Thursday, July 21, 2011

Invisible by Lorena McCourtney

Ivy Malone is an elderly woman whose best friend dies. Her best friend rents an apartment to a young woman going by the name of Kendra. When Kendra disappears and a body is found matching her description, Ivy comes forward to identify the body. The woman had been using the identity of someone deceased. Ivy is not satisfied that the police are being thorough and sets out to investigate. There were parts of this story I enjoyed. The opening chapter has Ivy and her best friend in a cemetery and appalled by the vandalism that had taken place there. Having seen cemeteries in this condition, I can completely identify with the outrage. Ivy, however, has some neighbors who are obsessed with genealogy. Unfortunately the author seems to be making fun of their avocation. Genealogical research is not pictured in a favorable light, and the author's unfamiliarity with professional genealogical standards is quite apparent. This is a minor plot line, but it marred my enjoyment of the book. There is a problem with believability. I really cannot picture an elderly woman such as Ivy crouching all night in a cemetery behind tombstones hiding out or being willing to do so. There are also other things that just do not seem that plausible. Ivy is a likable sleuth. This is a work of Christian fiction, and at times I felt that the author was being evangelistic rather than allowing testimonies to take a natural course. All this said, Ivy is likeable, as is one of the detectives, and I would probably read the second book if it is offered as a free Kindle download as this first one was. 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

An excellent book that shows the culture clash between the British colonists and the native Hindus and Muslims of India. The first section of the book is largely prefatory and introduces us to the cast of characters. The second portion of the book is the central section of the book, dealing with Miss Quested's experiences in the Malabar caves. The third section, which is the briefest portion of the book, is somewhat like an extended afterward. I enjoyed reading about the cultural differences, and the tension that was created because of the British view of themselves as being superior to the Indian natives. We also get to see the Indian system of government and justice at work in the novel. I loved this novel for the sense of place it created, but I can certainly understand why the British found it offensive at the time of publication. It reminds one of some of the other literary works that served to expose needed reforms. 4 stars.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on Borders Liquidation

I remember the excitement when Cincinnati (where I was then living) got its first Borders store. It was on the cutting edge then in combining music and books at one location. While I didn't give up trips to other bookstores or to the library, I did find myself going to the store nearest my home quite a bit.

When I moved to East Tennessee, I discovered that I liked the Borders stores in Knoxville better than the Barnes & Noble and BooksAMillion stores in the city. (The BooksAMillion in Sevierville is much better than the Knoxville store.) The Borders store also did things for the education community that were not replicated by the other stores -- such as an Educators Appreciation Day. Now, if the news reports are to be believed, liquidation of all Borders stores will begin as early as Friday. That's just 4 days away. I'm losing a familiar friend. I'm not very happy that it is my favorite of the area "new" bookstores that is closing. [I do purchase more books at McKays (our wonderful used book dealer).]

What does this mean? I've already begun to use the library more often. I also opted for a Kindle so gets most of my e-book business (unless something is DRM-free and can be converted). I will continue to purchase books at McKays, especially fiction books that I am not going to keep forever. However, it means that Barnes & Noble in Knoxville and BooksAMillion in Sevierville will now be vying for the dollars I spent at Borders. How will they win the battle for my dollars? They'll need to have the types of books that I'm seeking in stock! I often purchase local history books at an area bookstore, especially things by small presses or that are privately printed. If they can come up with some unique ones that I just have to own, they'll get my business. As far as bricks and mortar stores, the East Tennessee Historical Society's store probably does a better job here. Stock the mysteries on my wish list. I tend not to browse as much as I once did because my wish list of books to read is massive. Stock interesting social histories that bring to life the world of my ancestors. Neither of them do this very well. I usually do better at the used bookstore or for this type of book. Offer interesting cookbooks on the discount table rather than the canned ones that are always there. I don't want to pay $35 for a cookbook. I'll wait until it shows up at the used bookstore or until I find a deal on Keep some piano music books in stock. Borders definitely had the best selection of these when I was in the mood for a keyboard collection of some sort. I usually prefer stuff like Broadway hits, jazz, 70s music, TV tunes, etc. for the occasions when the music-buying urge hits. The bookstore that caters to my music mood will get that business because I want to look at the books before purchasing them. I generally won't be ordering these from Offer better discounts. They tend to only offer discounts on current bestsellers. If a discount is offered, it is only 10% (which basically, in Tennessee, means that they are paying your sales tax.) Why should I pay full price in the bookstore when I can order it online and have it delivered to my home for less? One thing against both of them is that they both charge for their "rewards" or "perks" cards. One thing that both already do right is that they both have coffee shops. I enjoy drinking a hot or iced coffee beverage while shopping.

When I look at my list of demands and my book habits, it's really a wonder that any "new" bookstore can stay in business. I guess I should be thankful I still have some. When Waldenbooks folds with its parent Borders, there will be many communities without bookstores.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

Alcott’s short book provides a glimpse into the life of a Civil War hospital in Washington, DC from the viewpoint of nurse Periwinkle (Alcott herself) who came from the Boston area. It shows a contrast between the way various hospitals were run. I loved her descriptions of the towns as she was traveling through them in the early chapters of the book. Very descriptive; good writing. 4 stars.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick

Recently divorced, Evelyn visits New Bern, Connecticut and decides to leave Texas and open a quilt shop in the small town. This book is about quilts, friendship, cancer, faith, and love. I loved the characters and the setting. Although published by a mainstream publisher, it is obvious to me that the author of this book is a Christian. Many of her characters either share their faith when the circumstance arises or they have "old-fashioned values." It also makes me want to grab some fabric scraps and start stitching them together. My only complaint is that the author seems to champion machine quilting because she mentions needing machines at various times. While I'm sure machine quilting is much faster, some of the best quilts are those which were done entirely by hand. I will look forward to my future visits with Evelyn, Abigail, Liza, Margot, Charlie, Garrett, Franklin, and all the others in New Bern in future installments of the series. 4 stars.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Cross-Country Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini

In this third installment of the Elm Creek Quilts novel, the focus is less on the staff of the quilting retreat and more on the campers. We are introduced to Sylvia's friend Grace, a renowned quilt artist who finds herself out of ideas for new projects because of a condition she is battling. We are also introduced to Internet friends Megan and Donna. Megan has won this trip because of a quilt contest and convinces Donna to join her. Megan as a single mother is dealing with a negligent father and the problems her son is having because of no male role model. Donna is struggling with her college daughter's sudden behavioral change due to a relationship in which she is involved. Then there is Julia, an actress who needs to learn to quilt for a role she will be portraying. Returning once again is Vinnie, a lady who is determined to find a match for her grandson who has just ended a long-time relationship. Before leaving the camp, they agree to create a challenge quilt but can only work on their piece when they have resolved or made efforts to resolve the problem. The book alternates between the women showing the progress they are making during the year and future meet-ups. This book is all about friendship and how friends can get you through the toughest of times. The characters are well-developed and quite likeable. I absolutely loved this installment in the series and am looking forward to the next installment. 4 stars.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Churches of the Smokies by Charles W. Maynard

This small booklet describes churches which were in existence when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park began whose structures remain today. While the author does mention the total number of churches which were on the North Carolina side when the lands were purchased from settlers, the author did not actually research the number on the Tennessee side, making simply an estimate. I would have liked to have seen a listing of all the churches that had been on the park lands, even if the ones no longer there were not treated further. I found the coverage of the churches to be uneven. Having read church minutes from the earlier periods, I know that the author could have found many more stories that would have been interesting to readers and expanded the book if he had done further research. It seems to be a book that was primarily written for the tourist audience, and unfortunately about all one gets is the information that would be presented to tourists by a guide. The information contained is very readable, but I would have preferred to have known a little more about the churches and their members. 3 stars.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Land of the Smokies by Tim Hollis

This is a history of tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains area, primarily in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville areas in Tennessee and Cherokee area in North Carolina. However, the author did include comments on places in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina in the Boone and Blowing Rock areas and a chapter on attractions in the Chattanooga area. It was a fun trip down memory lane. While I'm too young to remember what it was like before the mid-1960s, we had ViewMaster slides, postcards, and other memorabilia around my house depicting those areas then so much of it was not foreign to me. It is interesting to see how changes have been made over the years and also, since I live in the area, to recognize changes from the time the book was published until now. While no book can ever be comprehensive in its treatment of the area's tourist attractions, this one does a good job of making it interesting. There are lots of vintage photographs and advertisements included throughout. My one criticism is that the author often left things that could have probably been tracked down better ambiguous. I suspect he was dealing with publication deadlines, but it left me with a feeling that there were still things that needed to have been researched before the book went to print. In spite of that flaw, it is still a great trip down Memory Lane for persons familiar with the Smokies. 3.5 stars.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

Jakob Kuisl is the hangman of Schongau in 17th century Bavaria. His daughter Magdalena is attracted to Simon, the son of the local doctor, even though such a relationship is forbidden in the culture. When orphans are found dead bearing a mark that is widely thought to be a sign of a witch, the local midwife is imprisoned. Jakob and other are convinced that she is not a witch, although it would be much easier if she were to just confess to the crime. It is up to Jakob, Simon, and Magdalena to find the truth behind the murders before Jakob has to kill the woman who brought his children into the world. I really enjoyed this tale based on the author's own family history. He, of course, has taken liberties with the story and plot, but it has brought to light the witch scares in Germany that preceded the one in Salem here in the United States. A great piece of historical fiction! 4 stars.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Taste of Romania by Nicolae Klepper

This is not a terrible cookbook. It is just one that failed to inspire me as others do. It was interesting to see the kinds of food that Romanians eat, to learn a little about the history of the country, to read a folktale or two, to read a couple of poems that describe the country, etc. Many of the dishes seem to be somewhat similar to goulashes. Romania wasn't a country until the latter half of the 19th century. This relatively new country's cuisine has, therefore, been influenced by the cuisines of many nearby countries as well as France. There is an extensive bibliography in the book, and the indexes appear comprehensive. The predominant cheese used throughout the book is caşcaval. In the Kindle version of the book, there is often a footnote indicated by one or more asterisks. Unfortunately it is very difficult to determine which asterisk goes to which page because they begin at about 97% of the way through the book on the Kindle edition with each footnote being on a separate page. I was able to determine that the one for this type of cheese was usually a footnote indicating other cheeses that could be used for Americans unable to locate this cheese. One thing I noted about Romanian cuisine is the extensive use of sour cream in just about everything. I've decided that I can just add some sour cream to a dish and call it "Romanian." It's an interesting book, but it's not one that I'll be using often. 3 stars.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Book Review: From the Jewish Heartland

Steinberg, Ellen F. and Prost, Jack H. From the Jewish Heartland: Two Centuries of Midwest Foodways. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2011.

Authors Ellen F. Steinberg and Jack H. Prost have done a marvelous job combining social history with cookbooks and recipes to create an outstanding book on Jewish foodways in the Midwestern United States over the last two centuries. The authors have examined extensive published and unpublished sources, and their research is evident. As a genealogist, my favorite portions of the book were those which talked about Jewish culture and shared recipes from eras long ago, especially when the sources of such recipes were handwritten cookbooks or other manuscripts. I loved that they had researched in newspapers and manuscript collections to find the materials to adequately document their research. They did not overlook the many resources which can be found on the Internet. Carefully chosen photographs and facsimiles illustrate the text. This book will be treasured by persons interested in Jewish history, those interested in foodways of various ethnic groups, and by genealogists and other historians. This review is based on an advance reader's e-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review would be written.