Feed the need to read

Lenora is placing stickers inside each book donated, to remind the students of the generosity of readers like you.

I have a big mouth.

Sometimes, that’s not a good thing. Sometimes, it is. It was last year when I invited several “virtual” friends to help my friend Lenora, who teaches kindergarten to some of the poorest students in our society — students who dread holidays and summers because school is better than home.

Lenora is one of those all-too-rare teachers for whom teaching is more than a profession. It’s a calling, one that Lenora answers both willingly and generously. She has dug deep in her own pockets to provide for her students, buying everything from crayons to Kindles for her classroom.

Last year, her school received a grant to provide a book for each kindergartener, and this was the first (and only) book many of those children ever owned.

“My students were SO excited! They had huge grins on their faces and they hugged the books,” Lenora recalled. “I noticed after vacation that a lot of the kids were keeping their books in their backpacks. They told me they were reading the book at their dismissal waiting area and on the bus. The book they had been given featured Pete the Cat. They noticed I had Pete the Cat books in the classroom library and they became favorite read-alouds. My students loved Pete the Cat!”

Lenora wanted to encourage that interest in reading, so she asked me if I thought friends from a group known for performing Random Acts of Kindness would be offended if she asked for help. I didn’t, and I didn’t wait. I immediately posted a request on the RAOK discussion thread — and others — asking those who could to contribute a dollar in the form of Amazon gift cards to help her buy a second Pete the Cat book for each of her students. By the end of the school year, we had purchased six Pete the Cat books for each student, plus additional classroom books and supplies that Lenora had been buying because the parents of her students simply can’t afford them.

“It became a celebration each time they would get a new book. Such a look of joy upon their faces. We would do a read through of the new book together at the end of the day. My students would line up to go home with smiles on their faces, hugging their book to their chest,” Lenora said. “My struggling students that had previously shown no interest in books or reading at all became the ones that were most excited about carrying all their Pete the Cat books back and forth each day. They became more proficient at identifying letter sounds and decoding simple words. A Pete the Cat addition and subtraction practice became a class favorite.”

PeteLenora used those books to teach something else, too.

“We talked a great deal about random acts of kindness last year. A label was placed inside the front of each book saying, ‘This book provided by a Random Act of Kindness.’ My students became excited about doing acts of kindness for others. It was a joy to see children becoming much more caring and hopeful. They knew there were people who cared about them.”

Twenty years earlier, I’d had the opportunity to see for myself the difference that caring, and reading, makes in students like these when I volunteered to help struggling third-grade readers at Birmingham’s East Lake Elementary School. I visited the school twice a week, spending an hour with three students who should never have been promoted to third grade and wouldn’t be promoted to fourth if they couldn’t catch up. They thrived with the three-on-one attention. Together, on chairs drawn up in a circle in the hallway, we overcame their deficiencies and they learned not only to read but to enjoy reading. As the year drew to a close, I was wanted to do something to prevent them from losing ground over the summer and I decided to buy each of the three a book. I’ll never forget the joy I saw on their faces when they opened the gifts, nor the pride when their classmates saw their books and heard them read aloud.

Such a simple thing. My parents had saved pennies to buy me pony rides and Popsicles when I was a little girl, but we always had plenty of books. My library of more than 10,000 titles includes three or four books given to me some 50 or so years ago. We didn’t have much money back then, but you can’t say we were poor because we had so many books.

I learned to cook because I had learned to read. I learned to knit because I had learned to read. I learned so much because I had learned to read, and I’m still learning because I had learned to read.

Lenora found these waiting for her at school Monday, 1 August 2016.

I’m helping Lenora once again, because each year brings new students who may never own their own book unless someone like me — and you — provides it. You may not be able to help. You may prefer to help in your own community. I understand. If you can, though, please consider helping Lenora help this year’s class. You can contribute as little as 50 cents through an Amazon gift card, or you can choose something from her Classroom Wish List. The books, or any supplies, will be shipped to Lenora at the school. They must be purchased in her name, otherwise they become the property of the school and cannot legally be given to the students. I’ll add to your gift, using any ad revenues from purchases made through MiddleSisterReviews.com during the rest of the month as well as my own book budget for the next two months.

Here are some of the books Lenora hopes to give her students:


UPDATED 1 August 2016

Lenora stuffThank you! Your direct contributions through gift cards and gifts have provided one copy of a Pete the Cat book for every kindergartner in Lenora’s school! Lenora and her colleagues plan to give the books to the children at the school’s Meet the Teacher event. Sis doesn’t quite know yet exactly how much your indirect contributions — in the form of referral fees to be paid by Amazon for purchases from this site — will total because Lenora expects to return several copies of the book as enrollment is lower than expected. Still, she estimates that proceeds from www.MiddleSisterReviews.com will provide more than $41 to buy open oneadditional books and supplies for Lenora’s students. Please check back for Lenora’s review of the Pete the Cat series, which will be posted soon, as all referrals from that review will go to Project Pete to buy books and supplies for these children. Plus, Lenora will report throughout the year on her students’ response to your generosity.


Saturday Savings

P.D. James’s The Private Patient is on sale

private patientDescription: Cheverell Manor is a beautiful old house in Dorset, which its owner, the famous plastic surgeon George Chandler-Powell, uses as a private clinic.  When the investigative journalist, Rhoda Gradwyn, arrives to have a disfiguring facial scar removed, she has every expectation of a successful operation and a peaceful week recuperating.  But the clinic houses an implacable enemy and within hours of the operation Rhoda is murdered.   Commander Dalgliesh and his team are called in to investigate a case complicated by old crimes and the dark secrets of the past.  Before Rhoda’s murder is solved, a second horrific death adds to the complexities of one of Dalgliesh’s most perplexing and fascinating cases.

The late P.D. James wrote intricate detective stories with such polished prose that they deserve to be called literature rather than genre fiction, and the Kindle edition of The Private Patient, a bestseller originally published in 2008, is discounted today to $1.99 — a bargain to my mind as I cheerfully ordered the hardbound edition at a list price of $25.95.

I re-read this one recently, and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, but it is definitely dark. James explores, and exposes, evil, in a way that disturbs me if I read too many of her novels without taking a break into something lighter, though often less satisfying.  Yet, I have to read them and read them again because the writing itself is so good, the characters so complex, the insights so enlightening. Many critics complained that this isn’t James’s best . . . yet they agreed that it outranked most crime fiction. That should tell you how very good James was, and how much you owe it to yourself to read this one, if you have not already.

P. D. James was the author of more than 20 books, most of which were filmed and PD Jamesbroadcast on television in the United States and other countries. She spent 30 years in various departments of the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Law Departments of Great Britain’s Home Office. She served as a magistrate and as a governor of the BBC. In 2000 she celebrated her eightieth birthday and published her autobiography, Time to Be in Earnest. The recipient of many prizes and honors, she was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991 and was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame in 2008.

 

Add this cozy debut to your TBR list:

Address to Die For

Recommended by MiddleSisterReviews.com

Address to Die For by Mary Feliz, published by Lyrical Underground, a digital imprint of Kensington Books, release date Tuesday, 19 July 2016; list price $3.99 (USD) for Kindle ebook, $15.00 (USD) paperback.
Address to Die For by Mary Feliz, published by Lyrical Underground, a digital imprint of Kensington Books, release date Tuesday, 19 July 2016; list price $3.99 (USD) for Kindle ebook, $15.00 (USD) paperback.

Description:  For professional organizer Maggie McDonald, moving her family into a new home should be the perfect organizational challenge. But murder was definitely not on the to-do list. Maggie McDonald has a penchant for order that isn’t confined to her clients’ closets, kitchens, and sock drawers. As she lays out her plan to transfer her family to the century-old house her husband, Max, has inherited in the hills above Silicon Valley, she expects their new life to fall neatly into place. But as the family bounces up the driveway of their new home, she’s shocked to discover the house’s dilapidated condition. When her husband finds the caretaker face-down in their new basement, it’s the detectives who end up moving in. While the investigation unravels and the family camps out in a barn, a killer remains at large—exactly the sort of loose end Maggie can’t help but clean up.

Mary Feliz picked the perfect location for her debut cozy mystery, a $15 million Craftsman home with barn in a village above the hills of California’s characteristically quirky Silicon Valley.

The setting is delightful. The story opens on Maggie McDonald, a professional organizer, and her family as they arrive at the house on moving day. Family and friends live, or have lived, in this part of California, and of course one reads about Google and its headquarters, yet I never saw this locale as clearly as I did in reading Address to Die For.

Each chapter of the mystery is decorated with a “quotation” from Maggie’s notebooks, and these insights and tips add considerable curb appeal to the story.  Maggie herself, in my opinion, is a major selling point for this new series, aside from the added value of her organizational advice.  She’s smart and strong, not one of the silly (and sometimes stupid) sleuths that have become all too common in today’s cozies, quite likeable and definitely good company.

The supporting cast, for the most part, provides a good foundation, too, with lots of loveable dogs and the family’s pair of cats, Holmes and Watson. Feliz keeps faith with cozy fans, avoiding both bad language and bedroom scenes.  At times, the mystery seems to get away from both Maggie and Feliz, but it is an enjoyable read and a good first effort – and well worth the list price of $3.99 (USD). The few flaws are forgivable, and I’ve added Feliz to my list of authors to follow. Scheduled to Death is scheduled for release in January 2017, and the third in the series, not yet titled, is expected in July 2017.

NOTE:  Lyrical Underground, an imprint of Kensington Books, allowed Sis to preview this debut cozy with  a complimentary advanced reading copy provided via NetGalley.  Sis is grateful for the opportunity and happy to report that her review reflects her own, independent opinions . . . as always.

About the author:  Mary Feliz has lived in five states and two countries but calls Silicon Valley home. Traveling to other areas of the United States, she’s frequently reminded that what seems normal in the high-tech heartland can seem decidedly odd to the rest of the country. A big fan of irony, serendipity, diversity, and quirky intelligence tempered with gentle humor, she strives to bring these elements into her writing, although her characters tend to take these elements to a whole new level. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Authors Guild where she feels at home among those plot to kill. She’s also a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, who seem less blood-thirsty and more interested in the skeletons in the closet.

Visit the author’s website at http://www.maryfeliz.com/


The Peter Diamond series continues to sparkle

Recommended:

diamond solitaireDiamond Solitaire by Peter Lovesey; first published in Great Britain in 1992 by Little, Brown and Company; this edition published by Soho Crime, Kindle list price $9.99 (USD), paperback edition, list $16.95 (but discounted at Amazon to $14.69 (USD); Book 2 of a 16-book series. As always, prices are subject to change without warning.

Diamond Solitaire is a gem of a detective story.

The second in the series of 16 detective stories featuring the irascible and overweight ex-detective superintendent Peter Diamond begins in the furniture department of Harrods’s, the landmark London department store, and takes the reader on a worldwide journey from Europe to North America and on to the Far East. And the journeys are chief among the joys of Peter Lovesey’s series, as well as other series from Soho Crime.

I read it as a continuation of Soho Crime’s reading challenge, celebrating 25 years of publishing international crime fiction. The publisher has given me two months to read my way through the series. This is a challenge I’ve accepted with alacrity.

First, the stories shine with the highly polished prose so often found in British fiction, even among the so-called “genre” fiction of crime fiction, or mysteries. Second, Diamond is an outwardly unlovable but in fact oh-so-lovable character! Here, he is stripped of the authority he once held with Scotland Yard, yet he maintains an inner authority that no shield can provide. Third, like all the Soho Crime series, these stories are rich in their international settings.

This time out, Lovesey takes readers from London to Milan, New York, Tokyo and Yokohama, picking up a sumo wrestler along the way. He explores the cut-throat pharmaceutical industry, and the more conventionally cut-throat Mafioso. He gives glimpses into post-graduate research at prestigious universities as well as the uniquely Japanese culture of sumo wrestling.

The pace is leisurely, and the mystery multi-faceted. The young girl found under a pile of pillows is speechless. Is this a symptom of autism, or a symptom of terror? And who, and where, are her parents? Diamond can’t let it go. Meanwhile, the founder of a pharmaceutical company is given a deadly diagnosis, while his firm struggles to keep a competitive edge and come up with a new and profitable drug – and deal with the question of his succession. The mafia is lurking around on the fringes with contract killers and hired henchmen.

Once again, Lovesey provides a pleasing puzzle in this semi-police procedural. The language is not as clean as The Last Detective, and some readers may not care for the four-lettered words scattered in the speeches of some of the characters. The violence, though, is handled with discretion. You can’t have murder without violence, but the details are never nauseating.

NOTE: Sis received a complimentary copy of Diamond Solitaire from Soho Crime via NetGalley for her participation in the publisher’s 25th anniversary reading challenge. Neither the publisher, nor any of its authors, have challenged her integrity in regard to her reviews.  They remain uniquely hers. She is, however, most grateful to Soho Crime for the opportunity to read and review this series!

Description:  After resigning from the Avon and Somerset Police Force in a fit of pique, Peter Diamond is reduced to working as a security guard at Harrods’s, but he loses that job after an abandoned Japanese girl if found under a pile of pillows after the store closes. Diamond’s search for another job is sidetracked by the mystery of the speechless girl’s identity – and the plot that threatens her safety.

PETER LOVESEY wrote the 16 Peter Diamond mysteries, known for their use of surprise, strong characters and hard-to-crack puzzles. He was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000, the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, the Anthony, the Ellery Queen Readers’ Award and is Grand Master of the Swedish Academy of Detection. He has been a full-time author since 1975. Earlier series include the Sergeant Cribb mysteries seen on TV and the Bertie, Prince of Wales novels. The Diamond novels, set in Bath, England, where Peter lived for some years, feature a burly, warm-hearted, but no-nonsense police detective whose personal life becomes as engaging to the reader as the intricate mysteries he solves. Peter and his wife Jax, who co-scripted the TV series, have a son, Phil, a teacher and mystery writer, and a daughter Kathy, who was a Vice-President of J.P.Morgan-Chase, and now lives with her family in Greenwich, Ct. Peter currently lives in Chichester, England. Visit his website at www.peterlovesey.com for more.

Soho Crime has been publishing atmospheric crime fiction set all over the world for the last 25 years. The publisher’s popular series take readers to France, China, England, Laos, Northern Ireland, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Italy, Denmark, and Palestine, among other locales, with entire range of crime fiction—detective fiction, police procedurals, thrillers, espionage novels, revenge novels, stories of thieves, assassins, and underworld mob bosses.

Want more to read? Try Kindle Unlimited, free for 30 days:

Is it time to join Prime?

Amazon.com celebrates Prime Day with savings

Today is Prime Day at Amazon.com, with deals in every department, and new ones added during the day, for customers who belong to Prime, the Amazon program that provides free two-day shipping (and even faster, for those who live close to an Amazon warehouse) plus other benefits.

Prime is a good deal, even a great deal, for some households, but not worth the expense for others.  I started with a free, 30-day trial — click on the offer below to get your own free trial — and I’ve renewed it some years and not others.

Today’s deals include a discount of 33.33 percent on the new 7-inch Kindle Fire for Prime members only:

Endeavour Press, which I have found to be a reliable publisher of previously out-of-print books as well as new releases, has a number of Prime Day deals, including this one from Alan Evans:Seek Out

November 1917. The First World War is on a knife-edge – and the British Empire in mortal danger. Commander David Cochrane Smith is about to embark on his most perilous adventure yet. The Imperial German Navy has sent Kapitan-zur-See Erwin Voss to command the mighty new battle cruiser Salzburg in the Adriatic. Smith is ordered by the Admiralty to find and attack her in harbour — a seemingly suicidal task which is made all the more hopeless when he runs into the opposition of his superiors in Venice. But it is a vital mission and Smith knows he must go it alone. Though the odds are stacked against him and his tiny crew, his orders are inflexible. Wipe out the enemy. Commanding three small torpedo boats, Smith finds himself relentlessly hunted as Voss and the Salzberg score victory after victory. Finally, Smith sees one last chance to avert all-out disaster – he stakes everything on one final attempt to seek out and destroy…

Saturday Savings with MiddleSisterReviews

More funny mysteries — for free!

And discounts on a classic, plus a funny film memoir

I have read and enjoyed some books in all of these mystery series, though not the ones that are offered free today.  Please remember to verify the price before purchase, as they are always subject to change without notice.

List price, $4.99 (USD)
List price, $4.99 (USD)

Murder on Opening Night:  When Myrtle Clover and her friend Miles attend a play in their small town, there’s a full house on opening night. It’s clear to Myrtle that one of the actresses is a stage hog who loves stealing the spotlight. Nandina Marshall certainly does upstage everyone—when her murder forces an unexpected intermission. Can Myrtle and Miles discover who was behind her final curtain call….before murder makes an encore?

Add Audible for only $1.99!  And, thanks JoJoPNW for pointing out that others in this series are free today as well:

Progressive Dinner Deadly, which I have read and recommend:Progressive

To the residents of the sleepy town of Bradley, North Carolina, hardworking Jill Caulfield seemed beyond reproach. She volunteered at the women’s shelter, worked at the church preschool, cleaned houses for extra money, and actually enjoyed yard work. And she was nothing less than a saint to cheerfully put up with her unemployed, skirt-chasing, boozer of a husband. When intrepid octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover caught Jill, her new housekeeper, peering into her medicine cabinet, she should have been upset. But discovering that Jill wasn’t such a squeaky-clean goody-goody made her vastly more interesting in Myrtle’s eyes. Myrtle would have happily continued figuring out what made Jill Caulfield tick. If Jill hadn’t foolishly gone and gotten herself murdered, that is.  Add Audible for $1.99.

dyeingA Dyeing Shame:  Some beauty secrets are more dangerous than others. When Beauty Box beautician Tammy Smith is discovered with a pair of hair shears in her back, there are suspects and secrets aplenty in her small Southern town. Octogenarian Myrtle Clover, bored by bingo and bridge, is intrigued by the crime…and her neighbors’ secrets. But discovering, and blabbing, secrets got Tammy killed and Myrtle soon learns her sleuthing isn’t just dangerous…it’s deadly.

A Body in the Backyard:  Extreme gardening often involves gnomes andbody in the backyard planted bodies. It’s just an ordinary day for octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover—until her yardman discovers a dead body planted in her backyard. This death isn’t cut and dried—the victim was bashed in the head with one of Myrtle’s garden gnomes. Myrtle’s friend Miles recognizes the body and identifies him as Charles Clayborne… reluctantly admitting he’s a cousin. Charles wasn’t the sort of relative you bragged about—he was a garden variety sleaze, which is very likely why he ended up murdered. As Myrtle starts digging up dirt to nip the killings in the bud, someone’s focused on scaring her off the case. Myrtle vows to find the murderer…before she’s pushing up daisies, herself.

Frances and Richard Lockridge‘s Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries are classics — and a series I regret not encountering long, long ago.  I’m making up for what I’ve missed whenever I find these on sale, and Mysterious Press is offering the fifth in the series today for $1.99:

Discounted to $1.99 (USD)
Discounted to $1.99 (USD)

Hanged for a Sheep:  Mrs. North must protect her aunt from being poisoned—whether she likes it or not. Pamela North has never worried about making sense. When she has a thought, she expresses it, and if no one in the room knows what she’s talking about, it’s no trouble to her. While Mrs. North’s unique style of thought can make her a challenging conversational partner, it also makes her one of the finest amateur sleuths in New York City. But no matter how sharp her wit, she can’t pin down Aunt Flora. An indomitable old woman, shaped like a snowman and just as icy, Flora is convinced that someone is trying to slip her arsenic, and she’ll be very cross if her niece can’t stop the culprit before he succeeds.

Aunt Flora stubbornly refuses to let Pamela call in the police, until a suspicious dead body forces them to ask the opinion of Lt. William Weigand. It’s a screwy mystery, and that means it’s perfect for Mrs. North.

Hanged for a Sheep is the 5th book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.

Also today, Geraldine Evans is offering a boxed set of the first four mysteries in her comic and almost-cosy series of 17 (so far!) mysteries featuring a pair of British detectives, Rafferty and Llewellyn:

DEAD BEFORE MORNING:  British Detective Joe Rafferty and his partner,

List price, $4.99 (USD)
List price, $4.99 (USD)

Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn in a murder mystery involving the killing of a young woman bludgeoned beyond recognition, with no ID and found in a secure place to which she supposedly had no admission. Who is she? How has she gained access? And who was responsible for her murder? These are just a few of the questions the detective duo must answer in this first novel in the cozy mystery series. With difficulties besetting them on all sides, including their own superintendent and a media that has decided to adopt the case of the ‘Faceless Lady’ as their own personal crusade for justice, newly promoted Inspector Rafferty has something to prove.

DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN:  British Detectives Joe Rafferty and his partner, Dafyd Llewellyn, in their second murder mystery investigation, set out to discover who killed Barbara Longman, a woman with no known enemies. But when it soon becomes apparent that the murder has been committed by someone who must have known the victim well, the police investigation shifts to the victim’s family, the wealthy and influential Shores. Rafferty suspects that Charles Shore, not a man known to forgive failure, will use his influence to damage Rafferty’s career should he fail to find the murderer.

DEATH LINE:  Third novel in the Rafferty & Llewellyn mystery series, Death Line sees the detective duo trying to solve the murder mystery of the famed “seer,” Jasper Moon, with his own crystal ball. Gradually it becomes clear that Jasper Moon was a man of many parts, not all of them appeared very savoury. Moon was a wealthy man, but seems to have written no will; certainly, Detectives Rafferty and Llewellyn can’t find it. In a case involving as many twists and turns as a snake avoiding capture, the detectives must take their murder investigation back through the years to the victim’s youth to answer that question: ‘Who did it?’ And Rafferty fears that after such a long time, the evidence their murder inquiry needs will no longer be there to find.

THE HANGING TREE:  Fourth novel in the Rafferty & Llewellyn mystery series. This murder mystery involves the detective pair in the case of the vanishing hanged man. But when the hanged man turns up in Dedman Woods for a second time, the British detectives are able to confirm that he is a man many had reason to hate. Because Maurice Smith, charged years earlier with four child rapes, had escaped on a legal technicality. Detective Rafferty feels ambivalent about the case from the start. Not sure his desire to solve it is strong enough, he has to fight the feeling that natural justice, in winning out against the judicial sort, has right on its side. The punishment has, in his book, fitted the crime. As the usual police procedure continues towards an unwanted conclusion, Rafferty, caught between the law and his own sense of morality, feels this is an investigation that could cause him to demand his own resignation as a detective.

Discounted to $3.99 (USD)
Discounted to $3.99 (USD)

Also today, film fans — and anyone who enjoys a quick wit — may want to take advantage of a discount on the previously out-of-print autobiography of George Sanders, Memoirs of a Professional Cad. I’ve read only a small portion, but that’s only because I’ve had too many demands on my reading time to go further.  I don’t often read celebrity biographies, much less autobiographies, but I’m convinced Sanders could write about nothing at all and I’d still want to read it.  He really has a way with words, and, to my mind, this is a bargain at the discounted price of $3.99 (USD).

Description:  What might we dare to expect from an actor’s autobiography, even one from a star as personable as George Sanders? In the case of Memoirs of A Professional Cad, we possibly get more than we deserve. George Sanders undoubtedly led a colourful, glamorous and even action-packed life, spanning the peak years of Hollywood’s golden age. But the greatest joy of his memoirs is how funny they are, and how penetrating their author’s wit. Endlessly quotable, every chapter shows that the sardonic charm and intelligence he lent to the silver screen were not merely implied.

George’s early childhood was spent in Tsarist Russia, before he was obliged to flee with his family to England on the eve of the Russian Revolution. He survived two English boarding schools before seeking adventure in Chile and Argentina where he sold cigarettes and kept a pet ostrich in his apartment. We can only be grateful that George was eventually asked to leave South America following a duel of honour (very nearly to the death), and was forced to take up acting for a living instead.

Memoirs of A Professional Cad has much to say about Hollywood and the stars George Sanders worked with and befriended, not to mention the irrepressible Tsa Tsa Gabor who became his wife. But at heart it is less a conventional autobiography, and more a Machiavellian guide to life, and the art of living, from a man who knew a thing or two on the subject. So we are invited to share George’s thought-provoking views on women, friendship, the pros and cons of therapy, ageing, possessions, and the necessity of contrasts (Sanders’s maxim: “the more extreme the contrast, the fuller the life”).

Previously out of print for many decades, Memoirs of A Professional Cad stands today as one of the classic Hollywood memoirs, from one of its most original, enduring and inimitable stars. This edition also features a new afterword by George Sanders’s niece, Ulla Watson.

Tour the market with Marcella Hazan

Recommended without reservation:

ingredientiIngredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market by Marcella and Victor Hazan, from Simon and Schuster, pre-order for Kindle at $10.99 (USD) or hardbound at $12.94 USD (list price, $20.00); scheduled for release Tuesday, 12 July 2016. (NOTE: Prices are subject to change without notice to Sis; always verify prior to purchase, please.)

Although she died in 2013, Marcella Hazan leaves a legacy to today’s cooks in the upcoming publication of a book based on the handwritten notebooks filled with her thoughts on how to select, and how to use, the very best ingredients for classic Italian cooking.

Her husband and longtime collaborator, Victor, translated these notebooks from her native Italian and finished writing and editing them to produce Ingredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market. The book is illustrated with lovely sketches, lively green line drawings of various ingredients.

It’s not the most comprehensive primer on produce, but it is a book that should appeal to both new and accomplished cooks – and both home and professional ones – and some tips and tricks are unique. I particularly appreciate Marcella’s lessons on protecting such ingredients as garlic and onions in an excessively hot and humid climate, lessons that I have not found in other how-to cookbooks written by those lucky enough to live under food-friendly weather conditions.

Ingredienti is not a recipe book. Marcella does describe her preferences for preparing each ingredient, but you won’t find specific quantities or detailed instructions, simply ideas for how to prepare ingredients for cooking – or serving – and most of all for a guide to select each at the peak of perfection.  The writing is casual and very, very personal – as if the “godmother of Italian cooking” were your very own godmother, sitting with you in her kitchen and sharing a lifetime of lessons over cups of espresso.

The result is a book that is a joy to read. Marcella held very strong opinions, some I share and some I do not. I absolutely agree that one must know how to shop before one can know how to cook, but I don’t share her disdain for red and sweet onions. Still, it is her perspective that makes the book so well worth reading no matter how much you do, or do not, know about picking produce and pantry staples and whether you do, or do not, share her likes and dislikes.

Each chapter is essentially an essay on each ingredient, and one that combines both information and instruction. These make the book ideal for a leisurely read . . . but the writing may tempt you to race right through from beginning to end, as I did. Either way, enjoy!featured

Description:  From the inimitable woman who popularized Italian cuisine in America, Marcella Hazan’s simple and elegant manual on how to shop for the best ingredients and prepare the most delicious meals is a must-have for every home cook.

When Marcella Hazan died in 2013, the world mourned the passing of the “Godmother of Italian cooking.” But her legacy lives on, through her cookbooks and recipes, and in the handwritten notebooks filled with her thoughts on how to select the best ingredients—Ingredienti. Her husband and longtime collaborator Victor has translated and transcribed these vignettes on how to buy and what to do with the fresh produce used in Italian cooking, the elements of an essential pantry, and salumi (literally, salted meat).

Before you know how to cook, you must know how to shop. From Artichokes to Zucchini, Anchovies to Ziti, Ingredienti offers succinct and compelling advice on how to choose vegetables, pasta, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, and all of the key elements of Marcella’s classic meals. Organic isn’t necessarily best, boxed pasta can be better than fresh. Marcella’s authoritative wisdom and surprising tips will change the way you cook. Her clear, practical guidance in acquiring the components of good cooking is helpful wherever you choose to shop—in supermarkets, farmers’ markets, specialty food stores, or online.

Based on 60 years of almost daily visits to the market to choose the ingredients of that day’s meal, Ingredienti is a life’s work, distilled—an expression of Marcella’s judgments, advice, and suggestions. Uncomplicated and precise, this volume will be essential to home cooks eager to produce meals in the same delicious style Marcella was the first to introduce to America.

About the authors:  Marcella Hazan (1924-2013) was born in Cesenatico, a fishing village on the northern Adriatic shore of Italy. She studied for a career in the sciences and received two doctoral degrees from the University of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna. In 1955 she married Victor Hazan, an Italian-born American, and moved with him to New York, where she began teaching Italian cooking classes in her apartment. In 1973 she published her first cookbook, The Classic Italian Cookbook, which introduced Americans to authentic Italian food. Her cooking schools in Italy draw students from around the world. Hazan was the recipient of two Lifetime Achievement Awards (from the James Beard Foundation in 2000, and the IACP in 2004) and a knighthood from her own country. She was the author of five additional classic cookbooks and a memoir, including Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking ($20.99, Kindle, and $20.65, hardcover, both USD), Marcella Cucina ($31.29 USD, hardcover), Marcella’s Italian Kitchen ($19.90 USD paperback) and Amarcord: Marcella Remembers ($12.99 USD, Kindle; $14.47 USD, paperback).

Victor Hazan Marcella’s lifelong collaborator and writing partner, is an authority on Italian wine and food. He is the author of Italian Wine. He lives in Longboat Key, Florida.

NOTE:  Sis received a complimentary advanced reading copy from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley with the expectation that she would write a review reflecting her own opinions and only her own opinions.  And this she has done.

Saturday savings . . .

The Great War, WWII, and so much more

The Battle of the Somme, Britain’s bloodiest battle in all time, occurred 100 years ago, and the UK’s Endeavour Press marks the sacrifice with a sale on several books about the great battle and the Great War, most for a mere 99 cents (USD).  Other significant savings are available today, from biographies & memoirs to historical fiction set in World War II.  It’s a great day to have a Kindle!

SommeSubaltern on the Somme  is the memoir of a junior officer whose regiment suffered the heaviest casualties of any unit on the first day of the battle, with 70 percent killed or wounded.  Max Plowman, who served in the 10th Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment, tells the story of trench warfare from the perspective of a junior officer.

“The war of attrition” entered the military lexicon in 1916, and Attrition: The Great War on the Western Front by Robin Neillands explores the beginning of this new form of warfare.

At the start of 1916, the outlook was the Franco-British Armies on the AttritionWestern Front. They were getting the men and guns they needed. New technology in the shape of tanks and aircraft was about to appear and, after more than a year of fighting what amounted to private wars, the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Italy and their allies) were about to mount a number of co-ordinated offensives against the German and Austrian Armies, culminating in the Big Push – a joint Anglo-French offensive astride the Somme.

But then, unfortunately for the Allies, the Germans struck first, at Verdun. By New Years Day, 1916, the fighting on the Western Front had cost some two million lives – by the end of the year it had risen to four million men and the territorial gains had been negligible. Focusing on this crucial year, Neillands examines the actions of the principal commanders as they sought a way to win the war and opted for the deadly doctrine of attrition: the notion that it was only possible to win by killing a vast number of soldiers. The soldiers, German, French, British, Canadian, Australian, died in their hundreds of thousands at Verdun, along the Ancre and on the Pozieres ridge in the muddy fields above the Somme.

A controversial and compelling text, Attrition points at the failure of the high command to realise that until new offensive technology was invented to overcome the bias of defensive technology, the death toll could only rise, and asks why no system of Supreme Command was set up to handle the strategic direction of the war. Although 1916 did see some Allied success – the French held Verdun against the German assault, the British introduced the tank – when that fatal year ended, victory and peace were as far away as ever … and another two million lives had been lost.

Days to rememberDays to Remember explores the conflict in terms of Empire.  This is not merely the history of the Western Front, but the history of the colonials who fought, willingly or not, for the British Empire.

In this fascinating study, Henry Newbolt and John Buchan take a general overview of the First World War, from its causes to the aftermath, with the focus on the central role played by both Britain and its colonies. They cover the major campaigns on the Western Front – Ypres, Loos, Cambrai, Marrières Wood and the Marne, as well as the battles fought around the globe – in particular Galipolli and the capture of Jerusalem – and the main campaigns at sea.

Henry Newbolt was born in Wolverhampton in 1862, and went on to become a poet, novelist and historian. He was also a very powerful government adviser. John Buchan was a Scottish novelist, historian and Unionist politician who also served as Governor General of Canada. During the First World War he worked for the British War Propaganda Bureau. He is most famous for his classic thriller, ‘The 39 Steps’.

Animal Heroes of the Great War is the history of the furred and feathered Animal Heroessoldiers, from beasts of burdens to mascots and messengers:

During the World War I nearly 70 million combatants served in the armies of all the countries and empires, but there was another army involved, one that is often overlooked in the history of war: The army of animals that supported the armies of men.

From regimental mascots to beasts of burden, animals played a vital part in the war machine of all involved, and often beyond anything we might imagine. There was man’s best friend — brave, loyal dogs who served as patrolmen, messengers, sentries, even combatants and detectives. Communication has increased importance in modern warfare, yet at times a homing pigeon’s instinct of orientation was the sole hope available to soldiers in the field. And despite the lowering esteem in which conventional cavalry was held, horses were still able to go where the most modern of vehicles could not.

Focusing on the Allied Powers, Ernest Harold Baynes tells of “the work done by animals in helping to win the war,” recording the services and sacrifices borne by these noble animals and more, including the advent of chemical warfare and what it meant.

Ernest Harold Baynes (1868-1925) was an American writer and naturalist. After reporting for The New York Times, he regularly contributed articles to other newspapers and to magazines. A natural with wild animals, he became known for hand-rearing, protecting and championing their cause. Animal Heroes of the Great War was his last book.

Her Privates WeErnest Hemingway praised Her Privates We as “The finest and noblest book of men at war.” The classic novel of the Great War is set during the Battle of the Somme.

Her Privates We follows the story of Private Bourne, an ordinary soldier dealing with extraordinary circumstances. It conveys the camaraderie and heroism of the trenches and also explores the terror and monotony of being a soldier. A cloud of fatalism hangs over the narrative, which is brightened up through friendships, a shared, grim sense of humour and colourful conversations between the privates.

Bourne and his comrades must fight their demons within, as well as the enemy across No Man’s Land. Men die, but still a sense of duty endures. Her Privates We is as much a triumph of realism as it is of the imagination. Readers of both military history, and literary fiction, will continue to be haunted by its prose and insights.

“The book of books so far as the British army is concerned” T.E Lawrence

Frederic Manning was an Australian-born poet and novelist who moved to England at the age of 21. Much of his writing was inspired by his experiences in the infantry during the Great War. Her Privates We remains his most enduring work on the subject.

Delville Wood is the history of the one of the most bitterly contested battlesDelville Wood on the Western Front and of the 3,200 soldiers of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade that entered the battle on 14 July 1916.  Fewer than 800 mustered afterwards.

For six days and five nights, in the solitary square mile of Delville Wood, the South Africans stood firm against three crack German divisions. By the time they were relieved a legend had been born, but who were these men that took and held the wood in an inferno of exploding shells, flame-throwers, machine-gun and rifle fire? Fresh-faced youths, Boer War and South West African campaign veterans, enlistees with false names … all were volunteers whose overriding desire was to serve in France.

First published in 1983, Delville Wood remains a landmark volume commemorating the daring and fortitude of South Africa’s soldiers at the Somme during the First World War. In forming an overall picture of each day’s fighting through the words of the survivors, the statistics of battle are cast aside by Uys in favour of something altogether more profound, exploring their characters and ensuring they will never be forgotten

Ian Uys (b. 1942) is a South African accountant and author. A co-founder of the Military Medal Society of SA and former committee member of the SA Military History Society — and related to a survivor of the battle of Delville Wood — his interests have led him to write many books on the subject.

And, finally, a profile of the Desert Fox, Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel, Rommel’s Great War by Gordon Corrigan.Rommel

Born in 1891, Rommel did not come from a militaristic family, nor from the military stronghold of Prussia, but instead from a small town in southern Germany and son to a long line of schoolmasters. Initially he showed no inclination towards a military career with interests in physics and engineering, but his father pushed him towards the army.

He joined the army in 1910 at the age of eighteen, within one year he would rise to the rank of sergeant. As war broke out in Europe Rommel and his regiment marched out of the barracks to the sound of drums and cheering as they boarded the troop train to the western front.

Gordon Corrigan provides expert analysis of World War I, both in terms of what it would have been like for a young officer like Rommel as well as the wider political and militaristic movements that were occurring at this time. This thoroughly researched profile gives fascinating detail on Rommel’s life, from when he was first shot and wounded in trench warfare, his experience of combat in the Romanian mountains and on the Italian front, through to his life after the war in the tumultuous years of the Weimar Republic. It was in these years that the Desert Fox learned his trade and forged into Rommel such a formidable opponent during the Second World War.

Beyond the ShadowMoving forward to World War II, today brings what is likely to be a short-term offer of Beyond the Shadow of War, the long awaited sequel to Diane Moody’s bestselling Of Windmills and War (currently, $4.99 USD).

When the war finally ended in May of 1945, Lieutenant Danny McClain made good on his promise to come back for Anya in Holland. He expected her to put up a fight, but instead found her exhausted and utterly broken. Maybe it was unfair, asking her to marry him when she was so vulnerable. But this much he knew: he would spend a lifetime helping to make her whole again.

The war had taken everything from Anya–her family, her friends, her home, her faith. She clung to the walls she’d fortressed around her heart, but what future did she have apart from Danny? At least she wouldn’t be alone anymore. Or so she thought. When the American troops demobilize, Danny is sent home, forced to leave Anya behind in England. There she must wait with the other 70,000 war brides for passage to America. As England picks up the pieces of war’s debris in the months that follow, Anya shares a flat with three other war brides in London and rediscovers the healing bond of friendships.

Once again, Danny and Anya find themselves oceans apart, their marriage confined to little more than the handwritten pages of their letters while wondering if the shadow of war will ever diminish.

Enjoy!

‘Tisn’t the season . . . but it’s on sale!

Because of Bethlehem

BethlehemIt’s Christmas in July, thanks to a one-day pre-order sale from HarperCollins Christian on the newest Max Lucado holiday story, Because of Bethlehem.  The book is scheduled for release 13 September 2016, with an ebook list price of $9.99 (USD) — but readers can pre-order a copy today for only $4.99 (USD).  The hardcover edition lists at $22.99 (USD), but the current pre-order price is $16.52 (USD) at Amazon.  The ebook is also on sale from Apple today.

From the product page: This eBook includes the full text of the book plus the Max Lucado novella, An Angel’s Story. Max Lucado loves Christmas. Let the sleigh bells ring. Let the carolers sing. The more Santas the merrier. The more trees the better. He loves it because somewhere someone will ask the Christmas questions: What’s the big deal about the baby in the manger? Who was he? What does his birth have to do with me? And the answers he’s found give us all hope. God knows what it’s like to be a human. When we talk to him about deadlines or long lines or tough times, he understands. He’s been there. He’s been here. Because of Bethlehem, we have a friend in heaven. And Christmas begins what Easter celebrates. The child in the cradle became the King on the cross. Because of Bethlehem, we have a Savior in heaven. These are the heart shaping promises of Christmas. Long after the guests have left and the carolers have gone home and the lights have come down, these promises endure. Let’s turn on the lamp, curl up in a comfortable spot, and look into the odd, wonderful story of Bethlehem.  Max has found a lifetime of hope. You will too.

About the author:  Max Lucado is a best-selling inspirational author and speaker, and a minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. His award-winning books have been translated into more than 41 languages and have occupied spots on every major national bestseller list. Over the years, Lucado has been featured in countless national media outlets, dubbed “America’s Pastor” by Reader’s Digest and Christianity Today, and even named one of the most influential leaders in social media by the New York Times. His books include You Are Special, If Only I Had a Green Nose, and The Boy and the Ocean.

Death in Disguise delights

Recommended
Recommended

Death in Disguise slayed me with its first sentence:

“The Royal Victoria Hotel, Whitebridge, was widely considered to be a superior hotel for superior people, and most of the guests who stayed there would have thought it very bad manners to allow themselves to be murdered within its confines.”

How could I resist a mystery about a woman so gauche as to allow herself to be murdered under such circumstances?  I couldn’t.  I didn’t.  The author rewarded me, strewing the story with many delightful witticisms while weaving a complex and memorable mystery.

Make that mysteries. The fatal faux pas is one.  The victim’s identity, and her presence at the Royal Victoria and, indeed, in Lancashire itself, are others.  And they all tie into a murder committed some 54 years in the past, with the accused unsatisfyingly acquitted but not cleared of suspicion.  This ending is all a reader can expect, unmasking the identity of victims and villains in crimes old and new.

I’d not read the earlier Monika Poniatowski mysteries, nor the DCI Woodend series that preceded them, but I wasn’t lost.  The story had just enough hints of earlier events to pique my interest in the past without pulling me out of the present.  The setting is handled with equal ease. The “present day” mystery occurs in 1978, while the old murder took place in 1924. Nothing shouts nostalgia, nothing constantly reminds you that the present day is not, in fact, present, except that detecting does involve detecting and not simply forensic sciences.

All in all, this was a pleasure to read . . . good writing without gratuitous violence or embarrassing sexual encounters.  Hints of the unsavory provide a bit of spice without making the reader squirm in discomfort.  Nothing unmannerly, except murder, of course!

The hardcover edition is now on sale with a list price of $28.99 (USD) but an actual price of $24.09 (USD) at Amazon.com; the Kindle edition is available for pre-order with an expected release date of 1 August 2016, at a price of $20.93 at the time of this post.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Severn House, via NetGalley. Sis, and Severn House, would have thought it very bad manners to expect anything more than an honest and independent review in return.

Description: When the body of an American woman is found in the Prince Alfred suite at the Royal Victoria Hotel, DCI Monika Paniatowski is faced with one of the most baffling cases of her career. The woman who called herself Mary Edwards had been a guest at the hotel for the past two weeks, having paid cash in advance. But who was she really – and what was she doing in a small town like Whitebridge? If Monika could discover why the dead woman had come to Lancashire, she would be one step closer to catching her killer. The investigation takes an intriguing twist when Monika learns of a possible link to a 50-year-old murder – but the only person who could tell her why it’s relevant is lying in a coma.

About the author:  Sally Spencer is the pen name of Alan Rustage, first adopted when he wrote sagas and convention dictated that a woman’s name appeared on the cover.  Rustage was a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. He worked in Iran in 1978-78 when the Shah was overthrown.  He writes that he got used to having rifles – and on one occasion, a rocket launcher – pointed at him but was never entirely comfortable with it. He lived in Madrid for more than 20 years and now lives in the seaside town of Calpe, on the Costa Blanca.

His first series of books were historical sagas set in Cheshire (where he grew up) and London. He has written 20 books featuring DCI Woodend (a character based partly on a furniture dealer he used to play dominoes with) and 10 or so about Woodend’s protegé Monika Paniatowski. His DI Sam Blackstone books are set in Victorian/Edwardian London, New York and Russia, and the Inspector Paco Ruiz books have as their backdrop the Spanish Civil War.