Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Return to Provence and Venice in Books

While I love hard copies of books as demonstrated by my stash from the Centenary College Book Bazaar described here, I've enjoyed my Kindle far more than I thought I would, and BookBub has made it easy to view titles and download them free or inexpensively.  I try to focus on my personal challenge to read the books from my library shelves, but I often succumb to temptation and download e-books.  I've read two e-books this week.

The Promise of Provence
Patricia Sands
Kindle e-book

Katherine Price’s husband leaves her for another woman in the most cowardly way possible—he leaves her a note in the roses he traditionally gives her each year on their anniversary.  Katherine is devastated even as she admits their marriage hasn’t been satisfactory for her either.  Phillip was controlling and had monopolized her time.  Her best friend, her cousin and her widowed mother help her pick up the pieces and move forward. 
As other life changing transitions occur in her life, Katherine needs to make a dramatic change, so she participates in a “home exchange” program.  A couple wants to spend a couple of weeks in Toronto, Katherine’s place of residence, and Katherine can live in their house in Provence, France.

And it is the descriptions of her accommodations and the places she visits that were my reason for downloading this book from BookBub.  My husband and I traveled to many of the same places in Provence. Patricia Sands has photos on her website here that show places that inspired her book.  I included a few pictures of Provence below from our trip a years ago.
"Hipstamatic" view from the garden of our friend who lives in Cadenet
Ricky and I at Lourmarin Market
 Bread and tapenades at the Lourmarin Market
I don’t read a lot of women’s fiction, but this was an enjoyable evening’s visit to France.  I learned new facts about Provence while reading this novel and discovered places to add to my “To See List” for our next trip.  I also appreciate Sands’ recurring themes of women, aging and travel.  Patricia Sands has an attractive and comprehensive website, which is worth a visit.

In the epilogue to The Promise of Provence, Sands informs readers that Katherine’s journey isn’t over at the end of this novel.  There will be a sequel.  While I enjoyed this book for its setting, I’m not sure I need to know the rest of the story, but you never know.

Sara Rosett
Kindle e-book
Zoe Hunter and Jack Andrews are divorced but the collapse of the housing market has forced them to continue to share a residence.  For convenience they have divided the house into his and her areas and see each other only if they meet on the stairs or in the front hall.  Zoe works from home editing travel guides.  Jack has a start-up eco-waste disposal business.  Their unorthodox living arrangement seems to work until the police come to Zoe with the news that Jack has disappeared and is presumed to have drowned.  When Zoe goes to Jack’s office to tell his business partner the distressing news, she finds the partner dead.

The police and FBI descend on the scene and seem to think Zoe is working with Jack to fake his death in order to cover up fraudulent business practices.  They suspect Jack killed his partner, then faked his own drowning.  Zoe doesn’t know what to think.  The more she learns about her ex-husband, the more he is a stranger to her.

Someone in a brown car starts tailing Zoe, which is both annoying and alarming.  Zoe wants to solve the mystery so she will no longer be a person of interest. She follows clues to Las Vegas where she finds she is in more danger than she realized.  The key to the puzzle seems to lie in Venice so Zoe soon finds herself overseas, but there is no safety there either.

Elusive was another BookBub e-book selection, and with part of the mystery set in Venice, I was interested in reading the book.  I enjoy books with overseas settings, especially places I’ve visited.  It’s a way to return briefly to that locale.  Because the action picks up in Venice, Zoe doesn’t do much sightseeing, but the backdrop of Venice and the canals are an essential component of the story's climax.
So I decided to include some photos of Venetian canals taken when my mother and I visited Venice.  (You may click on photos to enlarge them for better viewing.)

Gondolas ready to take people on tour of Venice waterways. 
Water taxis take guests to the islands.
A police boat patrols the canals.

Venetian canal with Bridge of Sighs
Back alley waterway in Venice

Weathered walls of buildings on canal side

Once you accept the premise of Rosett’s series, it’s enjoyable escapist fare, but don’t analyze it too closely. I liked the characters and kept reading to see what happens to them.  Elusive is the first in the “On the Run International Mystery” series written by Rosett.  Other books in the series are Secretive, Deceptive and Suspicious.  This isn’t the most nuanced mystery you will read, but Elusive held my attention.  If you grew up watching “The Fugitive” on TV, you will probably like this series.

Click here to visit Rosett's website.  She writes another popular cozy mystery series featuring Ellie Queen, but Elusive is the only book I've read by this author. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Bargains: Centenary College Book Bazaar

It seems like temperatures in September should be cooler as my husband and I join the queue that snakes down the sidewalk and around the Gold Dome at Centenary College, the small liberal arts school in our neighborhood.  The sun beats down on all the early birds who are waiting for the doors to open for the 28th annual Centenary College Book Bazaar.  Over 70,000 books are donated for this two-day event, and prices for most books range from 25 cents to $5.00.  The gym is lined with tables of books, all generally organized according to type of book and price, e.g., hard back fiction, paperbacks under $1.00, non-fiction, Louisiana books, nature, children’s books, etc.  An upstairs area holds vintage record albums and CDs. 

Gym filled with tables of books before a previous book sale.

As soon as the doors open, book lovers cluster around and slowly circle the tables of books.  Some people have rolling suitcases or carts with them, almost everyone carries bags of some description to carry their bargains as they shop.  It is orderly, although crowded at many tables.  Bargain hunters may have a plan or specific books they are looking for.  I shop randomly, looking for books that seem interesting (and one has to make that decision rather quickly as there are always people near you wanting to be where you are).  I pick up books by familiar authors and topics that I want to read about. 

To me the book bazaar always has a festive air, and it isn’t as crowded now that they open at 4:00, instead of 5:00 on Friday evenings.  We retirees can get in early!

 People shopping at book sale.
(Centenary College file photo)
Ricky and I each came away with purchases that pleased us.  I decided to play with the new Ollo fisheye lens for our iphones so I could admire all our bargains!

I laid out all the books & records on the dining room table so we could see what we purchased!
The book sale actually continues on Saturday with books going to half price after 1:00, but I'm going to show restraint and read some of these books I already own.
Books Purchased 2014 Centenary College Book Bazaar
1.  Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams. (Pocket Books, 1988)
2.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. (Europe Editions, 2008)
3.  A Royal Pain, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime, 2008)
4.  Evans to Betsy, by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin's Minotaur, 2002)
5.  Royal Blood, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley Prime Crime, 2010)
6.  A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson (Broadway Books, 1999)
7.  Must Love Dogs, by Claire Cook (New American Library, 2002)
8.  Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat (Vintage Books, 1994)
9.  A Country Herbal, by Lesley Gordon (Gallery Books, 1980)
10.  A Bone to Pick, by Charlaine Harris (Berkley Prime Crime, 1992)
11.  Last Scene Alive, by Charlaine Harris (Berkley Prime Crime, 2002)
12.  Shopaholic Ties the Knot, by Sophie Kinsella (Delta Fiction, 2003)
13.  Telex from Cuba, by Rachel Kushner (Scribner, 2008)
14.  A Monk Swimming, by Malachy McCourt (Hyperion, 1998)
15.  Cesar's Way, by Cesar Millan (Three Rivers Press, 2006)
16.  New York Days, by Willie Morris (Little, Brown & Co., 1993)
17.  One Foot in the Gravy, by Delia Rosen (Kensington Press, 2011)
18.  The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler (Ballantine Books, 2004)
19.  A Killer Collection, by J. B. Stanley (Berkley Prime Crime, 2006)
20.  I Married Adventure, by Luci Swindoll (W Publishing Group, 2002
No doubt some of the above will be mistakes, but I got them all for the price of one new hardcover, so I'm not worried.
Other Media Purchased at Book Sale
Movie: Chocolat DVD
1.  Poco, Pickin' Up the Pieces
2.  Poco, Legend
3.  The Complete Lionel Hampton, 1937-1941 (6 record set)
4Ethel Water's Greatest Hits (2 record set)
5.  Louis Prima, The Wildest Show at Tahoe
Ricky is happy adding to his vintage vinyl collection at bargain prices. 
Tens of thousands of inexpensive books for vinyls available for collectors...what a perfect way to start a weekend!  Energized by our bargain hunting, Ricky and I headed to our local microbrewery for a cold one and tacos prepared on-site by K'Mexico! 
It doesn't get much better than this, but next weekend will find us heading to New Orleans, and we'll see what the Big Easy dishes up for us.




Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jack White at the Municipal

Vintage postcard showing Municipal Auditorium
Our summer musical experiences started in early summer when Jack White played Shreveport’s historic Municipal Auditorium.  Though he says the manager/lawyer types tried to dissuade him from playing this small venue in a mid-sized city, Jack White told the audience during the concert, he insisted on it being included.  And Shreveport loved Jack White!

I knew who Jack White was before we heard him in concert, because he seemed more intellectually curious and daring than many musicians-- truly interested in and appreciative of the historical roots of music.  Take for example, his 2004 collaboration with Loretta Lynn that netted them two Grammy awards!  While I remembered a few facts about him, I wouldn’t have called myself a big Jack White fan.
In the time leading up to the concert I spent a month in Virginia with my mother because she had a medical crisis.  I had to postpone my return to Louisiana several times.  Ricky kept sending me videos of Jack White, “On this video he is playing with the Buzzards.”  “Watch this one, he’s playing with the Peacocks.”  As I delayed my return home, Ricky was supportive.  “Stay as long as you need to,” he would say, “but try to be back by the Jack White concert.”

I made it home with some days to spare, and Jack White was a frequent supper table topic in the days before the concert.  “Some say he is playing with the Buzzards on this tour, some say it’s the Peacocks,” he would tell me.  Ricky watched lots of videos of Jack White on the internet in the days leading to the big night.  “He really puts on quite a show,” Ricky would tell me.
On the evening of the concert we arrived at the auditorium about 7:00 pm to find an orderly line winding down the block of people waiting to get into the venue.  We filed in with a much younger group of concert goers sporting multiple tattoos.  Ricky and I felt we were representing Baby Boomers.  We were “naked” without tattoos, but we were able to climb the flights of stairs to our seats in the second balcony without supplemental oxygen.  Our seats were straight on in front of the stage, albeit high up.  I was happy that our balcony seats didn’t have a drop-off over the rail in front of us as a couple of inebriated young women stumbled up and down the steps.  I would have been a nervous wreck.
After a lackluster set by a warm-up group, Jack White and his band, mostly male with a female fiddle player, took to the stage and took over the auditorium.  When the music started, my chest was vibrating from the sound waves that pulsated through the air straight toward us.  I couldn’t even fathom what the general admission audience was feeling as they crowded in front of the stage.  As a Boomer, I don’t exactly have perfect hearing.  I decided to preserve what was left of it.  I looked in my purse for tissues, which I then stuffed in my ears.  Ahhhh, I could now enjoy the music.  At one point, Ricky looked at me and asked, “Are my ears bleeding yet?” 

We loved the energy and virtuosity of the band and, in the process, gained a bit of street “cred” with the children of our friends.  I hope they never found out I had tissue stuffed in my ears the whole concert.  Ricky’s comment was, “They are even louder than The Who!”
The set list for Shreveport, according to  Setlist.  I can’t tell if it's accurate except I know he closed with Shreveport’s Leadbelly  song, Good Night, Irene.

Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) grave
photo from  Chris Jay's blog, "Three Places in Shreveport That I'd Take Jack White"


Jack White requested that the audience refrain from taking photographs (which many people ignored) and said there would be multiple photos from the concert on his website for audience use.  These are a few of those photos.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Being a Patron of the Arts

I belong to a writers’ group.  We are a diverse group creatively.  One member is working on a book about teaching, told through anecdotes about her experiences in education, but intended  to start a conversation with the reader, rather than provide hard-and-fast answers.  Another writes short stories full of mythological references and creatures that I have long forgotten from my college years as an English minor.  A third member is a poet and Haiku master; she writes consistently and tries to have 50 poems out to prospective publishers at any given time.  Another member, a young mother who homeschools her three children and writes a homeschooling blog,  is also very “crafty”—paper art and repurposing old furniture and other pieces.  A newer member is writing a novel loosely based on her teen-age years in Bulgaria. 

A few of us take a selfie one night
Then there is me.  I blog, but often inform the writing group when we state our weekly intentions, that I propose to be a “Patron of the Arts” during the upcoming week. By that, I usually mean go out and hear some good music.

Shreveport, Louisiana, has been home to many legendary musicians and serves as a mecca for great musical talent.  For my husband and me, venues to hear awesome music this summer have been just blocks away from our house.  The Fairfield Studio, a small recording studio in our neighborhood, hosts regular house concerts featuring singer/songwriters in an intimate setting.  The studio seats about 100 people, and there is no bad seat.  At intermission, there are  often CDs for sale, and a meal is served by a local restaurant, A Stone’s Throw.  If you eat, you are expected to make a contribution to pay for your meal.  Tickets for concerts are usually $20 each.

We have attended three house concerts this summer, and each has been unique.  The first of June we walked into the studio for a concert to be greeted personally by that night’s performer, 75-year-old Ronny Cox, the well-known character actor who is also a talented singer/songwriter/
musician.  Most people remember Ronny’s first movie role in Deliverance when he played the unfortunate Drew Ballinger who had the Dueling Banjos scene with the mountain boy. But he is so much more! Ronny has gone on to have a successful acting career; he has written a book and screenplays, but his lifelong love has been his music--“…nothing cuts through to the heart like music,” according to Ronny.
Ronny Cox
To read more about Ronny Cox and listen to some of his music

On the night we heard him, he greeted each of us as we walked in the door, shook our hands, said “I’m Ronny,” waited while we told him our name, then said, “I’m glad you’re here.”  He is a courteous and warm-hearted man.  Like the seasoned professional he is, he showed up on time, knew his lines and set out to entertain the audience. He played, along with two excellent musicians he is touring with, from an extensive playlist—some songs he wrote and some he covered from other songwriters.  Ricky and I ended up buying a CD he has of Mickey Newbury songs.
He interspersed his music with personal anecdotes.  He shared with us that he had been married for 46 years to his childhood sweetheart, Mary, the only girl he ever dated.  She died 7 years ago.  She was a gifted woman in her own right, earning a PhD in chemistry.  Ronny said the music helps him work through the grief process.  He now lives in the cabin behind the house he shared with Mary.  His son and family have moved into the big house.  He helps care for his granddaughter Catherine, and has written a song about her.  Even though Ricky and I have heard some Shreveport musicians play at Fairfield House Concerts,  hearing Ronny Cox’s mellow baritone and his heartfelt delivery made me determined to hear more performers.  
Our next opportunity came when a noted songwriter was scheduled at Fairfield Studios.  He had recently suffered a setback when his property was damaged in a flood, and that seemed to be impetus for the tour.  This man put out one widely acclaimed album in the seventies.  A guest we invited to this concert said a musician friend of hers described this musician to her, “He released one album and never had to do another one, because it was perfect.” 
A packed house awaited this talented man and his wife, also a singer/songwriter.  They were about 30 minutes late, and when he came on stage, he immediately asked his wife for a pain pill, then got some wine from someone in the audience.  It became apparent he may have other challenges besides his destroyed studio.  He forgot some lyrics to songs he wrote but performed others satisfactorily.  Many people left at intermission.  His wife played a brief set, and her songs are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell.  We liked her.  When the songwriter came out after intermission he fell getting on stage, but managed to finish the set.  It was sad.  We hope things look up for him soon.  Our friend who is a professional photographer stayed after the show to get a picture of him.  She said she might as well get her money’s worth. 
Attending a Laurie McClain concert is like a visit with a good friend, and her songs are like conversations.  We heard this Nashville-based singer/
songwriter at the Fairfield Studio this month.  Many of her songs are based on events in her life, and she says the songs often appear to her as if someone else has written them.  Laurie sang “He Smiled Like an Angel,” a song about her brother Danny who committed suicide.  She spoke about the hurt he left behind and said the death of Robin Williams had reawakened the pain of her family's loss.  In her song Danny appears to her in a dream and smiles like an angel.  She feels he is telling her that he is okay.

Laurie McClain
For more
about Laurie and to listen to some of her songs


Laurie wrote “Somewhere in Kentucky” about a time she was on tour with another act.  She became ill and had to ride home on a Greyhound bus.  Sick with the flu, she lay across two seats and stared at the sky for hours.  Somewhere in Kentucky she saw a UFO, strange lights in the sky that danced across the sky for some minutes.  She wrote this song about it.  In her concert, she passed around a bag of tiny glow-in- the-dark space creatures.  She told members of the audience to take one if they had seen UFOs.  Ricky took one.  He swore to me that he has seen a UFO, but since it was some years back, he admits it could have been the influence of some mind-altering substance. He felt it was still fair to take a space critter home with us, so the little fellow watches me now as I type, having taken up residence on my desk.
Laurie has many more songs worth listening to--both those she wrote and those she covers of other artists.  I like her song about a whirlwind romance, her "Utopian" songs, e.g. My Heaven, and one she sang about lightning bugs.  Click here to see a limited free playlist. 

Attending concerts at the Fairfield Studios is like sitting down with true wordsmiths and having them explain their process of creation.  For me, it is an awesome way to experience music.





Saturday, August 23, 2014

BookBub Book Reviews

I’ve read several e-books recently, and I find that BookBub is a good way to preview a variety of affordably priced books.  BookBub, actually a Cambridge, Massachusetts, start-up company called Pubmark, Inc. is designed to help publishers and authors sell their e-books online.  Co-founders, Josh Schanker and Nick Ciarelli, have no publishing experience, but are marketing entrepreneurs in the fields of technology and blogging. The two-year-old company emails a daily newsletter, BookBub, to those who sign up.  It informs the recipient of the daily deals, handpicked by BookBub staff, that are available for Kindle download. 

When you sign up for BookBub, you select the literary genres you prefer, and then you receive daily recommendations in these categories.  Publishers and authors like the BookBub service because it draws readers’ attention to their books--out of the 3,500 books released daily in the United States!  I like BookBub because it tells me about books I may never hear of otherwise and offers the down-loads free or at discounted prices.  The discounted prices are only available for a short period of time. To read more about BookBub, click here.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
Sara Gran
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2011 

Private Detective Claire DeWitt needs money so she agrees to return to Post-Katrina New Orleans to determine what has happened to her client’s uncle who disappeared during the storm.  While a lot of folks lost their lives and all bodies were not identified or found, this missing man was wealthy, lived in the French Quarter where it didn’t flood, and should not have been in harm’s way.   

Claire’s search soon takes her into the underbelly of New Orleans.  She befriends young drug dealers and street thugs, smokes marijuana laced with who knows what, and stays up all night passing a bottle back and forth with a homeless woman. It appears to me that Claire goes above and beyond the call of duty! 

Using her PI skills, plus “signs” from the Universe, she gets closer and closer to the truth.  There are those who want to stop her, her client fires her, she narrowly escapes with her life, but, in the end, she does unveil the truth.   

The characters are interesting, but not likable.  The book is gritty and surreal at the same time.  Many readers will either like the flawed, quirky DeWitt or be repulsed.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  I have a mild curiosity about the sequel and the development of the recurring characters, but I’m in no hurry to purchase it.

Author Julie Smith & some of her titles

Louisiana Lament: a Talba Wallis Mystery
Julie Smith
booksBnimble Publishing
(Originally published as a Forge Book:
Tom Doherty Associates, 2004)
You may sense a trend here in my interests as Louisiana Lament features another New Orleans Private Detective Talba Wallis and her partner Eddie Valentino.  New Orleans may be called the City that Care Forgot, or the Big Easy, but its residents have a lot of troubles in murder mysteries.  Talba’s half-sister, her father’s “outside” child, calls her in a panic and begs her to come to an address in the Garden District.  When Talba arrives, she finds the owner dead, and her half-sister is the most logical suspect in the eyes of the police.  Talba agrees to investigate the murder, initially on behalf of her sister and then Talba is employed by the victim’s son.

The motives and the plot didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  One component of the Talba Wallis mysteries’ is her other occupation, that of a slam poet called “The Baroness de Pontalba.”  Talba often refers to herself in the third person when she is responding to comments about her poetry, e.g.  “The Baroness thanks you.”  I cannot relate to this character.  I prefer Smith’s other mystery series featuring Skip Langdon who is a New Orleans police officer, or those with Rebecca Schwartz, a San Francisco lawyer. 
Adventures in Funeral Crashing
Milda Harris
Kindle download, 2010 
Kait Lenox, at age 16, marches to a different drummer.  Her hobby, indeed her obsession, is crashing funerals.  Not just the service, but the wake and the burial, if possible.  Why, any reader might ask, would a teen-ager do this?  Kait, an only child, lost her mother about a year ago.  Her father doesn’t know much about raising a teen-age daughter, but does his best.  In the meantime, Kait attends every funeral that she can.  She likes to hear the stories about the departed loved ones as mourners share stories of the persons when they were alive.  

Harris writes with a light touch, although Kait deals with high school bullying as her former best friend, Ariel Walker, apparently derives great pleasure in ridiculing her, preferably in front of others.  This is not a serious Young Adult novel.  It is escapist fare, with cliques of the most popular boy in school befriending the class' weird girl, Kait.  Every book doesn’t have to solve the world’s problems.  The characters are likable, the plot around the murder is weak, the motive for murder even weaker, but I can see where some young adolescents would find it entertaining.