Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Year of the Family

I always like to do a little recap at year end.  It helps me to keep focused on the good things in life.  I call this year, The Year of the Family because Richard and I spent alot of quality time with people we love. 

In May we gathered in Philadelphia for a funeral and a wonderful tribute to my sister-in-law, Kathy's mother.  We had a heart warming celebration of life with her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends.  The women wore gardenias and we all ate angel food cake with blue icing. 

In June, Richard and I celebrated his 70th birthday in Tampa watching our beloved Tampa Bay Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles.  I secretly had his name put up on the scoreboard, which he missed and didn't believe me until the picture arrived in the mail a week later.  On the way we stopped to see my nephew, Tommy, his wife Lucy and 2 week old baby, Blakely.  We turned out to be the first from our side of the family to see the new baby.  I think that made my sister just a tiny bit jealous. 

Our niece, Laurel from Vermont, played on the 8th grade girls championship basketball team and came to Orlando to play in a tournament.  Richard and I wore our green and gold and waved our hand-made signs.  We had a blast cheering them on!

July meant a girl's trip to Yellowstone with my granddaughters.  We listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, went spelunking in a cave, whitewater rafting and zip lining in Montana.  The Grand Tetons are glorious and the sight of herds of bison strolling the plains is unforgettable.

Next stop Hawaii for a birthday celebration for Kathy.  The family learned to hula dance, took a sunset boat ride at Waikiki and simply enjoyed the beautiful beach and perfect weather.

I barely had time to unpack and I was off to Boston for a wedding.  Georgia, my friend since fourth grade and who I hadn't seen in too many years, was the mother of the groom.  During the summer while growing up, I spent them with her family at their cottage on a lake.  To see this wonderful, welcoming family again filled my heart with joy.  The wedding was beautiful and that it brought us back together made it even more special.  Thank you, Adam and Crystal.

After all that I need a month to recuperate!

There are so many more friends and family that touched our lives this year.  Even though I didn't list your name here, you live in my heart.  I pray that we will continue to love and support each other in the years to come.  Looking back, each occasion gave me a special memory.  Each memory, a gift.  Now it is the end of a very special year.  I'm looking forward to the gifts the new year will bring.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge

Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge

First off I have to thank Netgalley for allowing me the opportunity to enjoy Advance Reading Copies of so many great new novels.  I love being among the first to dig into yet to be published works before the rest of the book buying public. I might not otherwise pick these treasures off the shelf since there is so much to chose from these days.

Love Water Memory is truly a treasure.  Lucie Walker suddenly finds herself knee deep in the ice cold water of the San Francisco Bay with no idea who she is or how she ended up there.  She's taken to a psychiatric hospital where she's diagnosed with a severe form of amnesia.  Her face is plastered all over the news prompting her fiance, Grady from Washington State to rush to her side.  Lucie doesn't recognize him.

Their struggle to understand their relationship and to find themselves as individuals begins.  Back home in Washington nothing about her surroundings is familiar to Lucie.  Nothing is familiar to Grady either as her driven, health conscious self centered lifestyle has disappeared.  No longer taking her routine morning run through the neighborhood, Lucie's body softens, and so does her heart.

It is clear from the beginning, Lucie and Grady are meant for each other.  Her amnesia sets them on a course of deep discovery.  What I loved most about this book is the richness of these characters. They became my friends.  I lived in their neighborhood shopped, worked, and ate in all the same places.  I felt their joy for every step forward and pain at their two steps backwards .  Love Water Memory is one of those rare stories that touches every emotion coaxing the reader to first dip their toe in the water before being immersed in the dark, cool water.  

Love Water Memory is due to be published in April, 2013.  Make a note on your calendar.  It's not to be missed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

I have to say right off the bat that novels set in England are not usually my cup of tea.  It always raining, cold and dreary.  The characters live in funny little cottages with thatched roofs and drive little cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side.  Don't get me wrong England is a beautiful place filled with wonderful people.  I really think it's all the rain that drags me down.  I'm a Floridian.  I thrive on sunshine. 

For The Secret Keeper, however, I didn't mind.  This story kept me involved from start to finish.  Laurel, the oldest of four sisters and one brother is an accomplished actress.  The siblings gather at the family home. Their mother Dorothy, is now waiting on her deathbed for the peace that has eluded her throughout her life, to come.  At sixteen Laurel witnessed her mother killing a man in the backyard.  The event had been kept from her sisters.  Her brother Gerry, a baby at the time was there and always felt something tragic had happened but never knew what it was.  The two of them race against time to solve the mystery knowing once their mother is gone, she will take the secret with her.

This novel weaves through time from the London Blitz during the war to present time.  The author brilliantly hops from scene to scene and character to character building a rich web of storytelling.  I couldn't put this book down.  Each time I felt I had figured out Dorothy's secret, I found out I was wrong.  I stayed up late at night and woke early in the morning to read a few more pages.  The deceit is so perfect and I will not tell you any more than that.  The Secret Keeper is a keeper. And it wouldn't have been so wonderful if not set in war torn, rainy, dreary England.  Don't let this one pass you by.

Tippecanoe to Tipp City by Susan Furlong

Tippecanoe to Tipp City by Susan Furlong

Tipp City is a small town north of Dayton, Ohio.  My sister, Susan, is an 'away girl' who wasn't raised there but came after marrying a man who called the town home.  I was still in high school when she became an away girl. That means she's called Tipp home for a very long time that anywhere else is probably 'away' to her now.  I'd say she's just a Tipp 'girl' now.

Tippecanoe To Tipp City is a charming look back into how we have arrived here in the present day. It's often difficult to imagine a time when a canal had to be dug to get goods from point to point. And to think that passengers on the barges often shared their space on deck with the donkeys pulling them through the canal. We are spoiled by today's modern cruise ships. The dress of the day was button hook shoes and knickers for the boys. We've traded that formality for flip flops and jeans. The town council paid over $500 for uniforms for the volunteer fire department. Today we think nothing of spending that amount for one cell phone or an i pad.

This book is filled with delightful stories and photos of people shopping, going to school, having parties and picnic, doing all the normal things in life. I'm quite nostalgic for a simpler life in a small town. Life had it's headaches then too, however. The mail was a constant source of confusion with a town of the same name also in Ohio. To solve it, the town changed its name. A simple yet controversial solution to a problem that would no longer exist today with the use of zip codes. And besides who gets mail anymore? The email has become our mainstay for communication.

Tippecanoe to Tipp City is a walk through time, in a time and place worth remembering. The photographs are amazing and the stories they tell fascinating. Susan has done a great job documenting the history of this small Ohio town. Even though my connection to the town is only through my sister's family, the story of it's life is captivating.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Best Books of 2012

I love best books of the year lists.  So here's mine. 

Best Classic  -  The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  The book is nothing like the movie that we all remember so fondly.  There's no singing or horses that change color before our eyes.  The story is charming and surprising and a joy to read.  It's always refreshing to take a trip back into our carefree days of childhood to keep our adult world in perspective.

Best Suspense  -  The Breath of God by Jeffrey Small.  This novel took me around the world without a single pause in the action.  It's a page turner with a religious question begging to be answered.

Best Book that Almost Won the Pulitzer Prize  -  Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  Swamplandia! was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.  No prize was ultimately awarded, the competition ending in a three way tie.  I loved the Bigtree family living in the middle of the Florida Everglades wrestling alligators and selling kitchy souvenirs for throngs of tourists.  Quirky.  Crazy.  Fun.

Best Book Made Into a Movie  -  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  How could I not fall in love with tough, smart and vulnerable Katniss?  Against all odds, she survives.  What's not to like?  The movie didn't disappoint either.

Best Self Help  -  The Magic by Rhonda Byrne.  Learning to express my gratitude each and every day has made an incredible difference in my life.  It's not always easy to keep a positive attitude.  The Magic has taught me that positive thoughts and actions attracts more good things.  A grateful life is a wonderful life.

Best Pick By My Sister  -  Blue Angel by Francine Prose.  My sister recommends books all the time.  This year they've all been good so this was the hardest pick of all.   Writing professor, Swenson and his midlife crisis consumed me.  The author got me so deeply into the workings of his mind, that I got on the roller coaster without hesitation.  And Swenson is not a very likeable kind of guy. Prose is a master.

Best Book Overall  -  The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.   This is not your ordinary novel.  The writing style is unusual but the story is deep and emotional.  I love a novel that makes me feel something inside.  The Buddha in the Attic made me feel, happy, sad, angry, love, friendship, kindness,  disgust and hope.  It's a heart warming and emotional experience about life.

 I wanted to be the first to get my best books of the year list out.  Sadly however Richard has already given me a few that he's torn out of some year end magazines.  I still haven't read all the books I found on last year's book lists.  I've saved them though.  I'll add this year's to them and someday, yes someday I'll have read everything I've ever hoped to read.    


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Ghosts That Come Between Us by Bulbul Bahuguna

The Ghosts That Come Between Us by Bulbul Bahuguna

I'm on the fence about this one.  I received an advance reading copy and was initially anxious to read this.  I love reading stories set in exotic locales such as India.  In fact awhile ago I read a really wonderful book with a similar title, The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar that was also set in India. 

I was all in on this book.  Nargis is a young Indian girl who tells her story.  I became mesmerized by the viewpoint of this child.  The author had a very uncanny ability to submerse the reader into the life of the child.  I saw everything very clearly through her eyes.  As Nargis grew up so did how she spoke and reacted to life around her.  I was hooked. Even though they had very minor parts, the Bollywood actress named Dimple and Nargis' daughter whom she named Mandy, said this book was made for me.  Dimple, without the 'S' was my nickname in college and Mandy is the main character in my own novel, One Clown Short.

In every story something bad has to happen to give the main character an impactful event that will change their view of the world.  Nargis was the youngest child in a military family.  Her father controlled every aspect of the people around him.  Her mother retreated into her shell because of it.  For many reasons, religion, culture, the family of the nineteen sixties and seventies remained trapped in the father's clutches.

The pacing of the first half of the novel kept me interested.  But when Nargis left home to attend medical school in Russia, the story slowed to a crawl. She met and married an Indian boy she met in Russia.  By the end of the book, she's singing her husband's praises yet we know almost nothing about him.  He's never mentioned throughout her entire struggle to mend her relationship with her mother after her father's death.  And yet the conflict with her mother went on for years.  In fact the author dragged it on to the point I didn't care about it any more.  Sure, Nargis' father was a bad man.  But the child's voice I loved in the first half of the book, made me want to say 'grow up' when used to describe her adult battles.  Enough was enough.

The first half of this story, I loved.  The second half, I could have lived without.  It didn't resolve anything for me.  I don't think it resolved anything for Nargis either.  So maybe we're even.  On this one, I'll just have to stay on the fence.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...