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Mary Simonsen (Arizona, USA)

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When Pigs Fly
When Pigs Fly
by Bob Sanchez
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Screwball Comedy in the Desert of AZ, 26 July 2008
This review is from: When Pigs Fly (Paperback)
After retiring from the Lowell, Massachusetts police force, Mack Durgin has moved to Pincushion, Arizona where he is leading a mundane and boring existence, largely due to the loss of Mary, his beloved wife of 30 years. Meanwhile back in Massachusetts, Diet Cola, an unreformed and dangerous ex-con, goes looking for a winning lottery ticket that lay hidden in an urn containing the ashes of George Ashe, a former colleague of Mack's. During Diet Cola's 11 months in prison, the ticket remained undisturbed in the home of Mack's parents, Carrick and Brodie Durgin; that is, until they mailed George's remains to their son so that he could scatter them in the Grand Canyon.

Diet Cola and two thieves, Frosty and Ace, as well Calliope Vrattos, a beautiful waitress, and the Elvis impersonator who is stalking her, are all headed in Mack's direction where they will hook up with Juanita, an unfortunate choice for Mack's first sexual encounter after his wife's death, and her jealous boyfriend, Zippy, so named for the zipper he has tattooed on his bald head. The cast is complete when Brodie, Mack's mother, who is in the early stages of dementia, and her loving husband, Carrick, whose primary role is to keep his wife safe and happy, arrive in Arizona to visit their son.

If When Pigs Fly were a movie, it would be a 1930s screwball comedy. Zippy is after Mack because of his one-night stand with his girlfriend; Elvis is after Calliope; Diet Cola, Frosty and Ace are after Mack's ticket, which is complicated by the arrival of Mack's parents. Mack knows nothing of the ticket in the urn. He has been asked to spread his friend's ashes, and that's what he's going to do.

Amidst all the chaos created in the pursuit of the lottery ticket are two charming stories. Carrick Durgin knows that his wife's dementia is only going to get worse. He wants to make the most of the time left to them, and so they go to Las Vegas with a side trip to see Mack. Brodie, who's brain has apparently deleted the fear mechanism that keeps human beings safe, finds herself in the company of Diet Cola and Zippy. Instead of being afraid of these two hoodlums, she chastises them for their bad behavior. All Carrick can do is hope that his wife will not come to any harm.

And then there is Mack and Calliope. Mack is a handsome, kind, thoughtful person who is trying to figure out how to live in a world no longer inhabited by his wife. Although he is attracted to Calliope, he feels that if he became involved with the former waitress it would be the same as cheating on his wife. For her own reasons, Calliope is reluctant to begin a relationship with Mack. Calliope and Mack are like two people who see each other across a crowded dance hall. They know that the attraction is there, and step by step, they move to the center for that first slow dance.

This is a laugh-out-loud type of book with some of the funniest writing I have read in years. The dialog sparkles and the characters are funny and believable. And did I mention a javelina named Poindexter?


How To Ruin a Vacation (Kate Williams Mystery)
How To Ruin a Vacation (Kate Williams Mystery)
by Becky Bartness
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Can Murder Really Be This Funny, 26 July 2008
Kate Williams, a criminal defense attorney, is "encouraged" to take a vacation by her partner in their Chicago law firm. High-strung, overworked, and wound way too tight, Kate slices and dices everyone she meets beginning with a fellow passenger on the flight from Chicago to Tucson. With visions of two weeks of quiet at a dude ranch, Kate arrives at a sprawling complex decorated in 1950s lawn art. However, when she is taken to the one rustic cottage on the property, she envisions quiet walks through pine forests observing indigenous flora and fauna and viewing desert vistas. It's too bad that she witnesses the removal of the body of a murdered illegal immigrant.

There are two possible suspects: the people who run the Lazy ZZ Ranch or the handsome, enigmatic Chris McKay, a rancher on whose property the body was found. Kate, whose razor tongue never fails her, ends up recovering from injuries at McKay's home. While she is with McKay, Kate stumbles upon the body of another murdered immigrant. Is she safe with McKay? Will she be safe if she returns to the Lazy ZZ Ranch? Kate uses her analytical skills to figure out the mystery.

This first novel is hugely entertaining. Miss Bartness has a real gift for humor and dialog, and although Kate Williams is not the most sympathetic character, she is so funny, interesting and complex that you want her to kick butt. "How to Ruin a Vacation" is a quick, fun read.


Tug of War (Joe Sandilands)
Tug of War (Joe Sandilands)
by Barbara Cleverly
Edition: Paperback

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Multi-layered Mystery, 7 July 2008
Barbara Cleverly has created another difficult case for Joe Sandilands of Scotland Yard to solve. As in The Bee's Kiss and The Last Kashmiri Rose, this novel has a complex plot with lots of twists and turns and a murder that was committed during World War I. Joe must determine the identity of a shell-shocked soldier in a French asylum who is being claimed by four different families. Joe is a well-rounded and engaging character, and the background story of the bloody battles fought in Champagne is fascinating. However, in this novel, Joe is traveling with a 14-year old young lady named Dorcas who he is charged with delivering to relations in the south of France. She basically becomes Joe's co-equal in solving the crime. Her ability to analyze a complex series of events that occurred long before her time is simply not believable. There are times when she is ahead of Joe in evaluating the clues. I could have done without Dorcas, but this is still a first-rate mystery.


City of Lights: The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier
City of Lights: The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier
by Melika Dannese Lux
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Young Love in Paris in the 1890s, 30 Jun. 2008
City of Lights, The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier, is the story of a chanteuse, who has had more heartache than a 21-year old should have to bear: the death of her parents in a ship accident; abuse at the hand of her guardian; and estrangement from her beloved brother because of a misunderstanding. Lifted out of poverty by her patron, Count Sergei Rakmanovich, she becomes the darling of the 1894 Parisian cabaret scene, but the count's patronage comes with a price: his desire to possess her, mind, body and soul.

At the heart of the story is the love between Ilyse and Englishman, Ian McCarthy. The two fall in love within hours of their meeting. It is the magical kind of love unique to the very young whose thoughts for the future extend no further than midnight. Ilyse naively believes that she can walk away form the evil count, and Ian is ill-prepared to deal with a man who is willing to kill to keep his "Pure Dove" from being with anyone else.

This novel will be especially appealing to young adult readers who enjoy an engaging love story set in one of the most exciting cities in the world, a city where Toulouse Lautrec wanders the streets of Montmarte and the five-year old Eiffel Tower dominates the Parisian skyline. This is a remarkable debut, especially when you consider that the novelist is very near to the age of her heroine. Her broad knowledge of history and the arts is evident, and her enthusiasm for her subject leaps off of every page.


Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
by Laurie Viera Rigler
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern Woman in Regency England, 30 Jun. 2008
It has been a while since I laughed out loud at a book, but this is one. When a 21st lady, Courtney Stone, finds herself in Jane Austen's world, her modern sensibilities run head long into the straight-laced society of the early 19th Century. The passages regarding hygiene, or the lack thereof, are hysterical, especially when she is required to descend into a bathing pool at Bath or "eau de typhus" as she calls it. I have to admit that I wasn't all that interested in the problems of the modern Courtney Stone but loved to read about her getting her sea legs in Regency society. Uneven, but quite entertaining.


The Pict
The Pict
by Jack Dixon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.95

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David and Goliath Story, 28 Jun. 2008
This review is from: The Pict (Paperback)
Right out of the gate, "The Pict" begins with maces and battle axes flying as the Scythians, ancestors of the Picts, an ancient tribe of Scotland, fight the latest of many battles against the hordes pressing in on them from the eastern steppes of Eurasia. Guided by their warrior leader, Cruithne, the Scythians retreat to the west until they arrive at a northern sea where they must take to the water or submit. Thus begins the epic voyage that will eventually take the refugees to the far north of Caledonia.

For a thousand years, a loose confederation of tribes, each with its own leader, inhabited the Highlands, occasionally joining forces to defeat a common enemy. But their peaceful co-existence ended when the Romans, who had defeated the Britannic tribes to the south, began to march north toward Caledonia. After the massacre of an entire village by the Romans, the Pictish tribes once again come together to fight off the legions sent from Rome to conquer them. Calach, a young warrior who possesses the courage and spirit of Cruithne, is chosen as their leader. Outnumbered by the Romans by ten to one, Calach understands that it is only by waging guerilla warfare that the Romans can be defeated.

Jack Dixon creates a surreal landscape where the eerie sounds of a hundred pipes precede the Picts' attacks on a Roman camp, and phantoms tattooed with demonic symbols emerge silently out of the night to kill their sleeping enemy. But the Romans didn't expand their empire by yielding, and Calach pays a personal price in a battle to finish off the Romans.

The momentum of the story builds with each chapter as the warriors arise from the mists of their hills and valleys to fight, retreat, regroup, and fight again in their determination to keep the Romans from making any further incursions into their ancient lands.

Over the centuries, the Picts ceased to exist as a separate people, and together with their Celtic neighbors, became the ancestors of today's Scots. Because of the thin historical record and few artifacts yielded by archeological digs, Jack Dixon must spin a tale from his own understanding of the times, the landscape of the Highlands, and the other inhabitants of Scotland who did leave a record. The sounds of the bodhran drums pulse throughout the book, leaving the reader wanting to know more about the warriors who fought against the might of the greatest empire on earth and prevailed.


The Confederate War Bonnet: A Novel of the Civil War in Indian Territory
The Confederate War Bonnet: A Novel of the Civil War in Indian Territory
by Jack Shakely
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Little Known American Civil War Story, 28 Jun. 2008
Jack Gaston, the son of a white mother and a Creek Indian, is as comfortable in the white world of Harvard University and St. Louis as he is in his father's print shop in the Creek Nation, but his heart is Creek. While attending Harvard, Jack learns that he has been elected to the House of Warriors. The honor comes in the third year of the Civil War when his people are fighting for the Confederacy. Jack serves as an officer in the Confederate Army before being seriously wounded. Back in the Creek Nation, Jack prints a news sheet which contains the usual wartime propaganda. Because there is actually very little good news to report, Jack fills the empty space with the exploits of a Creek/Confederate warrior in the story of "The Confederate War Bonnet" which is modeled after the dime novels of the time. "The Confederate War Bonnet" is read by both armies, and the imaginary hero becomes so real in the eyes of the Union soldiers that he ends up with a price on his head.

Jack Shakely, who is of Creek descent, uses a light touch when he tells the story of a race of people who were forced out of their homes in the South and removed to modern-day Oklahoma, but he also strikes the right chord when the hardships of war descend upon the Creek Nation. This book is an important re-creation of events which occurred in a theater of the American Civil War that is known to few.


High Spirits: A Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance
High Spirits: A Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance
by Dianne Salerni
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A Mystery Involving the Spiritualist Movement in America, 28 Jun. 2008
High Spirits is the story of Maggie and Kate Fox from Hydesville, New York, early members of the Spiritualist movement. Their first foray into the realm of Spiritualism was accidental--a prank played upon an annoying relation. However, the contrivance was so successful "that they extended the prank to include parents and their neighbors until deception became their way of life." The two young sisters, barely in their teens and guided by their business savvy older sister, succeeded in convincing people that they were able to communicate with spirits who had passed to the other side by rapping noises created by the cracking sounds of their knees, ankles, and toes.

The story focuses on the middle sister, Maggie, who falls in love with the explorer, Elisha Kent Kane, who is aware that the Fox sisters' claim to communicate with the dead is a hoax. Before leaving on a rescue mission to the Arctic, Kane extracts a pledge from Maggie that she must give up her rapping, dangling the promise of a wedding before her. She agrees and keeps her eyes on the horizon waiting for her explorer to return.

Dianne Salerni is masterful in recreating the environment of the 1840s that allowed Spiritualism to flourish. Her detailed portraits of the Fox sisters allow modern readers to understand how these young women were able to pull the wool over the eyes of so many, including author James Fenimore Cooper, editor Horace Greeley, and the tragic wife of President Franklin Pierce who had seen her only surviving child crushed in a train accident. Her understanding of the time in which the Fox sisters lived as well as in-depth knowledge of this slice of American history enables her to write this engrossing and compelling story.


The Last Kashmiri Rose (Joe Sandilands Murder Mysteries)
The Last Kashmiri Rose (Joe Sandilands Murder Mysteries)
by Barbara Cleverly
Edition: Paperback

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder in the days of the Raj, 27 Jun. 2008
After reading, A Bee's Kiss by Cleverly, I decided to check out her debut novel, and I'm glad I did. Her main protagonist, Joe Sandilands, a veteran of the Western Front and a member of the London Metropolitan Police, is on assignment to India for the purpose of sharing the latest techniques of Scotland Yard with local law enforcement officials. Just as he is about to return to London, he finds himself investigating the murder of an officer's wife which leads him to four older murders. I think Cleverly captured the atmosphere of the British Raj when the sun was just beginning to set on Britain's control over great swaths of India. I stayed up until the wee hours of the night to see "who done it."


No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Author of Pemberley Remembered, 27 Jun. 2008
I recently received a review from Curled Up With a Good Book which I would like to share the review with you:

Maggie Joyce is a young single woman living in London after World War II... While in England, Maggie decides to explore the setting of one of her favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice. Along with Rob, her commitment-phobic boyfriend who is still recovering from emotional wounds he received during the war, she explores England in a delightful fashion.

Maggie visits a home rumored to be the inspiration for Pemberley, the ancestral family home of Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. During her stay, she meets Jack and Beth Crowell, who seem to have an insider's perspective on the story behind Pride and Prejudice. As she forges a friendship with Jack and Beth, they begin to share their knowledge with her, leaving tantalizing clues as to the real events which inspired Austen's famous story....

Pemberley Remembered is historical fiction in the broadest sense. Not only does it cover Austen's Regency England; it is a revealing portrait of World War II and postwar England as well. Any fan of either will greatly enjoy this book. However, it is also a story of romance, the likes of which are unsurpassed in today's literary climate. I am hesitant to categorize the book as a romance, because while it is the story of Maggie and Rob and their love for each other, there is so much more that develops in the novel.

When a reader hears the title Pemberley Remembered, the first thing that comes to mind is Jane Austen's famous novel Pride and Prejudice. Any real fans of that work will most likely clamor to read this novel; anyone who does not recognize the name Pemberley will pass it by, even after picking it up to read the synopsis. What a mistake they would be making!

Simonsen's Pemberley Remembered is not just for fans of Jane Austen. True, a devout reader of Pride and Prejudice has an advantage due to the cavalier references throughout the book, which doesn't contain much summary... So, being an Austen fan would be a definite plus...(but not having read Pride and Prejudice should not preclude a reader from picking up Pemberley Remembered.

The most remarkable aspect of Pemberley Remembered is Simonsen's ability to take multiple stories from completely different time periods and fuse them together into a cohesive whole. Maggie's search for answers, Jack and Beth's story, the horrors of war, the development of Maggie and Rob's relationship, the story of the Garrisons and Laceys (the supposed characters the Bennets and Darcys were modeled upon), all while keeping the reader's interest in the mysteries of the novel - it is quite an achievement. The result is a beautiful, full book that is not a quick read - the complicated nature of the novel does not allow for that. Instead, it is a slower, satisfying read, another rarity with books today.

Pemberley Remembered is a shining addition to the world of historical fiction... There are so many books based on Pride and Prejudice being released right now, and many of them are disappointing at best. Pemberley Remembered is what these books should be - a novel in its own right. While Pride and Prejudice is a big factor in the book, it does not define it. It can stand very well on its own merit, and because of that, any reader will most likely enjoy this book.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at [...] © Swapna Krishna, 2008


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