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.

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...