the local bistro!

There is an eccentric poet with a pet duck, an artist, a former psychologist who would much rather run a bookstore, and of course the glue that holds them all together, Armand Gamache, the head of security for Quebec.

What I liked about KOTB was the amazing contrast the author presented between this idyllic village and the absolute hell of addiction faced by dwellers close by, who would sell their souls for a taste of the deadly carfentanil. Gamache is faced with a dilemma of sacrificing the one for the good of the many, and he suffers the consequences.

Look for the many hidden references to the theme in the book’s title, and consider rereading it, once you have reached the end. THEN, all of the subtle hints will be revealed!

Well written with a twisty plot.

Book Review: THE LAKE MICHIGAN COTTAGE COOKBOOK by Amelia Levin

Lake Michigan Cottage CookbookI love reading cookbooks because I get to enjoy all that great food without any calories! THE LAKE MICHIGAN COTTAGE COOKBOOK takes you on a road trip all around Lake Michigan, the only great lake that is entirely within the boundaries of the US.

They say the trip, which encompasses parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, would only take you 14 hours if you drove straight through. I have my doubts!

What makes this book special, in addition to the nifty recipes and amazing pictures, is the sense of local businesses and good food people you’ll encounter on your road trip. The book was printed 2018, so their recommendations are current.

Here you meet the beekeepers and jam makers and restaurateurs that encircle the great lake: The cheese makers of Wisconsin, the cider makers of southwest Michigan and the cherry pie people in Traverse City on the north coast.

Some of my favorites were recipes for cherry-poached pears with marscarpone cream, cheddar cheese scones, beer-battered cheese curd with homemade ranch dip, sweet potato and pineapple salad, red curry chicken skewers with apricot chutney.

It is a fun read, a feast for both the eye and the imagination!

Book Review: The Fox by Frederick Forsyth

The Fox by Frederick ForsythEnvision, if you will, an aging, retired Spook and a young, fragile teenage genius. A perfect partnership! Together they lay siege to the bullies of the world, the North Koreans, Iranians, Middle Eastern terrorists.

One has the wisdom and the master-chess-player ability to anticipate the opponent. The other has the ability to penetrate multiple, proven-impossible firewalls to wreak havoc on ill-intentioned enemies.

The author, Frederick Forsyth, has been at this a long time. He started out as a journalist, has written 17 books such as DAY OF THE JACKAL, has won three Edgar awards and was the recipient of the lifetime achievement award, the Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers of America.

His prose, unlike that of Dan Brown or Tom Clancy is spare, terse, and tongue-in-cheek humorous. His statements are fact-checked by experts.

For example, when speaking of the Russian GPS system, the Glonass-K2, Forsyth has this to say: “Glonass will define a Russian naval ship’s position to ten to twenty yards anywhere in the world. It relies on twenty-four satellites spinning in inner space. Any hacker seeking to disrupt the system would have to suborn five separate satellites simultaneously, which is clearly impossible.”

Clearly impossible, that is, for anyone but our two heroes. Join them as they high-center tankers, blow up mountains and enemy missiles, and generally do what we all wish WE could do to right the world order.

An intelligent pleasure to read!

Book review: Elliot Ackerman, WAITING FOR EDEN

Book cover: WAITING FOR EDEN

It is a short book, 173 smallish pages. And it is “serious” literary fiction. Why on earth would I pick up such a book, promising to be a hard read? Don’t know. But I did. And luckily I started it early in the evening, because I couldn’t put it down.

WAITING FOR EDEN, a finalist for the National Book Award, tells the story of Eden, a badly burned veteran who is not expected to live. It is also the story of his best friend, now a ghost, who waits to escort Eden to the Other Side, and the woman that they both loved.

How do you communicate when you can’t talk and can’t see? Eden finds a way, and it profoundly changes the lives of those around him, including his wife and the medic in the ICU ward. I found the tale to be raw and emotional, not sad but rather an uplifting tribute to the human spirit and the will to survive, whatever the cost.

From the nurse who cared for him on the night shift: “In his body she felt many things at once. Frozen soil. The bark of a tree. Baked sand. A handful of gravel. Glass, both shattered and whole. His textures were a mosaic of many, trapped in the inches of skin…In the space between them there was only her whispering:’If you want to go, go. But if you want to stay, sleep.'”

I felt replete when I finished reading this novel. I hope you will be, too.

Book Review: Dawn McKenna – Forgotten Coast Florida Mystery Series

The forgotten coast series Dawn McKennaBecause I write mysteries that strongly identify with place, I am on the alert for other authors that do the same thing. The best I’ve found recently is the author of the Forgotten Coast Florida Suspense Series. I’d like to give a shout-out to Dawn McKenna!

For example, here is a selection from the beginning of LOW TIDE: “The seagulls bounced around him, lighting just long enough to snatch up the pieces of bread, then hovering in the air, wings whipping, to wait for more…To his mind, it was one of the few places left that actually felt like Florida, with its century-old brick and clapboard shops and houses, the marina filled with shrimp and oyster boats and people who couldn’t care less about Disney World.”

Ms. McKenna takes an interesting approach to her series, in that the first four books take the time you rarely have with a mystery series to introduce you to a unique set of characters who live on the Florida coast, a romance that delights with its unfolding, and enough suspense to survive a hurricane!

You can buy each of the first four books of the series, LOW TIDE, RIPTIDE, WHAT WASHES UP, and LANDFALL separately. But if you’re like me, you’ll be hooked after the first one. Save yourself some money and buy the set.

Writing teacher Donald Maass in THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION says the way to pull readers into your writing is to engage them emotionally. Ms. McKenna does just that.

Highly recommended!

Book review: Seeking Enlightenment, Hat by Hat by Nevada Barr

Seeking enlightenment by Nevada Barr

Book Review: Seeking Enlightenment Hat by Hat by Nevada Barr

Because I like both mysteries and nature writing, I’ve always been drawn to the books by Nevada Barr. Her work features strong women who go against the odds, and win. Her heroine, Anna Pidgeon, a park ranger, has been trapped in a desert sinkhole, underwater in the Dry Tortugas, and on an island in the middle of Lake Superior hunted by winter wolves.  Her novels are not for the faint of heart.

So, when I encountered her book of essays entitled Seeking Enlightenment, I expected an unblinking journey through thoughtful questions demanding exact answers. I wasn’t disappointed. Although sometimes I found the author raised more questions in the process.

Here you can find her thoughts on Vanity: “The rewards for being pretty are enormous. Pretty people earn more, have more friends, get called on more often in class and, yes even get better grades.” And what happens to the rest of us? Ah, there lies the reward of her essay.

Or what three things never fail a girl? For Barr these are old Levi jackets, flip-flops, and girlfriends. And she proceeds to tell you why.

In an essay on fear, the author starts out by saying, “Fear is my least-favorite emotion, worse even than despair. At least, when in despair I can watch old black-and-white movies and each chocolate. Fear renders me unable to taste, swallow, focus or sleep. Fear jangles through the cells of my body like a cold electrical current short-circuiting the natural flow of life.”  Read on, as she explains what caused her fear, and how she has learned to live with it.

The essay topics occasionally center on spirituality, but often veer wide into topics such as do animals have souls, pain, and taking a sh*t. I think you’ll like it!

Highly recommended.