The TBR Pile

Review by Helen McIver
And then I was asked what was on my To Be Read pile.
Susanna Calkins From the Charred Remains
Anthony Doerr All the Light We Cannot See
Martha Grimes Vertigo 42
Susan Elia Macneal Prime Minister’s Secret Agent
Carol McCleary No Job for a Lady
Lauren Owen The Quick
Jill Paton Walsh The Late Scholar
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter The Long Mars
Non fiction
Tim McGrath Give Me A Fast Ship

I dropped everything as soon as Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life was in my hands. I finished it in the middle of the night, was bereft that the story had ended (especially as I want to know more about several characters: Gallowglass where are you!?), then went back and reread it savoring every word. That helped me let the story go and have it become a book again, instead of what I was living through. I also bought the hardcover book to read again after a friend finishes it and we discuss it. And yes, I will probably read the entire series.
And then, Harkness mentions another mystery series, by the author Deborah Crombie, which I am now going to start (16th Scotland Yard police procedural to be published in September!)
Book Quote:
“It is the despair of book-lovers that they cannot read all the good books and it is their delight constantly to discover new ones. ” Burton Rascoe

Scotia, darling Scotia

Review by Helen McIver

I have been missing Scotland lately, after a planned trip was cancelled. I wouldn’t have read Diana Gabaldon’s new book if I hadn’t been going over soon (even though the Scots are in America now, fighting in the revolution). I am in Vermont where I am often reminded of the Scottish hills/Bonnie braes and Highlands albeit without the heather. A delightful summer tea at the Perennial Gardens had Scottish breakfast tea on the menu (and described as a brisk broken leaf tea with spine stiffening qualities; really, how could I resist?) Pipes are often heard as there is a long heritage here. Recent guy dreich weather (stormy, rainy, cloudy, chilly) has felt like northern Scotland. And then a wee trip to my library brought home an old friend, the latest in a Scottish mystery series by AD Scott. Beneath the Abbey Wall and The Low Road, are the fourth and fifth installment of this saga set in the 1950s in the Great Glen. It is easily recognisable to me (not that different from my 1980s, but rapid change in the last 20 years makes this a reminisce).
I find these to be detailed mysteries dependent on character, personality development and sense of place. There is a wonderful use of language (vocabulary, colloquialisms, and proverbs) which I miss (thrawn, dwam, dreich, corrie, neb) characteristic of local authors (and Scott is from the Highlands, although she now lives in Vietnam and Australia). Her books explore the transformation of rural Scotland, the restrictions of small town life, with a common thread of loyalty. You will be immersed in another culture and another time.
There are many characters in this town and these stories. I am delighted to be reacquainted with them as we follow their growth, changes, challenges and trials. Murder never brings out the best, but life in the Highlands has always been full of strife, never forgotten. Mrs Archibald Smart was murdered (née Joyce Mackenzie) and it is her story that is the mystery that once again involves the Tinkers (especially a favourite character of mine, Jenny McPhee). Joyce was the incomparable office manager of the Highland Gazette (and yet we know hardly anything about her, from the previous novels). McAllister is the newspaper editor who is trying to make changes to the local paper while also favouring a new reporter Joanne Ross (we met her earlier, moving on from an abusive marriage; acceptable now, impossible then). Neil Stewart provides a stark contrast as a young Canadian over to do research, but also in search of his birth mother. I haven’t quite recovered from the urban depiction of Glasgow slums in The Low Road, but absolutely adored McAllister’s mum.

If you like Ian Rankin, PD James, or Peter Robinson mysteries, you will like these.
4 stars with the continuing story line (and the next installment is being written).

Book Quotes:
The opening line:
Ten past nine on a mid-September night. Everything in the town was tight shut. Including the sky. It must have known it was the Sabbath.”

“But this Sunday, winter gave advance notice with a gray drench-damp cold shroud, covering the town and mountains spiced up with a steady nor’easterly straight off the North Sea that sent even the seagulls inland. It seemed a fitting day to end in death.”
“She had never met a man who was not Scottish.”
“GlenFarclas 110 proof, a whisky he called the Lazarus cure.”
“In order to borrow two books of fiction, two books of nonfiction had to be checked out

It’s a new book if you haven’t read it!

Review by Helen McIver

Several people have reminded me I have been remiss in not publishing my book list for 2013, especially as they are catching up on summer reading. So for their records (printed out and stored in book journals) here it is. I was surprised to see how many books I had read as I felt it was far fewer than previous years with moving states and other journeys. I was not surprised to see how many are continuations by favorite authors. And I am still waiting for several installments (Rothfuss and Martin especially, but there are only a few days to go til Deborah Harkness’ Book of Life!).

* denote special reading pleasures for me in an attempt to provide “the top 10 only please.”

Books 2013
Emily Cory Barker Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
Alison Bechdel Fun House
Jaques Bonnet Phantoms of the Bookshelves
C. Alan Bradley Ms Sherlock
Daniel James Brown Boys in the Boat
Gordon Campbell The Hermit in the Garden
Mark Edmonson Why Read
Tim Federle Tequila Mockingbird
**AA Gill To America with Love
Josh Hanagarne The World’s Strongest Librarian
Tracy Kiddder Richard Todd Good Prose
*Verlyn Klinkenborg Several Short Sentences on Writing
Bill McKibbon Wandering home
William Least Heat Moon Here, There, Elsewhere
Charlie leDuff Detroit, an Autopsy
*Doris Kearns Goodwin The Bully Pulpit
Rachel Maddox Drift
Solomon Northup 12 Years a Slave
Bobby Orr Orr: My Story
Michael Palin The Truth
James Pennebaker The Secret Lives of Pronouns
Nathaniel Philbrick Bunker Hill
*Tom Reiss The Black Count
*Mary Roach Gulp
Callum Roberts Unnatural History of the Sea
David Shields How Literature Saved my Life
**Amy Stewart Drunken Botanist, The Last Bookstore In America
EO Wilson Letters to a Young Scientist
Kate Atkinson Life After Life
Jo Baker Longbourn
Andrea Barrett Archangel
Patricia Bracewell The Midwife’s Tale
Paula Brackston Winter Witch, Witches of the Blue Well, Witch’s Daughter
Caleb Carr Legend of Broken
Jon Cohen The Man in the Window (Nancy Pearl)
Lynn Cullen Mrs Poe
PS Duffy The Cartographer of No Mans Land
Tatiana deRosnay The House I Loved
Terry Fallis Best Laid Plans, High Road, Up and Down
Margaret Fox A Dark Heart
Lee Fulbright The Angry Woman Suite
**Neil Gaiman Ocean at the End of the Lane
Tracy Guzeman The Gravity of Birds
Benjamin Hale The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore
Mark Helprin In Sunlight and Shadow
*Susanna Kearsley Firebird, Shadowy Horses
Brian Kimberling Snapper
Jill Lepore Book of Ages
Jennifer McMahon The Winter People
Colum McCann Transatlantic
Adam McOmber The White Forest
Suzanne Rindell The Other Typist
James Salter All That Is, Last Night
Mary Sharratt Illiminations
Kathleen Shoop After the Fog
AMSmith Unusual uses of Olive Oil
ML Stedman The Light between the Oceans
Donna Tartt The Goldfinch
Kathleen Tessaro The Perfume Collector
Nancy Bilyeau The Crown, The Chalice
Chris Bohjalran The Light in the Ruins
Kristen Callihan Darkest London series
Ruth Downie Semper Fidelis
Dan Fesperman The Double Game
Felix Francis Refusal
Charles Finch The Old Betrayal, Death in Small Hours
Christopher Fowler The Invisible Code
Alex Grecian The Black Country
Barbara Hamilton Abigail Adams series
CS Harris What Darkness Brings
Tessa Harris Silkstone mysteries
John Harwood The Asylum
Craig Johnson A Serpents Tooth, Spirit of Steamboat
Emma Jameson Something Blue
**Sarah Jio Morning Glory, the Last Camellia, Violets of Winter
**Laurie King Bones of Paris
Anna Lee Huber Mortal Arts
Charlie Lovett The Bookman’s Tale
Stuart McBride Flesh House
*Susan Elia MacNeal His Majesty’s Hope
Michaela MacCole Prisoners of the Palace
Becky Masterman A Rage against Dying
Oliver Patzsch The Beggar King
Anne Perry Blind Justice, The Scroll
Thomas Perry The Boyfriend
Jutta Profijt Morgue Drawer (series)
Deanna Raybourn Far in the Winds
Kathy Reichs Bones Of the Lost
Imogen Robertson Island of Bones, Paris Winter
MJ Rose The Book of Lost Fragrances
John Sandford Storm Front
AMSmith Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
Anthony Neil Smith All The Young Warriors
Olen Stenhauer The Cairo Affair
Charles Todd Question of Honor, Proof of Guilt
**Jacqueline Winspear Leaving Everything Most Loved
Novella/ short stories
Diane Chamberlain The First Lie
John Connolly Wanderer in Unknown Realms
Karen Russell Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Jessica Brockmole Letters from Skye
Amy Sackville Ornkey
**Ian Rankin Standing in Another Man’s Grave
AD Scott A Double Death on the Black Isle
AMSmith Trains and Lovers
Kate DiCamillo Flora and Ulysses
***Rachel Hartman Seraphina
Naomi Novik Blood of Tyrants
Lemony Snickett All the Wrong Questions, the Dark
Sherwood Smith Crown Duel, prequels
John Connolly The Creeps
Kathy Reichs Shift
Cynthia Voigt Mister Max
Shelly Adina Lady of Devices
Anne Bishop Black Jewels

Book quote:
The books we think we ought to read are poky, dull, and dry;
The books that we would like to read we are ashamed to buy;
The books that people talk about we never can recall;
And the books that people give us, oh, they’re the worst of all. Carolyn Wells

Book Review – Fatal Fortune



Fatal Fortune
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, one of my favorite things in the world is a book that’s part of a larger series with repeating characters. Picking up where the last book left off always feels like visiting old friends, and it’s always fun to check in with the gang to see what’s new. It’s no surprise, then, that I was excited to get my hands on the newest Abby Cooper mystery, this one entitled Fatal Fortune.

In this twelfth installment of the Psychic Eye series, Abby finds herself defending the reputation of her best friend Cassidy against what can only be described as damning evidence. Cassidy is caught on surveillance footage killing a man in cold blood. But, as Cassidy tells Abby, “It’s not how it looks.”

When even Cassidy’s FBI husband doubts her innocence, it’s up to Abby to feel out the ether and use her intuitive abilities to find Cassidy and clear her name…even if it puts her own life and freedoms at risk.

Fans of Laurie’s Psychic Eye series are sure to love this latest edition. It’s fast-paced and has the reader sitting on the edge of his seat throughout every page. The twists and turns keep the reader guessing, and it’s truly not until the last few pages are turned that the reader fully grasps the complexity of planning that casts suspicion on Cassidy in the first place.

New readers to this series can rest assured that they can pick up in the middle and not feel the gaping holes of missing background information that often accompanies a book in the midst of a larger series. One of the things Laurie does best is bring a new reader up to date on the characters without boring long-time fans with what feels like extraneous information. She gives exactly enough information to refresh the memories of old readers while bringing new readers up to date.

Fatal Fortune is definitely a good read and one I’d recommend to both longtime fans of this series and those unfamiliar with it. It’s simply a great summer read!

Good reads all summer long!

Review by Helen McIver

Summer is a time for indulgence – a time to get away from it all.
You don’t have to travel, skip the trip and get lost in a good book!
Enjoy the ‘forbidden’ pleasures of reading by the pool, in the shade, in a hammock, on the beach. And remember to read to your child, a grandchild, any child!

Sarah Jio. Goodnight June 2014

I have recommended several of her books before: I simply loved her first novel The Violets of March (which also won a library journal best book of 2011 award, and especially Blackberry Winter and The Last Camellia (still my favourite). Her books take place in a variety of places, from NYC to PNW to England to the Pacific and are often historical love stories/mysteries. I think they are perfect summer reads, for escapes in time, place with fascinating characters and interesting historical events. This tale is also published by Penguin Books, notes for their good literary reads.

Once again she has written a lovely tale, this time about one of our favourite childhood stories Goodnight Moon, (Margaret Wise Brown 1947) because no one knows what inspired her to write this story.
This is a delightful heartwarming story that will make you wish you had a bookstore. It is an important story about installing a love of reading in children (and grandchildren). There are a number of mysteries and secrets that are uncovered mostly through letters between Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown. Don’t miss this tender story, foremost of family and the importance of being there, forgiveness and second chances.

“When you are looking for something, it is right where you find it.”

“We didn’t have much, but we always had books.”

4 stars (only because, while charming, it was predictable. And disbelief with Bill Gates)
Popular with book clubs


“I know not how the world is went.”

Review by Helen McIver

I love it when scholars turn their hand to historical novels. Their fiction can breath new life into characters we know remarkably little about. Or indeed some we think we know quite a bit about. For example, Hilary Mantel (Pulitzer prizes: Wolf Hall, Bringing up the Bodies) Deborah Harkness (Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night) Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series- yes I am well into the throes of the 7th installment).

And now:

Bruce Holsinger with A Burnable Book. He is an award medieval literary scholar (University of Virginia) whose debut fiction immerses you immediately into medieval London (1385). This is the world of Chaucer, whom we all recognize for his historical significance if you haven’t actually read his Canterbury tales (and really, don’t miss them, in almost any translation!). He has been vividly brought to life within these pages, and yet this book is about another poet John Gower and their complex interwoven lives and political intrigues of Richard IIs England. There is a missing manuscript which prophesies the death of the kings of England.
This is a riveting tale of poets, princes and politics with London as a central character. It is actually three cities, the walled city of London, and Outside: Southwark and Westminster. Several voices from these locations reveal the intricate layers of the story. The time is after the Black Death and the portrayal of medieval life from the slums and stews to clergy and castles is fascinating. It was also a pivotal year for the aristocratic classes. Holsinger’s use of unusual documents to create characters based on actual historical figures makes for a very compelling read. This is a clever, entertaining literary mystery full of period detail which intrigues you while forcibly repelling you. I have zero desire to live in Chaucer’s England. But I had to investigate more on who Gower was, and what he wrote.

“Agnes ….suspects the import of what she holds. A woman has just died for it, a man has just killed.
For what? ….
A cloth, a book, a snatch of verse.
Which was worth dying for?”

“If you build your own life around the secret lives of others, if you erect your house on the corrupt foundations of theirs, you soon come to regard all useful knowledge as your due. Information becomes your entitlement. You pay handsomely for it, you use it selectively and well. If you are not exactly trusted in certain circles, you are respected, and your name carries a certain weight. You are rarely surprised, and never deceived. Yet there may come a time when your knowledge will betray you.”
“London often treats the passing of winter into spring with cold indifference. That year was no different. February had been an unforgiving month, March worse, and as the city scraped along towards April the air seemed to grow only more bitter, the sky more grey, the rain more penetrating as it lifted every hint of warmth from surfaces of timber and stone.”
“However innocent on its face, no request from Chaucer was ever straightforward.”

My next new author!

The Collector of Lost Things (2013) by Jeremy Page

Review by Helen McIver
My next new British author – I must immediately find his first two books, Salt and Sea Change. Page is also a great photographer and screenwriter. He grew up on the north Norfolk coast where half of his world was the sea. The first book has biographical elements and this book he says he was always interested in the Arctic. The meticulous research creates a wonderfully vivid prose, while his poetic language transports you to the place and time: the desolate, freezing, dangerous beauty of the Victorian Arctic. A young researcher/ naturalist Eliot Saxby joins an 1845 arctic expedition to find the mythical possibly extinct (1844) Great Auk. But he’s on a trading (hunting) ship The Amethyst with a dubious motley crew. It used to be a slave ship, which also provides a sense of foreboding. There are excellent seafaring details and life on board: oil lamps. Sheep’s head clocks, canvas sinks, lime washed shiplapped wood of his tight quarters, mizzensail, masts (14 sails) and salt. You are in the middle of the icy, grey weather, the frigid relentless cold, and the devastating isolation in which you are easily lost. In a sea of madmen, how could it get worse? It does. Don’t read this in winter.

The Collector of Lost Things is a dark gothic tale filled with haunting mystery, obsession and doom. The use of the claustrophobic ship in an isolated harsh environment with an uneven, barbaric crew feels like a descent into madness at times. There is a building tension between the moral sensibilities and commercial motivation, with questionable sanity, violence and cruelty. But here is also the possibility of love, wonder of nature, and hope that creates a thrilling tale.

The Collector is an engaging historical novel which was inspired by true stories by European explorers / traders, who exploited the marine environment. It is a rather brutal telling of profit especially for the last known specimens which were sold to museums and collectors. That this happens to be particularly relevant to our own times with the destruction of the environment, and specifically the Arctic and Antarctic, is depressing. The graphic descriptions of slaughter and animal cruelty was an horrific reality then, worse, it is still happening. The detailed butchery of seals, walrus, seagulls, anything in its wake can make for difficult but still essential reading. This is a complex but ultimately rewarding tale. (Perhaps not a beach read!)

“It felt as though the ship was a tree among a forest of trees, further hidden by a thicket of thorns and climbers, rigging growing over her and the ships moored alongside, purposefully disguised….I couldn’t see the ship and perhaps I never saw it for what it was.”
“These things move towards us from the horizons, whether we set sail for them or not.”
…”I worried that I might not be able to cope with his enthusiasms, in such confined quarters.”
“It was an unknown environment with its own rules.”
“The worlds of ocean and ice were meeting in a frontier of rage, as if the earth had torn in two along this line.”
“We have filled the hull of this ship with dead things. It is the weight of their souls that has caused us all to suffer.”
“Perhaps one day, man will save the Arctic in all it’s multitude of extraordinary life, but perhaps by then man will be too late, as he always seems to be.”