Thursday, March 31, 2022

Book Reviews - Notes on an Execution; Danya Kukafka and The Days of Afrekete; Asali Solomon

Notes on an Execution; Danya Kukafka
William Morrow and Harper Audio - 2022
(combo read/listen) (9 hours 42 min.)
(Mozhan Marno and Jim Meskimen - narrators - very good)

Notes on an Execution caught my eye early on. It is a work of fiction about a serial killer named Ansel Parker sentenced to death for killing several girls years earlier. The story begins with Parker on death row in Texas, 12 hours prior to his execution. Ansel does not want to die, he does want others to understand his story.  As the countdown to his execution plays out we learn of Ansel's past beginning with his mother Lavender, an abused young woman who gave birth to him in a barn at the age of 17 and, then later in pure desperation left him and his infant brother.  We also hear from Hazel, the twin sister of Ansel's wife Jenny who had an early concern for her sister's well being as she saw the ugly side of Ansel when her sister did not. Then there is Saffy, an upstate New York police captain whose job it was to see that justice was served. The two have a shared past in a group home as teens and Saffy also saw the darker side of what turned out to be a serial killer in the making.

This is a dark, exceptionally well written novel which is very different from anything I've read in a long while.  The victims themselves were not well explored but, that in no way detracted from the effectiveness of the story.  I never understood how Ansel Parker was able to do what he did yet, his story was still sometimes sad, compelling and ultimately powerful.  I was satisfied with the way the story played out. This is one of those stories I will not easily forget; it left me with plenty to think about.  Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a darker character driven work of crime fiction. 

(eGalley courtesy of publisher and Edelweiss - audiobook download from my public library)

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

The Days of Afrekete; Asali Solomon
Random House Audio - 2021
Narrated by Karen Chilton - good 
(5 hours and 33 min.)

The Days of Afrekete is a book which recently came to me attention by reading Susan's post on her blog, The Cue Card.  It's a relatively short novel (novella) at just around 200 pages and 5 hours on audio.  I'm still not sure how to classify it.  It's dark, bold and even funny at times but, I thought it was a bit strange as well.

The story begins with a black woman named Liselle Belmont hosting a dinner party to thank her white husband Winn's political supporters for their hard work despite his failed political bid for state legislature in PA.  As the dinner party is about to begin we learn that only Liselle is aware of the FBI's interest in her husband, a former real estate lawyer for some rather sketchy business dealings.  As the uncomfortable party is about begin, Liselle's mind flashes back to some 20 years earlier to her college days at Bryn Mawr and her sexual escapades as a lesbian where she eventually meets a black woman named Selena.  We begin to understand why the lives of these women play out in very different ways. Liselle begins to think given her current situation,  that Selena may be the only person who might really understand her.

Told mostly from the POV of Liselle, the story seemed to focus more on the past including insight into both women as well as  Liselle's mother Verity who a lot of issues of her own.  This is a rather short novel and although the audio, narrated by Karen Chilton, was well done, I just wasn't a huge fan of the way the story played out.

Rating - 3/5 stars

(audio book download from my public library)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Book Reviews - The Book of Cold Cases; Simone St. James - Nine Lives; Peter Swanson

The Book of Cold Cases; Simone St. James
Penguin Audio - 10 hours 44 min.
(Narrators: Brittney Pressley, Kirsten Potter and Robert Petkoff - very good)

Shea Collins is a young woman who works in medical office by day and maintains a true crime blog, The Book of Cold Cases, in her free time.  She tries to get tips on unsolved cases the authorities are no longer actively pursuing.  One day at her office job she recognizes Beth Greer, a woman linked to, but acquitted of, (2) separate 1977 unsolved murders. Both victims were men and were shot by a woman who left a note. The gun used, coincidentally, was the same type of gun that killed Beth's father years earlier. Beth has kept a low profile at the family Oregon mansion ever since she was acquitted of what has been called the Lady Killer Murders.

Shea pursues Beth in the hopes of getting a brief interview and surprisingly, Beth eventually agrees to meet with her at the Greer mansion. The meetings are uncomfortable to say the least and it seems clear that there is at least 1-2 ghostly beings that are not happy about what is going on.  

The characters were interesting enough as both Shea and Beth have a good deal of baggage which gets uncovered.  Shea has been dealing with trauma from her past and we learn of Beth's troubled childhood as well. The story has a slow build and was satisfying over all. I thought the author did a decent job balancing the serial killer story line while adding a bit of the paranormal as well. Of course my favorite minor character was a cat by the name of Winston Purrchill.  I loved the authors previous book: The Sundown Motel which also had a bit of a paranormal element to it. This offering was slightly less thrilling for me but, yet it held my interest and I enjoyed the way the story played out.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Nine Lives; Peter Swanson
William Morrow and Harper Audio - 2022
(combo read/listen)
(Narrators - Jacques Roy and Mark Bramhall - very good - 7 hours 11 min)

Nine Lives was an interesting mystery that involved a rather cryptic list of names. Nine individuals in different parts of the country receive a list of nine names, their name being one of them.  At a quick glance none of the individuals seem to know the other people on the list but, it soon becomes clear that someone wants them these people dead.  The people on the list are different ages, occupations, sexual orientations and live in different areas of the country.  What's the connection or motive? One of the individuals on the list is Jessica Winslow, an FBI Agent from Albany, NY and, she hopes to see this case solved before she ends up as one of the victims.

This isn't a really long book and the story is told from multiple POVs which worked out well; I never found it difficult to follow even when listening on audio after I switched off from the eBook.  I felt like the reader is given just enough back story on each of the individuals on the list to keep things interesting before the story moves on to another potential victim. The manner of death varied which kept it interesting as well.  Some of the characters were likable while others not so much.  In many ways this book reminded me of Agatha Christie's,  And Then There Were None except that all of these victims died in very different locales.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Margreete's Harbor; Eleanor Morse

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon. Today's pick is a book that's been on my Kindle for about a year. I was reminded of it by JoAnn @  Gulfside Musing who recently blogged about it. It definitely sounds like a book I might like.

Margreete's Harbor;  Eleanor Morse
St. Martin's Press - 2021

Part 1

Burnt Harbor, Maine

Margreete walked barefoot down the hallway to the stairs as the floorboards muttered. "Move," she said to the cat.  Downstairs in the kitchen, she rummaged around in the refrigerator for his food and spooned some bacon drippings into a frying pan to fortify the bread crusts she'd saved for the crows.

As the flames licked around the edges of the pan, she went back upstairs and shuffled into her slippers. On the landing was a mouse that Romeo had partially eaten in the night.  She bent over the headless body, the gory truncated neck, the tiny pink feet shriveled up like dried weeds.  The cat joined her and nudged the carcass with a paw. "Why did you kill it?" she said.  "It just wanted to live its life."

What do you think read more or pass?

Monday, March 28, 2022

Book Review - Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Defender of Free Speech; Gattaldo

Author & Illustrator: Gattaldo  - Candlewick Press 2021

Daphne Caruana Galizia grew up on the Island of Malta. From an early age she dreamed of being a writer so she could share stories about her country.  She loved reading and through books she learned to be a free thinker. Daphne lived her dream; she grew up, spoke up and became a powerful, courageous journalist.  Daphne and her friends saw bad things happening in her country, she believed peaceful protest was important and was even arrested for it.  She married, had three children and encouraged her children to fight for justice as well.  She started writing for a newspaper and was not afraid to publish the truth. She was threatened, her dog was killed to send a message but, that just empowered her to spread the truth all the more.  

Daphne Caruana Galizia (1964-2017) was killed in 2017 when a bomb placed under her car exploded. She inspired and encouraged others to stand up for free speech by keeping others informed about the truth.  This book was written and illustrated by her good friend.

What a powerful book, another story I was not aware of, the message is powerful and the images are so well done as well.  I love how Candlewick Press through the books that they have decided to publish are spreading powerful messages to young children about the importance of standing up for one's beliefs.  This book is targeted at grades 2-4 (ages 7-9). Beautifully done.

Rating - 5/5 stars

Note: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Book Review - Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals; Laurie Zaleski


St. Martin's Press - 2022

Author Laurie Zaleski's love of animals began early in life.  Her mother Annie loved all kinds of animals and had a dream of rescuing the unwanted, abused and abandoned animals who needed a second chance.  First, her mother had to escape her abusive life at the hands of Laurie's father Richard, a wealthy professor with a mean streak.  She along with Laurie and her two siblings had fled the family home several times only to be coaxed back by Richard.  Finally they were able to escape for good but, they were never really rid of him.  It was the mid-1970s and a difficult situation for a mother to be in. With almost no money of her own and no alimony she made the best of a bad situation with multiple lower level jobs.  One of Annie's jobs was in animal control and she was forever bringing a soon to be put to death animal home. Her big heart planted her dream of having her own rescue. Unfortunately,  that didn't happen for her -- she passed away at 52.  Laurie, however,  was able to live her mother's dream. She bought a 15 acre parcel in New Jersey's Pine Barrens region and began taking in helpless creatures: horses, pigs, goats, calves, llamas, cats, wounded birds and many other varieties of unwanted or neglected animals. Today some 600 creatures call Funny Farm home.

I loved this memoir and the way it was written. The chapters alternate between the past Laurie's and her sibling's childhood and her mother's need to see that her children learned compassion by help animals.  The chapters that focus on the present - are about "funny farm" and how various animals that live on the farm found their way there. I loved the resilience of this family and how they didn't dwell on misfortune but picked themselves up and made it their mission to help the helpless.  Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary is open to the public and has many loyal volunteers and supporters today. I  highly recommend this memoir.

Rating - 5/5 stars

(NOTE: The eGalley was sent to me by the publisher, St. Martin's Press and NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review)

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Nine Lives; Peter Swanson

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.

Nine Lives; Peter Swanson
William Morrow and Harper Audio - 2022



Wednesday, September 14, 5:13 p.m.

Jonathan Grant, unless he let her know ahead of time that he couldn't make it, always visited on Wednesday evening.  His wife had a standing "girls' night out" on Wednesdays--occasionally in the city, but usually in New Jersey--so Jonathan would leave the office by five and be at Alison's one-bedroom apartment in Gramercy Park by five-thirty at the latest.

Gotta tell you, I'm not too fond of this guy already.  However, I started this book, by Peter Swanson, an author I've had mostly great luck with, and I'm really enjoying this stand alone mystery so far.

What do you think?

Monday, March 21, 2022

Book Reviews: Recitatif; Toni Morrison and The Invisible Life of Addie Larue; V. E. Schwab

Recitatif; A Story; Toni Morrison
Penguin Random House Audio - 2022
(1 hour and 54 min - narrated by Zadie Smith and Bahni Turpin - excellent)

This short story was originally published in 1983 and, it was the only short story that Toni Morrison ever had published.

What we know from the introduction of this short story by Zadie Smith is that this is a story about two young girls - one is black and one is white. We are left to decide the race issue for ourselves.

The story opens in the 1950s when two girls, Twyla and Roberta,  meet at St. Bonaventure's home for children at the age of eight. The two are roommates and we learn that their mothers are unable to care for them.  We learn that Twyla's mother Mary is a dancer who works at night and, we gather that Roberta's mother may be in an institution for some sort of mental illness.  The girls spend four months together but, that time together is significant and will impact their future lives.  When the women cross paths a few times as adults, it was interesting to read about their interpretations of an incident that occurred during their short time together.  

I was happy I tried this short story, it gave me a lot to think about and I liked that the reader got to learn about how their lives turned out as adults. The narration was excellent as well.  Honestly, I think I would have preferred that the fairly long introduction about race and stereotypes was omitted or shortened, it seemed to detract from the actual story.  I liked making my own decision about the race of these women as well.  Worth Reading!

Rating - 4/5 stars

Tor Books - 2020 - Book Group Read

This book was selected as our March book group read.  It is definitely not the type of book that I would have chosen on my own. First the time period - the story begins in 1714  when Addie is 23 and plays out over some 300 years.  Protagonist Addie Larue makes a deal with the God Luc hoping to avoid marriage and a more traditional life in her hometown.  She is granted infinite life until she agrees to relinquish her soul to him. Little does Addie know she will be forgotten by everyone she crosses paths with while alive.  

The story follows two timelines - through the present day being 2014.  I had a love-hate relationship with this book.  The writing was very good but, at times felt a tad repetitive.  I enjoyed the many wonderful quotes to be found throughout as well (my rating reflects this). I'm just not a fan of fantasy/magical realism or romance and this had all three. There were also more than 15 characters in this book and, although the audio was lovely (read by Julia Whelan) I had to switch to print in order not to drive myself crazy. I liked how art was significant to the story and, I did not realize the significance early on. My 4 star rating is based on how clever the story was; I loved how Addie did manage to leave her mark on the world. 


“You see only flaws and faults, weaknesses to be exploited. But humans are messy, Luc. That is the wonder of them. They live and love and make mistakes, and they feel so much.”

“He always liked learning. Loved it, really. If he could have spent his whole life sitting in a lecture hall, taking notes, could have drifted from department to department, haunting different studies, soaking up language and history and art, maybe he would have felt full, happy.”

“He assures you that you’ll find your calling, but that’s the whole problem, you’ve never felt called to any one thing. There is no violent push in one direction, but a softer nudge a hundred different ways, and now all of them feel out of reach.”

“There is a rhythm to moving through the world alone. You discover what you can and cannot live without, the simple necessities and small joys that define a life. Not food, not shelter, not the basic things a body needs—those are, for her, a luxury—but the things that keep you sane. That bring you joy. That make life bearable.”

Rating - 4/5 stars

Book Review: The Other Dr. Gilmer: Two Men, A Murder and the Unlikely Fight for Justice; Benjamin Gilmer

Ballantine Books and Random House Audio - 2022

On June 28, 2004, a well-respected, small town North Carolina doctor named Vincent Gilmer,  picked up his father from the assisted living facility he lived at, drove him around in his truck to Virginia and strangled him with a dog leash and then cut off his fingers leaving his body on the side of the road. What caused Vincent Gilmer to snap and murder his own father and then show up at his clinic ready to see patients at his Asheville, NC office the following day?

A second Dr. Gilmer, Benjamin Gilmer (no relation) joined the same clinic and learned about what transpired.  He was more than a little concerned about Vince Gilmer finding out about the new doctor with the same last name but, he was also was intrigued and interested in meeting the man who was now spending time in prison.  Benjamin Gilmer working with journalist Sarah Koenig had discovered that Vince had a number of mental health issues and a neurological condition (Huntington's Disease) that may have contributed to the act of violence that landed him his prison sentence.  Benjamin Gilmer was determined to do what he could to help free Vince Gilmer.

This story is hard to read about at times.  At times I sympathized with Gilmer, the killer, after learning what he experienced at the hands of his father.  This is a true story shows the failures of our justice system as the author tries to advocate on Vince Gilmer's behalf to get him released from prison.  I thought this story was very well written and investigated but, it did make me wonder how the author was able to continue his medical practice and meet with, investigate and continue his fight for justice. The author also had a family who needed his emotional and financial support.

This book is highly recommended to readers who enjoy true-crime stories. The audio book was read by the author and was very well done.  Tis audio download was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Weekly Update - Lot's of Reading


Well our snow of last week is all gone and spring seems just around the corner. The first St. Patrick's Day Parade in (2) years in a nearby town is happening today since COVID numbers are way down. It will be happy to open the windows soon and our cats will be thrilled as well. 

March was been a month where I have focused on books - all kinds: thrillers, short story, NF and kids books as well. I've read (14) books already but still need to catch up on quite a few reviews.  I've been trying to keep my mind off my upcoming surgery which I've known about for 5 weeks now but, it all still feels kind of surreal.  I've been catching up with coffee dates and lunches with friends the past (2) weeks which has been nice.  My husband is trying to be upbeat and, although he means well and is trying to be positive his comments are not always helpful - although I do enjoy his company on our outdoor walks:)  Feeling extra grateful for my (2) wonderful adult children today.

Here's some books I've finished and really enjoyed. I hope to catch up on all the reviews over the next few days.

Review Coming Soon

Recitatif; Toni Morrison
( a short story)
4.5/5 stars
4.5/5 stars

The Book of Cold Cases; Simone St. James
4.5/5 stars

5/5 stars

(book group read)
4/5 stars

How was your week? Did you read any books that you absolutely loved?

Friday, March 18, 2022

Book Review - Greenwich Park; Katherine Faulkner


Greenwich Park; Katherine Faulkner
Simon & Schuster Audio - 2022
(10 hrs. 13 min. - Laura Kirman narrator -good)

Helen Thorpe seems to finally have an almost perfect life. Her husband Daniel has a good job bit works long hours and they have a beautiful home in "Greenwich Park".  Finally after a number of pregnancies with not so happy endings, a first baby is on the way.  Helen's brother Rory and his wife Serena are also expecting, their due dates are within a few weeks of each other. They are about to begin birthing classes together. When Helen arrives for the class alone, Daniel held up at work yet again, she soon learns that the others including her husband had to cancel unexpectedly as well.  

Helen soon finds herself in the company of another woman at the class who is there without a partner.  The woman, Rachel, becomes chatty with Helen, asking lots of questions but, not answering ones directed at her. She is Helen's opposite: pushy, a bit crass and she smokes and drinks even during her pregnancy.  After the class Rachel begins showing up unexpectedly and seems to always have questions about Helen & Daniel and their life.  Helen is too polite to tell Rachel to back off or, to break ties with her. Honestly, Helen is rather lonely with Daniel's long hours and, she does like the way Rachel can make her laugh when they are together. At one point Rachel shows up at Helen's home needing a place to stay for a few days and soon things seem to begin to spiral out of control and, then Helen goes missing.

What is Rachel's real reason for her unusual behavior and her need to find a way into the lives of this couple?  Slowing the secrets begin to emerge that some wish were better left buried.

This debut novel is one of those psych thrillers that hooked me early on but, the storyline turned out to be a bit familiar. The story plays out over the last 15 weeks of Helen's pregnancy. I found myself anxious to find out why Rachel was so motivated to be a part of this couple's lives.  I liked the way the tension seemed to ratchet up and the way we really got to know the characters. There are a few other characters that added interest to the story - Charlie, Rory's younger brother and Katie, a journalist he was dating.  Helen, on the other hand, was a frustrating character for me. Why would a smart woman who finally seems to have the perfect life, with her first baby weeks away, risk allowing a stranger into the mix without knowing her background.  Rachel never talked about the father of her baby and seemed to have little interest in impending motherhood.  

Told through the POV of (3) characters, at times I felt it was a bit hard to follow on audio as I was unsure who was speaking. I found myself repeating some sections just to be sure.  I did think that the story was somewhat longer than need be but, the ending was satisfying so in the end I was happy I finished this one.

Rating - 3.5/5 stars

(Audio download provided to me by the publisher in exchange for me unbiased review)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Sanctuary, Kip Tiernan & Rosie's Place: The Nation's First Shelter for Women; Christine McDonnell (Victoria Tentler-Krylov-Illustrator)


Christine McDonnell and (Victoria Tentler-Krylov, Illustrator)
Candlewick Press - 2022 - (ages 7 - 10)

Kip Tiernan grew up during the Great Depression learning early on from her grandmother that it was important to help people who had nothing.  Kip's grandmother, who had 10 children of her own, would make large vats of soup so that when hungry people would knock on her door asking for help because they were out of work, they could count on a bowl of soup to help sustain them.

In 1968 Kip would also feed the hungry at a shelter called Warwick House located in a poor Boston neighborhood. Kip noticed women dressed as men stopping for some food.  At that time it was believed that only men were homeless.  She began noticing women sleeping on park benches and scavenging for food.  Kip spent several days at St Josephs's House in New York City talking to people about their situation.  

Kip, like some of the women she met, overcame alcohol addiction in her 20s. She was determined to help other women. She wanted to open the first shelter for women in Boston where women could come for food and shelter. Her job getting this dream off the ground wasn't easy and, she met obstacles getting others to buy into the idea but on Easter Sunday in 1974 her dream came true - Rosie's Place opened as the first women's shelter in the US.

Sanctuary, is a wonderful book, beautifully illustrated as well,  about the importance of people helping people who are less fortunate.  The author was a former educator at Rosie's House.  The story is tastefully done and informative for middle grade children (younger in some cases) and adults as well.  Highly recommended for both school and public libraries as well as personal collections.

Thanks go to Candlewick Press for sending this lovely book my way in exchange for my unbiased review.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Other Dr. Gilmer: Two Men, A Murder and an Unlikely Fight for Justice; Benjamin Gilmer


Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.

Ballantine Books and Penguin Random House Audio - 2022

Good Hope Road

One June 28, 2004, in rural Appalachia, a man with my name and my profession strangled his father in the passenger seat of his Toyota Tacoma.

The other Dr. Gilmer was a family medicine physician in North Carolina, at a small clinic he'd founded with his wife near the tiny town of Fletcher.  He was recently divorced, living alone in a house on the hill above his office.  In the weeks and months before that night, he'd been drinking more than usual, going out to bars during the week. He'd also been making some impulsive decisions---like buying the brand new truck he was driving that night, even though he was massively in debt.

What do you think - read more or pass?  I just started this one and am finding it quite fascinating.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Book Review; In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss; Amy Bloom


Random House Audio - 2022
(Narrated by the author - good)
(4 hours and 49 min.)

Sometimes even when I think I need an upbeat read, I find myself drawn to darker or sadder stories -- Case in point: In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom.

After meeting in 2005, Amy Bloom and Brian Ameche married in 2007.  Both were in previous relationships but, they knew they were a match early in the relationship.  Each had friends, family and a job they enjoyed and many shared interests as well.  One day Amy began to notice subtle but odd changes in her husband, they were easy to brush off at first but, soon Brian ended up leaving the job he loved and after MRIs and various testing in 2019 was diagnosed with Alzheimers at the age of 65.

For Brian one thing was certain, he was adamant about wanting to die with dignity before his disease took him on a journey of forgetting everything and everyone that had meaning in his life.  He asked his wife to research death with dignity options for when the time was right.  

Although there are several states in the US that have so called "right to die" laws in place, the criteria is very specific and most states require that the individual's illness be terminal and that death was likely to occur within 6 months.  As a couple they decided to look into assisted suicide options in Zurich, Switzerland.  Bloom tell readers that Dignitas is the best option for US citizens who are not terminally ill if they feel the need to end their lives. After going through the application process, a required autobiography, interviews, medical reports and much more, Brian eventually meets the requirements and in January 2020 with his wife Amy by his side he ended his life. 

This memoir was a bit of an eye-opener and I'm glad I had the opportunity to listen to it.  It is not a long book and it is written in a way that is not all doom and gloom. The author has a way of infusing her wit and humor at appropriate times as she shares the story of their years together.  Many readers may shy a way from a topic such as this but, I do recommend this one.  

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Book Review - Talking to the Dead; Helen Dunmore


Talking to the Dead; Helen Dunmore
Little Brown & Company - 1997

 Nina and Isabel (Izzy) are sisters; Nina is a freelance photographer who lives in London and Isabel and her husband Richard live in the country.   As the story begins Isabel has just given birth to a son Antony and, after a difficult birth Nina is on her way to spend some time with Izzy and help her out.  Isabel's current state of mind is fragile and, she seems uninterested in bonding with her baby.  She has also asked her husband to sleep downstairs.  Except for visits from her gay friend Edward whom Isabel feels comfortable confiding in, she prefers to spend most of her time alone. She smokes but she rarely eats and motherhood seems to have her focused on an event from the past.

When Nina sees her newborn nephew she can't believe how much he resembles how she remembers baby Colin, the brother who died when she was just 4 and Isabel was 7.  The sisters talk about the death of Colin and the reader is made to wonder if his death was cot (crib) death or something much darker that occurred.

Talking to the Dead is a most unusual and mysterious sort of story.  Isabel seems physically and mentally ill and, she has lost interest in her husband as well.  There is an uncomfortable feel to the story, it is full of tension and raw emotion.  The reader can't help but wonder whether something tragic is about to happen. In contrast to the darker mood there was the beautiful setting: the sea, flower gardens and fruit trees and good food to be enjoyed. At times the story is quite sensual.  I loved the writing style and now and then I found this book very difficult to put down.  I was satisfied with the ending but, some readers might not feel the same way.  

This book has sat on my book shelves far too long. I'm so happy that I finally decided to read it.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Book Review - One Italian Summer; Rebecca Serle


One Italian Summer; Rebecca Serle
Simon & Schuster Audio - 2022)
(narrator - Lauren Graham - not bad)

After a few heavier reads I needed something nice and light and, One Italian Summer seemed to fit the bill.  

Katy, age 30, and her mother Carol had a special closeness. Even when Katy married, Eric it was her mother who she called with any issue she had to deal with.  So when Carol dies after an illness Katy, who had spent the last month caring for her mother, is devastated. She is forced to examine her life and even whether she still wants to be married.  She takes a bold step, leaving her husband Eric at home and, heading to Positano, Italy.  It is the vacation that Katy and her mother were planning to take together.

In Positano, it is overwhelmingly beautiful: the sea, the sunsets,  the slower pace and the kindness of each stranger she meets.  Then something unexpected happens at the Hotel Positano, the receptionist is Carol, Katy's mother at age 30.  It is this awakening in which Katy gets a glimpse at a very different woman from the mother she recently lost.  Watching Carol at 30 makes Katy realize that even mothers aren't perfect and don't always have everything figured out.  

Initially, I thought Katy was immature and self-centered when she told her husband that "her mother was the love of her life," and she wasn't sure she wanted to be married anymore.  I was happy to see Katy developing a new sense of self separate from her mother. I thought the ending was satisfying as well.  Not perfect but, if you are looking for a lighter read that is a bit different this might be a good one to try.

Rating - 4/5 stars

(This audio download was made available to me by the publisher at no cost in exchange for my unbiased review.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Book Review - Taste: My Life Though Food; Stanley Tucci


2021 - Simon & Schuster Audio
(read by author - excellent)

I initially passed on this book when it was first released in the fall of 2021 but, after reading so many rave reviews, I decided to give it a try on audio. 

What a good memoir, Stanley Tucci has had quite a life.  I never realized just how many movies he has been in and how inspired his was by his Italian American heritage to learn to cook the REAL Italian way.  His cookbooks have been loved by many.  There was one chapter where he talks about the perfect martini which I enjoyed - he also talks about other cocktails and fine wines as well. Tucci has had more than his share of challenges in life, his first wife Kate,  died very young of breast cancer leaving him with three young children to raise.  And, more recently (last 5 years) Tucci faced his own private battle with a painful form of mouth cancer at the base of his tongue leaving a man who loved cooking and food so much, unable to eat for a period of time where he required a feeding tube.  Fortunately, he has recovered and he is back to cooking, creating and enjoying life with his second wife Felicity and the couples two young children as well as Tucci's three older children.

This is a very well written memoir.  It had a nice balance about Tucci's personal life, career and plenty of good food as well.  There are wonderful recipes peppered throughout and, Tucci's  down to earth writing style and plenty of humor really made this book even more personal and enjoyable.  There was one graphic scene Tucci recalled from his childhood that could have been toned down or better-yet eliminated IMO, but, despite that I still liked this an awful lot.  Readers will want a print copy for their shelves.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

(library download)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Talking to the Dead; Helen Dunmore

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon. This one has been sitting on my shelves for over 15 years and, it has the loveliest jacket and the book itself is petite in size.

Talking to the Dead; Helen Dunmore
Little Brown & Company - 1996


"THE NEWER GRAVES lie full in the sun, beyond the shadow of the church and yew tree. Two of them are covered in plastic-wrapped flowers and raw earth; these graves won't have stones for a while yet, because they must wait for the earth to settle.

There are a lot of things you need to learn when someone dies, and you have to learn fast, from people who are paid to teach you.  They come up with hushed, serious faces and ask questions.  If you don't say anything right away, they just wait.  It's their job.  There were two of them standing there, noting down the requirements.  One glanced at the other, and they gleamed with satisfaction at phrasing it all so well.  But they were much too professional to smile."

What do you think - read more or pass?