Sunday, July 9, 2017

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

For every book I want to read on my Kindle, I've decided to read one that's been sitting out there for awhile, skipped over and unread.  I don't want any of the books I've selected to feel unwanted.

All of the Above was one of those that I'd ignored.  I've read other titles by Shelly Pearsall and have always enjoyed them.  Yes, I know they are middle grade books aimed at middle schoolers.  But that has never stopped me from enjoying a good book.

Mr. Collins struggles to spark some interest in math in his students.  He comes up with the idea of constructing a tetrahedron (whatever that is, I had to look it up, so see I learned something already).  The students feign disinterest at first.  James Harris III is an artistic tough guy who puts himself in charge of color coordinating the triangular pieces.  Marcel helps his father at his barbecue restaurant when he would rather be building the tetrahedron. Rhondell is quietly and systematically headed to college.  And Sharice is the neglected foster child who sees the project as a safe warm, place to stay when the current foster mother locks her out of the house each night.

Pearsall is a wonderful writer with diverse characters who have depth.  Their stories are real.  So if you're looking for a change of pace, don't shy away stories that are classified as middle grade or young adult.  You may find a hidden gem and learn about something new.  All of the Above checked all the boxes for me.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Anyone who has ever loved a dog will fall for Lily and the Octopus.  Lily is a dachshund who has an octopus living on the top of her head.  When her owner, Ted, discovers the sea creature, he sets out on a mission to purge the octopus from their lives.  The pair have a special bond.  They play monopoly, talk about cute boys, and sleep cuddled up together.  Ted will not let go of his precious Lily.

Let's face it, the octopus as Ted calls it, is a brain tumor. While I didn't give Ginger's tumor in her mouth a name, I did ask her if she'd gotten that fat lip going 10 rounds in a boxing match.  We so love our dogs and the unconditional love they give us, it's easy to be in a state of denial.  We want to believe they will never get sick and leave our loving embrace.

Ted made a list of all his names for Lily.  It's several pages long. I decided to make my own list of names I call Ginger just for comparison sake.
Gin
Ginge
Sweet Pea
Babe
Baby Girl
Pumpkin
Little Munchkin
Ginger Snap and I could go on.

Ted and Lily spoke to me.  I loved all their crazy adventures imagining Ginger and I following along. You see Ginger has her own kind of octopus and I will do anything to help her fight it.

I read Lily and the Octopus in a day. Lily grabbed my heart and Ted's quest to save her was my own.  Lily had the ability to teach us about love, life and moving forward in time.  The octopus will never win.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

In my ongoing search for a great book, I found You Will Know Me on a list called "Books I Couldn't Put Down".  The list contained several other books I had already read and enjoyed so I trusted that the rest of the titles would live up to the name of the list.

You Will Know Me is the story of Devon Knox, a 15 year old, highly talented gymnast at the BelStars gym.  Her parents have devoted their existence to making sure she someday lands an Olympic gold.  The path however, is long, hard and very expensive.  Her little brother, Drew, goes along without ever complaining about all the attention paid to Devon. Katie and Eric drive worn out cars and max out their credit cards to follow the dream they have for Devon.

The story plunges the reader deep into the word of gymnastics to the degree that nothing else interesting ever seems to happen.  I'd read 50 % of the book, skimming as I went, before the inciting incident occurred.  Frankly, I'm not all that interested in rich and entitled parents pushing their children to the limits that will impact the child's health and well being for the rest of their lives.  And the more I read the less interest I had in the million minute details on how to stick the perfect vault.

And then there was the writing itself.  Most of it was not even complete sentences, the author choosing to use fragments most of the time.  The story lacked cohesion, jumping from one point of view to another so often that I struggled to know who was speaking or where the character was and who they were with.  Anytime I read a book that forces me to go back before going forward to figure out where I am, there's trouble.  I suffered through to the end and I still can't tell you who did it.  Don't be fooled by this one.  I definitely don't need to know you and I'm crossing you off my list.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Baker's Secret by Stephen P Kieran

The Baker's Secret by Stephen P Kieran

The Baker's Secret is set in a small village in Normandy, that is suffering under Nazi occupation during World War II.  Emma, who had been apprenticed to Uncle Ezra, the village baker, at age 18, is convinced the Allies will never come to rescue them.  She takes things into her own hands in an effort help her starving neighbors when Ezra is brutally executed after being forced to wear the yellow Star of David.

Her secret is adding straw to the bread she is made to bake each morning for the Kommandant. The two extra loaves she's able to bake from the extra dough are hidden from the Germans and passed around to the villagers.  Emma is quite clever, managing to find eggs, tobacco and fuel, distributing it to those who need it most to survive.  That is all anyone in the village wants to do, survive.

The first half of this book, I found to be stiff and sluggish.  Being a historical novel, we know how it's going to end. The Allies will come and prove Emma wrong. And what this author did very well, was build of the tension on that day.  June 5, 1944, Emma sets out on her daily rounds, but some things are askew and the roar of planes overhead distract her thinking.  The reader is led through all the changes in the usual sounds and landscape of the area with increasing anxiety.  And by the time the American soldiers appeared at Emma's door, I had tears in my eyes.

All good books should make the reader feel emotion.  Although The Baker's Secret had a slow start, it ended leaving a warm spot in my heart.  May we never forget the sacrifice our countrymen made for others in the name of freedom.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

Every now and then I scan through the unread books on my kindle and select something that I have long since forgotten as to why I wanted to read it in the first place.  I have a bad habit of that, loading up the Kindle with books I heard about from a friend or saw on a list in the newspaper or read about in Time Magazine.  Usually within a few days, another title pops up and sparks something different for me taking the place of what I downloaded previously.

Amazon was happy to remind me that I had purchased If I Loved You I would Tell You This in 2014.  Whatever I might find on its pages, the time to read it and send it on its way was long overdue.  The book begins with a story of a young woman who is receiving a guide dog.  She lost her sight in a fluke accident with an aerosol paint can.  Her father can't keep his mind off his super hot young mistress, while he accompanies her to meet the dog who will open up her world.

And then I turned the page and began to read of a woman and her disabled son who are battling the neighbor over the property line.  What happened to the charming blind girl and her father's guilt?  What happens to them?  You see, I had no idea this was a book of short stories.  But I kept going.  The end of each story left me wanting more, the writing and story telling was superb, and I couldn't put it down.

Each story has a very dark side.  This is not a book that will lift your heart and leave you smiling.  The people are real and struggling with tragedies that are outside of their control, something all of us face at some time in our lives at many different levels. But it's a book that will make you feel deeply.  Robin Black has a talent for writing with passion and emotion. I couldn't stop reading and when the last story ended, I didn't want it to be over.  If I Loved You I Would Tell You This has been patiently waiting for me and I'm glad it did.  It's a keeper.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Letter by Kathryn Hughes

The Letter by Kathryn Hughes

A friend of mine asked me recently if I'd read this book.  I hadn't heard of it but I was intrigued by the title.  I happen to love letters.  They are a dying art and I miss finding them in my mailbox.  I checked it out on Amazon and fell for the tag line of "Number 1 Bestseller that everyone is talking about".  The book sounded like everything I would love to read.

In 1973 Tina is trapped in an abusive marriage.  She works as a typist during the week and volunteers her time in a thrift shop on Saturdays.  One day she finds an old letter in the pocket of a man's suit left in a bag of clothes on the shop's doorstep.  She's intrigued by the words of a young man, Billy, as he professes his love and commitment to Christina.  Tina decides she'd like to deliver the letter herself even though it is 40 years later.  But as her own marriage falls apart, Tina's desire to find Billy and Christina is put on the back burner.

The story then flashes back to 1939 and a young girl, Chrissie, defies her parents and falls in love with Billy.  A series of tragic turns rips the lovers apart.  A letter meant to mend broken hearts is deliberately never delivered by Chrissie's father.  The letter at the center of this story is actually very sweet and heart warming.  But the story surrounding it is ordinary at best.  The circumstances were so predictable I could have told the rest of the story myself and arrived at the same conclusion after reading less than the first fifty pages.  The characters were flat and one dimensional, the settings, ordinary.

The promise of the letter had so much potential, but it fell far short.  And if this is the "Number 1 Bestseller that everyone is talking about", I need to find myself another conversation.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

I'm not sure why I felt the need to read this book again, other than I'd suddenly immersed myself in World War II books and movies.  I'd probably been required to read it as a teenager for school and something in my memory about Anne Frank rose to the surface.

Now in my sixties, I can relate to Anne's story with an entirely different perspective.  The first entry is dated near the beginning of June, 1942.  My husband was born June 4, 1942.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  On one hand a baby is born in America, into a safe and loving home, doing all those things a new baby is supposed to do.  On the other hand, across the ocean, war is raging and a young girl is preparing to go into hiding in an attempt to save her life and those of her family.  Reading the dates at the beginning of each entry served to make Anne's story personal for me.  When I read the book the first time, I can guarantee, I made no connection to the calendar.

Anne is a teenage girl, growing up in abnormal circumstances.  She wants to fall in love, she wonders if she's pretty and she wants to see the sun again, all the things young girls wonder about. Her thoughts and emotions are written on the pages of her diary.  They are the same emotions that a teenage girl experiences no matter what the time and place of her life.

Many years ago I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.  It's a sobering event.  But I have to say that reading Anne's diary again at this time in my life made her even more real to me.  Anne's story uses war and hatred as the backdrop to growing up. Her story has impacted me now more than ever.  It is timeless.

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall For every book I want to read on my Kindle, I've decided to read one that's been sitting ou...