Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MURDER BY SYLLABUB, Kathleen Delaney

Product Details

This is an Ellen McKenzie mystery set at an estate just outside Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.  Ellen has traveled across the country with her Aunt Mary because Mary's good friend, Elizabeth has called and ask for help.  Elizabeth has seen a ghost in her house and someone, perhaps the ghost, has tried to kill her.  Since Mary never goes anywhere, let alone fly that far changing planes, etc., Ellen and her new husband decide she needs to go along.

From the time they arrive, they are confused.  They keep getting half stories and being interrupted by people they don't know.  Elizabeth is newly widowed and now the owner of an estate which has a main house connected by passageways to guest houses on either side of it.  She lives in one of the guest houses which she and her husband had completely remodeled, and she plans to fix up the main house in eighteenth century style to use as a place to give teachers an authentic experience which hopefully will enhance their teaching.  It's a great idea, but apparently Elizabeth's ghost is determined it won't happen.

Meanwhile, her late husband's stepson is trying to lay claim to the estate so he can sell it off to developers.  There is also the matter of Noah and his mother Mildred who have always lived in a house there but have no deed.  They are descended from slaves owned by the original owner.  Elizabeth had promised to give them title to their house but has apparently forgotten.  If  she loses the lawsuit, they will lose everything.  

The story is a cozy mystery and occasionally drags just a bit as Delaney describes colonial furnishings and cooking.  That feature of the book is very interesting, especially to a history buff like me, but someone else might not enjoy it so much.  The characters are either endearing or outrageously funny.  No one goes foolishly down into the cellar or out in the darkness alone, or anything other than what normal people would do in the situation.  It's hilarious when Elizabeth, her sister-in-law, Ellen and Aunt Mary go to the main house to find the ghost.  The four of them are scared to death and armed only with a cane and a flashlight - great scene that made me laugh out loud.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was perfect after finishing a long nonfiction book and when I wasn't in the mood for more serious reading material.

Source:  Publisher, through Partners in Crime Book Tours

Monday, September 23, 2013


The subtitle of this book is "Coping with Parkinson's Disease."  Since my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's about eight years ago, I was happy to win the book from LibraryThing.  The cover blurb by Dr. Hubert H. Fernandez of the Cleveland Clinic says, "A must-read for all whose lives are touched by this illness."  I can agree with that.

This is a kind of basic guidebook for patients and caregivers that comes in handy because you never remember everything your neurologist tells you, and of course the doctor's time is limited.   There is a glossary in back as well for terms you might be unfamiliar with.  Since I was a medical transcriptionist, you would think I'd have no use for it, but I do.  I've forgotten some things since I retired, but also there are always new terms coming up and new findings about this disease.

Dr. Friedman updated the text for this second edition of the book so it is nearly up to date in its valuable information.  The chapters focus on symptoms such as fatigue, apathy, anxiety, sleep, driving, and many other problems we face.  Not only does he describe these problems but also explains what medications or other treatments have been tried, whether they worked, and what the patient and caregiver can do for themselves.  I found this very helpful.

One topic I was thankful to read about was what to do if you need to go to the hospital.  He reminds us that most doctors and nurses at hospitals aren't too well versed in how to care for Parkinson's patients so the caregiver needs to be firm about medication schedules and other needs to prevent big problems, even going so far as to have them call your neurologist to confirm what you're telling them.  Patients have been treated for stroke simply because the E.R. staff didn't recognize Parkinson's symptoms for what they really are.  This is important.

I will keep this book handy as years go by.  We frequently have questions that we can easily answer with Dr. Friedman's book rather than wait for the next appointment with the neurologist.

Highly recommended for PD patients and caregivers
Source:  LibraryThing win

Monday, September 16, 2013

TRUMAN by David McCullough

This review has been some time coming.  The trade paperback edition I read is 992 pages plus acknowledgements, footnotes, bibliography, and index.  Practically got a hernia carrying it around.  I also had commitments to review other books so I had to put it aside occasionally to read and review shorter books, usually fiction.  Despite a weekend of football watching, though, I finally finished it Sunday afternoon.  Now I'm almost sorry it's done.

Anyone who loves history and biography as much as I do knows David McCullough writes like a storyteller.  His prose is never dry, boring, or academic, yet he unfailingly tells the reader what is important to know about a person or an event.  

I thought I knew a lot about Harry Truman, a fellow Midwesterner, but I didn't.  I simply understood "where he was coming from" as the kids say.  His childhood as a farm boy who wore glasses and was also a dedicated student was delightful to read about.  In Sunday school he fell hard for a little girl with golden curls and beautiful eyes, Bess Wallace.  She was his only love but they didn't marry until they were in their 30s.  Mama Wallace never did consider Harry good enough for her daughter, even when she was dying in the White House near the end of his time as President of the United States.  Regardless, he never said a bad word about her, ever.

Now that I know the truth about his spell as Tom Pendergast's candidate for county office and the enduring reputation as a product of that political machine, I understand a bit more about why my grandfather had such a low opinion of Truman.  Of course, he would have felt that way anyway since Truman was a Democrat which made him, in Gramps' eyes, a spawn of the Devil.  Hard to believe this liberal Democrat (me) came from such a staunch Republican family, but I did because when I was old enough to think things out for myself, that was the way I believed.  That was a matter I never discussed with Gramps.  He would have been horrified.

We were city people, but farmers and small town folks loved Truman.  When he went on his whistle stop tour running for president on his own, he stopped in the small towns and he talked their language.  They loved his honesty, his humbleness, the way he introduced Bess as "the boss," and his knowledge of their cares and worries.  (Although one time she told him if he introduced her thus one more time, she was going to get off the train and go home.)  They also appreciated his service in World War I, as a captain of artillery.  The men he commanded were to remain his good friends for the rest of his life and participate as honor guards at his inaugural parade.

His Achilles heel was daughter Margaret.  No one could criticize her singing or anything else about her without feeling the full strength of Truman's wrath.  He had begun to think he would never realize his desire to be a grandfather when she stayed single so long, but eventually she married and Truman would hold the first of four grandsons in his arms just a few days after he was born.  Doting grandpa was his proud title from then on.

It was fascinating to read about his taking office after Roosevelt's death.  FDR had not liked him very much, and didn't include him in briefings and conferences, so suddenly Truman had a huge learning curve immediately ahead of him.  He pulled himself up by his own bootstraps as people used to say and did very well.  He was fortunate enough to find some of the best men in the country to man the cabinet and be his advisors.  Dean Acheson, in fact, was a close friend until his death.  

His performance in Potsdam was surprising to Stalin and Churchill.  One of my favorite quotes in the book is from Churchill.  He wrote in 1952,  "I misjudged you badly.  Since that time you more than any other man, have saved Western civilization."  (p. 875)

Whether to use the atomic bomb is another period I'm glad to know more about, and Korea.  To know what went on in the background and the agony those decisions cost him was a revelation to me.  Once a decision was made, he stuck with it no matter how many critics condemned him.

I won't go on but, in short, this is one of the best biographies I've ever read.  Thank you David McCullough for giving us this wonderful story, the life of a controversial man who was so vital in our history.

Highly recommended
Source:  purchased several years ago

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Long Visit with Harry S. Truman

It's been too long since I posted on this blog but I have an excuse.  I'm determined, despite the stack of books on my desk to be read and reviewed, to finish Truman by David McCullough.  It's nearly 1,000 pages in my paperbound copy but it is simply too good to keep putting aside in favor of reading a short book I've committed to review.

Truman's background as a farm boy in Missouri makes me nostalgic, although I lived in the capital of Illinois rather than on a farm.  Still people in the Midwest are a special kind of folks.  Actually I can usually tell if someone I've met is from the Midwest.  Can't put my finger on why exactly except that most of us are friendly and open and down to earth.  Sometimes I can even tell if a fellow blogger grew up in the Midwest.

I'm about 200 pages from the end so it shouldn't be long and then expect raves.  McCullough could make mud interesting, but in Harry Truman he has a subject worthy of his storytelling style of book writing.  

See you soon.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

DEVIL IN THE HOLE by Charles Salzberg

This is a clever book based on a terrible tragedy that really happened in New Jersey in 1971.  I remember, and you might too, when John List almost got away with murdering his wife, three teenage children, his mother-in-law, and even their dog.  He disappeared long before the bodies were discovered and the law didn't catch up with him for 18 years, until after the case was featured on "America's Most Wanted."

Salzberg has turned this awful crime into a novel set in Connecticut.  He tells the story through many characters, each with his own chapter or chapters.  This sounds confusing and a little ridiculous, but it is actually very effective.  First we hear from a neighbor across the street who gets suspicious when all the lights are on in the huge house 24 hours a day and he doesn't see anyone coming or going.  The family is strange and not friendly, but this finally gets to the neighbor and he calls the police.  They find the bodies, but the husband/father is gone, as is the car, and the bodies are so badly decomposed, it has obviously been a couple of weeks since they were killed.

We then get the perspective of one of the cops who entered the house, then the other.  The neighbor has his say again, then the chief of police, etc.  The story advances through chapters supposedly written in the first person by people who are somehow involved with the case or the missing murderer.  The characters seem real; almost as if you are listening to various types of people sitting with you telling their brush with a killer.

In retrospect, I think this way of telling the story is brilliant.  I can't imagine any other method that would work as well.  There are nearly two dozen characters and as we hear from them, we begin to form an idea of what was in the killer's mind when he did this unthinkable crime.  We can't be totally certain of that, nor can we know John List's reasoning when he actually killed his family, but this gives us some inkling of the workings of a murderer's rationale for his crime.

Highly recommended
Source:  author through Partners in Crime Book Tours

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


This is the second volume of a trilogy about a retired San Francisco cop, Harlan Donnally.  I haven't yet read the first, Act of Deceit, but that didn't matter as this works well as a stand-alone.  Having said that, I'll be reading the first book very soon because I want to know more about Donnally.

The book begins with Donnally and his friend, SF cop Ramon Navarro, in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge where they can see a body hanging.  The victim's pants are down around his ankles and plainly visible is what for the sake of delicacy I will call priapism.  Apparently the object was to humiliate him, something he richly deserved as a sleezy lawyer who never let the law or any sense of ethics stop him from making money.  His name was Mark Hamlin.  He had left word with his assistant and a note in his desk that if something happened to him, he wanted Donnally to investigate, no one else.

Donnally had been shot in the hip in the line of duty several years earlier.  He had retired, left the city, settled in a small town in northern California, and opened a small restaurant there.  Still he stays in the city a few times each month because his girlfriend, Janie, a hospital psychiatrist, lives in his home there.  He is there visiting her and doing little repair jobs around the house when he gets the call about Hamlin's wishes.

The D.A., Navarro, Donnally, and a judge they trust decide to appoint straight arrow Donnally a "special master" to discover who murdered Hamlin, but not get into attorney-client privilege issues or complications.  Ha!  Just try to do that and still solve the crime.  

I would call this one a thinking person's kind of legal thriller and it's a winner.  Author Steven Gore gets into not only what happened but particularly why and looks deep into the characters' backgrounds for answers to who they are at the time of this murder.  There is some danger and some shooting, but mainly it's the story of Donnally and the other major characters involved.  And it's the story of corruption, a widespread evil that hurts mainly legal clients but also investigators and other lawyers.

Highly recommended
E-book released July 30, 2013
Source:  HarperCollins, Publishers 

Sunday, September 1, 2013


I've read other books by this author and found her witty, and good with a mystery plot.  Her character names in those books were hilarious so I was invariably left laughing as I turned the last page.  This book is quite different.  For one thing it is a serious book about controversial topics, but as usual her characters are so real you can't help getting caught up in the story and feeling sad for them.

First we meet Anna, an unemployed young woman who isn't having any luck finding a job.  She lives with Lars and we immediately realize that she isn't really happy with him despite his occasional attempts at being a considerate and thoughtful boyfriend.  She is uneasy in his company.  Why?  He wants to get married; she doesn't.

Her father is ill which upsets her terribly but also gives her an excuse to go stay with her parents frequently.  However, then she misses her best friend and neighbor, Karin.  Karin is always perfectly made up and dresses beautifully.  She is also a good listener and makes Anna feel like she can talk about anything in the world.  The trouble is that Karin is in financial trouble so she is taking jobs that Anna worries about.  She also has strange men in her apartment often.  One day Anna cleans brown stains off of the stairwell and landing.  It looks like maybe coffee dripped out of the garbage bag as Karin took it down.

Anna has become curious about her father's family.  He never talks about her grandmother and is obviously uncomfortable talking about his family at all.  Finally her mother gives her a diary her grandmother kept, and as her father dies Anna is already deep into investigating her family's story.

So, there are two mysteries here and both are very satisfying as there are plenty of red herrings to lead the reader astray.  I loved the way Jakobsen told this tale, partly because I cared about Anna and worried about what she might find out.  There are surprises at the end which I should have seen coming but didn't.  I was too wrapped up in Anna's search for the truth to see the dangers ahead.

Highly recommended
Source:  author