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. 

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...