Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013

The year 2013 has turned out to be a year of confusion.  I read alot of great books during the year and many of them came to me in a very roundabout way.  Usually I browse the bookstore looking for new titles.  Of course I keep up with the bestseller lists in the New York Times, USA Today because I love lists. I looked at the top 100 books of 2013 on Amazon and surprisingly I hadn't heard of most of them and had actually read only about 5.  Lists can make me feel out of touch but I'm hoping my list will put some new life into your own reading choices.

The Best Book by those of the Same Title:    Life After Life by Jill McCorkle
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was released to much acclaim on the same day as the novel of the same title by McCorkle.  I read them both because of the intrigue.  You will find the title by Atkinson on many of the best book lists, but I didn't like it at all. Neither did my sisters. Repeating  Ursula's life over and over, tired me.  Life After Life by Jill McCorkle portrayed brilliantly what it feels like to be young and grow old. 

The Funniest Book:  The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window by Jonas Jonasson
The title says it all.  The 100 year old man climbed out the window of the old folks home and found the adventure of his life.  As I said before, its a cross between Forest Gump and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Laugh out loud, funny.

The Book with the Most Publicity that Should be Skipped:  The Cukoo's Calling  by Robert Galbraith
Or was it really written by J.K Rowling?  It doesn't matter who wrote it.  Dull.  Skip it.

The Best Self Help Book that Wasn't:  The Book of Why by Nicholas Montemarano
With a title like that, it's easy to understand why I thought this was a self help book.  It's a novel full of help understanding the mysteries of life.  I adored it.

The Best Books for Women:  I couldn't decide between The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison and The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
The Husband's Secret is on all the best books list as it should be.  Loved it.   I couldn't remember the title at first so The Silent Wife came up instead on my search.  This novel shows up on very few lists and it needs to be on more.  A great read! The Wives of Los Alamos will be released after the first of the year.  Pre order it!  You will not be disappointed and you will learn a few things about the history of WWII.

In 2013, I read many more fascinating books, some good, some bad, and the rest only OK.  They couldn't all make the list. A few made other well known lists but couldn't make my cut.  My resolution for the New Year is to read only good books.  Let's see how that works for me!  Happy New Year.  Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Palisades Park by Alan Brennert

Palisades Park by Alan Brennert

The inside world of carnivals and amusement parks is a mystery to those of us on the outside.  Our excitement builds to a frenzy when we plan a day riding roller coasters and indulging in cotton candy and plump juicy hot dogs.  We gladly spend our money to be entertained in new and unusual ways.

Palisades Park is the place where dreams are made, dashed and made once again. Eddie and Adele met on the midway, are married on the carousel and raise their family selling french fries to scores of hungry park goers.  All is well until their dreams are rearranged by war, fire and a need to get more from life.

Fire destroys the park several times and the owners rebuild it each time bigger and better. Adele desires to be back on the stage.  Eddie wants to bring a piece of the Hawaii he loved back during the war to New Jersey.  Their daughter, Toni, wants only to fly like a bird from the top of the high dive.  Their dreams rip their lives apart only to put them back together in unexpected ways.

I felt Palisades Park slogged along in a predictable way.   I loved both Mr. Brennert's novels, Honolulu and MolokaiPalisades Park, however never captured my attention in the same way.  The story had a host of carny characters but who's personalities I found mostly dull and flat.  I wanted to love them.  I wanted to be immersed in a carny's life.  But I wasn't.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reparation by Ruth Rodgers

Reparation by Ruth Rodgers

A few weeks ago, I attended a book signing at a local church.  Several authors talked about their novels.  Ruth Rodgers talked about her book, Reparation. This is a story about segregation in the South, white versus black and right versus wrong.  A lively discussion emerged about the use of the "n" word from some elderly attendees who had been children in a time when this word was widely used.  I found their perspective fascinating to say the least. 

Kate is the main character in Reparation. Now in her sixties, she returns her childhood home in the Panhandle of Florida to care for her aging mother.  The memory of a night as a teenager when she failed to protect her childhood friend, Delia, who is African American, smacks her in the face.  She can't shake it off any longer as she had done so many years ago. On her path to find reparation, Kate uncovers more ugliness that continues to live on in the small town.

First off I'm not crazy about the title.  Does it describe the novel? Yes.  Kate wants to admit her mistake and make amends to Delia.  Does it grab me and make me want to read the book?  No, not really.  Reparation is not a word that is widely used or can roll easily off my tongue. Secondly I found the writing repetitive and slow. I tired of reading about their eating habits and her mother's sore shoulder.  I skipped alot.

OK, so I didn't like alot about the book, but I have to say that this is story that needs to be told.  It's a part of history we need to be reminded about so that we will never forget it.  Only then can we as a society move past our sordid past and move on to a peaceful and loving future.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch by Julia Pandl

Written from the point of view of Julie, the youngest in a family of nine children, Memoir of the Sunday Brunch is a heartwarming and funny story. The family business is a restaurant in Milwaukee, and I do mean it's a family business.  Each child has to earn their rite of passage by working the Sunday brunch.

Her father, George, has very strict rules that must be observed while working in the restaurant.  However those rules are often had to follow after skipping breakfast, or while nursing a hangover.  And Mother's Day stretches all of the employees to their limits. Knowing nothing about the restaurant business, I found their antics very amusing.  But I have to say how work in a family restaurant business spilled over into life at home became laugh out loud, hysterical.

I love books that bring out emotion, whether happy or sad, it doesn't matter to me.  I want to feel the story not just read it.  Julia Pandl is a very talented writer.  The first half of the book is written in a captivating manner while we watch a teenage girl grow into herself.  There comes a point when the family experiences a time of overpowering grief.  Ms. Pandl changed her writing style at the precise moment necessary bringing tears to my eyes. 

I never like to reveal much about the specifics in a book.  I believe a reader wants to find those things out on their own.  I love to comment on the character of the story and whether or not it's worth reading.  Memoir of the Sunday Brunch is a not only a tribute to a talented writer, it pays homage to a loving mother and father and the family they created. 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Merry Christmas, Oh My!

My neighbors, across the street are aiming to win the $75 neighborhood prize for the best Christmas lights. In a 55 community, $75 might buy the early bird special once a week for at least a month.  Last year they received an honorable mention so this year they are going all out.  The eaves of the roof are gracefully draped with white lights.  The trees in front are covered in colored lights for contrast.  In the driveway is a large inflatable Christmas tree that has flashing strobe lights inside it.  At the base is a lighted choo choo train.  It took them several days to get it all perfect and it's quite a dazzling display. 

Down the street, a guy puts a projector in his driveway every night to make it look like it's snowing on the front of his house.  He packs it up every morning so he can get his car out of the garage.  This is Florida so I give him an A+ for the illusion of snow when it's 80 degrees outside.  I think he may also be in it to win it.

Moving a few doors down, the effort of lights starts to deteriorate.  The strings of lights fit tightly along one side of the roof and hang sloppily over the other.  Hanging lights is a hard job especially from the top rung of the ladder you bought in 1974 and refuse to get rid of even though it wobbles just the slightest little bit. Soon I come to the house with one of those lighted reindeer.  I always liked those.  The sparkly animal looks as if it's grazing in the front yard.  And in this case it really is.  Its nose is only inches from the Halloween pumpkin that took its place in the garden somewhere around the beginning of October.  

The lighted wreaths I hung on the garage lights and the front door, won't win any prize.  I know that the judges won't even give my house a passing glance.  But the rest of the neighborhood is having its own little version of the television show, The Great Christmas Light Fight, and it's over a lot less than the 50 grand being given away for the best lights on the show. 

Every night there's a traffic jam of sorts while cars stop to admire the handiwork even though there isn't any computer generated light show set to music. The cars finally dissipate when lights go off at about 9 pm.  Most of us are in bed by then. A spike in the electric bill is a concern too. Hopefully the $75 will cover it.  The losers may have to pinch their pennies well into the new year. But if the pumpkin lasted this long I'm betting it will still be around long after the Christmas lights have been packed away until next year. And it didn't run up the electric bill.

Merry Christmas!  Ho! Ho! Ho!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

All I can say is "Wow"!  I couldn't put The Husband's Secret down.  This is one of those novels that grips the reader from the first word and never lets go. 

Cecilia Fitzpatrick is living the perfect married life, raising her three daughters and successfully selling Tupperware. Tess O'Leary runs to her mother's home in Sydney with her son, Liam, in tow when she learns her husband has fallen in love with her cousin, Felicity. Rachel Crowley is the school secretary who is still grieving for her daughter, Janie, who was murdered twenty three years ago.  She's convinced herself that the school's PE teacher, Connor Whitby is the murderer. All of these lives become intertwined because of an envelope Cecilia finds from her husband that is labeled, "To be opened in the event of my death". 

What I absolutely loved about this book is the author's ability to put the reader inside each character's head.  The way Cecilia's thoughts raced, Tess's actions frozen by her lack of self esteem, and Rachel's unresolved grief were all captured precisely by the written word.  I'm not going to give the secret away.  The story is too good.  You have to experience it for yourself.  The Husband's Secret is  the best book I've read in a long time.  I can't wait to read more by Liane Moriarty.  No wonder it's a bestseller.  It's that good. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Since I loved Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I knew that I would love Songs of Willow Frost. I was right.

Many of the elements are the same, Chinese Americans living in Seattle during the Great Depression.  William Eng is a 12 year old boy who has been sent to a Catholic orphanage.  He remembers his mother and struggles to understand why he's been sent away from her.  The nuns only share information about families on the saint's day in November that has been declared the boys birthday.  Girls share a birthday in the spring with another saint.  But what the nun chooses to reveal is never enough to satisfy William. 

Songs of Willow Frost is a beautifully woven story of William and his mother, Willow's lives.  The novel seamlessly flows between the past and the present, from Willow's point of view, to William's. Willow had two strikes against her from the start, being a woman of Chinese decent and a single mother. In the 1920's she had little chance to keep a child no matter what the circumstance.  But she can sing.  And sing she does to create a better life for herself. 

When William finds a flyer announcing a performance, he sneaks out of the orphanage to find her.  Their reunion is not easy but only Willow can heal William's heart. 

Songs of Willow Frost will take you back in time and immerse you in a different era.  It's an emotional story that will hold your heart.  I couldn't put it down and neither will you.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Don Quixote Girls by Karlene Conroy & Mia Crews

The Don Quixote Girls by Karlene Conroy & Mia Crews

I have to admit I have never read Don Quixote.  My knowledge of classic literature is lacking, I know.  When I met the authors of The Don Quixote Girls at a local book signing, I thought a modern day version of the story would be cute and funny. Plus I like to support Indie authors like myself.  Selling books which are lovingly and passionately written is no easy task. 

Plenty of love and care has gone into telling the story of The Don Quixote Girls.  They are four women, best friends, living in a  place thought to be the real Garden of Eden.  Interestingly the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee River system in Northern Florida has four heads, is plentiful in gopher wood from which Noah built the ark and contains 28 of the 30 varieties of trees, all described in the Bible.  These facts make it the perfect setting for a tale of friendship, suspense and romance.

The four friends live in the fictional town of Paradise which has capitalized on the Garden of Eden theme in order to attract tourists.  Dulcinea's parents own the Don Quixote diner.  Corky is married to the mayor. Harmony owns a new age store and since her husband's death, Leah runs the town's bank.  They meet for breakfast once a week at the Don Quixote diner to keep up with the town's latest gossip. All the women are keeping secrets even from each other.  But when Dulcie's secret shows up in the form of her ex-husband, nothing between friends will ever be the same. 

The Don Quixote Girls is a well planned and action packed story, full of twists and turns.  For me however, I found it too predictable.  I'm often let down by stories that don't wrap up in a neat little bow.  But The Don Quixote Girls tied up that bow just a tad bit tighter than even I could find enjoyable.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

Thank you to NetGalley for my advanced copy of The Wives of Los Alamos. I thoroughly enjoyed every single page.  This novel has a release date of February 24, 2014.  Pre order it now.  You won't regret it.

The wives and families of the scientists, physicists, construction workers and support personnel who worked in Los Alamos lived in secret.  Their husbands knew they were building an atomic bomb but couldn't tell their wives why they had come to a dry and secluded place in New Mexico without being able to tell anyone where they had gone.  Everything about Los Alamos was foreign to them. They had trouble remembering the new names they were given upon arrival.  They were given a house based on the size of their family.  Their lips became chapped. And when all they wanted to do was soak in a hot bathtub, the home only had a shower and the water wouldn't come on anyway.

What I loved most about this story is that it is written in first person plural.  First person plural is unusual and only an extremely talented writer can pull it off. The women seem to march through this period of their lives together yet the reader has a very clear sense that the wives had different views of the sequestered life they were living.  They liked each other and some they couldn't trust, some loved their husbands and some sought love elsewhere, some made the best of it and others simply could not.

This slice of history in the early 1940's during war time is fascinating.  The decision to work on building a bomb of mass destruction under the cloak of secrecy took a heavy toll on the families.  Yet the wives often made me laugh.  Their positive attitudes kept them going.  The Wives of Los Alamos  keeps this story alive in a delightful way.  I adored every minute of it. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Illegal Gardner by Sara Alexi

The Illegal Gardner by Sara Alexi

This title looked interesting when it popped up on Book Bub.  It was cheap so I bought the Kindle version.

From the beginning, the characters and the story made no sense to me.  Juliet, sometimes spelled Juliette, moved to Greece to escape a nasty divorce.  She did translation work.  Because that was her profession, I found it odd that she initially lacked so much knowledge and compassion for a person of a different culture.  Aaman, from Pakistan and illegal, helped her with her garden.  She had no understanding that he had come from a society where women took the back seat often taking offense at his actions or failure to say thank you.
The book was filled with repetitive phases, such as "the cockerels were crowing" and typos galore.  I skipped alot of it without missing any part of the story.  Your time will be better spent on something else because for me the cockerels simply crowed one too many times. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

My Story by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

My friend, Elaine and I went on a shopping spree of sorts at the local Sam's Club the other day.  After lunch of a Sam's hot dog and a soda, we sent our husbands back to work getting a new Baer's Furniture store open.  We needed a little break.  She is suffering from tendonitis in her foot, so she was wearing a boot and riding around in the electric cart.  We'd stop and look at things and if it was something Elaine wanted I'd get it off the shelf for her.  I can't go anywhere without stopping to look at the books, so when we came to that section, Elaine stopped the cart and we discussed the titles for sale. 

"I wouldn't usually read these kinds of books but for some reason her story interests me," I said thumbing through My Story. "She's so pretty."

"Let's get it.  We'll share." Elaine answered. Into the basket it went along with a few others.

In the parking lot, we divided up the stack of books.  I took My Story.  By page two, I couldn't put it down.  Elizabeth's story is well known.  She was kidnapped from her own bed in the middle of the night and spent nine months in the clutches of mentally deranged man and his wife.  At age fourteen she survived what to the rest of us is unthinkable.

Never having been in the middle of a situation such as this, it is difficult to understand the kind of hold this man had over Elizabeth.  My Story explains that in the voice of a young, impressionable, frightened girl.  Elizabeth tells the story from her heart.  She clearly conveys what kept her alive, the love of her family and her love of God.  Even though I already knew how the story ended, tears ran down my face when I read how she was rescued.  Elizabeth's strength and ability to move forward is truly remarkable. 

This is one of those books that is difficult to read yet hard to put down.  Love conquers all. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Curiously I read other reviews of The Lowland after I finished reading the book. I found a mixed bag of likes and dislikes, which I have to admit surprised me.  I was not familiar with this author or her other award winning works, the Pulitzer prize in fact, but the storyline of inseparable brothers raised in Calcutta, India, who take opposite paths in their lives, captured my attention.

At first I was unsure if I could stick with The Lowland.  It was a story like many I've read before about life in India, a culture that permeates every movement in life.  When one of the brothers, Udayan, secretly becomes immersed in a political movement, I became slightly turned off by the subject matter but not the writing.  So I kept reading.

The brothers are raised in a middle class neighborhood on a narrow street with a mosque on the corner.  They are a Hindu family.  The house their parents have built, backs up to the lowlands, an area that floods and dries with the seasons. Subhash heads to America to study away from the turmoil of his home.  Udayan stays to fight for his cause and defies his parents by bringing home a wife they do not approve of. The wife, who no one is able to love except Udayan, becomes the center the family's sorrow.

The Lowland is a story of choices defined by the friction created by opposing, deep rooted cultures.  The ebb and flow of their lives mirrors the lowland that is the family's foundation. The author's prose is steady, calm and captivating.  The Lowland is a book I couldn't put down, stayed up late and woke up early because I had to know where each course of action would lead.  Books with that kind of power don't come along very often.

I classify this novel as one that beautifully illustrates the human condition.  The human condition shapes who we are as an individual, a family, a society and I am fascinated by it.  The Lowland is worth every minute of time spent immersed in the lives of the people living with the rhythm of the lowland.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Bad Kitty Lounge by Michael Wiley

The Bad Kitty Lounge by Michael Wiley

I wouldn't normally read a mystery.  I know that many people love them but a private detective story is just not my thing.  Recently, however I attended the Florida Writer's Association Annual Conference and attended a workshop by Michael Wiley.  And guess what!  He gave all the attendees a free copy of his book, The Bad Kitty Lounge.  First a big thank you to Michael for his generosity.  And frankly, what's not to like about a free book.

The Bad Kitty Lounge is the second in his Joe Kozmarski series.  Joe is a private detective scouring the streets of Chicago. The ladies find him charming yet Joe is unlucky at love.  His desire to find answers for his clients keeps him on the run and removed from what the rest of us consider a normal life.  He gets beat up more than it seems a body should be able to take.  But Joe is tough!  And Joe is smarter than any bad guy. Most of the time, that is.

To the reader Joe is cute, endearing, and witty.  This novel is a fast paced and full of page turning moments.  One of the reasons I don't usually go for the mysteries is that I can solve it before the author does.  That's not any fun.  In the case of The Bad Kitty Lounge, I thought I had it figured out but Mr. Wiley left a couple unexpected twists for the very end. 

The Bad Kitty Lounge is funny and tense all wrapped up together.  I thought it was a great time and Michael Wiley displayed a keen ability to keep me guessing right up to the very end. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

Every now and then I feel the urge to throw my usual book selection methods out the window and read a book that is hot, hip and trending.  When I saw that Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy was chosen for the Today Show Book Club, I decided over my morning coffee,to get on the bandwagon.

To fully understand how momentous a decision this is for me, I think I am the only woman on the planet who has never read a Bridget Jones book OR seen a Bridget Jones movie.  I do know however know that Renee Zellweger starred in the movie as Bridget.  That fact helped me to paint the picture of the adorable, confused and unorganized Bridget.  I had no clue who Mr. Darcy even was or why his fate had to remain such a big secret. Maybe that worked to my advantage.

Bridget Jones had me at hello!  Oh, sorry.  I think that was a different movie with Renee Zellweger.  Anyway this book is a hysterical romp through the life a of woman, a friend and a mother.  I haven't laughed this hard in a long time.  Her encounter with nits had me ready to pee my pants.  Boy, I can relate to the anxiety of learning how to use Twitter while never losing a follower.  And the whole thing with her weight is every woman's nemesis.  Throw in her desire for sex and let the romp through the life if a 50 year old begin.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy will brighten your spirits and make your own troubles magically disappear.   Even if you've been living under the rock with me and never heard of Bridget Jones, she'll win over your heart and your funny bone starting on page one.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, Pictures by Melissa Sweet

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and pictures by Melissa Sweet

I have returned from a simply marvelous weekend at the Florida Writers Association's annual conference where I learned about the craft of writing, along with the business of writing.  I met so many wonderful people, all with a story in their heart.   I have found my motivation to write again and am gladly embracing the FWA's philosophy of, "It doesn't get done unless you put your butt in the chair and write!". 

Returning home I found a package on my desk amid the piles of mail waiting for me.  It was from my sister, Martha.  Inside was Little Red Writing along with a note that read,

Dear Linny, Thought this book would teach you everything you ever needed to know about writing.  Love, Martha

Little Red is a charming red pencil who attends pencil school with a birthday pencil, several sports pencils and a state pencil.  Her teacher, Mrs. 2, gives the class an assignment to write a story.  She sends Little Red off with a basket of 15 words to use in case she runs into trouble and the advice to stick to her basic story path so not to get lost.  Hmmm.  Good advice!

Of course, Little Red ran into trouble.  She used her words carefully and saved Principal Granny from the dreaded electric pencil sharpener.  Principal Granny was now much shorter but grateful that Little Red had saved her.  Little Red returned to class with a wonderfully crafted story to share.

Little Red would not have been so successful if not for the adorable pictures that shared in the telling of her story.  Melissa Sweet, who drew them lives in Rockport, Maine.  I spent my summer vacation in Rockport, Maine, a tiny, little, beautiful town on the coast.  I loved the town so much I already have plans to return again next summer.  So guess whose door I will be knocking on while I'm there?  Melissa Sweet's!  I'll be sure to call first but I can't wait for her inspiration and creativity to rub off on me. 

I'm a firm believer that people and things come into my life for a reason.  Little Red Writing broke the task of writing down into very simplistic terms at exactly the time I needed to hear it most.  I don't write children's books but now I know I must visualize my scenes more specifically while I'm writing them.  And I also learned my sister, Martha even though not a writer, wants me to succeed for the pure pleasure of entering a bookstore and purchasing a book written by her sister even though she's already read the autographed copy I sent her.  So that book is in the works and I vow not to stop until it's finished.  No excuses.  With the help of all my new friends at the Florida Writers Association, Little Red and all her pencil friends, and my sister, Martha, I will get it done!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

A Prayer For Owen Meany is one of those books my husband used to "decorate" our dining room.  I don't know why he might have chosen it, other than it was thick, more than 500 pages and has a picture of a dressmaker's dummy on the front cover.  I have to admit even I was intrigued by the dressmaker's dummy.  It had been on my mind that I needed to read my way through the dining room books. Owen Meany was the one that called to me. 

Owen Meany is a small, odd looking boy with an irritating voice.  His father owns the granite quarry in the small New Hampshire town of Gravesend.  His best friend, John Wheelwright narrates the story. The boys come from different backgrounds yet their lives become intertwined in the most unusual ways. John's mother, Tabby is the owner of the dressmaker's dummy.  She keeps it next to her bed,at least until she doesn't need it anymore.  Then it becomes Owen's.

I never like to reveal much about the plot and A Prayer For Owen Meany is no different. As a reader I like to be surprised as I turn each page.  The joy of the story is lost if I know what to expect.  This story has alot of laugh out loud moments and those that will bring a tear to your eye.  All you need to know in advance is be prepared to watch the lives of two young boys, one thought to be odd and the other his friend, mature and grow under the watchful eye of God. But don't think this story is preachy or falls under the genre of Christian fiction.  It doesn't.

I adore John Irving novels but I have to be in the right frame of mind to read them.  His stories require a substantial investment of time and thought.  The time seemed right for me to immerse myself in a story of substance.  And I found exactly that.  To anyone who ventures into this book, the reward is great.  The book is now back in its place in the dining room waiting to spark some interesting dinner conversation. A Prayer For Owen Meany is a story I will always remember. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Favorite Pastime

My favorite time to read a good book is anytime, however I do most of my reading laying in bed at night before I go to sleep.  Ginger gets a couple biscuits and cuddles up by my side.  I arrange the pillows just so and settle in with my book.  When I can't hold the book or my Kindle up any longer, I know it's time to turn off the light.

You may have noticed that I haven't written a book review in a more than a week. My evenings have been taken over by my other favorite pastime. Baseball.  It's October and as Major League Baseball loves to say, "We live for October."  I am a loyal fan of the Tampa Bay Rays all season long.  But their season heated up quickly when they made it to October.  My boys kept me on the edge of my seat as I followed them from the final games in Toronto, to game 163 in Texas, and all the way to Cleveland where the Rays clinched the American League Wildcard spot.  I grew up in Cleveland so I have to admit I found it difficult to watch the Indian fans go from wildly electric to sadly depressed.  Watching my boys win that game however, made up for any childhood angst I might be harboring. 

Watching all these games meant late nights.  Staying up past midnight until the last out, meant I crawled into bed, turned off the light and went to sleep.  I haven't gotten any nighttime reading relaxation since the playoff started.  I also find myself in the middle of a very long and complex book by an author I love, but who requires my complete attention.  That is about to change. 

Last night the Rays lost to the Boston Red Sox in the final game of the ALCS.  I'm sad.  But my team put in a fantastic effort with some of the most exciting baseball I have ever seen.  It was nail biting, nerve wracking stuff and I loved every minute of it.  I'm proud to be a Rays fan no matter whether they win or lose.  When someone says to me a baseball game is like watching paint dry, I say "You haven't watched the Rays."  

Now the Tampa Bay Rays are headed home to rest up.  I'll watch the championship games and of course the World Series but I'll probably turn the game off when my bedtime approaches.  I've got alot of books to read between now and next April. 

Go Rays!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

I am drawn to book lists in the newspaper, a magazine, on the Internet.  Any book list will do but not necessarily the New York Times Bestseller list, even though I peruse it often.  I'm fascinated books others consider worth reading.  That doesn't mean I read everything on a list but I pick and choose. My own personal preference is fairly broad and there are only a few topics I automatically bypass.   For example, even though Stephen King is a brilliant and popular author and appears on all sorts of book lists, his stories scare the bejesus out of me so I won't ever read them. 

Most of the titles currently on my Kindle have come from lists in O Magazine, USA Today, or book articles tucked into the final pages of Time.  I have to admit though that I have no idea who or what turned me on to The Silent Wife.  In fact after I started to read it I had to keep referring back to my Kindle home page because I couldn't remember the title. That I can't remember might be attributed to a variety of things but that I don't know where I found this book or even why I downloaded it, is a mystery.  It seems there are an awful lot of books right now with the word 'husband' or 'wife' in the title so maybe I got confused.  Menopause has a tendency to do that.

I couldn't put down The Silent Wife.  I stayed up way past my bedtime reading and woke up early to read some more.  Jodi is a psychologist who likes her life orderly and precise.  She been with Todd for twenty years and he too likes the routine that life with Jodi provides.  However, now middle aged, Todd has a wandering eye and when he becomes involved with a much younger Natasha, life as they know it falls apart.

That is all I am going to tell you about the plot.  The Silent Wife is full of twists and surprises.  The story is perfectly written first from Jodi's and then Todd's point of view.  The author paced the story with such care, I remained on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  It's rare that a book can make me drop everything else in my life until I find out what happens next.  The Silent Wife did exactly that up until the very end.  Even though I can't remember how I stumbled upon The Silent Wife, I'm certainly glad I did.  This book is a fabulous find no matter how it made its way onto my Kindle.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Blind Vision by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan

Blind Vision by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan

Mrs. Kaplan's husband asked me to read Blind Vision since I am such a fan of her first book, Ten Green Bottles.  When I first read Ten Green Bottles, I didn't know that Jews in Europe had been allowed into China to escape the Nazis during World War II. I was fascinated by this slice of history and fell in love with Mrs. Kaplan's family story. 

I consider myself knowledgeable about a variety of topics, however Blind Vision educated me on another historic period that I didn't know anything about.  The book tells the tale of Alfonso and his family during the Spanish Inquisition.  He and his siblings have all been baptized in the Catholic church.  On his 13th birthday, his parents take him to a secret room in their home to teach him of their true faith, Judaism.  The family are Crypto Jews who must conceal their traditions from the zealous leaders of the Catholic church if they are to continue to live and prosper in Spanish society.  King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain rule at the command of the church and decree to expel all Jews from Spain.

Alfonso's journal is discovered by Stefan, after the death of his aunt.  She has hidden it in an old chest and tells Stefan to read it.  On her deathbed, she asks to be buried as a Jew. He is surprised and shocked by her revelations.  He enters a synagogue for the first time to make arrangements for her burial.  His conversation with the rabbi sends Stefan's own life into a tailspin while he struggles to find his true identity. In a modern era, Stefan faces many of the same prejudices as his cousin Alfonso.

Fear of the unknown has driven the actions of humans throughout history.  Today we continue to wrestle with religious faiths that differ from our own.  Why?  History has proven to repeat itself. It does so because of ignorance and fear.  Mrs. Kaplan has done her research well.  And even though this is a fictional account, it is deeply layered in historical fact.  Once again she has educated me for which I'm grateful.  Blind Vision is not only a story about the persecutions of Jews in society, it is a reminder that we must never forget the past if we are going to move forward to a more peaceful and loving world.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grateful For Today

About a year ago, a new cell phone tower was erected not too far from my home.  From it flies a very large American flag, that I can see each morning when Ginger and I go for a walk.  And every morning when I see it, I say thank you to God for bringing us to this wonderful town full of friendly  people and good fortune.  The flag is a welcome sight each morning against the always gorgeous sunrise.

This morning Ginger and I took a different route on our walk.  With nothing special on our agenda for today, I paid little attention to the landscape around me.  Frankly, I wasn't even aware of what day of the week it was.  Dates have become more difficult to remember as time passes on.  I still have trouble believing it's already September.  Where does the time go? After breakfast I got in my car to run an errand.  As I turned the corner, I could see the cell phone tower flag at half mast.  I gasped.  Today is 9/11. 

I will never forget that time in our country's history.  For me, I was 3000 miles away from home on a business trip.  Only expecting to be away for 3 days, the trip stretched out to 10.  I watched TV from my hotel room, tears streaming down my face.  Calls home were hard to make, the lines jammed more often than not.  I found myself stuck in a strange place, longing to wrap my arms around Richard so we could grieve together.  That was not to be. 

Even though I was far from home, I was not alone.  During that time no one was a stranger to me, nor I to them.  People I barely knew, welcomed me to their homes, invited me to dinner, took me to the movies.  Everyone sympathized with my desire to be home and without hesitation opened their hearts to me.  Their kindness lives on, to this day, inside me.

So after my errand,  I made a detour to the local firehouse.  Outside is a memorial which contains a steel beam from the World Trade Center.  I stopped there to say a prayer for the past, the present and the future.  May we never forget that we are all Americans, strong and steadfast in our beliefs and together we can fill the world with love and hope. I prayed for all the people whose path I crossed during those dark days and I thanked God for my many blessings.  On this solemn day, I can gladly say I'm grateful to be an American.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress

Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress

I've read a slew of mediocre novels lately.  When that happens I am usually very annoyed for devoting so much time to something I didn't enjoy.  I decided it was time for something out of the ordinary, something light, funny, likeable.  I'd been eyeing Georgia Bottoms at the bookstore for awhile.  The cover is so cute and besides I have a very dear friend named Georgia.  And much to my surprise, when I went to the clubhouse library in the community where I live, to donate all my uninteresting books that I didn't want taking up space on my shelves, I found a copy of Georgia Bottoms.  I snapped it up, because what's not to like about a free book?

I fell in love with Georgia  Bottoms from page one.  She's a southern gal, from Six Points, Alabama, who loves to cook, and I don't mean just dinner.  Long before she was born, her grandmother changed the family name from Butts to Bottoms.  That says just about all that needs to said about Georgia and her family.  Brother enjoys going out for a drink after his court ordered AA meeting each week.  Little Mama, her mother, is showing signs of dementia.  And Georgia never misses a Sunday in church even though she's not a believer.  In a small town like Six Points, it's crucial to keep her image squeaky clean.

Georgia Bottoms is delightful.  The characters are so expertly created, I wanted to visit Six Points to meet them.  Georgia is sassy and witty with a big dose of Southern charm.  I couldn't help but like her.  The author has a magic touch when it comes to humor.  The lines that made me laugh the hardest were slipped in when I least expected it. The story moved along seamlessly and Georgia Bottoms was exactly what I need to restore my faith.  Bottoms up for Georgia Bottoms!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Kick On by Kelly Jennings

Kick On by Kelly Jennings

If you know me, you know that if I start a book, I'm going to finish it.  No matter what.  Many of my friends have tried their best to convince me that it is a waste of my time and energy to suffer through a book that I'm not enjoying.  There are so many more good books out there waiting for me. 

I have improved along those lines over the years.  Lately I've read so many mediocre books even though the title had made it onto a bestseller list. I want to make sure that what I read is current with a few classics thrown in just because I love them.  As a struggling writer myself, I feel it's important to give like minded people the attention they need to get their works into the hands of the book reading public. Someday I will ask them to return the favor.  In the case of Kick On, I simply had to put it down and move on.

I met Kelly Jennings at a Christmas affair at Harmony Farms which is nearby.  We had a nice conversation about her love of horses.  She signed my copy and a portion of the proceeds from her books sales went back to the programs for children at Harmony Farms.  To me, her passion and charity seemed to be an excellent reason to buy this book.  Plus I'm not very good at saying no.

I think I gave Kick On a fair shot by reading the first 100 pages of a 500 page novel.  There were so many grammar and punctuation errors, it distracted me.  The writing was barely even fair, descriptive words repeated over and over applying them to unrelated people, places and things.  Lauren, the main character, seemed shallow and distant.  As much as I'd like to help a new writer like myself succeed, I couldn't find anything in Kick On to hold my interest. A good editor might be able to save this story by first shaving off a good 100 pages of unnecessary words and limp descriptions. 

Good luck, Kelly but Kick On just wasn't for me.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

I spent money to buy this book while in the airport on the way to Maine.  I love to browse in airport bookstores.  Over the years I've found some incredible reads at the airport.  I hesitated for awhile over this book, (we had a long layover)  because it's pretty amazing that I've kept my New Year's resolution for almost eight months, not to spend money on a book.  But here's how I justified it as I handed over my credit card to the cashier.  I had a large gift card balance at Amazon that had been feeding my book habit.  I had to purchase so doggie poop bags for Ginger.  Since the best price was on Amazon, my gift card balance was reduced to pay for them.  I'm calling it a wash.  I took money out of my wallet for a book that I would have used my gift card for, except I had used that for poop bags.  Makes sense to me.

And am I ever glad for this exchange!  Tell The Wolves I'm Home is  funny and sad, tender and tragic all at the same time.  Thirteen year old June is at odds with everyone except for her Uncle Finn.  She and Finn explore New York City with a sense of curiosity June seems only able to share with him.  When he dies, she is alone again, until notes and gifts begin arriving from Toby, Finn's lover.  June has never met him or even knew he existed until now. Toby had been banished from June's family by her mother, Finn's sister.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home is an intricately woven story of sibling rivalry, coming of age, life and death, right and wrong.  June looks at the world through the eyes of child.  Her sister, Greta, who is sixteen, views her little sister as just that, little and stupid.  The girls parents are accountants, immersed in tax season, unaware of how their children are spending their time.  As June's relationship with Toby grows, both of them come to know how lucky they were to have Finn in their lives. The rest of the family learns that lesson too, but it doesn't come easily.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home grabbed my heart at the beginning and held on until the very last page.  I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end.  A story that can bring tears to my eyes, is a story worth reading.  Although I didn't agree with the family's decisions in the end, I understood their reasons why.  An author's ability to make me feel characters in such a real way makes the story worth its weight in gold.  Tell The Wolves I'm Home is magnificent and didn't cost quite as much as the poop bags so the next time I'm in an airport bookstore, I've got some credit left.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Place Called Canterbury by Dudley Clendinen

A Place Called Canterbury by Dudley Clendinen

While in Maine, I struck up a conversation with a man getting out of a car with Florida license plates.  I was, after all in Maine, a very long way from my home in Florida and he was too.  We were probably neighbors. 

The man said he lived in Tampa and we exchanged niceties.  How we got to the subject of moving our elderly relatives into assisted living, I'm not sure.  My vacation in Maine hadn't yet relieved the migraine headache of moving my 92 year old step mother, June, into a place she didn't want to have anything to do with.  I'd had a very stressful summer.  He was in the midst of the same scenario with his elderly mother.  We told each other our war stories.  He mentioned A Place Called Canterbury since it's about a place in Tampa and his mother had recently moved there.  I was still looking for the magic wand that would make this stage of life calm and wonderful for my step mother, so I downloaded the book as soon as I got back home.

The first paragraph started by saying that Dudley's mother had relented and agreed to sell her home and move to Canterbury.   June on the other hand, went kicking and screaming. My sister and I employed all kinds of tricks and told oodles of white lies during the time it took to extract her from her apartment.  We never knew we were even capable of saying such things, especially to someone we loved and respected. While she wasn't our mother, we'd known her for over 50 years. The word "relented" shut me down from the start. This whole process would have been easy if June had only chosen to accept that she needed more care.

A Place Called Canterbury did have some bits of brilliance.  I laughed out loud in some parts and cried in others. I understood Mr. Clendinen's pain at watching his mother hang on to life even when time after time, the doctor or nurse had told him the end was near.  And I especially enjoyed Sweetso, who continued to smoke even when she was told not to.  June loved to say she never had a cigarette she didn't enjoy.  If 70 years of smoking hadn't killed her yet, I doubt that it would. Sweetso felt the same way. 

Mainly however, I found this story very disconnected. The backstory became long and laborious, taking me away from the real story of people who have lost their purpose in the later years of their lives.  I skimmed alot.  I couldn't find the magic wand I'd so desperately been searching for.  I know in my heart that there's no simple answer.  But if A Placed Called Canterbury can help anyone else in this situation, then that is magic enough for me.

Monday, August 26, 2013

My Virtual Birthday

Happy birthday to me!!  I love to write on my birthday because I believe it means I will be writing all year.  Starting out each new year on the right foot is important.

Today I went to the mailbox and low and behold, not a single piece of mail had been addressed to me.  Not one birthday card in the pile!  Not any junk mail or even a bill had been delivered just for me.  I remember the days I couldn't wait for the mail to come on my birthday, anxious to find the funny and colorful cards that hid inside.  But am I disappointed?


Today I received more birthday wishes than could ever fit inside a black metal mailbox.  A text arrived on my cellphone at 6:28 am from my childhood friend, Georgia.  Since we've grown up and moved apart, she's never been much for sending a real card.  Her text was a wonderful treat.  After breakfast I checked my email.  My sister, Martha sent one wishing me a happy day and asking me to believe that her card was in the mail.  I can always count on a silly, one of a kind, original card from Martha.  The card, when it arrives later in the week, will help stretch out my celebration.  I like being pampered for more than just one day. 

Next I opened my Facebook page.  Let the party begin!  Friends I moved away from, people I once worked with, family who live close and those far away, nieces, nephews, young and old, all took the time to send me a message.  Fellow writers posted pictures.  Distance co workers, whose voices I've heard yet faces I have never seen, took time out of their day to honor me. 

My other sister, Susan, who had become my FB friend only last week, decided to use my birthday to jump head first into the world of social media.  She was pretty good at sending birthday cards via snail mail but usually they'd come the end of July instead of the end of August for some reason.  With the help of Facebook, now she has the day exactly right. Woo! Hoo!  I'm glad I was at the right place at the right time for her initiation into this new realm. It'll be fun reading her posts from now on.

Thank you to all my friends and family for all your heartfelt birthday wishes.  I feel so incredibly special.  My soul is grateful. My heart feels all warm and fuzzy.  I often think I'd like things to remain old school, slow and steady but I know that's not the way life is anymore.  I love technology but sometimes I don't understand all the ins and outs of the virtual world. It moves too fast.

But on my birthday, it's fabulous, fantastic, awesome and amazing!!!!!!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ghost Trap by K. Stephens

The Ghost Trap by K. Stephens

I have recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Maine.  Maine had been on my list of places to visit for a very long time.  It's not a place that you can simply pass through on your way to somewhere else.  Maine is kind of the end of the line, so to speak.  But trust me, this state is worth the extra effort it takes to get there.

Maine is gorgeous, full of friendly people with a variety of things to do and explore.  Oh, and did I mention the lobster?   Lobster is on the menu everyday while in Maine.  It's cheap, plentiful and delicious.  Lobster can be served steamed, baked, on a roll, in soup, you name it.  So no lack of culinary choices when it comes to this bright red crustacean. 

My trip had been planned to include the annual Maine Lobster Festival.  While there I met the author of The Ghost Trap, K. Stephens.  We had a lively conversation about writing, which fellow writers always do when together.  I couldn't wait to read this book. 

The Ghost Trap paints a vivid picture of the life of a lobsterman in coastal Maine.  It's a hand to mouth existence dependent on the fruits of the sea.  And it's physically demanding.  The lobsterman has to constantly push the threat of danger out of his mind.  Otherwise it would overwhelm him. 

Jamie Eugley ignored the lobsterman's superstition to never to allow a woman on his boat when it came to Anja, the love of his life.   The pair were joined at the hip, so when Anja wanted to help him pull traps, he was glad for her company.   That decision set him on a collision course with disaster when a trap pulls Anja into the water.  She survives but will never be the same.  The Ghost Trap follows Jamie through his struggle to earn a living, care for Anja, and fall in love again, all while a trap war threatens to destroy his family and their way of life.

 Ms. Stephens has done a wonderful job of setting the scene in Coastal Maine.  I loved reading about all the places I visited during my vacation.  The language of the rough and tumble fisherman is on point.  I became totally immersed in the world of lobster.   I have to admit, in a story about a losterman's life, alot of backstory is necessary to bring these colorful characters to life.  The backstory however, bogged down the novel too much.  It could have been better placed throughout the book, sparingly sprinkled in, not in large chunks that consumed entire chapters. 

The Ghost Trap is a great story about a lifestyle most of us will never know.  And if you are nuts about Maine lobster, like me, you will enjoy The Ghost Trap.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Cukoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cukoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Even I can't resist a good headline.  When I heard that The Cukoo's Calling had been written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym, I had to read it.  I am not usually drawn to what is on the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, instead choosing to indulge my own eclectic tastes, but I adore Harry Potter.  I figured I might as well get in on the action to see what all the fuss is about.

Supermodel, Lula Landry falls out the window of her London flat into the snow.  Comoran Strike, a down and out private detective is hired by Lula's brother to prove she did not commit suicide as the police have ruled. Strike, anxious to have a paying customer, jumps into the investigation. 

Mysteries are not usually my thing.  The death happens on page one and I had to swim upstream through 400 pages to find out who did it.  I tired of Strike interviewing one person and each subsequent chapter detailing the same question and answer with the next character.  And so on and so on.  To me as a reader I didn't feel the questioning moved the story forward.  By the time I got to the end I really wasn't surprised, but I failed to understand how Strike came to his conclusion.  Maybe because I was bored, I skipped over the parts I should have paid attention to.

J.K. Rowling is a masterful writer. Her descriptions and scenes come to life through her prose. The Cukoo's Calling is filled with vibrant and colorful characters.  The story they were a part of, unfortunately, plodded along because of the large portions of dialogue necessary for a crime investigation. 

I wasted my vacation on this novel.  From now on, I'm going to select my reading material based on what appeals to me, and not rely on the newspaper's headlines. Come to think of it, I was disappointed on how Harry Potter ended too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

I hope that none of you will think I am not a kind and compassionate human being after you read my thoughts on this book.  I couldn't wait for it to end even though I knew exactly how it would end. 

The End of Your Life Book Club is a gut wrenching story of a son's struggle to come to terms with his mother's impending death from pancreatic cancer.  While Mary Ann is receiving chemotherapy, Will sits with her.  They read and discuss a variety of books, each delivering a message about the road the two are walking on both together and as individuals. 

Will gave in depth accounts of his mother's achievements throughout her life as a working mother with a passion for charitable causes all over the world.  But I didn't find Mary Ann very likeable at all.  Maybe that's because she was sick, but as a reader I didn't find anything that drew me to her.  Her husband, Will's father seemed almost non existent.  Every now and then he would pop into the story bringing a glass of water or propping up Mary Ann's feet, as an after thought.  Will's parents achieved great successes in their lives but their personalities never came across on the pages of this book.

As for Will, I have to say just because a person has made a career as an editor in the publishing business, doesn't necessarily mean that person is skilled as a writer.  The characters were flat and uninteresting, the writing okay but nothing special, and the story line was incredibly sad.  Maybe I didn't like the book because it was more than I could handle emotionally at the moment. But I'd rather say I didn't like it because the prose wasn't up to par.

I have to admit I'd never heard of most of the books the pair read.  It takes so little to get me interested in a novel. A lost soul, a gutsy hero, a glossy cover all appeal me.  The writing, the characters, the book discussions, never enticed me want to join in the club. Again I chalk that up to mediocre writing. 

The End of Your Life Book Club is about life and death and everything that happens in between.  Cancer is a horrible disease and the more we know about it the better chance we have of winning the battle.  I'm sure much can be learned from this story, but it just wasn't right for where I am at the moment. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I selected this book as somewhat of a novelty.  Another book by a different author with the same title was released on the same day.  That's an unusual event in the publishing world. I felt it only fair if I was reading one to also read the other.  I loved Life After Life by Jill McCorkle and posted a review of it earlier.  I didn't enjoy Life After Life by Kate Atkinson quite so much.

Ursula Todd is born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.  The midwife is stopped at the local pub due to a driving snowstorm and unable to make it to Sylvie Todd's bedside.  Each time we think the worst has happened to this baby, the author rewinds the tape, leading the reader down a different path where the doctor does make it through the snow, or the servant uses the kitchen shears to cut the cord to give Ursula another chance at life.

At pivotal points in a young girl's life, Ursula's choices are simply undone and her path reset to something different.  The new path didn't necessarily lead Ursula to a better place, only a different one.  Each turn became more tedious than the last. As a reader I often found myself lost and confused as to where I was supposed to be in the story.  There was an awful lot of rehashing of the same conversations and events. Boring!

I think this is an interesting concept for a story, however I began to feel like it was Groundhog Day, repeating itself over and over again.  Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if Ursula had been a likeable character, but she wasn't.  Maybe if her mother, brothers and sister had been more appealing I would have enjoyed the book, but they weren't.  I'm not one to stop reading once I start, but I'll admit I skipped alot of the middle hoping the end would bring redemption.  Unfortunately, it didn't.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home by Sue Halpern

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home by Sue Halpern

Lately things have been difficult.  My 92 year old stepmother, June, had to be moved to assisted living.  She'd been living alone and it became apparent that she couldn't care for herself any longer.  She thought she was doing a fine job and there in lies the problem.  Navigating the world of home care aides, long term care insurance and assisted living facilities is not for the faint of heart.  Throw in a senior citizen who doesn't want to budge and let the headaches begin. 

We found a lovely facility for her (but don't tell June it's a facility) that has therapy dog visits on its list of activities.  When I found A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home I thought maybe it would give me some insight.  I am open to any and all kinds of advice because like I said earlier, I had unexpectedly entered a new place with a new set of rules. 

Pransky is a therapy dog with a funny name and a huge heart.  She and her master, Sue set off on the journey to become a licensed therapy dog.  Sue intended to spend their time at the county nursing home.  What they learn about life is fascinating and what they learn about each other is amazing.  The book walks through the people they meet at County, Pransky often introducing Sue to people she might have avoided if Pransky hadn't tugged to enter a certain room, a room that wasn't on her list of those requesting a visit from a dog.  Each patient had a story to tell about a life that had been well lived. 

Pransky only wanted a rub behind her ear from everyone she met.  Sometimes she also got a biscuit or a scrap of lunch that fell to the floor.  Sue came with the preconceived notions that we all as humans, have about other people.  As a team, they made a difference to people facing a time in their lives that is not usually the most pleasant.  While Pransky never changed, Sue learned many life lessons she never would have without the love of a good dog.

While I struggle to decide whether A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home is the story of a dog or the story of the end of life, I did find comfort in reading it.  What I did learn is that none of us knows what hand we'll be dealt in life.  We should relax and feel the love of a good dog any chance we get.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Besides loving to read a good book, I love finding good books to read on book lists.  When I see a list in the newspaper or a magazine,  I tear it out.  Tucked in my file is a rag tag collection of book lists that will never be thrown away until I've read all the books from each that look interesting.  The Fault in Our Stars has appeared on many of the lists in my collection so I thought I should check it off.

I was so enamored by the title, I guess I never bothered to read the short synopsis.  I read the first page and realized this was a story about kids with cancer, I almost put it down and moved on.  Based on personal things going on in my life at the moment, I didn't want to read something that would make me sad.  Being that I have a habit of finishing a book regardless of how much I dislike it, I kept going.

I fell hook, line and sinker for Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, two of the cutest teenagers you'd ever want to meet.  They were both smart, funny, intelligent and dealt with their illness with strength and dignity.  Watching two teenagers fall in love on the page, filled my heart with joy.  What they found together was so special. 

While Hazel and Gus were the centerpiece of the story, they were surrounded by a cast of characters equally as engaging.  Their friend, Isaac loved his friend's love story even though he didn't have his own luck with girls.  Hazel's doting parents circled around her in her illness but knew when to step back while their daughter lived her life.  And the obnoxious author, Peter Van Houten pulled them all together when they needed it most.

No spoiler here.  I love, love, love this book!!  The Fault in Our Stars earned its place of honor on every list on which it found a spot. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ten Green Bottles by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan

Ten Green Bottles by Vivian Jeanette Kaplan

I picked up this book several years ago at a Toronto book store while I was visiting Canada on business.  It seems to me I brought home a suitcase full of books written by Canadian authors, and Ten Green Bottles is one of my favorite books of all time. 

I read it before I started writing book reviews online, but it remained on my shelf because I loved it so much.  Recently I had some email correspondence with the author's agent and I decided it was time to read the book again and post a review. 

Ten Green Bottles is the true story of an Austrian Jewish family who escaped from Nazi persecution in Vienna in 1939.  The only country that would take them in was China.  After a long ocean voyage, they land in Shanghai with nothing.  Now they must learn to survive in a strange country also in the midst of a horrific war. The title Ten Green Bottles comes from a song sung by sailors in the bar Nini and Poldi run in order to support themselves.  One by one the bottles fall from the wall until none are left.  The song comes to represent Nini's personal struggles to adapt.  She wonders when her last bottle will fall sending her into the final abyss.

I love the history of China and until I read Ten Green Bottles I knew nothing of this chapter of it.  I was fascinated.  The Jews escaped one horror in Europe only to find another waiting for them.  The human will to survive is compelling.

Reading Ten Green Bottles again reinforced why it will stay on my list of favorites.  I love it from a historic perspective and Kaplan does a beautiful job of making the story come to life on the page.  With words she draws the reader into the carefree life of a child in Vienna, slowly changing the mood of the city as the Nazis take over.  The shock of first impressions in Shanghai as Nini and her family disembark the ship that has brought them to what they believe is safety, crackles with electricity.  I know Nini and Poldi.  I laugh and cry with them.  I walk alongside them through every joy and every hardship. 

Ten Green Bottles is one family's story of a piece of history we should never forget.  And this story is told in a way that will make sure we never do. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window... by Jonas Jonasson

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

I found this novel one day while I was browsing at the bookstore.  I like to look around the store, see what books look interesting and then download them to my Kindle.  The Kindle has me so hooked that I rarely purchase a real book anymore.  I've got enough reading material to keep me busy for a very long time all carefully stored on a device I can easily carry in one hand.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is an absolute hoot!  I'm gong to call it a cross between Forrest Gump and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  It's set in Sweden after all.  Allan is the 100 year old man who would rather have a drink of vodka than attend his birthday party at the Old Folk's Home.  So he climbs out the window and walks to the bus station. 

The bus station is where his adventure begins.  Or at least this part of his adventure.  The story is a wonderful blend of the past and the present.  What we come to know is that this 100 year old man has had a life well lived.  He has only attended three years of schooling, yet he has become a highly sought after explosives expert.  Throughout his life he has hob nobbed with world leaders and traveled the world.  Life in the Old Folk's Home paled in comparison even at 100 years of age.

I stopped counting how many times I laughed out loud while reading this book.  It's funny and charming with a historical twist.  Murder and intrigue are combined with outright silliness and the author told the story with a unique yet dry sense of humor.  I couldn't wait to turn the page to see what happened next.  There was an unexpected surprise around every corner.

I can only hope I live as long and have as many interesting stories to tell.  The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared will lighten up any day and bring a smile to your face.  Life is worth living no matter what it hands you. The 100 year old man can vouch for that.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Anyone who knows me and my husband, knows of our fascination with and love of all things Chinese.  We've traveled around the world and one of our most memorable moments was standing on top of the Great Wall of China, soaking in the centuries of blood, sweat and tears of a civilization full of accomplishment and struggle. We were in awe of the history surrounding us and grateful for our freedom at home. 

Joy is a twenty year old of Chinese heritage, raised in California.  When she learns that her parents are not her biological parents, she rebels and sets off to China to find her real father.  It is 1957 and Mao Zedong is in control.  Finding her father, Z.G., is relatively easy since he is a famous artist in China. Foreigners are not able to move easily through the country so Z.G. takes her under his wing when he is forced to teach art to the peasants.  Being young and idealistic, Joy joins the revolution in her homeland.  Her assimilation into Chinese life, culture and politics proves to be much more than she bargained for.

Her mother, Pearl, follows to bring her back home.  Their 3 year journey during the Great Leap Forward, takes them from the big city of Shanghai to a commune in the countryside.  The basic necessities of living are controlled.  At first Joy wants to return to her Chinese roots.  As her freedom becomes increasingly restricted, she sees the danger she is in. The family pays a huge price in order to repair their past mistakes.

Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls which is the story of Pearl and her sister May's journey from a China to America.  Dreams of Joy brings the sisters full circle in their lives.  I absolutely love to read about China and its culture.  And Lisa See is my favorite.  I'm not a serial reader but I have to admit I've read most of what Lisa See has written.  She's a terrific writer and I love the subjects.  I'm not as crazy about Dreams of Joy as I am about some of her other work.  But in true Lisa See fashion I felt the love, hurt, joy and danger on every single page.  And she kept me engaged right up to the very end. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Teenagers, Sahar and Nasrin have been best friends since they were six.  They are also in love with each other, but Iran is a dangerous place for two women to be romantically linked.  When Nasrin's parents announce her impending marriage, Sahar sets herself on a different path hoping it will mean she can be together with her one true love, forever.

Nasrin is a spoiled, wealthy, brat and Sahar comes from a working class family.  Nasrin's domineering and controlling mother calls all the shots in her life.  Sahar's mother died several years earlier and her father is still grieving.  Whatever advice she gets about life comes from her free wheeling, drug dealing cousin, Ari.

I believe that homosexuality is an important topic that needs to be discussed among young people.  That this story is set in Iran succeeds in adding to the tension.  These two girls faced a crossroad in a culture that could offer little in the way of options. But I felt that none of the characters were very likeable and that the girl's relationship was very one sided toward Sahar.  Both of them were very immature.  By the end I still didn't see that they had changed in any measurable way.  I don't want to give anything away, but story's ending didn't fit with the characters that had been presented to the reader in the rest of the story.

If You Could Be Mine is an thought provoking story for young people who are struggling to find themselves and their own sexuality.  For me as a reader, the characters themselves were not believable in their actions.  But maybe that's because I am sure of who I am and I live in a country where there is not a complete acceptance of this lifestyle but there is an open and ongoing discussion.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Crooked River by Shelley Pearsall

Crooked River by Shelley Pearsall

My sister who lives in Cleveland told me about Shelley Pearsall after she met her at an elementary school presentation where Shelley talked to the kids about her books.  She showed the kids all of her rejection letters as she tried to get her work published.  Shelley writes about Ohio, a state which I am nuts about. As a writer too, I'm always happy to know I am not alone in my struggle to be published. What better reason than those to read a book.

Crooked River is a young adult novel set in 1812 in a settlement in Ohio.  The story is told through the eyes of thirteen year old, Rebecca and Indian John who is shackled in the loft of the family's cabin.  Her angry and demanding father, Major Carver has charge of the Indian accused of murdering a trapper, while awaiting trial. Her mother died in childbirth.  She and her sister, Laura keep the household running and care for their little sister, Mercy.  Rebecca is described as the one in the family with the soft heart and without a common language, she befriends Indian John by bringing him small gifts of a feather or acorn along with a bowl of food.

This is a beautifully written story.  It is a story of injustice but also one of love and the strength of the human spirit.  In each chapter the reader first hears Rebecca's point of view.  And then Indian John tells his side of story through gorgeous poetry. The prose and the poetry compliment each other perfectly. 

The author has done extensive research which she details at the end of the story.  Her dedication to the historical side of this story is what brought it to life.  I became a pioneer in Ohio in 1812, alongside Rebecca, gathering eggs, washing clothes, sweeping the dirt floors.  Shelley Pearsall has a gift as a writer. 

As a reviewer, I never like to reveal too much of the storyline.  As a reader, I like the element of surprise.  I like to tell a reader about the writing style and if the story is interesting and engaging.  Crooked River is full of history and set in a time of change and struggle. And the story is full of emotion that will tug at your heartstrings.  You won't want to put it down. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Thank you to Netgalley for my advance reading copy.  Release date February 11, 2014.

I have to admit, I didn't look closely enough at the cover of this book before I selected it.  The cover is a big draw for me so that would be highly unusual.  Based on the title, I figured this was a story about sisters and I like to read about sisters, since I have two of my own.  Family dynamics can be interesting.

I started to read and thought,  "What did I get myself in to?'  But then I couldn't stop reading.  Amity and Sorrow are sisters raised in a religious cult.  Their father, Zachariah, and leader of the cult has proclaimed himself "God".  Amaranth, the children's mother, leashed the girls together at the wrist, packed them in a stolen car and started driving in order to escape, .  They end up on Bradley's failing farm somewhere in Oklahoma when she crashes the vehicle into a tree. A new world they have been sheltered from opens up in different ways for each of them.

I don't want to reveal any more of this story because I love to read a book that surprises me.  Amity & Sorrow revealed something unexpected on each turn of the page.  The author tells this emotional story by moving from the present to the past and back again. The characters were full of emotion, each having processed life in the cult in a different way.  Riley expertly broke down the rules followed in the restricted cult by exposing the sisters to books, television, and a way of life they knew nothing about.

Amity & Sorrow pulled me in and never let go.  I was so invested in this story, I didn't want it to end.  This is not the kind of storyline I would choose to read but the author brought it to life for me in a highly creative way.  Brilliant.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Old Mermaid's Tale by Kathleen Valentine

The Old Mermaid's Tale by Kathleen Valentine

I'm a nut about all things about Cleveland, the State of Ohio and the Great Lakes.  Don't ask me why.  I grew up in Cleveland and could have cared less while I lived there.  Now that I've moved elsewhere, I'm fascinated by the rich history and culture of the area. 

I believe I downloaded this book onto my Kindle some time ago.  It was on sale and the mermaids called to me.  Like my book shelves, titles also sit in the virtual world of my Kindle.  A hard habit to break.  The other night I was looking for something to read and for the first time noticed the subtitle.  The Old Mermaid's Tale A Romance of the Great Lakes.  That's all it took.  I searched no further and began to read.

Clair has grown up on a farm in Ohio.  She longs for something more from life. When she heads to a small private college on the shores of Lake Erie, her world suddenly expands beyond anything she has ever known.  I liked Clair.  She had a good solid head on her shoulders that became clouded by love as any college girl would.  She makes friends and finds lovers in the less desirable neighborhoods along the shores of the lake.  Clair loves the stories they can tell of life and loss at the hands of the powerful water comparing them to the yarns she heard as a child that the farmers spin.

The author did a wonderful job of setting the scenery in this novel.  The characters were rich and believable. I wanted to know them.  The only thing that didn't resonate with me was the relationship between Clair and Baptiste, the older French musician she cherished as her soul mate. Their story was the bulk of the novel.  Their lovemaking over powered their relationship for me as a reader.  Maybe that was just my interpretation since I wanted to read about the call of the lake just as the mermaid calls to a sailor.  Often the sex took over and that wasn't what I was looking for when I chose to read The Old Mermaid's Tale.  

If you long for romance, this tale has plenty. If you are being called to the power of the water, the mermaid had only a small role.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Life After Life: A Novel by Jill McCorkle

Life After Life: A Novel by Jill McCorkle

I picked up this book for no other reason than I read an article about it in USA Today.  Another book by the same name but a different author was released on the same day.  It's highly unusual to have two books by the same title and then to have them both released on the same day must have had both of the authors in a tizzy. 

I am reviewing Life After Life by Jill McCorkle.  I plan to review Life After Life by Kate Atkinson at a another time.  Even I couldn't resist downloading them both at the same time. 

I chose to read Jill McCorkle's version first since it had to do with people living and dying in a retirement home.  I've always had an affinity to old people, striking up conversations with them in stores and doctor's offices.  With plenty of good stories to tell, I have ears to listen. 

So did Joanna, the hospice volunteer who held their hands and wrote down their stories in her journal.  A journal she kept that served to heal her own heart, her own life in her own way.  The residents of Pine Haven have been drawn together by their old age.  Sadie takes pictures of the residents, adds scenery of a place of they wanted to visit, creating a manufactured memory.  Stanley fakes his dementia and a love of professional wrestling believing it will help his son move on from a troubled past.  Rachel, from Massachusetts, comes to Pine Haven in North Carolina to be closer to a lover, whose memory she holds close. CJ is a young tattooed single mother, who washes the residents hair and polishes their nails.  And then there is Abby, a young girl who walks from her house, through a cemetery to Pine Haven where she finds sanctuary from the constant arguments between her magician father and self centered mother. 

McCorkle does a brilliant job of telling the story character by character, entwining each story together with a subtle thread, emphasis on the word 'subtle'.  I love a book that I can't figure out.  I never saw what was coming, letting out a gasp so loud the dog began to bark as if an intruder had burst through the front door. 

Life After Life is a story of life, the good along with bad, touching followed by hurtful, laughter and tears.  In other words, it has it all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Tax season has totally consumed every fiber of my being.  I haven't done much reading, writing or blogging since it began.  This year things are winding down slowly however.  I'm hoping the quick thud that in years past dropped me into a pool of uncertainty on April 16th, wondering what to do next with my life, won't materialize.  Every April 15th I get fired from a job I love, and yanked away from good friends and teammates. It's not that I don't have things to do.  I really don't like getting fired.  In all my working years I'd never been fired.  Laid off, yes.  Fired no. Now it happens once a year.  Like clockwork.

At the end of each tax season, I vow to do my spring cleaning.  My office gets a good scrubbing. Dust, crumbs and scraps of paper from hastily scribbled notes pile up in 4 months time.   I also make my way through the closets, drawers and cupboards.  Yesterday I decided to start my chores by straightening out the bathroom vanity.

In one big sweep I pushed everything out of the bottom of the vanity onto the floor, vacuumed out the crumbs and wiped it clean.  Then I proceeded to look at each item before deciding if it should return to its place of shelter or head for the garbage dump.  Two large bottles of hand lotion headed back in.  I cleaned out my ears with an errant Qtip.  Three bottles of perfume I love, but rarely wear, were saved.  I gave myself a little spritz.   Next, I came across a packet of soothing mud masque, opened it and slathered it all over my face.  I love the feeling of a masque drying on my face.  I dug some teeth whitening strips out of the pile.  One upper, one lower went in my mouth.  I opened a bottle of soothing peppermint foot lotion, generously rubbing it on my feet before realizing I desperately needed a pedicure. A few more items were saved and many more went into the trash can.

"Linda, where are you?"  I heard Richard calling me.

"In the bathroom," I yelled back.

I turned to look up at him standing in the doorway.  His eyes got big, he shuffled his feet and began to sing.

"Mammy, how I love ya, how I love ya.  My dear ole, Mammy."

I fell back onto my pile of beauty products, laughing.

Today my face is as soft as a baby's bottom, my smile is brighter  and I smell like fresh flowers.  And my best friend is right here ready to make me laugh at a moments notice.  Maybe  getting fired is not so bad after all.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Still Points North by Leigh Newman

Still Points North by Leigh Newman

I've been reading alot of memoirs lately.  I'm studying the genre in hopes of writing my own memoir someday.  A story about a girl growing up in Alaska peaked my interest. 

Leigh Newman is a child growing up in Alaska, fishing for salmon with her father, in their secret spots only accessible in his float plane.  A milestone for a kid in Alaska is catching her first king, a momentous occasion.  But when her parents divorce and she has to spend her time between Anchorage where all is familiar and Baltimore where all is a mystery.  Leigh struggles to fit in. 

I loved the first part of this book told through the eyes of a little girl. Quite abruptly the story moved into adulthood, falling in love, getting married.  Yes, all those things happen in a girl's life.  The telling of the story however, suffered.  To me it was as if a different writer stepped in to finish.  I felt the story lacked direction.  By the end of the book, I was left wondering what was the thread that was supposed to hold it all together.

Many things drew me to this story, Alaska, memoirs, the title.  The author has a strong voice and a very easy writing style.  But at the end I was left wondering what still pointed north.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Help. Thanks. Wow by Anne Lamotte

Help. Thanks. Wow. by Anne Lamotte

I love Anne Lamotte.  My friend, April got me hooked on Bird By Bird.  Another friend, Audrey told me about Help. Thanks. Wow.  When she told it was written by Anne Lamotte, I rushed out for a copy.  Anne is so funny and more importantly, so real.  I now know Anne Lamotte is in my circle of friends even though we've never met. This book is subtitled The Three Essential Prayers.  Little did I know I'd been praying these prayers all along. 

Help.  We ask God for help all the time.  Anne says she asks God to help her not be such an ass.  I've prayed that prayer more than once in my life.  More than once in a day, in an hour even at times.  When saying the Lord's Prayer, God's name is Howard.  You know the line, Howard be thy name.  it's odd how things stick in your head.  As a child learning this prayer in Sunday school, I had not a clue what the work "hallowed" meant.  In my effort to even pronounce the word, it stuck in my head as "Hallow Wed".  Well into my adulthood, I never made the correction to my pronunciation.  It didn't really matter anyway, because I was raised Presbyterian.  We say forgive us our debts not forgive us our trespasses, so I never said the prayer out loud.

Thanks.  When the car zooms past us in the intersection narrowly averting disaster, we take a deep breath and say "Thank you, God for saving me".  He hears us and gives us more time to do our good here on earth.  People come into our lives for a reason.  Some for a minute, some for years and even when we may not want them.  But we need to give thanks for the lesson, the protection, the love, the guidance they are offering us.

Wow.  Anne talks about wow and awe.  They are two little words, same number of letters, same height, same impact.  We need to go outside and say "Wow!" when we watch the sunrise of soft pinks and oranges, hear birds sweetly singing, or make a wish upon a glittering star.  These are God's creations.  Let's never take for granted the wonder of them.  Say "Wow!" God hears you.

Anne Lamotte will make you laugh and bring a tear to your eye.  She will also walk you a little bit further on your own spiritual path, with three simple words.  Help.  Thanks. Wow!  

The Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge

The Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge

Thank you to Netgalley and Faith Words for my advance reading copy.

Publication Date:  April 16, 2013

Sarah's story is quite incredible really.  At 27 she is diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of breast cancer.  At the brink of a promising future as a physician's assistant, newly engaged to the love of her life, discovering her passion for writing, Sarah's world comes crashing down around her.  Her struggle to put the pieces back together leads her to Portland, Oregon where by chance she lands in the arms of a family of Somali immigrants. 

Actually they land in her arms and who needs who more is the story's question.  Poor, not understanding the language or culture in America, it is practically impossible for the mother to navigate the never ending red tape of the welfare system.  Sarah enters a world she knows nothing about and tries to change things by bringing food, teaching the girls proper hygiene, taking them out to play.  Until one day they suddenly move to Seattle into what they consider a more stable safety net of other Somali immigrants.

A piece of Sarah's story was her dream to become a medical journalist.  I felt the writing lacked alot of that passion.  She spoke of the girl's clothing, the Somali dress, yet I had trouble imagining how they might look in their colorful and dirty native dress among the jeans and T-shirts of America.  Sarah wrote that the children were constantly getting her own clothes dirty when they came close.  And yet I have no real description in my mind of how any of them looked.  And then I recalled a scene when Sarah's parent's sent her off to college in a dress from the Goodwill that was four sizes too big.

For different reasons, Sarah and her Somali family had learned how to blend in to remain safe and secure in a big and scary world.  Finding each other put them on a path out of the cloak of darkness.  That's why they call themselves The Invisible Girls.   My bet is they are invisible no more.

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...