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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Old in Art School by Nell Painter

Book picture: Old in Art School

OLD IN ART SCHOOL by Nell Painter
My rating: 5 stars

What if you were ready to retire but not yet ready to devote your life to grand kids–or maybe there weren’t any. Your kids didn’t have any, or maybe you’d not had children yourself. What’s next? Become a full-time volunteer or a gardener or an expert at golf?

Nell Painter chose none of these but rather elected to become a lowly undergraduate student in art at age 64. She’d already made her mark in the world, a professor at Princeton, seven published books. She didn’t have to do this. Why on earth did she do it?

This was the question that I kept returning to as I read the memoir of the years leading up to her achieving an Master of Fine Arts. During this time her last professional book achieved best-selling status and a front page New York Times book review. Her mother died. She had to commute back and forth from Rhode Island to California to take care of her aging father, suffering from depression and loneliness.

Nell endured the alienation from other students who were four decades younger than she. She suffered the put-downs from art teachers who insisted she was not An Artist. “Bullshit,” she said, and kept painting.

She battled her own insecurities in this new way of communication with visual images rather than words. “I had no inkling of how thoroughly art school would instruct me–teach me, challenge my abilities, and question my sanity.”

For a time she divorces herself from the world of words to immerse in the world of images. At the end, she is able to integrate both together into a unified whole.

She DID succeed, and therein lies a message for all of us who are growing older. Life is more than just walking around. There is purpose and meaning to existence, no matter what age one happens to be.

Book Review: Making History, a science fiction novel by Bruce Polky

Picture of MAKING HISTORY by Bruce PolkyI grew up reading Asimov and Heinlein, but haven’t delved into too much current science fiction. That may change.

I recently discovered this debut novel by Bruce Polky and I like it. It is a quiet novel that grew on me as I read it.

I liked this book because the characters were realistic, searching for answers in a diverse environment full of lies. The science is accurate and the plot points interesting.

How would living in solitary confinement for a year change you? How would it be to wake up from near death after a year in space physically feel like? How would you choose between knowing the truth or dying? Which would you choose?

The book left me with more questions than answers, and got me to thinking!

I look forward to more adventures with Dav and his sentient, emotional computer. (But you can leave out the mechanical cockroaches in the next one!)

A good read. I’d give it five stars for a first novel.

Book Review: 100 years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

100 years by Joshua Prager100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of your Life by Joshua Prager

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine if you could ask the most famous authors in the world their views on your age today. What would they say? Better yet, what advice could they give you as you enter your next decade, and the next after that?

This is the delight that the book 100 YEARS by Joshua Prager provides. In collecting these quotes, he had very specific criteria that made the challenge all the more difficult: an author could be used only once, and the specific year must be included in the quote. What fun!

It was a slow slog: he went through 2700 pages of Thomas Mann and Leo Tolstoy to find only two quotes. Agatha Christie wrote over 80 books and didn’t make the cut. He had to keep in mind the progression of history as well. Two authors used the phrase “yellow leaf” to describe their then current old age: Christopher Isherwood at 53 and Lord Byron at 36!

Often he will give a summary quote at the beginning of a decade. For example, for the Fortieth Decade he includes, “Men at forty learn to close softly the doors to rooms they will not be coming back to,” by Donald Justice.

As I look ahead to an older age, I was curious about what might be said of seventy, or even the ninetieth decade. Prager doesn’t disappoint. J.D. James says, “Will I be here at the end of the year? At seventy-seven, that is not an irrational question.”

And May Sarton, that wonderful journalist laments, “Every person seventy-eight years old lives in a somewhat depeopled world. The trouble for me is that I often loved people older and wiser than I. So I’m left now in the lurch, being, trying to be, the old wise one and feeling like a great goose.”

Whatever age you’ve been, are now, or hope to aspire to, you’ll find it here.

An additional delight is that each page of the book is a different color, each specific number is set in a different type font by one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the world, Milton Glaser. The book becomes a feast for the eyes as well as for the mind.

Highly recommended

Book Review: The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer

The Art of French Pastry


The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love to read cookbooks. The good ones have yummy photographs, I get to “sample” meals that take days to fix, and best of all, there are no calories involved. So when I picked up The Art of French Pastry I was set for a treat–and I wasn’t disappointed.

The author’s father was a baker in Alsace, France, and the young man apprenticed to a professional pastry chef, and then emigrated to America where he established a famous bakery school. The cookbook is part memoir, part a precise methodology of the BEST way to do things. And what things!

Napoleons, macarons, raspberry sachertortes, pate a choux, and of course, chocolate eclairs.

He tells you why to use sea salt (table salt is too salty for pastry), why you should weigh your ingredients rather than use measuring cups (more exact), and why you put your custard in an ice bath before refrigerating (the eggs won’t spoil).

He cautions you to read every recipe twice before starting, and often to allow several days to complete a masterpiece so that the flavors have a chance to meld.

In between recipes he shares tales of ruining a cake he was delivering because he was paying too much attention to a pretty girl instead of the truck that pulled out in front of his bicycle; making 4000 eclairs; and dealing with an alcoholic master chef that never let up.

If you like to cook, or even if you like to dream about cooking, this book is for you!