Dogs and Goddesses

Dogs and GoddessesDogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goofy, funny (the talking dogs are hysterical, and the narrator of the audiobook did a WONDERFUL job with them), interesting characters (although a couple of them were very similar) – just right for a beach read or when you need to clear your brain after a hefty/intense/intellectual read. Now I’m ready to tackle some of the medieval non-fiction I’m taking on for a library conference later this year…

Lots of explicit sex if you like that sort of thing. It didn’t make me cringe, so I guess that’s a plus. It’s a little disjointed with three different authors. I assume they each wrote one of the three main “goddesses.” My favorite was Shar, the middle-aged heroine and her dog Wolfie. The other two women and their romantic interests were not as well developed (and as I said, at times hard to tell apart.) The mythology was okay, but don’t expect anything historical (it was made up.) The romances really didn’t have enough tension (will they, won’t they?) to create a very satisfying ending (endings?) And the fate of Kamani Gula (the Mesopotamian goddess) and especially Mina (the evil priestess) was just silly. Like cotton candy – fun once in a while, but I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.

Book description: Abby has just arrived in Summerville, Ohio, with her placid Newfoundland, Bowser. She’s reluctantly inherited her grandmother’s coffee shop, but it’s not long before she’s brewing up trouble in the form of magical baked goods and steaming up her life with an exasperating college professor. And then there’s Daisy, a web code writer, and her hyperactive Jack Russell, Bailey. Her tightly-wound world spins out of control when she discovers the chaos within and meets a mysterious dog trainer whose teaching style is definitely hands-on. Finally there’s Shar, professor of ancient history at Summerville College, who wakes up one morning to find her neurotic dachshund, Wolfie, snarling at an implacable god sitting at her kitchen table, the first thing in her life she hasn’t been able to footnote. What on earth is going on in this unearthly little town? It’s up to Abby, Daisy, and Shar to find out before an ancient goddess takes over Southern Ohio, and they all end up in the apocalyptic doghouse…

The Kitchen House

The Kitchen HouseThe Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 3.5 for me. A notch above average, but not enough to bump it up to 4 stars. The story begins very well. I loved the contrast between the white, indentured servant and the mulatto slave. The audiobook used two narrators for the alternating points of view. Overall, I wish Belle’s story had been fleshed out more. The bulk of the telling belonged to Lavinia, the Irish indentured servant. I cared about the characters, although they bordered on being stereotypical. My book club members liked this book though. By the second half of the book, I began to have problems with Lavinia’s extreme naivete and her life choices. The spirited girl of the first half became so passive that she turned to opium. Really? She didn’t learn anything from caring for the captain’s wife all those years? What could have been a really satisfying coming-of-age and love story just kind of became a tragedy. The historical setting was well researched, although I didn’t have a very good sense of time. It seemed closer to the 1850s than the late 1790s and early 1800s. Quibbles aside, I like this well enough to seek out the sequel.

Book description: Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family. In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves. Through the unique eyes of Lavinia and Belle, Grissom’s debut novel unfolds in a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds.

A Pitying of Doves

A Pitying of Doves (Birder Murder Mystery #2)A Pitying of Doves by Steve Burrows

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t a bad book, but I’ve had it out on Interlibrary Loan twice now and kept it overdue quite a few weeks, and I just am not getting this read. I’m a backyard birdwatcher, so I like that angle, but I really wanted to like this series more. If I could keep it out, or if it were much cheaper as a e-book, I would probably finish this eventually and it might even get more stars. For now, though, the characters are not engaging me. And prose like this is not helping: “At times, she had the air of an art school teacher about her, though with Carrie Pritchard’s voluptuous figure leaning over their shoulders, Lindy was sure any teenage boys in her class would have considerably more on their minds than chairascuro [sic].” The misspelling aside, seriously, who thinks like that? It doesn’t help me get into their heads. So if the price comes down, I might give it another chance, but for now there are too many other things I’d rather be doing.

Book description: Why would a killer ignore expensive jewellery and take a pair of turtledoves as the only bounty? This is only one of the questions that piques Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune’s interest after a senior attaché with the Mexican Consulate is found murdered alongside the director of a local bird sanctuary. The fact that the director’s death has opened up a full-time research position studying birds hasn’t eluded Jejeune either. Could this be the escape from policing that the celebrated detective has been seeking? Even if it is, Jejeune knows he owes it to the victims to solve the case first. But a trail that weaves from embittered aviary owners to suspicious bird sculptors only seems to be leading him farther from the truth. Meanwhile, Jejeune is discovering that diplomatic co-operation and diplomatic pressure go hand in hand. With two careers hanging in the balance, the stakes have never been higher for Inspector Jejeune. And this time, even bringing a killer to justice may not provide the closure he’s looking for.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot JourneyThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book started out with so much promise. Lovely writing about India, the sights and sounds, the food, the people, his experiences growing up. I enjoyed the travels, their adventures in London, finally arriving in a small French village, where the van happens to break down, and they decide to settle. Then I watched the movie, which I loved, and came back to finish the book. That’s when things started to diverge. I know that movies change things, and in this case, I think they made a better story out of it. The way the book depicts the conflict between the Haji family and Madame Mallory, her change of heart seemed most improbable. And once Hassan went to Paris, I thought the book just lost its focus. He left behind a lover, his family, and his Indian roots. And what did he gain from it? 3 Michelin stars and then what? The book raises that issue through bringing in a new character – a chef who commits suicide after losing his 3-star rating. Hassan has been reunited with Margaret after 20 years, but it leaves unanswered what he will do next.

This was an audio-book, and I found it difficult to understand all the French. Things were not translated, though I was able to guess at the name of his restaurant. Reading instead of listening I might have gotten more of it, since I can read French, but I don’t understand spoken French. I was also somewhat put off (being a vegetarian) by all the descriptions of hunting and slaughtering of animals for food.

Anyway, other reviewers have mentioned not liking the second half of the book as well as the beginning, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame the movie for that! If you want romance and happy endings, then watch the movie. And, of course, Helen Mirren is wonderful as Madame Mallory.

Book description: Born above his grandfather’s modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan Haji first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. When tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumiere, a small village in the French Alps. They open an inexpensive Indian cafe opposite an esteemed French restaurant – that of the famous chef Madame Mallory – and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.

The Glass Room

The Glass RoomThe Glass Room by Simon Mawer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Fictional main characters, but based on a real house: Villa Tugendhat (http://www.tugendhat.eu/en/). The house serves as the lens through which we view the characters and the action, sort of like a camera. Lots of metaphors about light and space, plays on words (Raum/Traum), and philosophical musings. But on the whole, I didn’t get it. The characters were cold, unemotional, and not very likeable. Lots of sex and sex talk, which left me cold. Perhaps that appeals to men – as a woman it didn’t appeal to me and got old very quickly. On the other hand, I thought the three women of the story, Liesl, Hana, and Katalyn were more real than the men in their lives. The story was all intellectual, scientific, clinical without any emotion. The men all had mistresses without any feelings of conflict or guilt. The women all seemed to have lesbian tendencies. Really? Was this another metaphor for the Zeitgeist of change after WWI? The expansion of old boundaries? When the Nazis took over the house and turned it into a scientific laboratory, I felt like the war was “out there” somewhere. The Landauers had left and made a new life elsewhere. There are some great ideas here and for that I could almost give this book a higher rating. I enjoyed the promise of the new house – and the desire to fill it with art and music and all those things that make life transcendent. But with light comes shadows – the shadows of infidelity, the shadows of war, of keeping secrets – the idealism that first drives Nazism, Communism, modernism (and other -isms) eventually shatters like glass.

Book description: High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House shines as a wonder of steel and glass. This radiant 1930s house, with its unique Glass Room, quickly tarnishes as the storm clouds of WWII gather. The house passes from hand to hand, from Czech to Russian, and bears witness to both the best and the worst history of Eastern Europe.

Dissolution

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very promising start to an interesting series. Loved the characters, good and bad, lots of period detail, more than just a mystery. Matthew is a hunchback which gives us a unique viewpoint as he wrestles with both his infirmity and his conscience. While I loved all the detail, back story, and fully developed side characters, it did make it a bit slow to get into the actual solving of the mystery. Everything happened in the last two discs (of 12). I look forward to more.

Book description: The year is 1537, and the country is divided between those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the king and the newly established Church of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery on the south coast of England, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s feared vicar general, summons fellow reformer Matthew Shardlake to lead the inquiry. Shardlake and his young protege uncover evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason, and when two other murders are revealed, they must move quickly to prevent the killer from striking again.
Narrated by Steven Crossley.

State of Wonder

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder why? It was okay – exotic setting, some interesting characters, some moral dilemmas, and basically well-written prose, but on the whole I was really underwhelmed by this novel. Her depiction of Minnesota had me wondering what century she was writing about. She kept extolling the “prairie” as the characters drive from the Twin Cities airport to Eden Prairie. Huh? I drive there quite regularly and it is not even remotely rural. Her depiction of the Amazon was evocative, though I can’t judge her accuracy. The science was extremely dodgy, I didn’t care about any of the characters, despite this being a book about a great adventure, nothing happened. The characters don’t grow, they don’t make any better choices at the end of the book, and I had guessed the end of the book. There was nothing that even remotely elicited a “state of wonder” for this reader. I still want to read Bel Canto, but except for that, I would not be reading any more by this author.

Description: Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug. Not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina’s research partner, has been reported as dead of a fever. Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend’s death, the state of her company’s research, and her own past.

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