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Stranger in Paradise (Jesse Stone)
Stranger in Paradise (Jesse Stone)
by Robert B. Parker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.15
232 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars..., February 28, 2015
Continuing on my Jesse Stone-binge this winter, I read a Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker. I was happy to find a novel in this series actually written by Parker, and Stranger in Paradise is the 7th book in the series. Although this novel was good, I think that others written by Parker are much better.

Jesse Stone is the chief of police in the fictional resort town of Paradise, Massachusetts. As is usual in Parker’s novels, there is a main plot and then several subplots. The main plot involves the appearance in town of Wilson “Crow” Cromartie. Crow formerly appeared in Trouble in Paradise, where he was on the wrong side of the law and disappeared after murdering several men and making off with millions of dollars. Now the full-blooded Apache is looking for the ex-wife and daughter of a Florida mobster. His instructions are to kill the ex and bring the 14-year old daughter to Florida. But Crow has a “thing” about killing women. The situation is made worse because the daughter is involved with a local Latino gang. Stone also has to deal with town residents protesting when a high-priced property is turned into a school for disadvantaged Latino children.

Stranger in Paradise contains the usual Paradise crew including two fellow cops, Molly Crane, Suitcase Simpson and Captain Healy. Ex-wife Jennifer is now living locally and working as a reporter. She tries to use her history with Stone to get confidential information. But I thought there was just a little something about Stranger in Paradise that didn’t ring true. Maybe it was Stone and Crow working on the same team. Also, I am very tired of Jennifer. I don’t think that she adds anything to this series—she’s just totally obnoxious. But as with all Parker novels, Stranger in Paradise still has decent writing, great repartee, and it’s a quick, fun read. Sometimes that’s all you want in a book.


One Night in Winter: A Novel
One Night in Winter: A Novel
by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.56
81 used & new from $8.75

4.0 out of 5 stars A window on Stalin's Soviet Union..., February 28, 2015
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Simon Sebag Montefiore’s monster biography, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, is one of the best that I’ve ever read. When I saw that he published a Russian-themed novel, I decided to read One Night in Winter. This multi-layered historical epic showcases the trials, the rewards, the fears and the tragedies of living in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. It’s also about secret loves and lost innocence.

One Night in Winter opens in June 1945. The war in Europe is over and people in Moscow are rejoicing. Big plans are being made for a victory parade. The children of Joseph Stalin Commune School 801 are the main characters in this drama, along with their parents. With the exception of one boy, all the students are the children of the Soviet Union’s elite. They live in luxurious apartments, have country dachas, and cars with drivers. Many of them are in Stalin’s inner circle. But a small group of these teens form a secret club called the Fatal Romantics. They admire the writings of Alexander Pushkin and especially, his Eugene Onegin. They play a “Game” where they reenact the duel-scene from the novel. Things go terribly wrong when instead of fake dueling pistols, someone swaps them out for a real gun and two of the teens are killed.

The killings set off a big Soviet-style investigation and children as small as six years old are arrested, jailed, and grilled for information. Instead of a children’s game, Soviet investigators see the Fatal Romantics as a plot to overthrow the government. But it seems like the real objective is to find out all their parents’ secrets. In this way, One Night plays out much like a mystery.

One Night is an amazing window on the world of Stalin’s Soviet Union—especially on a personal level. The children start their school days by singing Thank you Comrade Stalin for Our Happy Childhood. Parents live in fear of their houses being bugged. They only speak of sensitive subjects in hushed tones in their bathrooms. A promotion could mean the beginning of the end, and people could be arrested at any time on trumped-up charges. The large cast of characters was easier to keep track of than I anticipated. But I did find the bouncing around in time a little disconcerting. I am also a little jaded when an author puts thoughts and/or words in the mouths of real characters. Montefiore has Stalin pondering “He remembered his wives, his many girlfriends. If only there had been more love in my life, he thought despondently, but we Bolsheviks are a military-religious order like the Knights Templar. The Revolution always came first. I was no husband and now I’m alone.” Did Stalin really feel that way? I’m not sure. But I am sure that I enjoyed Montefiore’s writing in One Night in Winter, which had a special meaning for me in that I recently saw the adaptation of Eugene Onegin as an opera by Tchaikovsky. Reading more about Pushkin’s work was a special treat.


Deveaux: Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary, South Carolina
Deveaux: Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary, South Carolina
by Dana Beach
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.59
33 used & new from $20.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning..., February 23, 2015
It is very rare that I describe a book as stunning, but Deveaux: Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary, South Carolina by Dana Beach is just that, and more. My husband and I have been vacationing on Seabrook Island, SC for well over 20 years, and we have always wondered about this little spit of land right off Seabrook's beach. It was over a decade before we knew that it even had a name: the Deveaux Bank. And it took longer than that to discover that it's a protected environment for birds. We recently saw Dana Beach at an author talk, and he is informative and funny, but he also carries many disturbing tales.

The Deveaux Bank is actually a 215 acre spit of land that is covered with vegetation. It is at the mercy of Mother Nature and is constantly changing due to winds, tides, and storms. Yet it is one of most important “islands” for seabirds on the east coast—especially migrating and nesting birds. Beach, founder of the Coastal Conservation League) is an avid bird-watcher and photographer. So it's only natural that Deveaux would be filled with beautiful photographs of many of the birds who make Deveaux their home (either temporary or permanent). But this coffee table-sized book is much more than a picture book. Beach talks about the factors that have threatened birds in the past (man, dredging, pesticides, overbuilding, storms, etc.) and what makes their survival still so important today. So this book is as educational as it is pleasing to the eye.

Although Deveaux has a bit of a hefty price tag, it was published by the University of South Carolina Press and the Coastal Conservation League. Hopefully, the profits from Deveaux will help the Coastal Conservation League to continue to be an advocate for the fragile coastal environment and the wildlife that inhabits the coast.


Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot (A Jesse Stone Novel)
Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot (A Jesse Stone Novel)
by Reed Farrel Coleman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.31
193 used & new from $3.61

2.0 out of 5 stars Parker must be rolling in his grave..., February 23, 2015
Reed Farrel Coleman is now the second author to pen Jesse Stone books after the death of Robert B. Parker in 2010. While Coleman may be an accomplished writer, Blind Spot has no resemblance to a Robert Parker novel. It seems that if you're going to carry on with a fictional character like this, at least your writing style should be similar. Coleman's writing is too descriptive, too windy, and too long. Robert Parker must be rolling over in his grave.

Blind Spot begins with Paradise, MA police chief Jesse Stone at a reunion in New York City of his minor-league baseball team. Stone was trying to make it to the majors when a shoulder injury sidelines him for good. Vic Prado is the only player from this team to make the big leagues and is sponsoring the gathering. Something seems very wrong about the whole event, but Stone doesn't get much time to dwell on this because a murder calls him back to Paradise. The Salter family has a Victorian beach house in Paradise, and an 18-year old college student is found murdered in the empty house. Son Benjamin Salter might be the prime suspect, but he seems to have disappeared despite his car still being at the house. There are a lot of things going on in Paradise that raise red flags, and Stone believes that everyone knows more than they know. Stone has a lot of pieces to this puzzle, but somehow, he can't quite see the big picture. People who at first seem unrelated are all tied together in some way. They include Harlan Salter, Vic Prado, two mobsters, a mobster's wife, an enforcer, Stone's ex-girlfriend, a sleazy but slick lawyer, and an undercover FBI agent. And the common denominator is a Ponzi scheme.

Besides the writing style, there were other issues that I had with Blind Spot. There is too much about Molly's good looks and Suit's small-town cop mentality. Of course, Stone ends up in bed with someone he barely knows. Also, this book was much longer than any other Stone novel that I've read. And then there is the ending that will shamelessly segue into Coleman's second Jesse Stone novel. I read that he has a four-novel deal to write Jesse Stone. Unfortunately, I think that the Jesse Stone series should have died with Parker. I will certainly not be reading any more Jesse Stone novels written by Coleman.


Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice (A Jesse Stone Novel)
Robert B. Parker's Fool Me Twice (A Jesse Stone Novel)
by Robert B. Parker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.74
158 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Guess I'm the fool..., February 23, 2015
I have been on a Jesse Stone-kick, and the latest novel that I read is Fool Me Twice by Michael Brandman. Brandman was approved by Robert B. Parker's estate to continue writing Jesse Stone novels after the death of Parker in 2010. I enjoyed his first effort, Killing the Blues. But Fool Me Twice was pretty lame and I'm the one who feels like a fool for reading this novel. At least I borrowed it from the library, as opposed to wasting money on a purchase.

As with most Jesse Stone novels, the police chief from fictional Paradise, MA is juggling a number of cases at one time. The most pressing issue that a big Hollywood company is coming to Paradise to film a movie. The town fathers are excited at the money and publicity that it will bring to their town. But the star, Marisol Hinton, is in the middle of a contentious divorce and worried that her ex-husband may be stalking her. One subplot involves complaints from customers that the water company is inflating water bills. In the other, Stone witnesses an accident caused by Courtney Cassidy, who was texting on her cell phone. The Cassidy family is one of the richest in Paradise, and the girl has a blatant disrespect for others and the law. Chief Stone believes that Cassidy is a troubled teen who is actually crying for help, and he's determined to help her.

Fool Me Twice is totally unsatisfying—it's like eating an ice cream cone in 5 licks, and you're still wishing there was more. This book is almost a novella and can be read in one day. The ending is too rushed and unresolved. What ended up happening to the killer? What about the water department crew? There is no resolution here. Also, Stone barely meets one of the film crew before he's hopping into bed with her. This is getting especially tiring. It would be nice to have a Stone novel without the added distraction of Stone's sex life. The only reason I gave it two stars is that Brandman's writing-style does mirror that of Robert Parker.

This February, I have watched 5 Stone movies, and read 5 novels. I think I'm ready for a break.


Southern Living Comfort Food: A Delicious Trip Down Memory Lane (Southern Living (Hardcover Oxmoor))
Southern Living Comfort Food: A Delicious Trip Down Memory Lane (Southern Living (Hardcover Oxmoor))
by Editors of Southern Living Magazine
Edition: Hardcover
76 used & new from $1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More than just a cookbook..., February 19, 2015
I make a traditional, Sunday dinner almost every week and I'm always looking for new recipes. Southern Living Comfort Food: A delicious trip down memory lane is a lovely book that will become my new recipe-bible.

All Southern Living cookbooks are a delight with beautiful pictures and tempting recipes. The book is divided into chapters on Comfort Food Classics, Breakfast Anytime, Fresh from the Garden, Casseroles and Beyond, Soups and Stews, Desserts, and Holidays and Special Occasions. The recipes include notes about cooking tips and especially, the brands that were used in testing (Kraft caramels or Duke mayonnaise). But what makes Comfort Food more than a recipe book is that it includes stories by various writers and cooks about favorite recipes, foods, entertaining, memories associated with certain recipes and family treasures. A true bonus is that Comfort Food contains a forward and several recipes by my favorite author, Pat Conroy. I've already made note of five recipes that I'd like to try including Fabulous Tuna-Noodle Casserole, Cola Pot Roast, Chicken Pot Pie, Beef Daube and Seafood Gumbo.

The one negative that I do have about Comfort Food is that some of the recipes use ready-made ingredients. I'm not opposed to using ingredients like cream of mushroom soup or bagged herb stuffing. But I do have a problem when a recipe calls from frozen mashed potatoes (Buttermilk-Garlic Mashed Potatoes) or chicken flavored Ramen noodles (Chicken Noodle Soup). I hold Southern Living to a higher standard than that. But despite these small issues, I can't wait to dig in and start cooking.


Killing the Blues (A Jesse Stone Novel)
Killing the Blues (A Jesse Stone Novel)
by Michael Brandman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.74
148 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasantly surprised..., February 16, 2015
After watching several television movies based on Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series, I decided to read some of Parker's novels. When I picked up Killing the Blues, I didn't realize that this novel was actually written after Parker's death by Michael Brandman. Brandman assisted in co-writing and producing some of the movies, and was hand-picked to continue the series by Parker's estate. Although I thought that Brandman's dialogue sounded very similar, I felt that his Jesse Stone was more violent and operated more outside the law.

The summer season is about to begin in the resort town of Paradise, Massachusetts and a crime wave begins. Someone is stealing Honda Civics, although a heist gone bad ends in murder. At the local school, 14 year old Lisa Barry takes the principal hostage with a gun because of a bunch of nasty girls who won't stop bullying her. And just when things can't get any worse, Rollo Nurse, a psychopath who Stone put away while working in California is now out of jail and coming east to seek revenge. Stone's love life always is a sub-plot and in Killing the Blues, his love interest is Alexis Richard. Richard was hired as a public relations specialist and event planner for Paradise. But things are made a little more complicated because her uncle is selectman Carter Hansen (not a fan of Jesse Stone). As the story developed, I thought that no police chief could do what Stone did and get away with his actions. Then again, I guess that's why they call this genre fiction.

This fast-paced book was a quick, entertaining and suspenseful read. Some die-hard fans might be disappointed in Brandman's efforts, but I think that maybe Jesse Stone still has a future, after all.


Split Image (Jesse Stone)
Split Image (Jesse Stone)
by Robert B. Parker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.74
182 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars A clunker..., February 16, 2015
Split Image is the third Jesse Stone book that I've read in a row, and this book by Robert B. Parker is pretty lame. I understand that this is the last Jesse Stone book that Robert Parker wrote before he died, and maybe he just wasn't playing with his A-game anymore. But for whatever reason, Split Image was a big disappointment.

Jesse Stone is the chief of police in the fictional town of Paradise, Massachusetts. As in most Stone books, there are numerous plots and subplots. The major plot focuses on the murders of two men. One of them was a local gangster who lived right next door to another career criminal. They were both married to beautiful, identical twins. This part of the novel was totally bizarre and unbelievable. It was also hard to keep all the characters straight. A subplot involved a local religious cult, Bond of the Renewal, that may or may not be keeping people against their will. And then there is also the issue of Stone's love life. At least his obnoxious ex-wife, Jenn, seems to be totally out of the picture. But now he's going back and forth with Sunny Randall.

I guess with an author as prolific as Robert Parker, you're bound to write a clunker every now and then. This one certainly was in my estimation. If it wasn't for some sharp repartee from time to time, I would have given it 1 star.


Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.54
98 used & new from $11.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous Doctor Mutter..., February 16, 2015
Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I visited the Mutter Museum a number of times. But as much as I knew about the museum, I actually knew very little about Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter, whose collection of medical curiosities was the core of the museum. Wanting to learn more about Mutter, I selected Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine written by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. While very interesting and informative, the book is more about Mutter and less about his museum, which is perfectly fine since this former rock-star of 19th century medicine is now largely forgotten.

Thomas Mutter was born in Virginia and orphaned at an early age. Deciding he wanted to study medicine, he traveled to Philadelphia and earned a degree from the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, he spent a year in Paris, learning the latest surgical techniques of the time, including plastic surgery. He then returned to Philadelphia where he built up a private practice, before being hired on as professor of surgery at the new Jefferson Medical College. It was at Jefferson that he truly made a name for himself. He not only performed surgeries that were never heard of at the time, but treated his patients with compassion. One procedure, the Mutter Flap, is still done today. He was the first physician to use ether as an anesthetic in Philadelphia at a time when many doctors were thoroughly against the practice. He believed that surgeons should keep clean, both their persons and their instruments, before germ theory was even understood. He lobbied for the opening of a hospital at Jefferson to care for their surgical patients. After surgery, patients were simply sent home. It took some years before Jefferson finally did open a hospital. And he was a riveting lecturer who was beloved by his students. Instead of straight lectures, he engaged them and challenged them to come up with the answers. Throughout his life, he was a dapper guy who dressed in suits of bright colored silk and entertained lavishly—something not always appreciated in Quaker Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Mutter spent much of his life in ill-health and his fellow colleagues were not able to save his life. He retired early and died in 1859 at age 48.

Perhaps Mutter's largest legacy is the museum that today bears his name. “Mutter's reputation as riveting lecturer also partly owed to his habit of bringing specimens to class, those he kept safely store at the school's anatomical museum a well as those from his personal collection. And to his students, the volume of diagrams, models, and specimens collected from around the world seemed nearly limitless. There didn't seem to be an injury, disease, malady, or treatment for which Mutter couldn't seem to produce a relevant sample, and he would weave these specimens into his lectures masterfully...” It is these specimens that made up the nucleus of the Mutter Museum. Knowing that his health was failing, he wanted to donate them to Jefferson Medical College. The gift would come with a $30,000 bequest and several strings attached. Finally, the College of Physicians (not an actual college) accepted Mutter's collection and met his requirements.

It was especially interesting to read about the evolution of medical practices during this period, and it was gratifying to learn of the important role that Philadelphia played in the education of medical students. After reading Dr. Mutter's Marvels, I think I'm due to revisit his museum which can be found at 19 South 22nd Street in Philadelphia.


Driving the King: A Novel
Driving the King: A Novel
by Ravi Howard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.17
83 used & new from $8.85

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much didn't ring true..., February 9, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I saw Driving the King by Ravi Howard on several lists of the best books of 2015, so I ordered it when I saw it offered through Amazon Vine. I generally shy away from historical fiction, and although this novel is beautifully written, I kept getting stuck on the fact that a lot of what was written here wasn't true.

Nathaniel Weary and Nathaniel Cole (Nat King Cole) both were born in Montgomery, Alabama. They were in the same class in school until the Cole family moved to Chicago when Cole was still small. Without giving the plot away, after a grave injustice was done to Weary, Cole hires his childhood friend to move to Los Angelos and become his driver. After serving as a soldier in World War II, this may seem a bit of a come-down, but Weary is hoping that in LA, he won't find the kind of racial hatred that exists in his home town. During this time period, the Montgomery Bus Boycott is getting under way and members of his family are directly involved. Dr. Martin Luther King is a pastor in a Montgomery church, and he, his family, and his church are threatened. It truly is an ugly period in our history. Yet, Weary discovers that this type of racism is not limited to the south, and that there are many who would love to see the talents of Nat King Cole silenced. It is Weary's observations about this time that are Howard's strength. “It was just tiresome thinking about folks having to fight for the least little thing. I loved my people for fighting, but hated the reason why, and that left me with that crosscut notion of pride and anger pulling in different directions, two kinds of muscle fighting for the same piece of bone.”

But while I enjoyed this story, I found out early on that Nathaniel Weary was a totally fictional character, and thus, I felt that Driving the King rang false. Also, a major subplot in Driving the King was about Nat King Cole's return to Montgomery for another concert, years after his first concert in his hometown was disrupted by violence and he was injured. Unfortunately, I read that after the incident at the first Montgomery concert, Cole never gave another concert in the south—thus another untruth. But perhaps blame my own prejudice of historic fiction for my taking exception to these “embellishments.”


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