Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Life According to Books 2012


Just discovered a meme that seems like fun.  A posting in Pop Culture Nerds' My Life According to Books 2012 lists open-ended sentences, which the aforementioned blog author asks participants to complete using names of books we've read during the year.  Here is my list:

Every Monday I look like: The Undomestic Goddess (Sophie Kinsella).

Last time I went to a doctor (chiropractor) was because: (I was) Tender at the Bone (Ruth Reichl).

Last meal I ate was: Gumbo [Tales] (Sara Roahen).

My savings account is: Gone Missing (Linda Castillo).

When a creepy guy asks for my number, I: (turn into) The Cold Dish (Craig Johnson).

Ignorant politicians make me:  (see) The Evil that Men Do (Jeanne M. Dams).

Some people need to spend more time: (in) Another Man's Moccasins (Craig Johnson).

My memoir could be titled: A Curtain Falls (Stephanie Pintoff) .

If I could have, I would've told my teenage self: Books Can Be Deceiving (Jenn McKinlay)

In five years I hope I am: Crystal Clear (Jane Heller).

To participate in this meme, click on the link, My Life According to Books 2012.  Or you can just read about other folks' lives as told by the books they read. 

If you want to read reviews of the books I used to tell my life story, click the titles in the list above. I read two of the books this year before I started this blog so there's no review of these.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Death in Four Courses, by Lucy Burdette


I'm not sure if my recent fascination with Key West is because of an enduring interest in Ernest Hemingway and his six-toed cats, or because my friend told me this summer of a visit she and her husband made there with many of our friends from college days, a small Methodist College, I might add. It seems they accidentally picked the same week as Fantasy Fest and inadvertently wandered into a bar where pretty much the only clothes people were wearing were painted on.  Let me say from the outset that nothing like that happens in Lucy Burdette's latest mystery in her Key West Food Critic series.

Death in Four Courses, by Lucy Burdette
Obsidian Mysteries (an imprint of Penguin Group, Inc.).
2012.  Read in Kindle download


 
Lucy Burdette, aka Roberta Isleib
(photo by Ruthanna Terreri)
Click here to read more about the author
Haley Snow is back in Death in Four Courses, and that means I'm able to visit Key West again, albeit vicariously. Haley barely escapes being charged with murder in An Appetite for Murder, the first Key West Food Critic mystery, and in Death in Four Courses, Haley and her mother barely escape the murderer. (Click HERE if you want to read my review of book one in this series by Lucy Burdette, aka mystery writer and psychologist, Roberta Isleib.)


In the latest Key West mystery, Haley has a permanent place to live and it appears a permanent job as food critic for Key Zest magazine.  She shares her elderly neighbor Miss Gloria's houseboat, which allows Haley to stay in Key West and pursue her passion as a food writer. Toward that end Haley's mother is in town for a visit so mother and daughter can attend Key West Loves Literature conference.  Haley is covering the event and trying to buttonhole famous persons in the food writing industry who are in attendance. 

The conference gets off to an interesting start when the premier speaker, Jonah Barrows, throws out the gauntlet in his opening remarks as he pledges total honesty in all his comments during the upcoming conference sessions.  In a room where more than one person has something to hide, this spells serious trouble.  Before the conference is over, two of the famous food writers are dead and Haley's best friend, Eric, is a prime suspect.  Eric won't defend himself against the police suspicions, so Haley feels she must investigate to keep her friend out of jail. 

It is potentially problematic in a series featuring an amateur sleuth to manufacture a believable reason for the main character to get involved in the dangerous pursuit of a murderer, but Burnette's rationale for Haley's involvement worked for me in this mystery.  Haley's potential love interest, Police Detective Bransford, makes another appearance and other secondary characters from book one return, adding a sense of community and continuity to the series for me. 

Because there is much discussion about food in this book--which even includes recipes, such as: MK's Screw of the Roux Stew (like traditional Louisiana gumbo with tomatoes added); Hot Fudge Pie (delicious-sounding chocolate decadence); and Rhubarb Cake with Streusel Topping (another rhubarb recipe to try)--I'm counting this as part of my Foodies Read 2 reading challenge.  In my somewhat casual count, I think this is my seventh book in this reading challenge, placing me currently at Pastry Chef level.....hmmm, in charge of pastries, sounds like a good position to be in.

I like this cozy and easy-reading Key West Food Critic series.  I'm not sure if the concept contains enough depth to maintain my interest over the course of a lengthy series, but I'm enjoying them at the moment.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Scene of the Blog with My Bargain Basket of Books

 
I'm excited to have Views From My Highland Cottage highlighted on the award winning Kittling: Books blog, feature Scene of the Blog.  For several years Cathy at Kittling:Books has posted photos and descriptions of the spaces where fellow bloggers read and blog.  It has been fun to share with her and her readers some of the spaces where I can be found reading and writing, two of my passions since grade school!
 

 Click HERE to see the blog post.

  Welcome, visitors, from Kittling: Books!

Thanks for stopping by.

 
Those readers who read my last post know that I recently visited a huge book sale and came away with a laundry basket of books.  Nan at Letters From a Hill Farm suggested I take a photo of my bargains that temporarily sit on my library floor until I find time and space to shelve them.  Nan may have actually wanted me to take the books out of the basket for the photo op, but ...... 
 
 
There is presently an ebb and flow to the books.  I bought several with friends in mind so I've passed them on, and my mystery reading friends added four books to the stack when we got together for lunch last weekend.  I guess I'll shelve my books when I need the basket for laundry!

There are several spaces where I read or write that didn't make the Scene of the Blog post, and here are a few of them. 

I read a lot while I ride my exercise bike because I can read with absolutely no guilt, no matter how long my "To Do" list is.  After all, I'm exercising!
 
 
 
 
 
Right outside the exercise room (which also doubles as potting shed) is the patio where a few plants make it through our scorching summer.  When the weather is cooler and the West Nile mosquitoes don't pose a threat, I love to sit here and read or journal.
 
 
When days turn cooler, I like to find a patch of sunshine and curl up on the sun porch and read.
 
Reading in bed was a favorite pastime when I was growing up, and I still like to snuggle under a quilt and read on a cold evening. (It gets cold and damp in the Louisiana winters--really!)  Here is one more shot of the guest bedroom where I love to hang out.  
 

  
Featured below is my childhood bedroom in Virginia where my love of reading was nurtured as I lay on my bed and read whenever I could. The furniture may have changed since then, but not the cozy feeling of reading under the eaves hidden away from the world.
My childhood bedroom

 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Plum Lucky at the Book Sale

All of my well-intentioned resolutions about not buying more books until I read more of those already on my library shelves went out the window recently when the local college held their big fundraiser, an annual book sale.  Too much temptation, I fear.  My husband and I resisted going for the opening on Friday night, but Saturday found our resistance weaker and our energy levels higher. 

Since the college is just blocks from our house, we decided to see how many of the advertised 75,000 books were left in the college's gymnasium   The books are always arranged on tables according to categories, such as: mysteries under $1.00, hardbacks under $5.00, Literature, Food, Travel, Philosophy, Romance, Children's Books, etc.  Volunteers are constantly restocking books on the tables, so we found the tables were still full. 

I purposefully took bags that I had to carry as opposed to the rolling backpacks and suitcases some folks use, but I soon was toting around a very heavy bag!  Before lunch I ended up spending $30.00 on books, then my husband and I ducked out to a local Tex/Mex restaurant for some Huevos Rancheros for brunch and found ourselves back in the gym for the afternoon half price sale.  We spend an additional $10, so for a total expenditure of $40.00, we came home with about 30 books.  Plum lucky or plum foolish, hard to tell. 


People waiting in check-out lines at Friday opening of a previous year's book sale; Saturday is less crowded.
Some of the books became gifts for friends but most of them are now in a laundry basket in the library waiting for me to free up shelf space somewhere in the house where, hopefully, I have a prayer of finding them again when I get ready to read them.

I read with interest the authors of book blogs who state their books are neatly organized according to whether they have been read, ready to be read, recently read or heaven forbid, the Dewey Decimal System.  My books start out being roughly organized according to size, by necessity, then by topic and then whatever I can fit on a given shelf.  It develops my brain, I believe, trying to visualize which book shelf I last saw a book on.

One of the books I picked up for a friend and ended up reading quickly before I passed it on was one of Janet Evanovich's between-the-numbers Stephanie Plum novels,  Plum Lovin'. 



Plum Lovin', by Janet Evanovich

St. Martin's Press. 2007. 176 pages

 

A between-the-numbers, holiday-themed novel, Plum Lovin' finds Stephanie, the intrepid and inept bounty hunter, entertaining a drop-in and drop-dead gorgeous house guest, her old friend Diesel.  Diesel has an unusual proposition for Stephanie.  He has a fugitive that Stephanie wants, but Diesel swears the woman is innocent.  Annie Hart, a relationship expert, has been framed for her crime, according to Diesel, and Annie's problems don't end there--she is also being threatened by the husband of one of her clients.  The husband blames Annie for the problems in his marriage.  Diesel has Annie in hiding for her safety, but Annie makes Diesel and Stephanie promise her that they will handle her five open cases--they have to insure that these five people have a happy Valentine's Day. 

To say this is light reading is a gross understatement, and to call this book a mystery is stretching it, too.  However, Evanovich always includes humor in her books, so she isn't expecting the reader to be too serious about the plot.  In Plum Lovin', there has to be a reason why a pawn dealer claims Annie shot him and stole a valuable necklace.  This is the mystery Stephanie must solve at the same time she seeks out four strangers and somehow improves their love lives before Valentine's Day.  They fifth open case is the boyfriend of Stephanie's sister who wants to marry sister Valerie, the mother of his daughter, but is phobic about a marriage ceremony. 

Of course Stephanie blunders her way through to a happy ending for the clients and clears Annie Hart in the process.  This isn't Evanovich at her best, but sometimes it's fun to read a totally frivolous book, and this one fits the bill!

 Author Janet Evanovich





Thursday, September 13, 2012

Paris Adventures

I guess you could say I've been too bogged down to blog, but having completed some research for work on the web tonight, I'm taking a vacation--a virtual one at least and heading to Paris with author Eloisa James and her family, but first I'm remembering my first trip to Paris.
 
 

I first visited Paris in 1998 on a group tour while traveling with my mother. It was one of those "If This is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium" kind of experiences, but for my mom and me it was a Grand Adventure. As our bus entered Paris on the way to our hotel, we passed the soccer stadium where throngs of soccer fans were entering the Stade de France, France's national stadium. We were told by our guide that France was playing the highly favored Brazilian team that night in the World Soccer Final.  Flags hung from windows of high rise apartment buildings, the entire city was in a state of anticipation and high spirits.
 
 Crowds arriving at Stade de France, St.-Denis, Paris
1998 World Cup
Mother and I were tired, so we opted out of the tour group event that evening.  Instead we strolled around the Montmartre neighborhood where we were staying, got something to eat, then settled in to watch the soccer match on TV.  Neither of us understood French or much about soccer for that matter, but the excitement of the French commentators and the frenzy of the crowd was mesmerizing.  When France beat Brazil 3-0, winning their first ever World Soccer Cup, the city erupted.  The deserted streets of an hour before filled with throngs of people spilling out from cafes onto the streets around our hotel.  The sounds of fire crackers and blowing car horns filled the night air. 
 
I wanted to enjoy the festivities, so I joined the crowds roaming the streets of Montmartre that night.  A stranger grabbed me and hugged me, chattering in French and I felt bad that I didn't understand him and couldn't make even a simple reply.  Indeed everyone seemed to be hugging each other; when cars came to a stop light, occupants jumped out of the cars, ran around hugging people and shouting, then jumped back into their vehicles when the light turned green. 

Paris crowds celebrating 1998 World Cup win in Montmartre

According to news reports the next day, a million people filled the Champs-Elysees that night.  New York Times reporter, Craig Whitney, wrote: Black and white, Muslim and Christian, Arab and Asian, the people of Paris trooped down the avenue as they had during victory parades after World Wars I and II...It was, the French coach, Aime Jacquet said, a moment of ''national communion.''
 
The next day Mother and I ate at a sidewalk cafe.  We ordered Quiche Lorraine and when our plates came out, the tomato in the side salad had a French flag stuck in it.  The waiter smiled and said, "Quiche Lorraine France" when he brought our dishes to the table. 
 
Paris in Love, by Eloisa James
Random House, 2012
(Read in Kindle Download)
 
My goodness, my trip down memory lane took longer than anticipated, and I've left Eloisa James and her Paris memoir hanging.  Eloisa James is the pen name of a successful romance author who in her other life is Mary Bly, a Shakespeare professor at Fordham.  After losing her mother to breast cancer and having a brush with the disease herself, James and her Italian-born, university professor husband decide to apply for sabbaticals and move their family to Paris for a year.  Paris in Love is the story of that year. 
 
James takes the Facebook entries she posted that year from Paris, expands some into longer essays and organizes her reminiscences into the seasons of the year for this book.  This adds to the "You are there with her" feeling of the journal.  Her two children--fourteen-year-old son, Luca, and irrepressible eleven-year-old daughter, Anna--are often less than enthusiastic participants in this cross cultural experiment and provide frequent fodder for James' musings. 
 
James also writes a lot about ordinary days:
 
Parisian life is small and quiet.  I pack the children off to school and then think greedily about how many hours I have before they come home.  I have come to the conclusion that silence and time are the precious commodities.
 
Paris (and our apartment) is so dark and quiet this morning that I feel as if I'm entirely alone.  This sky is the color of gray flannel, the darkness broken only by the dormer window of another early riser.  The women who lives in that attic painted her walls yellow, and reflected light bounces out like a spring crocus.  If light were sound, her window would be playing a concerto.
 
The main character of this memoir is Paris, as the City of Light is always a scene stealer.  James describes other scenes outside her apartment window as she sits and writes, the homeless man who has pitched a tent on the heat grate near their apartment, her explorations of the city, her children's experiences in an Italian school, French food, the small, lesser known museums not to miss on one's next trip to Paris, the trials and tribulations of the family's obese chihuahua, Milo.  Her observations are concise, yet evocative.
 
Description of a winter scene from Paris in Love:
High up, somewhere in the milky sky, the snow clings together before it pinwheels gently down in little clumps.  Thousands of cotton bolls were trying to seed themselves on rue de Conservatoire.
 
But James is most eloquent when she writes of her family and her motivation for seizing this opportunity to live in Paris:
My grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, and was silent the last decade of her life; my father, my darling father of a thousand poems and more, has taken to watching leaves fall from their trees.  Rather than knit those leaves into words, he simply allows them to fall.  It's a cruel fate: to watch without recounting the fall of the leaf; to grieve without creating anew; to age without describing it.
 
I know how James feels.  My mother, who gamely tramped all over Europe at age 76, is now losing her words and the names of her great-grandchildren, but she and I will always have Paris.
 
To take a virtual trip to Paris in the footsteps of Eloisa James, visit the wonderful Paris Breakfast blog.  The blog's creator has posted quotations from Paris in Love and paired them with photos of Paris.
 
To see more of France, you might also be interested in my past blog posts about our 2011 trip.  To see the French home where my husband and I stayed in the French Alps town of Serres, click here.  Click here for post about our visit with another friend in Veynes in the Alps.  Click here to read and view photos of the village of Cucuron in southeastern France where part of the movie, A Good Year, with Russell Crowe was filmed and where Ricky and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary.  To read and see photos of two other villages in Provence, click here.  And to view Marseilles scenes, plus more of Serres in the French Alps, click here.  


 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cotswolds Cozy Fails to Deliver

The Evil That Men Do, by Jeanne M. Dams

Severn House Publishing, Ltd. 2011
(Kindle Download) 

Dorothy Martin, a retired American school teacher, and her second husband, Alan Nesbitt, a former Chief Constable in the fictional English village of Sherebury, spend a lot of time walking in the countryside, drinking tea and going from village to village pursuing vague leads about missing people in the latest offering in Jeanne Dams' cozy series featuring Dorothy as an amateur sleuth.  The retired couple have settled into a routine since their marriage, but they also enjoy travels around the UK, and though they are probably approaching seventy, The Evil That Men Do finds them on a walking tour of the Cotswolds undertaken as a series of day hikes. Any reader knows that murder doesn't take a holiday, so while Dorothy and Alan hike in the countryside, they become disoriented and stumble upon a body in an old quarry. Meanwhile, Dorothy meets a young man, Paul Jones, a guest at the Bed and Breakfast where they are staying, who seems to be troubled and perhaps in trouble.  When he and a friend of his vanish, Dorothy feels she must take action.

I hate to be overly critical of an author who has brought me pleasure with other books, but this latest Dorothy Martin mystery doesn't work for me on multiple levels.  The motivation behind Dorothy's involvement in the mystery is thin at best.  The secondary characters aren't well developed, so  I actually didn't care that they disappeared.  There isn't a logical connections of events--Dam often seems to be "over-reaching" as the story moves from scene to scene in the narrative.  The plot is slow moving--other reviewers comment it is more a travelogue than a mystery.  Even Dorothy, who has been compared to Miss Marple and can be a very spunky and likable heroine, seems wooden and emotionally wobbly in this book.  While the pace picks up toward the end, the believability factor becomes more far-fetched to me. By the end of the book, I even begin to weary of the scenic Cotswolds setting, certainly a strength of the novel. 

Contrast this to Winter of Discontent, a 2004 Dorothy Martin offering from Jeanne Dams.  I've read it twice, and I rarely read a mystery more than once.  But I'm a sucker for mysteries set at Christmas so Dams hooks me with her first paragraph: "I looked at the calendar and sighed.  Not only a Monday, but December eighth.  Exactly seventeen days till Christmas and I had done almost nothing.  No cookies had been baked, no cards sent, no presents bought, let alone wrapped."

When Dorothy and Alan's next-door-neighbor, the feisty and thoroughly likable Jane Langland, discovers that her former lover is first missing, then found dead, I understand perfectly that Dorothy must set aside her holiday preparations to help Jane get some answers. The town, the climate, the church all create an atmosphere for the book that pulls me in as a reader. The plot is more cohesive, better paced and believable.

Dams' first Dorothy Martin book, The Body in the Transept, published in 1995, won the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery and received critical acclaim, e.g., Publisher's Weekly wrote, "With her penchant for colorful hats, Dorothy establishes herself as a fresh, commanding and always genteel presence among female elder-sleuths of the '90s."


Photo from killerhobbies blog. Click here to see this blog.
 

In this photo of mystery authors, Monica Ferris on the left and Jeanne Dams on the right, we see that Dorothy Martin isn't the only one with a penchant for hats.  Both of these authors of cozy mysteries enjoy modeling the latest additions to their wardrobes.

Dams, a widow, lives in South Bend, Indiana, where she also writes another historical mystery series set in the South Bend of a 100 years ago, featuring Hilda Johansson, a young Swedish housemaid, who works in the Studebaker home there.