Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Year In Review

2015 Year in Review

I always like to look back at all the books I've read during the year.  I'm amazed at the sheer number of books I've read.  Included in that number, however are a lot of dogs.  I spent too much time thinking all those free Kindle specials were the answer to feeding my reading hunger.  They weren't.  I joined a book club at my local library and got back in touch with what it means to read a thoughtful and well written novel.

Here is my list of the most memorable titles in 2015 and my reasons why.

Best Overall Title
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
There's a reason this won the Pulitzer Prize.  It's a beautiful and perfectly crafted story about a blind, French girl during WWII. Exquisite!

Most Talked About
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I have never been that attached to an image of Atticus Finch found in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Here I think we see a real man and his struggle to raise his family.

Most Out of My Comfort Zone
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
I don't usually read thrillers or horror.  I can watch the news if I want any of that.  But Stephen King is a brilliant writer and I enjoyed every single page.

Most Charming
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Paris, a barge on the Seine, romance and books.  A recipe for love and adventure unfolds that will fill your heart.

Best Non Fiction
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
I had the responsibility of making the end of life decisions for my elderly step mother in 2015.  This book helped me navigate that world with greater understanding.

Most Impactful
Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
A recovering alcoholic finds himself in an unlikely place and takes two young boys he doesn't know on his summer camping trip.  An amazing an unbreakable bond forms between them.  This novel teaches so many lessons in life and love.

2015 turned out great in my world of books.  Here's to an even better 2016.  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahern

The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahern

Lucy's life is a mess.  She's living in a tiny apartment where her rack of clothes has to double as the curtains.  She's still hanging on to her past relationship with a globe trotting boyfriend who dumped her almost three years ago.  A lie on her resume helped Lucy land her most recent job after she was fired from a much more lucrative one. And then the letters from her life began to arrive.  She refuses to respond to them, but her life is persistent.

When I started reading this book, I thought I'd never make it to the end.  The first ten pages or so seemed to drag on forever with long sentences. I couldn't make heads or tails of where I might be headed.  Then Lucy finally decides to meet with her life and let the fun begin.  They don't exactly hit it off. We could all say we've had some disagreements with our lives at some point in time.  That's all I needed, I was hooked.

The Time of My Life is funny, charming and witty. It's fast, romantic and funny with a unique fantasy twist.  Life refused to go away even when Lucy tried to ignore him. And just as Lucy learns to love her life, you will too.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

When her alcoholic mother is rushed to the hospital, the neighbor, Mina Yetner, makes the call to let Evie Ferrante and her sister, Ginger, know what's happened.  Evie is a busy historical museum curator with no desire to bail out her mother yet again.  But Ginger insists it's Evie's turn to pitch in this time.  Evie goes back to the home she grew up in, only to find it a disaster.  Among the rotting food, roaches and new big screen television,  she also finds suspicious envelopes of cash and uncashed checks.  These discoveries start Evie on a journey she never imagined when she befriends the aging Mina.

I met Hallie Ephron once at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon.  She is interesting, dynamic and there is no question that she can write.  The characters are brilliantly created and the settings are expertly set.  When Evie is walking through mounds of trash and stink in her childhood home, the reader feels the skin crawling disgust just as Evie does. But this novel is billed as a suspense thriller.  Hardly.  I figured out what was going on less that half way through.

That being said, There Was An Old Woman is an interesting read.  It has a little bit of history, a touch of environmentalism and more about how gracefully or not, we face getting old. The subject matter knows how to play into that little voice of doubt in our heads, that grows louder as we age.  Beware.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

I'm always excited to choose a new book to read once the last one is finished.  I'm a hoarder of books and thank goodness, I can keep a hefty stash on my Kindle.  This time the choosing was easy once I saw the name Paris in the title.  The terrorist attack there had recently occurred and I had visited Paris in April.  Paris was on my mind and in my prayers.  Spending time in a bookshop in Paris was exactly what I wanted.

Monsieur Perdu is a bookseller.  He sells them from his barge moored on the Seine.  He calls the barge 'The Literary Apothecary' since he has a knack for matching the perfect book to the person, choosing the right medicine so to speak.  It's been 21 years since the love of his life, Manon, left him. He never opened the goodbye letter she wrote, too afraid of its contents.  When he comes across the letter inside a book, his new love convinces him to read it.

The contents of the letter sets Jean Perdu off on a journey to search for Manon and mend his broken heart after all these years of pining for her.  A rag tag set of characters joins him along the way as he sails his barge down the rivers and canals of France.  Charming is used to describe this lovely tale over and over again.  And charming it most certainly is, from the first sentence to the delicious recipes included at the end.  The Little Paris Bookshop is delightful, winsome, seductive, and captivating.  I couldn't wait to read what would happen next.  Just as I fell in love with Paris, I loved The Little Paris Bookshop.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Stitches by Anne Lamott

Stitches by Anne Lamott

I recently had my hip replaced and took this book with me to the hospital.  I thought that by the title alone, it would be just the spiritual medicine I would need to get me back on track.  Little did I know however, that I had no physical stitches in my incision.  The surgeon glued me back together.  Modern medicine is quite amazing.  

What I learned from this book is that even though I didn't get stitched back together, many stitches have been made in the quilt that is me from this experience.  We are made up of stitches, each one carefully sewn for every step we take in life.  

There are many passages here that I wanted to highlight and remember forever.  The one however, that stuck with me is, "The American way is to not need help, but to help."  Right now I need help to do a lot of things and I hate asking for it.  I'm using a walker just to get around.  Managing it and me is a full time effort.  I can't even get a drink from the refrigerator with out asking for it.  It is a humbling experience and a lesson I needed to learn.  And a stitch my quilt needed in order to grow.  

I love Anne Lamott.  She's funny and has a unique way of writing about the journey of life.  I have to admit I liked Help, Thanks, Wow a bit better than Stitches.  This book was exactly what I needed during my road to recovery.  It's amazing to me how books have a way of working their way to the top of the reading pile at just the right time.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Blended edited by Samantha Waltz

Blended edited by Samantha

Blended is a collection of stories written by writers about that crazy combination of people that makes up a family. Families come in all shapes and sizes and always have. Society used to sweep the untraditional ones under the carpet and still does, even though we are working on becoming more accepting.  As a member of my own personal version of a blended family, I share the joys as well as the struggles that are the fabric of a step family.

Families are assembled and disassembled in a variety of ways.  Each set of circumstances is unique.  This collection of heartfelt stories shines a bright light on what it really means to be a part of a step family.  No one asks to be part of one, the ebbs and flows of life lead some of us there.

I happen to know a little something about step families.  I recently supported my step mother of 50 years through her end of life challenges.  I have a host of nieces and nephews who came into my life through my sister's second marriage.  Even though I have never given birth to a child, my granddaughter called me today.  She's 16 and I'm helping her navigate the world of college admissions.  The combinations that make up a step family are endless.

One thing is for certain, no two families are alike.  The stories in Blended teach us that. Whether you are part of a step family or would just like some insight into the strength of the human spirit, Blended will take you there.  It will make you laugh and cry and face head on every emotion in between.  Life no matter how it is handed to us, is the life we are meant to live.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is my favorite author.  I never remember reading his work in high school having discovered him only after listening to a park ranger speak at the bottom of the Grand Canyon about The Grapes of Wrath. I found a copy of The Winter of Our Discontent at the local library book sale.  There was no passing it up.

Ethan Hawley is a proud New Englander who is struggling to make sense of his life.  He works as a clerk in a grocery store after having lost the store he owned to his poor business skills.  Providing support to his lovely wife, Mary and two growing children, eats at his core.  In Ethan's mind he must be poor since he is a "clerk".  It's his mind that holds him back. When Ethan is faced with the choice between right and wrong, it's his mind that propels into a place he's not sure he wants to go.

The Winter of Our Discontent is Steinbeck's view of life in America in the late 1950's.  The story focuses on thought more than plot which is what I love about reading a book.  It's also what I love about Steinbeck.  He writes a novel that plucks my heart strings and makes me think. This is the last book Steinbeck published.  He didn't save the best for last, but he gave us a timeless story on what it takes to be human.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Worthy by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Worthy by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Virginia ia a working girl, a waitress at a diner.  Aaron is a widower who comes to the diner with his shy, young son, Buddy.  He has his heart set on Virginia and she on him.  Just when their first date is about to become reality, tragedy strikes.  Their budding romance is not to be.

We fast forward 19 years and Virginia owns the diner along with her friend, Fern. She's also now engaged to Lloyd.  Lloyd, however is not the man she thinks he is,when her beloved dog, T-Rex goes missing. Through a series of events, T-Rex leads Virginia and Buddy back into each other's lives and teaches them both what they are worthy of in life.  

Put a dog in a story and I'm hooked, the dog lover that I am.  Worthy stole my heart from the very beginning.  The  characters in this novel have flaws, big ones.  Don't we all?  As the story unfolds, we watch them come to grips with how to live a good and happy life, flaws included.  

Catherine Ryan Hyde gives us a feel good story about how it takes a village.  We are not alone in this world and weren't meant to be.  We need the love and help of others no matter where we are on our path.  Life is meant to be shared and is fulfilled only when we include others.  Strangers are never strange for long if we let them into our hearts.  

I became a fan of Ms. Hyde's work when I read Take Me With You.  She's best known for Pay It Forward which became a movie.  I think that"ll be the next one I'll read.  Movie or no movie, that doesn't mean you should pass over any of her other works. Worthy will lift your spirits and restore your faith whether you're a dog lover or even a cat lover! If you are looking for a book to make you feel good, Worthy is it. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

I'm always attracted to books that have won the Pulitzer Prize, and when I saw Jane Smiley on the cover of my Writer's Digest magazine, I figured I should give her writing a try.  Farmers in Iowa are not really my thing, but I like to keep an open mind when it comes to the books I read.

Larry Cook is a successful farmer who over time and the misfortune of others has accumulated a thousand acres of farmland.  He's very proud of that fact, and thrives in the attention it gives to him.  His three daughters however, have a very different view of their father.  When he decides to turn the farm over to them and their husbands, the cracks in the facade begin to grow.

I loved the first few chapters, filled with beautiful prose and lovely descriptions.  I could see in my mind the rows upon rows of corn growing in the Midwestern summer heat.  As the pages turned however, I became more and more confused.  There was so much backstory that popped in, smack dab in the middle of a scene, drawing me away it.  Then again without notice, I got yanked back into the present.  Ginny, who is the narrator of the story,  seemed at first to me like a woman I could relate to.  I understand she found herself in an unexpected and stressful situation, but many of her actions were out of character.

I've read the reviews and people love this novel.  This is simply my opinion, but I wanted something more from A Thousand Acres.  The story had all the components of a rich and wonderful story. For me, they weren't strung together in an smooth or enjoyable way. By the end I couldn't feel sorry of any of the farmers from Iowa.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a huge baseball fan.  The Tampa Bay Rays are my boys!  During the regular season, Fox Sports ran a story about one of my favorite Rays, pitcher Chris Archer.  It's well known that he loves to read and he told how his friend recommended The Alchemist to him.  He asked the friend more than once if it was a good book.  When he got reassurance that it was, he read it and found the story changed his life.  I wanted to get on that bandwagon!

I've read Paulo Coehlo before and love his simple stories about life.  The Alchemist is a fable about a shepherd, Santiago, who is looking for his treasure.  The search takes him from Spain, to Africa and across the desert to the Pyramids.  Along the way he meets all kinds of people, some good, some bad but who all teach him what he is capable of in life.

I'm inspired by this book.  I love the spiritual wisdom found on these pages.  Maintaining a positive outlook can be difficult in a world full of negativity.  The Alchemist is thought provoking and uplifting.  We can all use a little reminding of how fortunate we are in life.  We can overcome any obstacle if we simply try.  I'm going to read this one again and will probably make some notes in the margins the second time around.  It's that good.

There are many lessons in The Alchemist, and the most important one in my view is to keep an open mind.  Look at me, I watched a baseball game which led me to an intelligent book that touched my soul.  When one door closes, another opens.  Follow your dreams, they will lead you to your treasure.  Be patient.  And watch baseball.  You might learn the difference between a fastball and a change up, but you might also find something far more satisfying. The path to your own Personal Legend.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Dr. Alice Howland celebrates her 50th birthday and realizes she's not herself.  She's built her life on the study of language and words and suddenly her words are lost in everyday conversations.  Names and places escape her.  While out for a run one day, she can't find her way home, a route she's taken a thousand times before.  Alice tries to write these changes off to menopause but that is not the cause.  Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Having recently turned 60, the topic of Still Alice scares me.  Every little ache and pain is cause for alarm. My memory is certainly not what it used to be and that just sucks.  I know too many people around my age who have suffered through physical or mental illness themselves or of a loved one.  The clock is ticking.  I usually have a positive outlook on life, but that 60th birthday threw me for a loop and I haven't recovered.  Still Alice made me think about what may lie ahead for me and my family.  I know that age is strictly a number and soon I'll be back to my youthful mindset.  But Alice didn't have that option and that made me sad.

Still Alice is a beautifully written and crafted novel.  The reader follows Alice step by step as the disease changes her. We see her triumphs and her failures.  We watch her husband and children try to come to grips with the changes in their lives too. Still Alice is difficult to read, her disease is a painful and heartbreaking one.  It's one that once we reach a certain age, we all fear will happen to us.  And that's probably the one thing about Alzheimer's that's normal, the angst that we all see in it.

I learned a lot from this book and the most important is that every human being that suffers from any form of dementia is still a person who lives.  Alice was Still Alice living a life full of hope, and for that I'm glad.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd

The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd

I picked up this book on a recent trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  While there, I fully immersed myself in the social etiquette of the early 20th century.  I found myself dreaming of a simpler place and time.  Browsing through the bookstore, I was drawn to The Art of The Handwritten Note.

Writing notes as a child to my grandparents is what built the foundation for my writing life.  I still love to write notes, but as a society we've opted to replace personal interactions with short snippets of conversation posted publicly on Facebook and Twitter for the whole world to read and scrutinize.

The Art of the Handwritten Note is not a stuffy narrative about manners.  The author makes it clear that the handwritten note is still alive and well in our high tech 21st century.  A note that arrives in our mailbox is first, a surprise, and then a personal interaction between two people.  It's not publicly posted online for strangers to see.  It's special.  And as human beings we will always adore being made to feel special.

Ms. Shepherd writes of how to choose stationery, a pen, ink.  She gives us do's and don't's for all kinds of correspondence.  She asks us to practice what we want to say and not be intimidated by handwriting that may not be perfect.  By sitting down and taking the time to write a personal note, we are creating a singular experience for the recipient as well as one for ourselves.

I know that posting a review online about a book on sending handwritten notes is quite contradictory.  But maybe if we all spent some time letting our friends and family know what they mean to us, this world would be a happier and more peaceful place to be. We'd all be feeling special and our mailboxes would be filled with joy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

I hope you all know by now that I'm not a serial reader.  I'm also not much of a mystery or thriller reader, but a friend is in love with Jack Reacher and gave me one of her beloved paperbacks to read.  Since we are both people who would prefer to have our nose in a book than do anything else, I said I'd give it a try.

Reacher is an ex-military special investigator.  He was part of a team of special investigators who have suddenly started showing up dead.  When he received an unknown deposit to his dwindling bank account, he knows he's being summoned back to work.  The rest of the group slowly respond to urgent messages to assemble to hunt for the killers.  Reacher travels light, with only a toothbrush to his name.  Neagley, O'Donnell and Dixon have enjoyed much more lucrative careers than Reacher since leaving the army,  showing up with suitcases and credit cards to finance the search.  Reacher resorts to emptying the wallets of men he kills along the way in order to keep up.

I enjoyed the the action in Bad Luck and Trouble.  The pace, tension and suspense made this a real page turner.  The author did a great job of keeping the reader guessing.  I'm not sure I'm ready to ready the other 19 Jack Reacher novels but if another one came my way, I wouldn't turn it down.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Front Yard by Norman Draper

Front Yard by Norman Draper

After winning first place in the world famous Burdick's Best Yard Contest, George and Nan Fremont have happily settled in to enjoy their new found fame and fortune.  They won the prize despite sabotage from another contestant.  Now they have set their sights on a beautifying the front yard too.  After a few glasses of their favorite merlot, topped off with a gin and tonic, nothing can stop them.  Or can it?

Jealousy abounds in the town of Livia and all eyes are set on the Fremont's yard.  I'm not a gardener, so I found myself lost in the plant names and gardening terminology.  I had a difficult time picturing  what the flower beds and trees should have looked like and why everyone thought they were so beautiful.

I also found this story too busy.  It had a large cast of off the wall characters to contend with, many of whom were quite entertaining but others who lacked purpose.  As I read further into the book, I started thinking that they were all too similar, quirky but all in the same way.  Alcohol flowed on almost every page to the point where it overwhelmed the story of the garden.  George and Nan decided to give it up but only for a few seconds.  A couple pages later, they were back slugging it down.  By the end, there was so much history, dirt, fairies and treasure flying around, I had trouble keeping it all straight.

I want to thank Net Galley for my free copy of Front Yard.  Unfortunately it didn't contain a topic I had much interest in.  A gardener would feast in this story but it wasn't for me. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Buddah in Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Zen Guide to Sitting Quietly

Buddah in Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Zen Guide to Sitting Quietly by Tai Sheridan

We all seem to have busy lives full of hustle and bustle.  A common complaint is that we never have a moment to ourselves to relax.  If you've ever thrown your hands up, thinking there was no hope, this book is for you.

Sitting quietly, listening to the ocean of your breath, can help solve a multitude of issues and calm your soul.  As the author says, sit quietly for three minutes or sit for three years, and be amazed at what you may learn about yourself.  And not that sitting quietly takes much instruction, but this book will walk you through how to do it.

And it's an extremely short guide.  It will only take a few minutes of sitting quietly to read it.  And we all need a little quiet time, so go for it. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 is a book I never would have picked up on my own.  It's this month's book club selection.  When I began reading it, I had no knowledge of what I might be getting into or even what the book was about.  The first chapter turned my stomach, painting a picture of starvation, bitter cold and fear in 1933 Russia. Honestly, I thought I was headed for a twisted version of The Hunger Games.

But I hung in there.  The story fast forwards twenty years.  Leo is a rising star in the MGB, the state security force.  He's assigned to look into the death of child, whose family insists he was murdered.  The communist state brushes the child's death off as an accident.  Leo is a war hero, who loves his country, is loyal and follows the state party line.  His wife Raisa, is a teacher who goes along with the state as a way to survive.  When Leo discovers that a serial killer is on the loose, he and Raisa go against the state and set out to find the criminal.

Child 44 is full of twists and turns.  It's a page turner, so be prepared.  What struck me the most however, is the range of emotion that this story could evoke.  The evil torture of the government on its citizens disgusted me.  The cunning of a killer toward children made me cringe.  And the tenderness of the love story between Leo and Raisa, brought tears to my eyes.

What a book can make me feel is the gauge I use to rate a story.  After the first ten pages, I never thought I could make it through this book.  Since it's so rare that I don't finish a book, I kept going.  Child 44 is a wonderfully written thriller.  The story's "Ah Hah" moment is perfectly placed, releasing some of the tension, but not revealing all the answers the reader is anxious to learn. Mr. Smith's writing style is superb. The subject matter, Stalinist Russia, is a tough one especially for someone like me, who has always lived in a free society.  Child 44 opened my eyes to the reality of life in a communist state in the 1950's.

And that's what I love about book club.  I'm forced to go outside my comfort zone and learn something new, which is a good thing.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Blackout: Remembering the things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank To Forget by Sarah Hepola

Although I haven't had a drink in almost 6 years, I still need to be reminded why I made that choice.  I knew from page one how painful this book would be for me to read.  The title alone told me what was ahead.

Blackouts.  I'm sure I've had few but I don't remember.  Sarah learned to like beer at a very young age.  I also grew up in a time if I asked my father for a sip of his beer, I'd get one.  I don't think my drinking started until college but maybe its roots run deeper than Thursday nights at the Brathaus.  Oh I forgot, it was high school when my friends and I would sit outside the 7 Eleven until someone would buy us a six pack.  See what alcohol can do.  It makes you forget.

Sarah is brutally honest in this memoir, from hiding a case of beer in her closet, to being the life of the party, and waking up in bed with men she didn't know.  On assignment in Paris, Sarah tells of coming to, in a hotel room with a strange man.  She dresses and leaves only to discover she doesn't have her purse.  Unable to remember her room number, she enlists help from the night concierge.  What happens next, Sarah has never forgotten.  Alcohol is the great manipulator.

Blackout is the story of an alcoholic woman and her road to recovery.  Under the fog of alcohol, life seemed easier, more free and uninhibited.  Giving it up meant Sarah had to be honest with all those things she wanted to forget that were hidden deep inside.  I get that.  The reason that this book was so painful for me, is that even in sobriety, I need to be reminded how far I have come.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank To Forget is not a story only for those of us who have walked down Sarah's same path.  Sarah paints a vivid picture of what it is like to be addicted and how hard it is to come out on the other side.  But with the support of many people in every facet of an alcoholic's life, a better life is waiting.  I can clearly remember what it was like to stop drinking and become sober.  Nothing about it was pleasant or fun.  It is that ability to remember that keeps me sober.  And I think Sarah would agree.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Nella Oortman is whisked away from her small Dutch village to big city, Amsterdam by marrying a man she barely knows.  Her family has fallen on hard times financially and Johannes Brandt is a wealthy merchant.  In the 17th century, her family sees him as a good match for her.  She arrives at the Brandt home with her parakeet and not much else.  Her new sister-in-law, Marin immediately sets out to make sure the young and naive, Nella, knows who's in charge of the household.  It will not be the new wife.

When Johannes eventually returns home from his travels, he brings his wife a replica cabinet house as a wedding gift.  Nella sets out to furnish the house with miniatures.  The items are small and detailed, matching the Brandt home furnishings perfectly. Additions to the cabinet begin arriving which Nella has not ordered.  She becomes drawn into a dark web and deception of her new life through the tiny items she finds neatly wrapped in brown paper.

The setting of late 17th century Amsterdam was very well developed in The Miniaturist. The historical backdrop of Dutch life drew me in completely.  Nella held my attention, with her attempts to fit in a strange place and find her place as a wife.  Though only eighteen, she had a strong will.  Marin, hiding a secret of her own, tried to break her, but in the end, it was Nella she needed most.

I'm on the fence about this novel.  Many things about it, I loved.  The writing is good, the story moves quickly and I never felt bogged down in it.  The historical aspect of the story is interesting and keeps the plot line grounded.  But when I got to the last page I felt let down in a big way.  The miniaturist, herself, had such a small role yet commanded the title of the book.  Nella deserved much more from this story than she got.  But I might not have read it if the title had been different.  The Miniaturist serves as a double edged sword much like the story inside the cover.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield

There's always a reason I'm drawn to certain books with unusual titles or captivating covers. The Undertaker's Daughter brought forward a memory when I was a teenager.  I had a very good friend, Georgia, whose parents had a vacation home on a lake in a small town in central Ohio.  Every weekend I went with her to water ski, swim and cruise down main street on Saturday night.  We were 16, so of course boys were also in the mix.

One boy we met was the undertaker's son.  The family lived upstairs and the funeral home, downstairs.  He gave us a tour of the embalming room. I remember the walls being painted that old hospital green, a stainless steel table in the corner and hoses neatly wrapped up in even circles hanging on the wall.  Just like Kate, the author of this book, it creeped me out.

Kate and her family move to a small southern town so her father can run a funeral home.  Every time the phone rings, they know someone has died.  That means they must stay upstairs and be quiet until the viewing and funeral are over.  That's a difficult task for a family hiding enough secrets to fill all the coffins in the showroom downstairs.

What I found intriguing about this story is not so much the business of death but about living life with the hand we're dealt.  Much of this story is about Kate as a child. It's not until later in her life does she learn about her father's affairs and drinking habits. Her sister is said to be moody and in reality is severely bi polar.  The family's black maid cooks for them but must eat all her own meals alone.  Kate's first boyfriend is black which she knows must be kept secret or her family would be destroyed.
I didn't view this memoir as a story about death, but one about racial discrimination, mental illness, alcoholism.  For Kate these things were swept under the carpet. Not until she became an adult did she begin to understand how it shaped her future.

So don't stay away from this book because it appears to be about a funeral home.  The Undertaker's Daughter is a memoir and a story about life.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Day That Rolls Around Every August

The Day That Rolls Around Every August

It's that time again, time for my annual birthday post.  Ugh.  I'm not looking forward to this one at all.  Sixty!  How in the hell did that happen?  A friend of mine called yesterday to tell me that 60 is the new 30.  Sounds good to me, so I'm sticking with it. 

I was going to write a very different kind of post today than I originally planned, but I awoke this morning to a dining room table filled with gifts from Richard and Ginger and a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Pam and the grandkids. Richard doled out the gifts in a very specific order. 

First he gave me a card from Corinne, the next door neighbor.  Her birthday was yesterday so we commiserate together, and it had a beautiful sentiment about the beauty of being 60.  Next came Ginger's card, also with a nice verse.  Ginger is 9 years old.  Here's what she wrote in her card.

"Just remember Mommy, you are still younger than me!"  LOL!

Next I opened a series of presents containing scratch off lottery tickets, a tradition for all special occasions at our house.  I won $25!   I had ordered some clothes from a catalog that had been hidden when they arrived.  Now they were wrapped and I opened them as if I'd been surprised!

Lastly Richard brought me a box that was a mystery.  (I would not normally write about this topic in a blog, but this is too funny to ignore!)  I slowly unwrap it to find a picture of a scantily clad woman with a huge smile on her face on the box.  Are you getting my drift here?  It's a vibrator! 

There is a big sex store down in Melbourne.  In case, you were wondering, I've never been there.  With nothing to do one day, he drove down while I was at work.  The sales girl helped him pick out the best one, the one she likes best.  He checked the money in his wallet.

"My wife checks the credit card bills.  What will it say on the bill if I charge this?" he asks.

"The name that's on the sign on the outside of the building," she replies.

"I don't have enough cash." Richard counts out all his change too.

"Are you military or retired military?  I'll give you a 20% discount." I have a feeling she's been down this road before with her customers. I'm surprised she didn't ask for an AARP card.

Richard answers 'retired military' and walks out with my gift.

Lastly Richard hands me a card from him.  The card itself made me laugh but what he wrote in it made me cry.

"Linda, I met you in your twenties, we got married in your thirties, we made it through your forties and fifties.  I may not see you turn 70 and certainly not 80, so let's enjoy your sixties together."

It's going to be a very good decade, I just feel it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I'm not exactly sure how Take Me With You ended up on my Kindle.  Maybe because the blurb talked about a man, August, who traveled every summer and wanted to go to Yellowstone and ended up with two unexpected passengers for his adventure.  I have a thing about Yellowstone.  Old Faithful is quite spectacular and I've even been known to go to the Old Faithful web cam just to watch it since I'm not there live and in person.

Yellowstone was only a small part of Take Me With You, yet I was not at all disappointed.  The first tear I shed was on about page ten, when I was introduced to August, Wes, the mechanic and Wes' children, Seth and Henry.  August's dog Woody, wiggled his way into my heart too, probably by page eleven. From then on my emotions were kicked into high gear, laughter, tears, fear and surprise.

I couldn't put this book down. I never like to rehash the story lines in my reviews and I won't here either.  What was this book about?  It's about the fact that it takes a village to raise a child, that alcoholism is a disease that can be overcome but it takes alot of hard work to do it, that the love of a good dog can break down barriers and that grief over the loss of a child will never leave but can be healed. And sometimes taking a chance against your better judgement, is worth it in a million ways you never thought about.

August made Seth and Henry feel important, something they never got at home.  Seth and Henry helped August stay strong after the loss of his son and the onset of a debilitating illness.  Together they formed a bond that would never be broken.  Take Me With You touched my soul on so many levels, I never wanted it to end.  I never expected the range of feeling I got in return from reading this book.  It's one that will stay with me for a long time to come.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

I've been searching for a book club to join for a long time.  I live in a retirement community so you wouldn't think a finding a book club would be an issue, but they meet at 10 am.  Ever since I went back to work, a morning meeting is out of the question.  Finally, I thought to call the local library and guess what!  They have an evening book club! 

The Dovekeepers was the book selection for the month.  I've never read Alice Hoffman before and with close to 600 pages, I feared I may not make it to the end.  Boy, was I wrong. The Dovekeepers tells the story of nine hundred Jews living on Masada in the desert, under siege by the Romans.  We see life in the mountain fortress through the eyes of four women all assigned to work in the dovecote.  Each arrives at Masada from a different path. Each has a story, and a secret which eventually binds them all together. Their fight for survival often conflicts with a deep faith that governs their way of life. 

Alice Hoffman has given us a poignant, beautiful and gripping novel.  It has been meticulously researched and written.  I learned so much about a piece of history that I knew little about and it touched me deeply.  The language used to tell these women's stories is magical.  How they are woven together is perfection.  The Dovekeepers is not to be missed. 

I received a warm welcome as the newcomer in a well established book club.  The discussion was lively and made me think about events in the story in a different light, one that I wouldn't have thought of on my own.  I read a wonderful book, one that I never would have chosen myself.  And I made some new friends who share my love of books. 

Whether you belong to a book club or not, please put The Dovekeepers on your list of must reads. A whole new world may be opened up that you never expected. I know it did for me in more ways than one.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier

A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier

Jeanie Munroe finally gets up the guts to confront her husband, Henry, about his extra marital affairs, until she finds him dead of a heart attack in the bed beside her.  Henry loved burgers and bacon and much to her dismay, left Jeanie's questions unanswered. 

A Year After Henry his family is grieving and struggling to understand why.  Henry's mother is planning a memorial for her beloved son and mailman.  Henry's brother, Larry who lost his job teaching at the local high school, has taken over Henry's postal route.  He's holed up in his bedroom at his parent's house however, refusing to come out and deliver the mail.  Jeanie is stalking Henry's mistress, Evie who works as a spiritual portraitist and part time bartender.  The anticipation of Henry's memorial service is driving them all to the brink. Or is it forcing them to face their personal shortcomings head on?

I love Cathie Pelletier's quirky characters who find themselves in bizarre situations in small town, Maine.  Her style of writing is straightforward and down to earth.  Just like the Mainers I know.  Although the situations the characters find themselves in at first glance appear unrealistic, the farther into the book you read, the more you will understand why they acted as they did.  And in the end all becomes right in the world. 

A Year After Henry is laugh out loud funny, unusual and heart wrenching all rolled into one.  If you are looking for something to lift your spirits, Cathie Pelletier's work will bring a smile to your face.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

I have to say it took me a long time to read this book, not because it was poorly written or uninteresting, but because I was living everything that was inside of it.  My step mother, June passed away in March at the age of 93.  I've spent the past two years managing her care and taking care of her finances all while watching her move into the final days of her life.

What I learned from Being Mortal is that our doctors are trained to save lives.  There is little in their extensive education about how to help people die peacefully. When I read Dr. Gawande's words, I finally knew I was not alone. I'd spent a lot of time questioning each and every decision I had to make for her.  Conversations with doctors, nurses and nursing home administrators left me frustrated and exhausted.  The road is bumpy to say the least.

First I moved June to an assisted living facility.  It took several months but finally she'd settled in nicely and seemed happy.  Then she fell and broke her hip.  I had to decide whether or not she should have a hip replacement or allow the bone to heal naturally, confining her to bed and risking bedsores. She had the surgery but was never able to recover from it.  On top of all that she also had dementia.  June didn't want any more physical therapy, I felt helpless trying to get it to stop.  She didn't want to eat, and yet my instructions that she didn't have to eat if she didn't want to, went unheeded.  I was the only voice she had, and I knew she was ready to go.  We had talked about it many times over the 50 years I had known her.

Being Mortal gave me tools to work with and helped me to understand how our system for caring for the elderly is set up.  The knowledge I got from it gave me with some small victories over time.  This is a book that should be read if you are caring for an elderly loved one, or if you want to prepare for your own old age.  We should all be able to live out the end of our days in a way that is best for us.  This is a powerful and moving book.  Thank you, Dr. Gawande for your compassion and showing us that we have a choice.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

Every high school student in America has probably seen this play or acted in it, since it's a staple in every drama program.  Unfortunately, its message is probably lost on a sixteen year old, I know it was lost on me.  But something about it has stuck in my head all these years.  A book I'm currently reading made reference to Our Town and at the same time it had popped up as part of a storyline in my own writing.  I thought I'd better revisit this Pulitzer Prize winner.

Our Town is a play in three acts and tells the story of two families, the Gibbs and the Webbs in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. We watch George, the doctor's son and Emily, the daughter of the newspaper editor, grow up, fall in love and face the end of life while the townspeople go about their business every day.

Life hasn't changed much over the years.  We get out of bed, go to work, hustle the kids out the door to school.  The children grow up, get married, and build a life starting a new family.  And for all of us it ends the same way, in death, leaving the living behind. We may want to think that our fancy cars, computers and smart phones have changed our lives but if we take the time to look deep into the our core, they have not.  Life remains the same with or without modern conveniences.

One of the many lessons of Our Town is that life is precious.  We should try to make each and every day the best day of our lives.  Maybe we can only learn that through the wisdom that comes with age. Our Town's story may be lost on the young, but I never forgot it. And I bet you haven't either.  It's well worth reading again as an adult.  Thornton Wilder's play is classic and timeless and even more meaningful when wisdom is on your side. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

OK.  I'm going to fess up right off the bat.  I didn't finish this book.  The counter on my Kindle said 51%.  For me not to finish a book, even if I dislike it, is an extremely rare occurrence.  I like to see things through to the end no matter the cost.  But in this case I just couldn't.

Vanessa and Her Sister is the story of Vanessa Bell and her sister, Virginia Woolf. These are two creative and talented women who lived at the turn of the twentieth century.  One paints, the other writes. They were part of a larger creative group called the Bloomsbury Set who all believed in the importance of the arts.  People after my own heart, don't you think?

I should have liked these people. I'm fascinated by creative types of all kinds.  However, this book was written in a diary format.  Pretty much Vanessa wrote about trying to paint during the day, getting ready for the Thursday night group to arrive, never being able to tell the housekeeper how many might be coming, and flopping into bed around 3 am.  The same routine became documented over and over. Then she came up with the Friday night gathering.  Nothing much happened on Thursday and Friday was more of the same.  I tired of it. 

I gave Vanessa and Her Sister my best shot.  But it just wasn't for me.  I had to let it go and move on. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

With so much hype about Go Set A Watchman, I'm going to get right to the point.  It's been years since I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I remember it fondly.  But please forgive me if I don't recall every minute detail of the story.  For that reason I can read Go Set A Watchman how it was intended, as the first novel.

Jean Louise Finch has left Maycomb County and moved to New York City.  She returns home to visit her aging and arthritic father, Atticus.  What she finds is a slow, Southern way of life, so different from what she's become used to.  Scout always loved home but this time she sees it without the benefit of rose colored glasses.

There's a line in the novel about Atticus, and I'm paraphrasing,  that he made everyone feel like his friend.  He's a highly respected man, living in the south where the roots of segregation run deep.  He knew how to play the game.  Jean Louise uncovered a side of him, he'd never chosen to reveal to his children.  It's called growing up.

I loved this book.  Harper Lee's prose glides across the page effortlessly.  I could feel the hot humid days, snicker at Aunt Alexandra's disgust at Scout's modern ways and sit uncomfortably on the hard church pew.  Jean Louise and Atticus are both strong, vivid characters with or without To Kill a Mockingbird.  The world has waited for more from Miss Lee for decades.  Here it is and in my mind, it was worth waiting for.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

Daniel Parker sets in motion a long standing dream to sail around the world, in an attempt to bond with his troubled son, Quentin.  He leaves his wife, Vanessa and their failing marriage at home, hoping somehow the journey will lead them both toward mending their differences. 

After a rest in the Seychelles, Daniel and Quentin discuss sailing into the vast Indian Ocean, a playground for Somali pirates.  Quentin, who in Daniel's eyes has grown so much while at sea, refuses to give in to fear.  Daniel feels proud of the man his son has become and agrees to set sail into the unknown.  During the night, Ismail and his band of pirates board The Renaissance, taking Daniel and Quentin hostage. 

Paul, the government's top negotiator is called into action.  From an aircraft carrier, the communication to save the Americans begins.  Each chapter of this novel is told from the point of view of a different character, Daniel, Vanessa, and Paul.  As the story progresses, we hear from Ismail, his sister Yazmin, and Paul's sister Megan, a high powered lawyer who defends Ismail in the American courts. 

The Tears of Dark Water is a beautifully and expertly constructed story. This is not the kind of book I would normally have selected on my own, so I am grateful for the ARC I received.  I could not put this book down. It has everything I look for in a good book, suspense, tension, and emotion.  The Tears of Dark Water is intense to say the least.  It's not an easy beach read.  It requires an investment of heart and commitment.  The pages turn quickly as the novel taps into all that makes us human, grabs our hearts and refuses to let go.  I loved it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute

Somewhere, a long time ago, a writing instructor spoke of this book as a lesson in characterization.  It stuck in the back of my mind and was only recently resurrected by my desire to write a great novel and of course my love of Maine.  I must have been missing eating a lobster roll by the waterfall in Camden, Maine when the title came back to me.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine tells the story of a mismatched and dysfunctional family living in rural Maine far from the rocky coast of the state I love.  Reuben is an alcoholic who spends most of his time in jail, Roberta is tall and perpetually pregnant, and Beal is a gentle man with a large beard that seems to have a life all its own.  Beal marries Earlene, the pious neighbor next door.  They manage to have two equally unusual children.

The Beals are poor, yet taking any government assistance would say to the world that they had failed.  How they live is given to the reader in such poignant detail, it's impossible to turn away.  Ms. Chute's use of her toolbox of literary devices is extraordinary.  I became totally immersed in a way of life I do not know, yet I felt each character's view of the world as if I saw it through my own eyes. 

The Beans of Egypt, Maine is sometimes difficult and repulsive to read.  But it's real and it's filled with emotion.  I can't remember the teacher who told me about them, but the Beans will now remain in the back of my mind because the author did a brilliant job of creating them.  And they are from Maine.  A perfect combination.

Monday, July 6, 2015

China Dolls by Lisa See

China Dolls by Lisa See

Helen, Ruby and Grace are Chinese American women who meet in a pre-WWII San Francisco.  They immediately become fast friends in spite of their differences.  Helen is from a traditional Chinese family, who all live together in a compound.  Her brother must escort her everywhere she goes.  Grace has run away from a small Ohio town and an abusive father, in search of her dream as a dancer.  Ruby keeps the details of her background a secret. 

I'm a huge fan of Lisa See.  Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan are two of my absolute favorites.  Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy are right up there too.  I'm fascinated by See's stories of the Chinese way of life.  But I have to say China Dolls fell far short. 

I felt as if the author rushed through.  The pacing was way off and writing, choppy and juvenile in parts.  At first I wondered if See had even written this. I checked the publication date, thinking possibly it was something she'd written long ago before perfecting her craft.  It was released in 2015.  So much for that theory. 

Lisa See is a wonderful writer, China Dolls however was not her best effort.  I'd skip this one in favor of her other works which are far more enjoyable.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Addie Baum is the daughter of Jewish immigrant parents trying to adjust to life in America around the turn of the 20th century.  The family settled in Boston and struggle to fit in.  The premise of The Boston Girl is that Addie is telling the story of her life to her granddaughter.

She starts at the very beginning describing the tiny tenement apartment in the North End. Her father spends all his free time at shul.  Her mother, who never learned to speak English, insists everything, all the way down to the potatoes, which they ate often because they were cheap, was better in the old country.  Addie saw the wealth of opportunity in Boston when her parents could not, often hiding where she was going and what she was doing for fear of being told no. Addie found other mentors and friends who took her away from the stifling family life she dreaded at home.  She had an adventurous spirit yet was often naive about the world.  I loved Addie.  She never took no for an answer. 

What I didn't like about The Boston Girl was that I never felt grounded in the setting for Addie's story.  I've read many books about immigrants in this same time period.  Usually they are set in New York.  I was excited to hear of one set in a different place and I hoped I would learn something new.  But I often found myself drifting into thinking Addie was in New York and had to pull myself back into the Boston mindset.  I often wished there was more of a thread between Addie and the granddaughter who was listening to the story.  When it did pop in, which wasn't very often,  again I had to pull myself back into that part of the storyline.

The Boston Girl has a great character in Addie Baum.  She told her own story of a fascinating life.  According to the title, there is a secondary character, Boston who I never felt attached to.  Her story could have been taking place almost anywhere.  I really wanted it to be in Boston.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Splendid Gift by Alyson Richman

A Splendid Gift by Alyson Richman

I first read The Little Prince in Mr. Marapodi's high school French class.  At sixteen however, the story's message of life was largely lost on me.  The assignment was simply a means to an end, a grade on my report card.

I'm grown up now and have read The Little Prince in English many times, loving it more each time.  So when I read the blurb for A Splendid Gift, I was sure I wanted to read it.  Alyson Richman chooses interesting and unusual story lines which also capture my attention. 

Silvia Hamilton sets her sights on Saint Exupery at a party in New York City, setting their love affair in motion.  Saint Exupery is struggling to write, to deal with his turbulent marriage and somehow win the war for France.  Silvia is able to bring him a sense of calm if only for the little time they are able to spend together. 

A Splendid Gift is a novella.  For me, it was just not enough.  This is a beautiful, intriguing story set with a backdrop of war.  As a reader, I felt I was only seeing a very shallow view of the characters and their faults. I wanted more depth from this story and it ended far too soon.  A Splendid Gift is written in a wonderful Richman style, but it left me wanting so much more from it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Cujo was the last Stephen King novel I remember reading.  It came out in 1982. The story scared the holy crap out of me and I don't like being scared.  I steer clear of any zombies, Freddie Kruger, or Texas Chainsaw massacres. Even though Stephen King is an American treasure, I hope reading a good book will tap into my emotions, but not have me checking the locks on all my doors and windows. I've stayed away from all things Stephen King all this time.   

Deciding it was time for something new, I opened up Mr. Mercedes.  Kermit William Hodges is an overweight, retired detective who suddenly only has the television and his gun for company.  A cold case where a man wearing a clown mask, driving a stolen gray Mercedes plowed into a line of people waiting to enter a job fair, gnaws in Bill's gut. Several were killed, and more were maimed.  Against his better judgement, he sets out to solve the case.

What I realized by page two, is that Stephen King is a brilliant writer.  I was blown away by the telling of this story.  King's writing is earthy, no frills and only a few big, complex words sprinkled in so they were easy to pass over. But make no mistake, Mr. Mercedes is a creepy, edge of your seat, evil thriller.  I couldn't put it down.  One night when I couldn't stop turning the pages, I had to force myself to put my Kindle down or be useless at work the next day.  But my mind had been worked into such a frenzy, I couldn't sleep anyway.  I sat up in bed and read some more. 

It's good to get out of your comfort zone every now and then.  Mr. Mercedes took me to places I never knew existed and where I never want to go again.  The sequel is out now, Finder's Keepers, and I can't wait to find out what happens next.  But I'll read it with the lights on.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I 've never really thought of myself as a serial reader.  Plenty of people I know read the same author's novels never sticking their toe into other waters.  I've taken pride in reading a variety of authors, topics and genres.  That is until I found Liane Moriarty. 

I liked The Hypnotist's Love Story, I loved What Alice Forgot and I adored The Husband's Secret.  It was a no brainer for me to read Big Little Lies. However, after reading the first few chapters of Big Little Lies, I was ready to throw in the towel. The strong-willed Australian women, who were trying so hard not to lead ordinary lives, left me uninterested this time.

Madeline is turning forty and although she wants everyone to know she hates getting old, she secretly loves all the attention.  While stopped in traffic, she gets out of her car to yell at a teenager who is texting and driving.  Her high heel catches in the pavement, she falls twisting her ankle.  Jane watches from behind the wheel of her own car and comes to the rescue.  Both, it turns out are on their way to kindergarten orientation at the same school with their children in tow. 

Now I've never been able to stop reading a book midstream no matter how much I hated it.  But I'm beginning to get a bit more discerning after being caught in a long string of really bad books I wasted alot of time on and didn't enjoy. I came so close to closing the door on this one but that little voice inside told me to keep going.  And I'm glad I listened to it.

There are no spoilers here but Big Little Lies struck a chord. Although women have come a long way in our society, we still have a long way to go.  Liane Moriarty put her own comedic spin on a very serious subject and anyone who reads this novel will remember it for a long time to come.  Today I'm an even bigger fan knowing there are more Moriarty novels waiting for me. But most of all, I'm glad I can add Big Little Lies to my list of favorites.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Where The Om Am I? by Sara DiVello

Where The Om Am I? by Sara DiVello

Being a yoga lover and having written a novel that spoofs big business, this memoir seemed to be right up my alley. Sara, a recent college graduate with eyes wide open and big dreams, lands what she believes to be a great opportunity in a financial services company. She puts her nose to the grindstone hoping to make an impression, which is not easy with all that's going on around her.

Enthusiasm for a great job quickly wanes when Sara's co-workers begin to show their true selves.  Her boss Vicky can't separate her personal life from her work life.  A business trip with Vicky turns into a drunkfest with Sara playing nursemaid to Vicky's monster hangover.  A salesman, who Sara has nicknamed, The Meat, freely shares tales of his sexual conquests in the office. No one seems to notice that Sara is left to do the work the rest of them have simply neglected.  Let's just say, I can relate.

At the urging of her new husband, Nunally, Sara follows her dream of becoming a yoga instructor.  She juggles intensive classroom training while continuing to put up with the office antics.  It's a struggle since the other yoga students are as equally obnoxious as those she desperately wants to leave behind in the office. 

Where The Om Am I? is funny and I mean laugh out loud funny.  The people in the office are real characters.  In fact I think I know a few of them!  The yoga students are mean and spiteful and I was pulling for Sara to rise above them.  If you are looking for a light, funny summer read, I think you will enjoy, Where The Om Am I?

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Chapter One sets the stage for the story that is to come.  An old man attending his grandson's wedding can't keep his eyes off the bride's grandmother.  She is so familiar yet he struggles to figure out why.  And then he realizes she is his wife.  A wife, he long ago had been told had died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Lenka is a young girl living in Prague in the 1930's.  She is also a Jew.  She is fortunate enough to attend art school and works diligently to perfect her craft as an artist.  She meets Josef, the brother of one of her classmates.  The two fall hopelessly in love. They marry in haste as the Germans invade  Czechoslovakia, limiting their freedoms.  Josef's family has secured visas to leave but Lenka refuses to go with them unless her own family can come too.  Time and money are scarce and additional visas are not forthcoming. A stubborn and determined Lenka says a tearful goodbye to the man she adores.

This is another wonderful story that I lost myself in, turning each page with anticipation of the next.  The author did a skillful job of taking me from the present to the past and back again all while keeping me fully engaged.  Josef's and Lenka's separate stories seamlessly entwined throughout the novel.  As a writer myself, I know that's not an easy thing to do.

The Lost Wife is a captivating story of love in the midst of great evil. And it is a story of hope and the will of the human spirit.  Never give up on hope and love will always prevail.  A must read.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The other day a friend posted something on Facebook that caught my eye.  It was a picture of a girl on the beach reading a book.  The caption read, "The moment when you're reading a book and the whole world around you does not exist anymore."

As an avid reader, being lost in a novel is a rare and magical moment.  You know you have uncovered something wonderful.  When I began All The Light We Cannot See, the world around me ceased to exist when I read page one.  I was in heaven! I couldn't put this book down.

Marie-Laure is a blind girl living in Paris as Hitler is rising to power in Germany.  Her father is the lock master at the museum, the keeper of all its keys.  Papa builds Marie-Laure models of the city so she can learn to navigate the streets on her own.  She counts steps and storm drains under his loving guidance.

 Werner is an orphan in Germany with a talent for fixing radios.  He's sent to a special school to learn engineering since his skills are in demand by the Nazis.  His loyalty is a way to survive and he learns to hide his compassionate heart from view. 

All The Light We Cannot See is the story of two young lives coping with the horrors of war from different viewpoints.  One has the ability to see, the other can only feel. This book is filled with love and terror, mystery and myth, kindness and hatred, all told so vividly I bubbled over with every emotion. 

Ah! My disappointing streak is finally over.  No wonder this novel won the Pulitzer Prize.  I adored every single page.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lighten the Load

Today is the official "Lighten The Load" day at my house. It was time to clean out all the things I no longer use, or wear or need and send them to the Goodwill where they can find a new home. 

I started in the closet.  It's packed with more clothes than I can wear, yet it's a struggle to put much on the pile.  I might need that chartreuse T shirt with a hole in the armpit that I haven't wore in five years and I can't part with it.  Yet that someday is never going to come and I know it. Neither is sewing up the hole.  I found three pairs of hiking boots and I'm really not much of a hiker.  The last time those boots did any serious hiking was twelve years ago when I hiked out of the Grand Canyon.  That hike changed my life forever, but almost killed me in the process.  So when I noticed a pair of boots still had the red clay of the Grand Canyon imbedded in the soul, they immediately went back on the shelf and the other two pair went into the pile.

It didn't take long to come to a standstill in the closet. I moved on to my office with shelves and shelves of my beloved books.  The task I faced here was even more daunting than purging a few old pairs of jeans.  My books.  I love my books.  I haven't read "Tales of Aladdin", "Rascal" or "The Little Prince" in probably forty years but I can't bear to part with them.  They were among my first books, carefully selected at the annual book fair held in the school gymnasium when I was eight years old.  I gently stroked the covers and put them back in their place.

Moving to the next shelf, I thumbed through my collection of books on reiki before coming to several autographed titles.  I have one entire shelf of novels by Thomas Wolfe.  He was my step mother's cousin. The old, worn, first edition books have found their way here.  Nothing on these shelves is leaving anytime soon. 

Desperate to add at least something to the contributions, I found a John Irving novel, that I enjoyed but no longer had any special attachment to or desire to read again.  I carefully folded the clothes and put them in a plastic garbage bag setting the lone book on top. 

I looked at the half full bag and put it in the back of my car for its trip to Goodwill.  I hadn't made really any extra space inside but I'd made an effort.  Thank goodness for my Kindle.  It's rare that I buy actual books any more, much preferring the digital kind.  They take up much less space.  Plus it allows me to cherish the old books I have and not crowd them with new purchases. 

The clothes in the closet, however are a totally different kind of story. "Lighten the Load Day" is going to have to become official at least once a month.  Once a year is just not going to cut it, but I can skip cleaning the office.  Nothing in there, is going anywhere.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

In my quest to read a really good book, I headed to the list of Pulitzer Prize winning fiction.  I had heard of Olive Kitteridge so I thought I would give it a try.  It's set in Maine about a Mainer so that's a huge plus for me.  Love Maine!

Olive is a math teacher, married to Henry.  They have one son, Christopher.  Olive is a large woman, she wears size 10 shoes.  And she's not a warm or friendly person, short on words and quick to judge others, but not mean or unkind. She's trying to figure out why others can't see the world the way she does, since hers is the right and only way.  We follow Olive through a large cast of characters in the town of Crosby, Maine, who seamlessly float in and out of her life.

After I've read a book and before I write a review, I usually search the Internet to see what others have said about the book.  News to me was that Olive Kitterridge is considered a collection of 13 short stories.  As I mentioned, many of the chapters told stories of other people in town, the clerk who worked in Henry's pharmacy, the alcoholic piano player at the local tavern, or Jim O'Casey, a fellow teacher who Olive considered having an affair with.  Olive threaded through each story so that I didn't see them as separate and distinct.  Although sometimes I felt the segways were disconnected, I always felt that the lives of the others, developed Olive's character more deeply.  People come in and out of our lives, sometimes staying for years, but most often for only a fleeting moment. The book gave me as a reader, the sensation of life as it happened all around her. 

Olive Kitteridge is beautifully written.  Olive is not a really likeable person, yet I couldn't help liking her.  Her feet were planted firmly on the ground, yet sometimes they weren't.  She was real and I followed her around town as if I were doing my daily errands.  And I loved the feeling I got from reading Olive Kitteridge.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

I've lived in Florida for thirty five years, so I'm a huge fan of Karen Russell.  I love her quirky Florida tales.  Swamplandia! is one of my all time favorites.  St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves was one of my early blog posts.  I've been anxious to read Vampires in the Lemon Grove simply because it's written by Karen Russell.

Clyde, the vampire now lives in an Italian lemon grove having discovered that sucking on lemons can take the place of his need for human blood. Young girls in Japan are sold, given a pill and then sent to the silk factory.  They spin silk from their fingertips.  American presidents find themselves reincarnated as horses.  A young boy crosses the prairie carrying a window that is passed among neighbors when the inspector makes his rounds.  In order to certify ownership of the homestead, their sod homes must have a window. 

Let's just say all the stories in this book are extremely creative and imaginative.  I might even say they are bordering on the bizarre except for the fact all deal with the human condition. When that is the center, anything is possible. 

My only disappointment is that none of these stories are set in Florida. The tales in Vampires in the Lemon Grove span the globe and are not for the faint of heart.  But if you can let your imagination flow, you are in for one wild and incredible ride. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

I'm on a roll lately, and it's not the good kind.  I've read a slew of books in the past few months that I haven't really enjoyed much.  Reading a good book is what keeps me going.  Needless to say I'm feeling a bit sluggish. 

Every newspaper and magazine I opened had rave reviews for Lila.  Since I'd been in a slump, Lila seemed to be the answer to breaking the chain of disappointment.  I had no prior knowledge of Ms. Robinson's other titles, or that one of them had won the Pulitzer Prize. 

I don't even want to give you a recap of the plot, there was so little of it.  This book has no chapters and I'm a reader who likes to have those nice breaking points since I mainly read before going to bed.  Frankly, Lila seemed to me like one big run on sentence.  But what disturbed me the most was that I couldn't understand Lila's place in time.  I kept picturing her in a bonnet and a long dress with lace up shoes circa the late 19th century and then she was eating a tuna fish sandwich.  She belonged to a group of wanderers who went from town to town looking for work. And then she got a ride in a car. Toward the end, Lila went to the movies and saw To Have and Have Not placing her squarely in the 1940's. I'm confused.

I couldn't join Lila on her journey. I couldn't picture in my mind's eye how she looked, the clothes she wore or much of anything about her surroundings.  When I finished the book, I read some more reviews to try to uncover what I missed.  That is how I found out she was in Iowa, and that the story had begun in the 1920's.  A reader shouldn't have to research a story to understand what's been read.  A reader should be fully immersed in the surroundings and the passion of its characters, walking in their shoes, step by step.  Lila will continue to remain a mystery to me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Autumn Balloon by Kenny Porpora

The Autumn Balloon by Kenny Porpora

I happen to love a good memoir because real life can be so much more interesting than fiction.  When I saw a 4 star review for The Autumn Balloon, I thought I was in for a real treat. 

Kenny is a kid who wants to fit in, but how can he, when he's shuffled from one alcoholic, drug addicted parent to the other.  He's often homeless, living in the backseat of his mother's car.  When she loses custody, Kenny and his brother end up in their father's filthy basement with a pig and a pedophile living upstairs.  When the custody battle heats up again, the boys return to their mother in Arizona.  I don't want to forget to mention, that every other word out of their mother's mouth begins with an "F".  Donna Reed, she is certainly not. 

That Kenny was able to lift himself out of this situation is nothing short of a miraculous.  He graduated from Columbia with a master's degree in journalism.  I admire him for that.  But did I feel this book was worthy of a top review?  No. 

The Autumn Balloon is filled with heartache and emotion.  It paints a powerful picture of poverty and addiction in our country, which often go hand in hand.  As a writer myself, I felt however, the story construction was too simple, unpolished and paced too quickly.  I raced through it, unable to linger in the pain as well as the joy.  The Autumn Balloon tells a story of life that should be told.  I didn't however, find that it was written in a way that merits the glowing reviews that initially caught my eye.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is a brilliant author, she's a Pulitzer Prize winner after all.  Her stories revolve around families of all shapes and sizes, who live in and around Baltimore, Maryland.  She paints vivid pictures of her characters with calming prose.  A Spool of Blue Thread doesn't disappoint in any of those areas.

Abby and Red Whitshank have raised their children in a stately home built by Red's father, Junior.  The house is a central character to the story, the glue, so to speak that keeps them together.  When the children determine that Red and Abby are getting too old to live alone, the secrets the family harbors try to bubble up from their long buried hiding places. 

For me however, I just plain didn't get it.  The opening scene revolves around Denny, Abby and Red's son who has always been a little strange and aloof.  Denny remains distant throughout the story and the reasons why the book opened with him, were never really resolved.  At least in my mind.  I found this book, though beautifully written, long and drawn out, without any resolution.  None of the characters took the time to change or had any cathartic moments that forced them to.  I know that some of you that have read this book might disagree with that statement because things did happen to this family.  But they all seemed to brush off any events that had some depth and move along as if nothing had changed.

It's the struggle that makes a book worth reading.  I was reading pages from anyone's ordinary life without a rip or a tear that need to be sewn back together.  A Spool of Blue Thread never took the time to mend what truly needed mending.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

A family member, who is also an avid reader, recommended this book to me.  It was time for me to delve in to something historical.  There is nothing like a slice of the past to keep me grounded in the present.  The Boys in the Boat did exactly that.

The boys in the boat are the 1936 rowing team from the University of Washington.  Through a series of ups and downs in the middle of the Great Depression, the tenacious group made their way to the Berlin Olympic Games and won the gold medal.  The story is told through the eyes of Joe Rantz, a poor farm boy who struggled to stay in school and stay on the team.  Joe is part of a cast of characters from George Pocock who painstakingly built the boats, to Al Ulbrickson who coached with his eye on the prize.

This is not a story about rowing, even though I did learn quite a bit about the sport.  It is not a story about the Great Depression which serves as a backdrop and guides many of the men's actions.  This is a story about teamwork, drive and ambition, staring evil in the face and winning.  The author did a wonderful job of showing life in America during this time as being slow and simple. People rallied around each other, sharing what little they might have.  Just when the reader became fully immersed in the American lifestyle, he yanked us into an evil world during the rise of the Nazis.  The contrast was startling. 

Society today could learn more patience from this story. The Boys in the Boat takes us to a world that once was and should never be again.  Well worth reading. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I'm not a hiker or a backpacker or even much of an outdoorsy type, but I wanted to read this book because of the empowerment it gives to women.  I wish I had the guts to do what Cheryl did, hike all alone, making her way along a rugged trail with only her instincts to guide her.  Several years ago I took a rafting trip with my sister along the Colorado River.  We hiked out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, and even though it was the hardest thing I'd ever done, it changed my life.  My trip came with hoards of slimy frogs and so did Cheryl's.  I can relate.

Cheryl's life was troubled at best.  Her childhood was far from normal. The loss of her mother to cancer, and a failed marriage led her to a life of loose sex and drug addiction.  In turn these things set her on a path to search for something different.  That day in the sporting goods store when she came across a book on the Pacific Coast Trail shifted her trajectory.  I believe in fate.

Wild is a fascinating story of survival.  However, I couldn't help feeling something was missing.  One day she's shooting up heroin and the next she's hitching a ride to the trailhead.  The two parts didn't seem to add up to me, like she'd purposely left out a part of the story.  Her mother played a large role in her decision to hike the trail.  She loved her mother very much.  At one point in her journey, Cheryl comes to the realization that she's motherless.  Yes, her mother had died, but she had cared for Cheryl and nurtured her.  We all have different experiences in our lives in which mothers play a large role and again I felt there was a part that was missing. 

Overall, Wild is just that, wild.  I admired Cheryl's courage and tenacity in the face of adversity.  I couldn't shake the feeling however, that there's something important she didn't want to tell me. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Happy Half Birthday To Me

Today is my half birthday. Happy birthday to me! Normally I wouldn't be celebrating a half birthday, I outgrew that practice at about fifty years ago.  This one however, deserves a commemoration.  I'm 59 1/2 which means I can withdraw from my IRA without paying a 10% penalty.  Hip. Hip. Hooray!

Should I be dancing a jig?  I wish I could, but my hip is quite arthritic.  My bank statement came today to tell me how much I can spend now that I'm legal in the world of retirement, but I can't read it.  I can't find my glasses.  And now I'm only six months away from being 60.  How in the heck did that happen?

I'm the youngest of four siblings.  They have all made it safely into their sixties and are waiting for me to catch up.  In this case, playing catch up is a good thing. Except that I have five more years before I can get Medicare.  But those milestone birthdays always scare me and this one is no different. And the next milestone comes in only five years instead of the customary ten.  I'm edgy about it already.

Is all of this really worth celebrating? Honestly, it is.  We all have a few off days here and there.  When those happen I keep my chin up and focus on the bigger picture.  I'm happy and I've been blessed with so many wonderful people and experiences in my life.  I've prepared for my old age as best as I can. No matter what happens in the future, the past has been pretty darn good.  And I'm looking forward to making it even better, a good hip or not.

So bring on my half stack of presents and the half of a cake with the half a candle on top.  I'm ready to blow out half the flame and keep the other half burning! Happy half birthday to me!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison

Looking back, I almost gave up on this book, which is an extremely hard thing for me to do. Now that I have reached the end, I probably should have cut my losses and moved on based on my gut feeling.  Whenever I begin to consider not finishing a novel, I turn to Amazon and Goodreads and look at the reviews.  A Small Indiscretion had so many five star reviews and glowing remarks that I decided to keep going. 

Annie Black is married, living in San Francisco, and runs her own lighting store where she creates unusual lights and lamps from salvaged and discarded items.  Someone has been in an accident of some kind and she's writing to this person.  The story revolves around her telling her life story to this person.  Eventually I'm able to figure out that this 'someone' is her son. 

I say 'eventually' because that was my issue with this book.  The reader is dragged from the present to the past, and back again with reckless abandon.  I had a difficult time following what time it was and what phase of her life I was in.  Not until the last couple of chapters did I even know where the story was headed.  Frankly, I found her story ordinary, nothing about it was really gripping or edge of my seat exciting.  Most of us fumbled through our young adult years at a meaningless first job that paid little.  So we drank too much and hung out with an unsavory cast of characters while we desperately tried to find our own way in life.

I respect that others loved the story of Annie Black. I however, saw nothing special in it.  That's why there's an endless choice of books to read.  I'm moving on to one of them. To each his own.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What's In A Name?

The snow in the Northeast this winter has been overwhelming.  Simply watching it on TV from the sofa in my warm Florida home brings tears to my eyes.  It's devastating.  Strangely, however, I've become hooked on The Weather Channel.  Watching all that snow fall at any hour of the day is my latest pastime.  But what's up with those names that the storms have now?

I've always been fascinated by names.  Maybe this is because my siblings and I are a product of our parents odd naming system.  My parents wanted to name my oldest sister Linda but chose Susan instead.  They thought too many girls would be named Linda at the time.  Susan isn't exactly what I would call an uncommon name, but hey, whatever works.  Eight years and three children later, they must have become weary of naming children.  I ended up with the recycled name, Linda.

Do you know that Linda was the number one girls name of the 1950's and has never made the list since?  Everywhere I go there is at least two more Lindas.  In my working days, I had an office right next door to another Linda.  People would stand outside our doors and say "Good morning, Linda,"  killing two birds with one stone. I met four Lindas at Weight Watchers. Once I was in a meeting with five Lindas.  Trying to keep us all straight was impossible.  I don't think my sister Susan, is suffering the same fate.

Being a Floridian, I'm familiar with naming hurricanes.  On June 1st of each year, the start of hurricane season, the current year's names are headline news.  The National Weather Services is in charge of the names and retires names that meet certain criteria for a level of storm induced devastation.  When The Weather Channel started calling each new blizzard by name, I was curious where these monikers had come from. 

To my surprise, TWC thought them up themselves starting in 2011.  The names are a lineup of who's who of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, but not a god of snow in the bunch. The names, Hektor, Juno and Linus are among those on the list. Right now Neptune is pounding Boston just like the storms that have come before him.  And guess what! NOAA doesn't acknowledge the use of these names. It took the unsuspecting public a nanosecond to accept the term "Winter Storm Octavia "as a perfectly normal thing.

It used to be that winter storms were simply referred to as "The Blizzard of 1977" or "1985" or whatever year it happened to be.  I'll bet that it snowed more than once in those years blessed with "Blizzards".  When clearing out 20 foot piles of snow, is anyone really going to care whether it came from Marcus or Iola?  No. We'll only remember the winter of 2015.

A person's name is like gold, music to our ears every time we hear it. So for all the Hektors, Iolas and Octavias who love being told, "What an unusual name you have," you are about to join the same name club. As a Linda, I share my name with lots interesting and lovely women of a certain age, not a devastating hurricane or blizzard.  Or at least not yet.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Happy(ish) by Cara Trautman

Happy(ish) by Cara Trautman

How Happy(ish) found its way onto my Kindle, I don't recall. I do enjoy a story that's light and frivolous after reading a long, dark, family drama.  Happy(ish) turned out to be a family drama too, but with alot of comic relief.

Jean is 35 years old, unmarried and lost.  Her house is a wreck, her job is a constant source of irritation and her love life is in a state of disrepair.  She lives next door to her best friend Clair, who along with her husband, stars in commercials for the online dating website where they met.  Jean refers to her dysfunctional parents as Pat1 and Pat2.  Pat2 is her father, who divorced Pat1 since he could never understand why he was number two.  He was the man, shouldn't he be Pat1?  They had plenty of other issues and that was the best excuse he could come up with. 

I found myself chuckling at the silliness of this story.  Happy(ish) is not the most gripping and well written story but it did have plenty of enjoyable moments.  And just when I wondered why I had kept reading, the story took a turn and touched my heart.  I never like to give away the ending, and there will be no spoilers here.  After all her crazy antics, the true Jean discovered what life was all about.  It was sweet and simple and the perfect ending.  I felt Happy(ish)!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm just crazy, head over heels in love with the State of Maine.  I've spent the past 2 summers there soaking in the sea and the mountains, the locals and the tourists, the sun and the rain, all of which are gorgeous, peaceful and calm.

A book with the title, Maine should be right up my alley, right?  Wrong.  There was not a single likeable character in this story.  Alice, the matriarch of the Kelleher family, is an outright bitch.  She wanted us to feel sorry for her because her sister, Mary died in a fire many years ago and Alice felt responsible.  I had not one ounce of sympathy for her, she was that mean.  Her daughters and daughter-in-law displayed plenty of shallow and pathetic behavior.  The big family gathering that the reader expects to occur, never does.  Thank goodness.  It probably would have turned into a brawl.

Maine  turned into one long, boring backstory.  No one even appeared in the Maine until more than halfway through the book.  I got lost in the constant flashbacks, excruciatingly long chapters and unlikeable characters.  Once I start reading a book however, I can't stop no matter how painful it is.  As the eternal optimist, I keep hoping to find redemption somewhere even if it's on the very last page.  While looking for the buried gem, I have a tendency to skip pages to speed the process along, which was the case with Maine.

I never found the prize in this novel.  I'm sorry I wasted my time on this book.  This is not the Maine I know and love. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Household Saints by Francine Prose

What better start to a story than, Joseph Santangelo, the butcher, wins his bride, Catherine Falconetti, in a pinochle game with her father and brother.  During a heat wave, Joseph bets a walk into the meat freezer and Lino bets his daughter's hand.  A bet is bet in the close knit Italian neighborhood in New York City.  The next day Catherine is told to buy the best cut of meat and cook a meal for Joseph and his mother, an introduction of sorts.  A cook, she was not, the meal a disaster, and Mrs. Santangelo leaves dismayed by the whole idea of this girl becoming her daughter-in-law. 

And so their married life began as an unlikely pair.  They became the butcher who puts his finger on the scale for a few extra pennies and his wife, who spends her days under the watchful eye of her mother-in-law learning the fine art of sausage making.  Soon, a daughter, Theresa, comes along and everything they thought they knew, changes.  Theresa felt very early on that her calling was to the convent and to God and nothing her parents did could change her.

I love Francine Prose for her beautiful writing and her quirky stories.  I'm a big fan of Blue Angel, another novel by Prose which I've also written a review.  The thing that always strikes me is her ability to write male characters so realistically.  Joseph and Catherine's father, Lino pop off the page as if I was sitting beside them eaves dropping on their conversations.  Catherine, Mrs. Santangelo and Theresa are equally as interesting but Ms. Prose is one of the few writers I know who can give each of the sexes equal footing as characters. 

What I learned from Household Saints is that all of us may feel we are living an ordinary life, but within each of us lives a little piece of God.  Never underestimate the power of a good gossiping grapevine.  And under every roof lives a saint.  Who is the saint in your household?

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...