Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Last summer I vacationed in Maine.  I'd never been to Maine because it's never on the way to anywhere else.  One look around and I fell in love with the place.  Maine is a treasure with sweeping ocean vistas from high atop the mountains.  Plus it has lobster and lots of it. 

On a local news show, I saw an interview with Christina Baker Kline.  I thought this book sounded interesting but I never saw it for sale while in Maine.  Recently Orphan Train showed up as an Amazon deal.  I remembered it from the summer and immediately bought it.

The story starts in 2011 with Molly who is a teenager in the Maine foster system who has been tossed around for as long as she can remember.  When caught stealing a book from the library, she appears to be headed to juvie.  Molly's given community service as punishment for her crime, but it's her last and final chance.  And she knows it.

Vivian is an wealthy, old widow with an attic full of memories, some good, some bad.  The attic needs cleaning out and Molly lands the job for her community service.  The treasures of the attic tell the story of Vivian's life after having been sent to Minnesota on an orphan train.  While looking through each box, Molly and Vivian learn just how much they have in common.

Ms. Kline has done vast research for this story.  The places and people come to life on the page.  I have to say I enjoyed reading this novel as much as I liked learning about this little known slice of American history.  Whether you like Maine or Minnesota, the Great Depression or World War II, or simply want to read a good piece of historical fiction, Orphan Train deserves a place on your book shelf.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol

I fell in love with the title of this book.  The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles sounded fresh and intriguing.  The blurbs spoke of comedy and trickery.  Plus I'm always a sucker for a great cover. This foot the bill on all accounts.

Josephine and Iris are sisters.  Josephine is the frumpy one with an unemployed husband who rarely attempts to look for work.  Iris is a glamor girl, living a life of luxury with her wealthy and successful husband who is a lawyer.  Jo studies the medieval life in the twelfth century, while Iris becomes easily bored with her fast paced twenty first century social circuit.  When Iris lies to a well known publisher about a new book she's writing, she taps Jo to write her out of a jam. 

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles is full of crazy characters and twisting sub plots.  For the first half of the book, the reader is kept engaged by this.  After that the story flattens out and nothing anyone says or does seems very believable.  I have to agree with several other reviews I've read, that alot was lost in translation.  Funny in French isn't necessarily funny in English.

If you're looking for something light and easy, this book will fill the bill.  But if you're looking for a book with depth and emotion, The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles is definitely not it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pot Roast??

I come from a long line of non-cooks, of which I am also one.  My mother made non cooking famous with her pot roast.  My father loved it so she made it often because she didn't know how to cook anything else.  He liked alot of things like canned yellow wax beans, peas and lima beans all of which were cause to spend time alone at the dining room table staring at my plate long after everyone else had left. More than anything, he loved the pot roast.  He cleaned his plate while the rest of the family picked at it only enough to be excused from the table.

I don't remember much about the pot roast itself, only that my siblings and I dreaded pot roast night.  So when my own husband asked me to make pot roast for him, the uncook side of me had to turn into a cook.  That is not an easy task.  I thought about if for awhile and figured how hard could it be?  A slab of inexpensive meat, a few potatoes, an onion and maybe a couple carrots, throw it all together in a pot and... Voila! Dinner.

Over the years, Richard ate the pot roast without complaint so it couldn't have been that bad.  So the other day when he brought a bowl of something in from the freezer, he thought was pot roast, one look at it brought all those childhoods memories flooding back.

The bowl of whatever looked disgusting with little cold dabs of fat congealed on top.  Thawing it didn't do it any favors.  The meat had taken on an unrecognizable pallor.  A few remaining carrots had turned brown and lifeless.  I heated it up and dished it onto our plates.  I swirled the meat through the gravy with my fork.  Slowly I lifted a piece to my mouth and chewed it.  One swallow and I could eat no more.  I watched Richard clean his plate and then mine.

Growing up with four kids, we never had leftovers.  I know my mother never served any that had spent time in the freezer.  The freezer didn't do the pot roast any favors.  But maybe that's the beauty of pot roast.  It's meant to be over cooked with the meat, potatoes and vegetables all touching each other in a big soupy mess. A pot roast is comfort food and we shouldn't analyze it too much.  Or maybe it's a guy thing and I need to make myself something more girlie on pot roast night.  Like a Lean Cuisine.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

A stranger, Charlie Beale arrives in Brownsburg, Virginia in 1948.  Brownsburg is a small, tight knit place where outsiders are met with caution.  He arrives in town with a suitcase full of cash.  From where and why he has come remains a mystery throughout the story.  He buys a piece of land by the river where he finds peace sleeping under the stars.  He is skilled as a butcher and finds work in the small town shop run by Will.  Will's son, Sam becomes Charlie's constant companion.

The townspeople grow to like Charlie accepting his presence.  They like the the way he cuts their meat, how he teaches the children to play baseball, the comraderie he built with Sam.  He has found his wonderful. Wonderful however is what a person makes of it.  And Charlie makes one mistake. He becomes obsessed with Sylvan, the beautiful, young country wife of Boaty Glass, the richest and meanest man in town. 

The pair manage to keep their weekly trysts secret from the prying eyes of the townspeople, but not for long. Even Boaty turns a blind eye until his wife displays her true strength at a birthday party for Sam in front of all the townspeople.  Boaty begins to destroy all that is to Charlie,wonderful.  

Heading Out to Wonderful is a pleasure to read, well written, captivating. I warn you however, it's dark and most of all, sad.  It's a novel that sets a reader on that ride, that we all long for in a book.  The one that makes us laugh and cry, feel warm and fuzzy, or even a touch nauseous all while never ever being able to put the story down until the last word has been read.  Heading Out to Wonderful does all that and then some.  It's wonderful.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

I don't remember how I came to own this book.  I must have had a balance left on a gift card that I wanted to use up and be done with.  The Orchardist  has been sitting on my shelf for awhile.  I'm sad to say it sat there for much too long.

The first two pages of this novel describe Talmadge, an orchardist in the Pacific Northwest.  At first I thought I may not be able to stick with the story.  I'm often impatient. But I continued to read because something about the narrative slowly and carefully drew me into his simple life tending to his apples and apricots.  When two young, pregnant girls appear on his land, his kind soul offers them food. They take the food but keep their distance, afraid of something.  A missing piece in his own heart makes him long to understand what they are running from.

One of the blurbs on the back of the book uses the word hypnotic.  The storytelling in The Orchardist is spellbinding. Immersed in Talmadge's solitary and secluded life, I couldn't put the book down.  The author's style is beautiful, poetic and all embracing.  I lived in the orchard and embraced the hard work it required for Talmadge to keep it running.  I knew Della's pain and why she struggled to find her way.  And I rooted for sweet Angelene, the child who survived, who found love and serenity in the orchard against all odds.

The Orchardist is a sweeping historical novel set in the late 19th century spilling over in to the 20th.  The book is full of captivating characters who move through every facet of life, love, pain, struggle and comfort.  And I walked by their sides each and every step of the way.  Don't miss this one. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I like to take time at the start of each new year to reflect on the year past and look forward to the future.  Each year I make resolutions and I actually write them down and hang the list on the bulletin board next to my desk.  I refer to them often during the year.  It helps to keep me focused. 

In 2013, I had some hits and I had some misses.  I resolved not to buy a book.  So I answered surveys and earned points toward Amazon gift certificates.  I also got free books to read and review from NetGalley.  I went to the book store often to pick out what I wanted to nab for free elsewhere and believe it our not I was hugely successful.  I never paid for a book all year. 

On the other hand I resolved not to swear.  That didn't work out so well.

For 2014 I resolve to do the following:

1. Write and publish a book. Put my butt in the chair and just do it!

2.  Enter the Royal Palm Literary Award Contest sponsored by the Florida Writer's Association.

3.  Activate my Reiki every day. 

4.  Treat each day as a gift.

5. Count my blessings.  This will take me all year since my blessings are many and I'm certain many more new ones will be sent my way.

Whether you make resolutions or not, try to make the most out of this precious time we are given.  The single act that causes the most regret in our lives is the waste of time.  Once it's gone, we can never get it back.

Set a goal.  Focus.  Enjoy!  I wish you much happiness, good health and prosperity in the coming year.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

If my New Year's resolution was to only read good books this year, then I have started out right where I want to be.  This book is a winner!  If you are a reader, a writer or a dog lover, then A Dog's Purpose is the cream of the crop, the pick of the litter, the top dog.

From page one I fell head over heels in love with Toby, Fella, Bailey, Ellie and Buddy.  And if I wasn't already convinced that dogs are sent to us for a reason, after reading this book there is no question in my mind.  These animals are searching for their purpose in this world.  Through plenty of ups and downs, laughter and heartache they find it.  I was rooting for them the entire book. 

This review is a little short, because I'm not going to give away any of the story here.  It's best you discover it on your own.  I don't want to spoil it.  Books filled with emotions, good or bad, rank high on my list of good books.  I like to feel when I read.  And there is nothing like a good dog to show you the path to the meaning of love and satisfaction.

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...