Book Review: What I Remember Most

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What I Remember Most
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

There is nothing I love more than the anticipation of reading a new book by a favorite author. I mark my calendar far in advance and begin counting down the days about two weeks before launch date. The only thing that comes close to equaling that excitement is when I’m surprised with the the opportunity to review a copy in advance in the form of an Advanced Reader’s Copy from the author or publisher. Recently, I had the opportunity to get my hands on an ARC of Cathy Lamb’s newest novel, What I Remember Most.

As an avid reader and fan of Lamb’s work, I walked into this book expecting a good read. I’ve read everything she’s released, and so there’s a reason why I always anxiously await her next book. With that said, though, I had no idea the huge treat that was in store for me. Simply stated, this book was absolutely beautiful and probably the best book Lamb has released yet. It was without any doubts one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

As with many of Lamb’s books, What I Remember Most is filled with a strong female leading character surrounded by a close-knit group of quirky friends. But what sets this book apart and above all others is the grit and determination of the main character, Grenadine Scotch Wild. She’s a young woman who has been knocked down by life and by the system her entire life, and yet she refuses to give up. She refuses to be beaten and she refuses to accept defeat. She keeps her chin up and her head high as she plows forward through life in search of the peace and fairness she deserves. She’s tender-hearted, yet tough as nails and unafraid to stand her ground against those who would take advantage of her. And through all of this, she’s intensely likable and the kind of person we all wish was among our inner circle of friends. She’s the kind of character that a reader falls in love with, and the one who lingers in your memory long after the last pages have been turned.

When an author starts with a character as appealing as Grenadine, she has a responsibility to that character not to drop the ball on the storyline. Luckily Cathy Lamb was up to the task and brings the reader an unforgettable story of a young orphan as she navigates through the foster care system and then, later, the real world. It’s a story of love, loss, survival, determination, perseverance, friendship and new starts.

This is a book that I will be recommending to every one of my friends, and one that you won’t want to wait any longer than necessary to read.  This book is not yet available at Rochester Public Library, but a request has been sent to purchase it for their shelves.

NPR comes through again

A Field Guide to Little Known and Seldom Seen Birds of North America. Ben and Cathryn Sill (a parody)

NPR comes through again.
This was recommended to me awhile ago, and I snapped it up on a NetGalley, now learning there is volume two (Another Field…..) which you won’t want to miss either. This is actually the 25th anniversary edition of an earlier publication but still perfect. It is a charming little book, that is presented in guide format any birder would be familiar with. It looks just like the real thing with superb illustrations. The species however are another story! I am sure birders have been searching for these birds all their lives!!
It is silly, witty, clever, light hearted and vastly entertaining. I love the calls (semi-adled chaff chaff), advice (if you live within this tern’s range, it is advised to purchase reinforced feeders) and nonsense (the seed eating tern is the only tern that has been able to qualify for “authentic vegan” certificate).
I would be hard pressed to say which bird I liked best! (Middle and least yellowlegs?! Long range target duck?!) As a student I provided driving skills while the avid birders concentrated on their life list, and discovered then their amazing senses of humor. I need to buy dozens of copies of this book. Christmas is coming and this is a perfect, delightful gift.
If you have a sense of humor, if you need a gift for a birder or naturalist in your life, if you need a hostess gift or stocking stuffer, buy multiple copies of this book. If you like puns, buy this book. Send book editions to friends who need a little uplift now and then.

Quotes
We are not too proud to admit that mistakes made in the first edition were the editor’s fault.
Let it be known that we have been hard at work to stay ahead of the birding frontier.
…when their data did not agree with our opinions we deleted them.

4.5 stars
ARC from NetGalley

Summer Reads

Review by Helen McIver
This is a fun reading season known for books that are impossible to put down. Not necessarily literary masterpieces, but often more than pulp fiction. But really it is whatever suits your mood, day, location. A book for the beach is different from the book for the hammock; the book for the rainy day doesn’t always fit the summer afternoon. What’s in the NYTimes best seller list isn’t what calls you from the library shelves. And sometimes only a classic will do. And heaven knows what you will find at the library book sales or the yard sales at this time of year!
After a few crazy, gripping, exhausting, compelling books, I was delighted to have a gentle paced, absorbing read by Canadian author Susanna Kearsley, Season of Storms. This would have been perfect for a Sunday afternoon in a hammock, if I’d had one. I love this author, and applauded her recent awards for The Firebird. I am hard pressed to chose a favourite, and recommend all: perhaps it is best to read them in order if you can find them! Mariana (1994), Spendour Falls (1995), Shadowy Horses (1997), Named of the Dragon (1998), Season of storms (2001), Winter Sea (2008), Rose Garden (2011), Firebird (2013). (A Desperate Fortune is expected 2015). I truly enjoy her Scottish characters in her most recent books, and her well researched historical details. Her historical novels often have paranormal elements, with a gentle love story. She has also written classic style thrillers as Emma Cole (Every Secret Thing, 2006). Season of Storms is soon to be (re?) released August /September 2014. This book, Season of Storms, takes place primarily in the villa Il Piacere, near Lake Garda, Italy, and is modeled after the grand home Il Vittoriale of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. I loved the brief but historical details of London and Venice which set the stage for the drama that was to unfold. I enjoyed the foray into the theatre world, for the accurate portrayal of stars, old and new, the staging descriptions, the hard work involved in finding the character and the intriguing personalities, politics, and egos of the cast. There is a nice balance of family, again old and new, each contributing clues to the slowly revealing story (the mystery is always backseat in this plot). In addition, the historical elements of the mystery surrounding the first play 70 years prior add to the overall story.
This is not a fast paced mystery / thriller.
This is not necessarily a page turner, thrilling read.
This is not similar to her most recent paranormal historical books.
But it is a lovely, well written, atmospheric novel that will provide you with a strong sense of place, both of romantic Italy and the theatre world. This novel reminded me of Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael and Madam will you Talk. This is a wonderful thing as I sincerely miss her writing (and if it’s any indication by the number of individuals and book clubs to which I have recommended Kearsley, many people miss Stewart and have leapt at a new author!). If you like this gothic suspense style, read on! I hope the popularity of this author makes people more aware of other, earlier novelists: Anya Seton, Daphine du Maurier, Barbara Erskine, Barbara Michaels, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Elizabeth Harris.
It’s a new book if you haven’t read it!
NetGalley ARC 4 stars (five because it perfectly suited my mood/day)

Summer Fantasy!

Robin Hobb Fool’s Asassin
Review by Helen McIver
How did I never read Robin Hobb? Recently I fell down the Farseer rabbit hole and disappeared for several days, because once I understood this was a continuation, I had to read ALL of those books. GRR Martin recommended, and I agree.

I was thumbing through the NetGalley ARCs and was drawn to this cover. Knowing none of the prehistory I was immediately cast into this well written, thought provoking story. I often wondered what a rich and varied past led this intricate man to this point in his life. To discover there was a trilogy was like discovering Terry Pratchett for the first time. I am not sorry I started at the end, with Fitz a grown man as the early tales have a lot of teen angst and messy life choices (sometimes I think girls are just smarter!). I can’t wait to read the next two installments because yes, there are cliff hangers. She clearly loves these characters.

Robin Hobb is the second pen name for Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden (also Megan Lindholm). (If you’re in London in August she will be sharing a stage, in conversation with GRR Martin!) She has been writing tremendous, imaginative, award winning science fiction and fantasy for over twenty years. In addition to the Farseer trilogy, there are the Liveship Traders trilogy and the Rain Wilds chronicles. She has a wonderful imagination and clear, detailed writing which captures your attention. There is action, drama, torment, love, family, dragons, magic, and new worlds to explore. I have warned you that you will lose a few days reading!

Fitz (FitzChivalry) is a royal bastard, former King’s assassin now living a quieter life as Tom Badgerlock, with the love of his life Molly. But Tom/Fitz has the Wit, the dangerous ability to touch minds. His previous world collides with his new life and the adventure begins anew. I was delighted with the addition of his new daughter, watching her character develop and slowly reveal secrets. She is definitely her father’s daughter. There is a rich cast with diverse characters, more so with the history of the earlier trilogy. Concepts of loyalty and honour, steadfast love and friendship bonds, good and evil provide counterpoint. Not every battle is won, but they are bravely fought (or not with wisdom). And you discover what matters in life. The story is well paced, richly detailed, multi-layered and full of developing characters. This promises to be a satisfying and unforgettable serious fantasy series.

If you like Patrick Rothfuss, Naomi Novik, Kristin Cashore, GRR Martin, Terry Goodkind: You will love this series. Her early work is especially suitable for teenagers (YA). There’s still a lot of summer reading left!

Received as a NetGalley ARC

4.5 stars

Not a full fifth star because I like stories in series that are complete in themselves. People often read slower as they get to the end of a book because they don’t want the fantastic story to end. I felt it couldn’t end. And no doubt I have to wait until the end of the trilogy. I had not read Hobb before but she is now on my favourite list.

The TBR Pile

Review by Helen McIver
And then I was asked what was on my To Be Read pile.
Fiction
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
Nonfiction
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
Fiction
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
Mysteries
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
Scottish
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
YA
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
Scifi/Steampunk
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