February 22, 2011

Shoot to Thrill

Shoot to Thrill by P.J. Tracy
2010 G. P. Putnam Sons
Finished on 2/10/11
Rating: 4.5 (Terrific!)

Product Description:

It's eighty-five degrees in the shade when Minneapolis detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth pull into the MPD parking garage. They're driving a tricked-out Caddy, repossessed from a low-level drug dealer. It's not a Beemer or a Mercedes, but it's got GPS, air conditioning, and electric seats with more positions than the Kama Sutra.

But things are heating up inside the station house, too. The bomb squad's off to investigate another suspicious package at the mall, and kids are beating the crap out of each other and posting it on YouTube. And before Leo and Gino can wish for a straight-on homicide, the call comes in: a floater.

Soon they're humping it along a derelict stretch of the Mississippi River, beyond the green places where families picnic and admire the views. They can see her-she looks like a bride in her white formal gown-face down, dead in the water. And so it begins.

Across town, Grace McBride's Monkeewrench crew-the computer geeks who made a fortune on games, now helping the cops with anticrime software-has been recruited by the FBI to investigate a series of murder videos posted on the Web. It's not long before Rolseth, Magozzi, and Monkeewrench discover the frightening link between the unlucky bride and the latest, most horrific use of the Internet yet. Using their skills to scour the Net in search of the perpetrator, the team must race against the clock to stop a killer in his tracks.

P.J. Tracy is the pseudonym of the mother-daughter writing team of Patricia Lambrecht and Traci Lambrecht. Winners of the Anthony, Barry, Gumshoe and Minnesota Book Awards, they each live in rural Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis.

I’ve read all five books in the Monkeewrench series and while this wasn’t nearly as intense as Dead Run, it’s probably my favorite. The suspenseful plot kept me reading far too late into the night and I wound up having a couple of dreams revolving around the characters. I wouldn’t exactly say they were nightmares, but I did awaken with a feeling of unease. I love the witty banter between Gino & Leo, the camaraderie between the Monkeewrench crew, and in this particular book, the introduction to FBI Special Agent John Smith.

I read mysteries and thrillers purely for the entertainment factor, but every so often I’m taken aback by some surprisingly beautiful writing. I’ve come to expect it with Dennis Lehane, but I was pleasantly surprised to read the following by this mother-daughter writing duo:

How strange, then, that after so many near-misses, well into the second half of his time on earth, he was learning to excel at life—the one thing he’d never really aspired to.

Once a year for all the years he’d been with the Bureau, he’d taken the boat south to the Keys; sometimes all the way to the Caribbean. For two weeks he’d dance the boat through the waters that had too many colors to claim one, watched sun and moon and ocean mingle like a trio of lovers, and felt his mind slow down and finally bob and drift like a piece of flotsam on the swells. He’d stop at any port where he liked to mingle with strange and interesting people who didn’t know him, which gave him license to laugh and joke and be someone else. He ate bar food on rickety piers while his bare feet swung over the water, and sometimes drank with women whose names he couldn’t remember. Two weeks a year. Less than eight percent of his adult life.

He closed his eyes and smelled salt, heard the ticking of the rigging against the mast and the ruffle of heavy cloth in the breeze, and then felt the wind lift his hair for the first time in years. He hadn’t had it cut for three weeks now, an all-time record. Maybe he’d let it grow long like Harley’s and wear it in a ponytail, just another gray-haired man reverting to the wild.

There’s actually a bit more to this passage, but to include the subsequent paragraphs would only spoil the story for those of you who haven’t yet read the book.

I’m quite a stickler when it comes to reading a series in the order of publication, but in this case it’s safe to say that one could easily pick up Shoot to Thrill and not feel lost in the back-story details (or for that matter, discover any spoilers pertaining to the previous works). This is quite an entertaining series and my only complaint is that it took four years to publish this most recent installment. I was very satisfied with the ending and, once again, I’m anxious for the next release. I certainly hope we see more of John Smith.

February 21, 2011


Congratulations to...

Sandy Jay who wrote:

This sounds like a book I'd like to read.

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin


Kay @ My Random Acts of Reading who wrote:

Yes, I'd love to read this one. I concur about music therapy being useful with Alzheimer's patients. My Dad's care center used it extensively. It's a very curious thing.

Absolutely enter me. :-)

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I’ve sent you an email, Sandy. Please respond to that with your snail mail and I’ll get your book off to you later this week. Kay, I already have your address. Hope this helps pull you out of your reading slump!

Happy reading!

February 19, 2011

The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
1922 Washington Square Press
Quit on 1/14/11
Rating: DNF

Product Description:

High above a bay on the Italian Riviera, the small medieval castle of San Salvatore was awash with the scent of flowers, its olive groves sweeping in terraced descent down to the sun-warmed sea. San Salvatore invited the heart to burst into bloom...

Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot are glad to leave their stifling duties and distant husbands behind; Mrs. Fisher wants only to sit in the sun and savor her youthful memories, while Lady Caroline Dester longs for the sweet oblivion of no adoring suitors. They agree to rent the castle for a month of blissful privacy. Yet, amid the showers of fragrant wisteria, in the hazy heat and sensuous silence, each one will be seduced and changed by the magic of San Salvatore...

I’m planning to travel to Italy (!!) next year to celebrate my 50th birthday. My hope is to read all of the books I’ve collected over the years that are set in that enchanting country. I’ve owned this particular book for more than a decade and I’ve tried to read it a couple of times, but have never gotten very far. After reading Bellezza’s review, I decided to give it another go. Well, I tried. But once again I failed to finish and quit after more than 100 pages. Maybe I’ll just have to settle for a viewing of the film.

That said, I did mark the following and after re-reading these little gems, I am actually re-considering the book.

The bedrooms and two of the sitting-rooms at San Salvatore were on the top floor, and opened into a roomy hall with a wide glass window at the north end. San Salvatore was rich in small gardens in different parts and on different levels. The garden this window looked down on was made on the highest part of the walls, and could only be reached through the corresponding spacious hall on the floor below. When Mrs. Wilkins came out of her room this window stood wide open, and beyond it in the sun was a Judas tree in full flower. There was no sign of anybody, no sound of voices or feet. Tubs of arum lilies stood about on the stone floor, and on a table flamed a huge bunch of fierce nasturtiums. Spacious, flowery, silent, with the wide window at the end opening into the garden, and the Judas tree absurdly beautiful in the sunshine, it seemed to Mrs. Wilkins, arrested on her way across to Mrs. Arbuthnot, too good to be true. Was she really going to live in this for a whole month? Up to now she had had to take what beauty she could as she went along, snatching at little bits of it when she came across it—a patch of daisies on a fine day in a Hampstead field, a flash of sunset between two chimney pots. She had never been in definitely, completely beautiful places. She had never been even in a venerable house; and such a thing as a profusion of flowers in her rooms was unattainable to her. Sometimes in the spring she had bought six tulips at Shoolbred's, unable to resist them, conscious that Mellersh if he knew what that had cost would think it inexcusable; but they had soon died, and then there were no more. As for the Judas tree, she hadn't an idea what it was, and gazed at it out there against the sky with the rapt expression of one who sees a heavenly vision.


They left the path, and clambered down the olive terraces, down and down, to where at the bottom the warm, sleepy sea heaved gently among the rocks. There a pine-tree grew close to the water, and they sat under it, and a few yards away was a fishing-boat lying motionless and green-bellied on the water. The ripples of the sea made little gurgling noises at their feet. They screwed up their eyes to be able to look into the blaze of light beyond the shade of their tree. The hot smell from the pine-needles and from the cushions of wild thyme that padded the spaces between the rocks, and sometimes a smell of pure honey from a clump of warm irises up behind them in the sun, puffed across their faces. Very soon Mrs. Wilkins took her shoes and stockings off, and let her feet hang in the water. After watching her a minute Mrs. Arbuthnot did the same. Their happiness was then complete. Their husbands would not have known them. They left off talking. They ceased to mention heaven. They were just cups of acceptance.

Maybe I’ll just read it in bits & pieces and see if I wind up enjoying it as much as Bellezza. I'm having a difficult time saying I'm finished with this book...

February 5, 2011

Sing You Home

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
2011 Atria Books
Finished 1/30/11
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
ARC - On sale March 1, 2011
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC via B&N

Publisher’s Blurb:

Zoe Baxter has spent ten years trying to get pregnant, and after multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true. But a terrible turn of events leads to a nightmare—one that tears apart her marriage to Max and all her future plans. In the aftermath, Zoe throws herself into her career as a music therapist. When an unexpected friendship slowly blossoms into love, she makes plans for a new life, but to her shock, and inevitable rage, some people, even those she loves and trusts most, don’t want that to happen.

Sing You Home is about religion, love, marriage, and parenthood. It’s about people wanting to do the right thing, even as they fulfill their own personal desires and dreams. And it’s about what happens when the outside world brutally calls into question the very thing closest to our hearts: family.

And, from the publisher’s letter to booksellers:

In her newest novel, Jodi explores what constitutes a “traditional family” in today’s day and age. Sing You Home addresses what it means to be gay in today’s world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation—two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind—enter the courtroom?

Yep. Another controversial novel by Jodi Picoult. And, yes, my book is full of Post-It notes! I was immediately drawn into Zoe, Max and Vanessa’s story and found myself thinking about the friends and relatives I know who have experienced infertility issues, and who were finally able to get pregnant with the help of in vitro fertilization. I also found myself thinking about my gay friends and relatives who are raising families of their own. And about my Christian friends and relatives who might have issues with same-sex unions and with same-sex parenting. Once again, Picoult has given me a lot to ponder.

About music:

Every life has a soundtrack.

There is a tune that makes me think of the summer I spent rubbing baby oil on my stomach in pursuit of the perfect tan. There’s another that reminds me of tagging along with my father on Sunday mornings to pick up the New York Times. There’s the song that reminds me of using fake ID to get into a nightclub; and the one that brings back my cousin Isobel’s sweet sixteen, where I played Seven Minutes in Heaven with a boy whose breath smelled like tomato soup.

If you ask me, music is the language of memory.

On music therapy:

When I tell people I am a music therapist, they think it means I play guitar for people who are in the hospital—that I’m a performer. Actually, I’m more like a physical therapist, except instead of using treadmills and grab bars as tools, I use music. When I tell people that, they usually dismiss my job as some New Age BS.

In fact, it’s very scientific. In brain scans, music lights up the medial prefrontal cortex and triggers a memory that starts playing in your mind. All of a sudden you can see a place, a person, an incident. The strongest response to music—the ones that elicit vivid memories—cause the greatest activity on brain scans. It’s for this reason that stroke patients can access lyrics before they remember language, why Alzheimer’s patients can still remember songs from their youth.

On young love:

When I was growing up in the southern suburbs of Boston, I used to ride my banana bike with glitter streamers up and down the streets of my neighborhood, silently marking the homes of the girls I thought were pretty. At age six, I fully believed that Katie Whittaker, with her sunshine hair and constellations of freckles, would one day marry me and we’d live happily ever after.

I can’t really remember when I realized that wasn’t what all the other girls were thinking, and so I started saying along with the rest of the female second graders that I had a crush on Jared Tischbaum....

On coming out:

In October 1998, during my junior year of college, Matthew Shepard—a young, gay University of Wyoming student—was severely beaten and left for dead. I didn’t know Matthew Shepard. I wasn’t a political activist. But my boyfriend at the time and I got on a Greyhound bus and traveled to Laramie to participate in the candlelight vigil at the university. It was when I was surrounded by all those points of light that I could confess what I had been terrified to admit to myself: it could have been me. That I was, and always had been, gay.

And here’s the amazing thing: even after I said it out loud, the world did not stop turning.

I was still a college student majoring in education, with a 3.8 average. I still weighed 121 pounds and preferred chocolate to vanilla and sang with an a cappella group called Son of a Pitch. I swam at the school pool at least twice a week, and I was still much more likely to be found watching Cheers than getting wasted at a frat party. Admitting I was gay changed nothing about who I had been, or who I was going to be.

On tolerance and acceptance:

You can argue that it’s a different world now than the one when Matthew Shepard was killed, but there is a subtle difference between tolerance and acceptance. It’s the distance between moving into the cul-de-sac and having your next-door neighbor trust you to keep an eye on her preschool daughter for a few minutes while she runs out to the post office. It’s the chasm between being invited to a colleague’s wedding with your same-sex partner and being able to slow-dance without the other guests whispering.

I remember my mothering telling me that, when she was a little girl in Catholic school, the nuns used to hit her left hand every time she wrote with it. Nowadays, if a teacher did that, she’d probably be arrested for child abuse. The optimist in me wants to believe sexuality will eventually become like handwriting: there’s no right way or wrong way to do it. We’re all just wired differently.

It’s also worth noting that, when you meet someone, you never bother to ask if he’s right- or left-handed.

After all: does it really matter to anyone other than the person holding the pen?

Narrated from three points of view, Sing You Home is another entertaining page-turner by Picoult and one that is sure to spark lively, if not heated, discussions amongst book clubs. I can’t wait to hear what others have to say about this book.

If you’d like a chance to win my ARC, please leave a comment with your email address. I will draw a name on February 13th.

:: 2011 Sing You Home US appearances ::
This year’s tour for SING YOU HOME is going to be a multimedia experience! The book will include a CD of original music “by” the main character, Zoe, who is a music therapist - and that makes the reading experience that much more personal and intense as you listen to the songs that correspond to each chapter. But of course, Zoe didn’t really write that music. That was my friend Ellen Wilber, who wrote the music for my lyrics, and who sings on the CD as the voice of Zoe. When I go on book tour this year, Ellen will be coming along with her guitar, and in addition to hearing me do a reading and Q&A, you’ll get to listen to some live music! (From the author's website).
Go here for the current list of tour cities/stores, subject to change.

February 2, 2011