Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year 2017

As I do each year, what follows are my favorite books of 2016.  I've read many end of year book lists and like always, I don't know half of the books on any of the lists.  And I read a lot!  Goodreads has me at 60 books in 2016.  This year I've taken up listening to books in the car, reading during my lunch break at work on my iPhone and the old standby, in bed at night before going to sleep.  Ahhh.
I love books, books and more books.  So here we go!

Most entertaining - Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.  This is a trip through the land of panagrams and is absolutely delightful.

Most disappointing - Truly, Madly, Guilty by Lianne Moriarty.  I love to read Lianne Moriarty novels. They are funny, serious, fast paced and about women and their relationships with those around them.  It took everything I had to get through this one. Not up to her usual standards.

The best novel come to life - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows.  I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Guernsey this summer and even took the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society tour.  We visited all the spots in the book and learned even more about the German occupation.  Fabulous story set in a wonderful place.

Funniest - Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen. I heard Carl Hiaasen speak at the Vero Beach Book Center , had him autograph my copy of the book and even had my picture taken with him.  He is a hoot!  I've lived in Florida for 36 years so the absurd Florida humor he writes is hysterical and real!

Most Inspirational - Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I read the book and listened to it in the car.  I learned so much about how to let my creative juices flow.  I am going to get my writing career off the ground in 2017!

Best Classic - There's a three way tie here.  Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  The reason these books are called classics is because the stories they tell will never grow old and the the lessons we can learn from them are timeless.

Best book about love and kindness - A Man Called Ove by FredrikBackman.  Everyone should read this story about how love and kindness to our neighbors can change lives.  Ove shows us all what the true meaning of life really is.

Books are the windows into our souls.  So read a little more in 2017 and see how rich your life can become when you lose yourself in a new world or feel the warmth of a character's heart.
Have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!  2017 promises to be a good one!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J K Rowling

I first saw this title while in Heathrow airport this summer, browsing through the bookstore before my transatlantic flight home.  A little boy explained to me that it was a play on the London stage.  His father bought him a copy to keep him occupied in their long flight.  I figured I could get it stateside and not have to lug it in my already souvenir filled carryon.  So I added it to my reading list.

I'm a Harry Potter fan but not so much of a fan that I would rush out to buy and read his latest installment on release day.  In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Harry is grown up, married to Ginny with children of his own.  His son, Albus attends Hogwarts and the sorting hat has put him in Slytherin!  Horrors!  Thus the name "cursed child".  Hermione and Ron also have children at Hogwarts.  She has a high profile job at the Ministry and Ron is busy creating new jokes for the joke store.  Even Draco Malfoy gets in on the act when his son, Scorpius befriends Albus on the Hogwarts Express.

I found this story only ordinary, not exciting.  The young wizard gets into a bind when he finds it difficult to follow in his father's famous footsteps.  The father struggles to be a good role model to his son since he never knew his own.  And a wizard of the dark arts tries to trick them all in order to get something she wants. This play requires the reader to have a vivid imagination in order to recreate the places and people in Harry's young life since it is a script of the play, not a novel.  In the end, I found Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to be somewhat entertaining but very, very predictable.  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

We all know the classic Christmas story of Ebenezer Scrooge but how many of us can say we have actually ever read the book?  The term scrooge is part of our Christmas vocabulary right up there with Santa and candy canes.  But I've never read the book itself, only watched a television version or enjoyed the play at my local playhouse. Until now.  I was given a copy of it in a beautiful leather bound cover and thought this Christmas was the perfect time to read it.

Scrooge is Scrooge.  He's a grumpy, old cheapskate surrounded by cheerful, happy people.  His nephew is quite jolly and Bob Cratchit sports the ultimate positive attitude even though his life appears to be full of misery.  As the spirits appear at his bedside, Scrooge becomes fearful, which leads me to believe that he knows what a miserable man he really is.  But when the spirit shows him the future and leads him to a graveyard, Scrooge is oblivious that he is the dead person and people are laughing at his expense.  That particular scene for me was the real kick in the pants to poor Ebenezer.

Scrooge learned his lesson however, that night.  He became likable and charitable spreading good cheer with the money he had so carefully hoarded in the past.  He freed himself from his chains. A Christmas Carol is a feel good story we can all learn something from.  It is delightful reading that embodies the true Christmas spirit.  So start a new tradition, read this story each Christmas to yourself, your children or your grandchildren.  Or maybe a friend would enjoy a copy.  The more good cheer we spread, the larger the circle of gratitude we create, the better the place we will live in.

Merry Christmas and God bless us, every one!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

I'm really not much of a fan of the writings of the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen.  That era just doesn't appeal to me.  I'm more of an early 20th century girl loving John Steinbeck and Thomas Wolfe.  But I like to keep an open mind and thought a modern day Bronte twist might open a door for me.

Lucy sells rare books in the corner of a high end interior design shop in Chicago.  She's smart and talented but as we find out in this story, has a greedy side.  She takes liberties with her books that are deceitful.  When her tricks are discovered, her world begins to fall apart.  That is until Helen steps in.  Helen is the wealthy grandmother of Lucy's now ex-boyfriend, and she needs an escort to make a trip to England to right a wrong that has troubled her most of her life.

Lucy was not a very likeable character. I wanted to believe she was smart and kind but at the oddest times, she'd lie through her teeth to get something she wanted.  She was too contradictory for me to warm up to her.  And Helen's reason for dragging herself to England was thinly veiled.  It never seemed important enough for me to be engaged with her.

The most fascinating part of this story however, is the towns and sights across England that showcase the lives of the Bronte sisters.  Literary tours through homes, churches and villages associated with writers are very popular with traveling and well read tourists.  I loved the descriptions of the charming spots where they had tea or the English gardens that called for a peaceful stroll through them.

I love to travel and see historical sights, and I'd love to visit these places but after reading The Bronte Plot, I'm still not convinced that I would fall in love with reading Jane Eyre

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

The holidays are upon us which makes it the perfect time of year to read a delightful Christmas story. Felix Funicello, is a young cousin to the beautiful and famous Annette. Felix attends a Catholic school where the nuns rap the pupils knuckles without hesitation and his parents run the diner at the local bus station where posters of Annette adorn the walls.

It's the 1960's, a time I remember with fond memories.  if you were a child in the sixties, you will chuckle with delight at Felix's embarrassments.  He's dealing with parochial school, girls, an awakening sexuality, friends, bullies, and of course a family who top the list when it comes to humiliating Felix on a daily basis.  His story begins to seem all too familiar.

Throw in an anything but run of the mill Christmas pageant and Wishin' and Hopin' will take you on a comical trip down memory lane.  This story is delightful, charming, and full of laughter.  But don't blink.  You might miss an appearance by the charming Annette.  Fun from start to finish!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Every so often I feel the need to read an old classic.  Alice has been sitting on my kindle for quite some time, so I dusted her off.

 I don't believe I had ever read this book as a child.  I remember my mother reading to me The Wind in The Willows but not Alice.  Maybe she did and maybe she didn't.  Because what I found was that my clearest memory of the characters and settings come from the movie.  The book is slightly different.  It's really a shame that the images of Disney have taken over what the written word has the ability to create in one's mind.

But that being said, Alice is charming and polite and curious.  She meets an unusual cast of characters when she plummets down the rabbit hole.  And she always manages to keep her cool regardless of her size at the moment.

Alice's Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is an imaginative tale that is sure to delight no matter what your age.  Alice is a smart, modern girl who can be a great role model.  And she brings to reading a book, a one of a kind, kind of magic and imagination.  A classic!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

The Seat of the Soul shows the reader a powerful way to view his or her place within the universe. This is not a book about religion but a guide to understand our spiritual being.  It took me awhile to wrap my head around all the information in here.  I've read many self help books in my time, all of which have added to some aspect of my spiritual growth.  The Seat of the Soul however, seemed to tie everything I knew together while adding some totally new dimensions that I'd never been exposed to before.

The chapter on addiction struck me.  Having struggled with an alcohol addiction in my life, the points made really hit home.  The final chapter on truth left me feeling all warm and fuzzy and glad I had taken the time to read this book.  Now I have to read it again to learn all that I might have missed.  There is so much in here to learn, I'm sure there are things I need that I missed the first time through.

With all that is going on in the world right now, we can all benefit from a little self reflection.  The Seat of the Soul is just the tool to guide us toward a more loving and peaceful existence.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

This book came highly recommended, lots of 5 star reviews on Amazon.  One even says this book "perfectly captures the plight and desperation of today's displaced executive".  Really??

Matt is a reporter who quits his job to realize his dream of starting a financial website for poets.  Until he finds out that his credit cards are maxed out, his house is going into foreclosure and his wife has stocked the garage with soon to be valuable stuff she bought on eBay.  He's hardly a person anyone should take financial advice from.

One night he goes out to pick up something at the 7 Eleven and ends up befriending some characters who turn out to be drug dealers.  As they drag him deeper into their web, he thinks that selling pot is the answer to his financial nightmare.  I don't need to tell you the rest of the story only to say Matt's life goes even further south from there.

If this book is the story of the future of America then I am going back to the store to buy that bumper sticker I saw the other day.  It said, "Where am I going?  And why am I in a hand basket?"

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I read The Glass Castle years ago and enjoyed the story.  The Walls family is led by an alcoholic father, Rex and a mentally ill and eccentric mother, Rose Mary.  They lead a nomadic life for many years through small towns in California and Arizona.  When the bill collectors or the police got too close, they did a middle of the night skedaddle, as Rex Walls called it.  Eventually the family came back to Welch, West Virginia where Rex had been raised and couldn't wait to escape.  But with all his options depleted, it seemed like the only place left for the family to go.

This time I listened to the book as read by the author.  At first I didn't like the sound of her voice, the pace of the reading.  It felt like I was listening to a child.  As the story went on, I finally got it.  As she grew up, the words grew with her and the storytelling also matured.  Brilliant.

The Glass Castle is amazing because it's so hard to imagine the lives of these children as controlled by their self absorbed parents.  The children suffered without food to eat, clothes to wear, or a roof over their heads most of the time.  Neither parent could hold a job and what little money they did scrape up went toward alcohol or paint supplies.  I found myself screaming at these parents.  And at other times I laughed out loud at them.

What I found most interesting is the fortitude of Jeannette and her siblings.  They worked and worked hard to save enough money to get out of Welch.  They knew the value of a good job and a steady income, both things that their parents couldn't teach them.  And yet they figured it out all on their own.  Children are a product of their environment, but it takes a village to raise and educate them.

If you are feeling sorry for yourself, think you aren't getting enough out of life, read The Glass Castle.   It will raise you out of the doldrums and show you what is possible in your life.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

I thought it was only fitting as Hurricane Matthew bears down on the State of Florida, that I review a book set in Florida, written by a Florida author.  And Carl Hiaasen, a Florida native, has the ability to make all the quirky things we love about the state and weave them into a fantastically, funny novel.

When Lane Coolman's rental is rear ended by a sexy, long legged, redhead en route to the Florida Keys, let the party begin.  Add an expensive diamond ring, the mob and a gambian pouch rat and the pages will seem to turn all by themselves.  Detective, demoted to health inspector, Andrew Yancy tries to make sense of it all.

I had the privilege of meeting Carl Hiaasen at the Vero Beach Book Center.  He was hysterically funny as he described a gambian pouch rat to us.  He's also extremely gracious as he signed our books and posed for pictures.  A wonderful time was had by all.  Carl's a charming kind of guy, who writes a delightful novel.

I've lived in Florida for 36 years, so I get all the inside jokes in Razor Girl.  Someone not familiar with Florida might read those things as they are and not get the extra chuckle that I did.  But that won't make this wild romp in paradise any less enjoyable.  It will keep you laughing from start to finish.  And you'll be itching to come back to Florida hurricanes and all.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes starts with the author explaining she's in Hawaii sitting under a Banyan tree eating a plate lunch of macaroni salad and chicken.  These are all things that have come from somewhere else and are non native to the islands, including herself.  It's a metaphor for the kind of history lesson she's about to tell.

Christian missionaries from New England are on their way to Hawaii to convert and civilize the natives.  The journey is long and tedious and upon arrival in the harbor they are not allowed to get off what has become their floating prison.  Or vomitorium as Ms. Vowell calls it.

The business of changing the natives is no easy task.  The clash of cultures runs from a simple thing as outlawing the hula all the way to stopping the incestuous relationships of the Hawaiian royalty.  The cast of characters changes over time but always include a fair amount of tricksters and shysters. And their desire to make the islands just like home never wavers.

I love Sarah Vowell and her funny quirky way of explaining history.  Her research is impeccable and her ability to apply historical events to the modern day taught me a lot.  All while giving me a good laugh!  This is fascinating stuff.  I learned so much that now I'm itching to go back to Hawaii.  I won't be lounging on a beach when I get there, I'll be exploring all the historical spots and museums, using Unfamiliar Fishes as my guidebook.  Oh and I'll be having a plate lunch followed by a shave ice sitting under a Banyan tree.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is the meanest old man you'd ever want to meet, or maybe not.  He simply has principles and chooses to live by them in a manner the rest of us would call strict and stodgy.  But all that means is that we don't know Ove at all.

I don't want to give you any background on this story, other than Ove is an old man who is ready to call it quits.  The author has woven this story full of unexpected twists and turns, a surprise every few pages.  I want you to experience that for yourself, because Ove is going to become your new best friend.

A Man Called Ove is the best feel good book I've read in a long time.  My sister-in-law sent me the book from California.  I may never have found this story if not for the joy it has brought to others who wanted to spread good news to our troubled world.  More love is what we all need.

I smiled, I laughed, and I cried like a baby.  I finished reading about Ove while at work on my lunch hour.  The boss wanted to know what was wrong, why my eyes were so red.  What more could we want from a book than to experience the full range of emotion?  It's what I love about reading and it's what I love about Ove.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Boy am I glad I got my flu shot before I started reading this book!

An airplane from Russia lands in Toronto bring with it a deadly virus, the Georgia Flu.  People start dropping like flies within a matter of hours.  Kirsten Raymonde is a young child actress onstage in a production of King Lear the night the flu arrived, when the famous actor, Arthur Leander dies onstage of a heart attack.  The lives of those left in the post apocalyptic world remain tied to those who left their mark in the past.

Those who survive become scavengers, hunters, and travelers on foot.  Abandoned cars litter the roads, food must be hunted and the internet has gone dead.  The gadgets of the past are kept in a makeshift museum.  Life as we knew it had ceased to exist.  

This was one of those books that I didn't want to stop reading and when I was forced to turn out the light,  I couldn't wait to start reading again.  The author created a sparse and barren new world and moved the characters through it in such a realistic and believable way, I became immersed in the story.  Could this type of event really happen?  Maybe it could. But then again maybe it couldn't.  The level of doubt circled in my head.

I never want to know the answers to all my questions.  So please.  Get your flu shot.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I first read Eat Pray Love several years ago when it first came out.  I thought Elizabeth Gilbert was whiny and weak.  While reading, I'd scream at her, "Get off that bathroom floor!  Get a grip and clear your mind.  Why can't you do that?"  Cleary I was at a different place in my life.

This time I decided to listen to Eat Pray Love.  It's read by Elizabeth herself and all her love and emotion poured through.  I adored how she said "Luca Spaghetti" or did her best southern drawl when speaking for Richard from Texas.  This time around I found inspiration in her words.  She's a woman on a journey to find the meaning of her life.  Aren't we all doing the same thing at some point in our lives?  Or for all of our lives?  I know I am and I'm clearly at a different place in my life this time around.

I learned from this story a new way to pray, a different path to toward peace within the universe and that we must all be true to ourselves.  Our relationship with God will allow us to soar to new heights,  and that love is what makes the world go 'round.

Eat Pray Love is funny, heartbreaking, ordinary and extraordinary.  You will laugh and cry and have insatiable cravings for pizza and pasta.  Each of our paths toward a spiritual life is different, none better than another.  Sharing and learning from the experiences of others only enriches our own travels through this world.  Thanks, Liz.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

If you didn't know by now, this story starts at the barbecue.  And by the end of the story, I am so over the barbecue I can't even begin to express that feeling in a polite manner.  I'm a huge fan of Liane Moriarty so I couldn't wait to read her latest, Truly Madly Guilty.  Half way through I couldn't wait for it to end.

Erica and Clementine have been friends since childhood.  Erica is being raised by a dysfunctional single mother.  Clementine's perfect family, takes the poor child under their wing.  As adults are the women still really friends?  Nothing about the way the act would lead me to believe that.  I have some experience in this regard, having a dear and wonderful friend for over 50 years.  We met in the fourth grade.  Our lives have taken twists and turns down far different paths, but neither of us would ever consider treating the other in the rude and inconsiderate manner that these two characters did.

Truly Madly Guilty had so many insignificant sub plots that the story became cluttered.  I couldn't care about anyone in this story.  As a writer myself, I felt the author had been pressured into a quick book by her publisher in the name of the almighty dollar.  I adored The Husband's Secret and What Alice Forgot, both with rich story lines, humor and likable characters.  Truly Madly Guilty truly left me mad without any guilt to be found. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife tells the true story of Jan and Antonia Zabinski, zookeepers of the Warsaw Zoo during the German occupation of Poland.  They were Christians and active members of the Polish Underground.  Many Jews hid in their home and in unused animal cages as they passed through to safer places. Hitler has a fascination with exotic animals and many had been taken to Berlin for study.  Birds and the remaining animals became targets for hunting practice as entertainment for German soldiers.  Hiding their guests required stamina as well as creativity.

Having recently returned from a tour of Normandy, France, World War II history is on my mind.  The horrors of it should never be forgotten.  The heroes of war should never be forgotten either.  The Zookeeper's Wife sheds light on the struggle of war from the viewpoint of a young mother, a Christian and a family trapped in the middle.  The battle is filled with fear and raw emotion.

The story itself is a fascinating one.  The author's flowery and overblown writing I can do without.  I'm glad that Ms. Ackerman took the time to meticulously research the lives of Jan and Antonia.  But she added her own unnecessary over polished words to sugar coat what can never be something other than a very dark and barbaric slice of history.  I would have enjoyed reading this book much more if she had just stuck to telling the amazing story she had at hand.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin

A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin

Milo Andret is a boy who grows up near Cheboygan, Michigan.  His parents raise him in a solitary and unemotional home.  He's a mathematical genius who is content to spend time alone in the woods exercising his passion for numbers and formulas in his mind.

The story leads us through Milo's life, first as a college student at Berkley to a professorship at Princeton.  His goal is to solve the world's greatest math problem to which he throws in every ounce of his being.  Milo ultimately wins the prestigious Fields award, the math equivalent of a Nobel prize but his love of women and booze quickly arrest his ability to advance further in the world of advanced mathematics.

The second half of A Doubter's Almanac is written from the point of view of Milo's son, Hans, who has inherited both Milo's good and bad qualities.  His struggles with life are the same as Milo's only updated for a new generation.  We come to understand Milo through his son's eyes.

I've read several books lately that deal with alcoholism.  That aspect of any story is always painful for me since I have walked down that road myself.  I see in the character's actions, where I may have ended up if I hadn't dealt with my problem.  And that can be scary, to think of what might have been. I initially chose to read this book after I saw Ethan Canin on the PBS show, Well Read. He spoke of writing about life.  Even though A Doubter's Almanac is long and I didn't know anything about solving complex math theories,  I couldn't stop reading it.  And that is the story of life.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Mad and Wonderful Thing by Mark Mulholland

A Mad and Wonderful Thing by Mark Mulholland

When traveling I enjoy stopping into a local bookstore and looking around.  I found A Mad and Wonderful Thing in the Irish fiction section while shopping in a mall in Derry, Northern Ireland.   Captivated by the title first and the topic of "The Troubles" second,  I bought it even knowing that a book would be a rather heavy souvenir to cart home.

The story grabbed me on the first page.  The prose is beautiful, emotional and scenic, all things critical to tell the story of love and war.  You might say that Johnny Donnelly is a mixed up boy on the verge of manhood.  On the other hand, you might say he's got it all together and his life choices are smooth and calculated.  And then enters Cora Flannery, a beautiful girl wearing red boots with green laces, who steals his heart.

I didn't know much about the conflict in Ireland so visiting the country taught me a lot.  I learned about potatoes, clogging and gingers, as the redheads are called.  Politics however, as we well know here in the States, shine a whole different light on the inner workings of a society. War forces people to do things and think in a way that is often difficult to understand.  I wished for Johnny to rise above the fray but in the end was left unsatisfied.  I have to accept that because the strategy of war is something I will never personally be able to understand.

A Mad and Wonderful Thing was exactly that, mad and wonderful. I loved Johnny Donnelly and Cora Flannery but I hated the life they were forced to live in the midst of war.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel rides the train each day into London to her non existent job.  She lost it long ago but admits that fact to no one.  She watches out the window of the train as it passes her old neighborhood and the home she once shared with her ex-husband.  He still lives there with his new wife and new baby daughter.  Rachel pines for the life she once had with Tom while she tries to peer behind the blinds in the instant the train passes each day.

When a woman from the neighborhood goes missing, Rachel's vivid imagination kicks in.  I need to mention that Rachel is an alcoholic.  Her life revolves around a careful manipulation of events she can't recall.  She has a habit of doing her best thinking while drinking a wine on the train.

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  But beware, the story is intense from start to finish.  The reader never gets a chance to even take a breath, relax, gather some thoughts.  The tension makes for a really good, fast paced novel, but I was exhausted half way though.  I couldn't stop.

Every twist and turn lead to a new and unexpected surprise.  I had no idea what was coming in the end.  The Girl on the Train is exactly the kind of emotional train ride I love to take.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield

Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield

We meet Lucy Takeda and her daughter, Patty when a police officer arrives on their doorstep to question Lucy about a murder of a local man.  On the eve of Patty's wedding, Lucy is forced to reveal the story of her time in a Japanese internment camp as a teenager.

Lucy's parents seem to have it all.  Her father owns a business, her mother is a stunning beauty, they live in a nice house in Los Angeles.  Soon after her father dies, Pearl Harbor happens.  Everyone of Japanese decent is forced into camps.  Lucy's life turns from happy and comfortable into a game of survival.

Garden of Stones paints a very dark yet realistic picture of life in these camps.  Lucy was forced to grow up in a hurry.  She begins to share her life story with Patty but still feels she has to hold some things back to protect Patty.  But Patty is desperate to find the truth in order to get her mother released from police custody.

I loved the historical aspects of this book but struggled with the holes in the story.  For me the Garden of Stones had a small and inconsequential role to the story yet it was chosen for the title. The reader is led down a very specific path about Patty's birth only to have that yanked out from under them.  I'm all for twists and turns to make a story interesting, but these ended up being unrealistic.  Needless to say I was disappointed in the outcome.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

It does seem odd to me that I wanted to read this second installment of the Bill Hodges Trilogy.  Mr. Mercedes was so gruesome but so good I couldn't put it down.  This time I prepared myself for the horror to come because the writing is just so damn good.

The opening scene introduces us to Morris while engaged in a robbery of the home of his favorite author.  Morris knows the guy is hiding notebooks filled with the manuscripts of sequels to his favorite books of all time.  He has to have them.  Robbery leads to murder and he hides the cherished notebooks until the coast is cleared.  He ends up in prison for another crime for several unexpected decades leaving his treasure unattended.

Enter Pete, a teenage boy who discovers Morris' stash.  Pete is also a young literary connoisseur who becomes consumed by the contents of the trunk.  Let the action unfold.  And Stephen King is a master at doing just that.

If I have any criticism, it's that the action really doesn't get started until two thirds of the way through.  Once it starts however, hold on to your hat.  The tension builds swiftly like only Stephen King can do it.  The stage is set for the return of Mr. Mercedes villain, Brady Hartsfield, but he plays only a minuscule role in this book.  He seems to have been inserted in Finders Keepers so we'd be sure to come back for book three.

And maybe I'm getting used to all the gruesome stuff.  This book didn't bother me as much in that regard.  I'd hate to think that I'm becoming hardened to violence and I don't think I am.  I'm just mesmerized by one incredible author who has an amazing voice on the page.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows, Mary Ann Shaffer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows, Mary Ann Shaffer

I've read this book before but decided to read it again.  Why?  Because in 2 weeks time I'm leaving on a cruise around the British Isles.  And the first stop is St Peter Port, Guernsey, The Channel Islands.  This novel seemed like the perfect way to prepare for what I'm going to see there.

Juliet is a writer looking for a topic for her next novel when she receives a letter from a man living on Guernsey.  He's read a book by his favorite author and the book had been inscribed to Juliet.  So begins her correspondence with the post war residents of the island.  Their stories of the German occupation are fascinating and Juliet just may have landed on the perfect new story for publication.  She decides to visit them and falls deeply in love in more ways than one.

The members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are an eclectic cast of characters who all want to get in on the action to correspond with the well known author.  They each tell their own story in their own words. And what a story they tell about life during the German occupation.  They found joy on even the darkest days.

I love stories that are written as letters.  Modern society has lost the fine art of written correspondence.  An email is simply not the same.  Fine penmanship has also gone by the wayside. Juliet and her new friends were able to convey emotion in a handwritten post that brought them together quickly.  Their bonds sealed by the time they had licked the stamp and dropped the letter into a mailbox.   I can't wait to see this charming place and imagine each of the inhabitants as they went about their daily lives.  And I can't wait to handwrite a postcard, buy a local stamp and mail it home.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

I read several glowing reviews of Sweetbitter and its portrayal of the inner workings of a restaurant in New York City.  I thought why not?  Something new, young and fresh about a topic I'd like to know more about.

Here's the spoiler.  I never made it past the 20% mark.  I gave up, which for those who know me, is an extremely rare event. The characters were all limp and lifeless.  Probably because all they did was drink, do drugs and have sex before running themselves ragged serving fine food and wine to some very snooty and particular customers.  I had no sense of the setting either other than food was served there.  I didn't smell the cooking of fine cuisine, or hear the clatter of dishes in the kitchen. Flat as a pancake is the best description I can whip up.

To summarize, Sweetbitter is dull and uninteresting and I didn't care what happened to any of the people in it.  In other words, Sweetbitter was as listless as wet bar towel forgotten on the floor overnight.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

I don't know why I've never read any Pat Conroy.  He's the kind of writer right up my alley.  I listened to The Prince of Tides on a CD in my car.   His prose is rich and lyrical, full and blossoming at each turn of the page or in my case, each new track.

Some of this story seemed familiar to me, but a lot of it wasn't.  I must have seen the movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand.  In fact it's their faces I imagined as the characters, Tom Wingo and Susan Lowenstein.  And there are just two memorable scenes that I clearly remembered.  The first is when Tom's mother serves up a canned dog food casserole as dinner to his irritable and irrational father.  The second is when Tom holds Lowenstein's husband's Stradivarius over the balcony from the fortieth floor of their New York City apartment.

Both of those are quite memorable parts of the novel as well. But the novel includes so much more pure and raw emotion.  The story of the Wingo family unfolds when Tom leaves his home and family in Charleston, rushing to the bedside of his twin sister, Savannah who has yet again made an attempt to commit suicide.  Her psychiatrist, Lowenstein, seeks clues into Savannah's troubled past through Tom.  He tells the story of his family with precise detail and ends up healing not only Savannah, but himself.  Believe me, everyone in this story needed a boatload of healing, so that was nothing short of miraculous.

When I tell you that The Prince of Tides is a gorgeous read, I mean that it is able to tap into every emotion a reader can have.   I often laughed out loud and other times, I was totally sickened by the action of the characters.  Sometimes I could anticipate what might happen next and other times, I gasped at an event so unexpected it took my breath away.  These kind of feelings can only happen when the characters are fully developed, allowing the reader to envision them as a best friend or hated bully and the setting is described as lush garden completely natural to letting the events of a troubled life unfold.
The Prince of Tides is long, but don't let that scare you away.  It's a masterpiece worth every single minute of the time you invest in it.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant

The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant

This review will be short and sweet.  Or maybe not so sweet.  I just plain and simple didn't get it.  The prose was pretty but only served as fluff around a weak story.  I kept finding myself looking back to see what I might have missed.  The plot limped along and what I thought to be the climax turned out to be quite anti-climatic.

Vivian is the daughter of Hungarian immigrants to London after World War II.  Her parents rarely leave their apartment and she, being a modern girl wants more out of life.  She knows her father has a brother but he will never speak of him or explain why he hates Uncle Sandor so much.  One day Vivian strikes up a conversation with a man while sitting on a park bench.  She knows the man is Uncle Sandor and accepts a job transcribing his life story for him.  So the deception begins.

The Clothes on Their Backs has the components to make a great novel, but fell short.  Nothing in the book connected for me, and the end left me unsatisfied.  And why the title of this book references clothes, will always remain mystery for me.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am a writer and I write for the pure joy of it.  But I fear of it.  I'm not good enough, or other people won't like it or I'm simply not talented enough.  You've helped me to say phooey to all those things I'm afraid of and you've shown me that as a writer, I'm not alone.  I saw myself in every chapter of Big Magic.

I wasn't a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love when I read it. But I loved it more when a story I wrote about my puppy named Ginger who flunked obedience school, was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Dog's Life,  as "Treat, Pray, Love".  I loved the chapter about how ideas float around the universe searching for a place to land.  My first novel, One Clown Short is story about a woman who lands a job at a circus supply company.  It's a satirical look at the workplace complete with yahzoos and clown costumes.  While I made about $100 in royalties and occasionally I'm paid thirty five cents for a copy of the digital version,  The Office appeared to great success on television.  They worked at a paper company.  Hmm.  I understand completely that ideas belong to different people in varying degrees.

Big Magic is in me, I know it.  I have to let it flow and let go of my fear of not being good enough.  I am already good enough and my creative life will take me to great and wonderful heights, if I just let it.  I write for me!  It's not my baby, I'm its baby.

Thank you for sharing your insight through this book.  I needed it!  I still have my day job, but I am living a creative life and big magic is headed my way!


Linda C Wright
Creator of Big Linda Magic

Saturday, June 18, 2016

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash

I have sweet little story to tell about why I read a second title by Ron Rash.  If any of you read my review of A World Made Straight, you're probably thinking why did she read another book by this author if she disliked the first one so much.  Well, here's why.

A couple weeks ago the Brevard County Library System sent me an email saying the book I'd ordered, One Foot in Eden was in.  I knew darn well I hadn't ordered any books, but I had a sneaking suspicion who had.  When the book club discussed A World Made Straight, no one really liked it all that much.  Yes, it had plenty of good qualities but lots of discrepancies to go along.  Our librarian, Lori, leader and book chooser appeared heartbroken.  She loves reading Ron Rash.

I went to the library to pick up the book and ran into Lori.  When I told her that a book had been ordered for me and I didn't remember doing it, her face broke out into a big smile.  I knew it was her and we had a laugh over my excellent detective work.  I took One Foot in Eden home.

One Foot in Eden is the story of a murder.  We know right away there's been a murder and who did it.  There is however, no evidence.  The story is told first from the point of view of the sheriff, the same story is told through the eyes of the farmer's wife, then the farmer and finally many years later by their son.  Ron Rash's prose is rich and interesting to read.  How he put this story together is unique and the pages almost turn by themselves.

Even though I liked this book, I have the same reservation about it that I had about A World Made Straight.  All the parts didn't seem to connect for me.  I couldn't escape the feeling I was missing something.  One thing I do know however, is that every book I read helps me to see the world from a different set of eyes and whether I think the book is good, bad or even mediocre, I'm a better person for having read it.  And I take my hat off to all the wonderful librarians who show us how to enrich our lives through the power of books.  Thank you, Lori!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Into the Magic Shop by James Doty M.D.

Into the Magic Shop by James Doty, M.D.

This book has a very long subtitle which I didn't write here.  I didn't read it or know it existed when I picked up this book or I probably wouldn't have selected it.  When I read the words "magic shop" I figured I'd enter a world full of math tricks and optical illusions like my husband keeps handy to entertain any children he meets.  Boy was I barking up the wrong tree.

The opening scene is a doctor operating on a young boy's brain to remove a cancerous tumor.  The boy begins to bleed and the doctor steps back, gathers his thoughts and clamps the bleeder saving the boy's life.  The tension was palpable.  I thought, "What in the heck did I get myself into?"

For some unknown reason I kept going.  Jim has lost his thumb, his fake thumb that he keeps in a special box with other trinkets and mementos.  He rides his bike to a magic shop to see if he can afford a new one.  There he meets Ruth, who sees something special in him from the instant she met him.  If he'll come back to the shop everyday for the rest of the summer, she promised to teach him something special.  Jim comes from a poor and troubled family.  His mother is severely depressed, his father is an abusive alcoholic.  Jim has nothing to lose and returns promptly each day.  Ruth guides him through the basics of meditation, setting goals and making affirmations.

As a young boy, Jim embraced these teachings and realized real change in his life.  Against all odds, his dream of becoming a doctor came true.  He used these gifts to help others and studied how they affect the brain.  This is truly interesting and fascinating story about the mind and the power of gratitude.

I've read many books on the power of positive attitude.  I've studied Reiki, meditation and practice gratitude every day.  I know the difference they have made in my own life.  Into the Magic Shop has added a much needed building block to my foundation.  This is a great story with plenty of take aways to make all of our lives better.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

What's not to love about Wang Lung?  We meet him as he's paying for his new bride who is a slave to a wealthy landowner.  Wang Lung is a lowly farmer who must have a wife who is a virgin to give grandchildren to his aging father.  He knows she'll be ugly since the pretty slaves are taken by their rich and self indulgent master.  What he doesn't know is the value O-Lan will bring to his family and his farm.

I've read The Good Earth many times and I always learn something new from it.  This time it's a book club selection and I was excited to read this wonderful story once again.  Not only do I love this  book because I love to read about the Chinese culture, but I adore the way this story is told.  Just as Wang Lung moves thoughtfully forward in his decisions, the prose transports the reader as if we are seeing the world through Wang Lung's eyes.  I could sense his pride as he harvested the rice from his field and the warmth of the silver coins the crop brought to him.  As the good earth sifted through his fingers, he discovered the meaning of life living deep within his soul.

The Good Earth tells the story of all of us. We are constantly searching for something more out of life, that which will make us happy.  Wang Lung is no different and grounds himself in his land that provides more than enough for his family.  He becomes a wealthy man and the one thing that never fails him is the good earth.

The Good Earth is one of those classics that shouldn't be missed. Thank you, Pearl S. Buck for your incredible insight and for sharing this story with all of us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Feather in the Storm by Emily Wu

Feather in the Storm by Emily Wu

I love reading about all things Chinese.  The people and the culture fascinate me.  I've read many books both fiction and memoir about the Chinese way of life.  Feather in the Storm is Emily's story of her life and that of her family while caught in the middle of Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution.

What struck me the most while I read this story is that this was all happening in the 1960's and 70's.  Emily is the same age as me.  There I was going to school, shopping in a well stocked grocery store and having a carefree childhood.  On the other side of the world, Emily is denied the ability to read books, food is rationed and she's shuffled from town to remote village and back again at the whim of the Communist party.  I was safely tucked into my same cozy bed each and every night. And when  my parents made me clean my dinner plate by saying, "There are starving children in China," they didn't make that up.  They had watched the evening news.

Much of this story is tough to read.  Emily is a sweet and loving girl who makes a lot of friends along the way.  And she learns how to discern between the good and the bad, or in other words how to play the game.  She reaches her breaking point many times, but she gathers her inner strength and keeps on going.

Feather in the Storm is a story that is a history lesson with a personal touch.  This memoir is a true testament to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit.  

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Well I've made a huge leap forward.  I've finally discovered audio books.  I pop a CD into the car player and listen while I'm driving to work.  The written word takes on a whole new meaning when spoken.  So here we go!

I last read A Raisin in the Sun while in high school.  Being young and naive, I couldn't fully comprehend the depth of this play.  I knew it as one of those classics that should never be forgotten but I filed it in the way back of my mind with the rest of the things I've forgotten since my teenage years.  It's a play so this audio version comes complete with not only actors but doorbells, telephone rings and squeaky doors opening and closing. I got an inside look into this family that I never would have discovered by simply reading the words on the page.

The Younger family is waiting for a life insurance check.  Lena and her children, Walter Lee and Beneatha , Walter's wife Ruth and her grandson, Travis live together in a small apartment on the south side of Chicago in the mid 1950's.  Like all of us, they had dreams of building a better life.  Each member of the family had a different idea on how the money should be spent in order to find those dreams.  What they learn about themselves and the world they are living in is a powerful lesson.

What struck me the most about this play is how far we've come in trying to heal the racial divide in this country but how little we've changed now that we've arrived in the 21st century.  We've only made our differences more visible since the advent of 24 hour news.  It's sad.  I highly recommend that A Raisin in the Sun get dusted off, read or listened to, whatever works for you.  The story is thought provoking, real and current for today's world.  A classic for today, real change for tomorrow.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace

Edward Bloom has lived an extraordinary life.  He has an extensive repertoire of corny jokes, had a very successful career and yet has remained a mystery to his son, William.  As Edward lay on his death bed, William struggles to get to the truth of who is father really is.

I think we all long to learn who our parents are on some other level than as our parents.  Edward relishes in living somewhere between reality and fairy tale.  We are never sure what is fact and what has been massaged and embellished over time.  And neither is William.  Edward's stories are funny but often heartbreaking.  He's loved by so many others yet he never learned how to love or be loved by his own son.

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions is charming and witty. It's fun and easy to read. Being, however, that I'm a more practical type, Edward's tales grew more and more outrageous as the book went on. While  I'm fully onboard with embracing a fantasy every now and then, this fish grew to large and too fast into something too far fetched for even my dreamy side to believe in.  I won't tell you how it ended but I thought Edward's balloon burst for good.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.  Fact or fantasy, Edward is one big fish of mythical proportions but I'm sure he's been caught by now.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Adult Sized Spelling Test

Recently I read Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  The girls in the story wore bandannas.  Notice the two "n"s.  It looked weird to me each time I read the word.  Next I read The Liars' Club by Mary Karr.  She too had a bandana but hers only had one "n".  I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

I started a new book the other day, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace.  And guess what!  He's wearing a bandanna.  Ugh.  I'm back to two "n"s. Miriam Webster defines a bandanna as a square piece of cloth that is used as a head covering or worn around the neck. A variant of bandanna is bandana.  Oh, thank God, I really did pass my fourth grade spelling test.

Wikipedia on the other hand says a bandana is a type of large, usually colorful kerchief worn on the head or around the neck of a person or a pet and is not considered a hat. Having taught my dog, Ginger everything she knows, the cute and colorful bandana she wears home from the groomer only has one "n".  I'm sure of it.

Synonyms for a bandana are, do-rag, hachimaki, headband and tengkolok.  OK.  I know what headband is and I can tell a funny story about when I learned about a do-rag.  Let's just say the white women got a hairdressing lesson from the black women.  But I haven't met anyone yet who is willing to educate me on the care and use of those other two strange bandana word look a likes.

I'm also told that bandanas reached their peak of popularity in the 1970's, 80's and 90's.  Based on all the contemporary novels I've been finding them in, I believe a resurgence is happening.  Although I struggled with the spelling of this item, I would have been even more freaked out if I'd caught any of these characters wearing a kerchief.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

I often read two books at a time and I'm currently reading On Writing by Stephen King.  He raved about The Liars' Club.  Since I enjoy memoirs and the writing of them, I'm working on one of my own right now, I thought I'd give this one a spin.

I don't even know where to start to give this book a short recap.  Mary Marlene and her sister, Lecia have the misfortune or fortune, depending on how you look at it, of having been born to highly dysfunctional and alcoholic parents. While I believe that the stories within this book are true, many of them seemed so unbelievable based on my personal frame of reference, that I couldn't place them in any kind of reality.  This book contains tales of mental and physical abuse of every kind imaginable and then some.

No question, Mary Karr is a talented writer.  The story telling is mesmerizing most of the time, but some parts dragged on and others seemed disconnected from the rest. A large portion of the book is Mary as a seven or eight year old.  So much happened that I had the feeling more time should have passed and Mary has grown.  But no, she was still only eight.  For me, the timing was kind of off.

The one big mystery of The Liars' Club is how Mary and Lecia both found their way out with college educations and successful careers.  Or maybe that's the life lesson to be learned from someone else's misery, anything is possible. Be prepared however, if you decide to take the plunge on The Liars' Club.  It's one wild, disgusting and unbelievable ride.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Carly and Jen are sisters who are walking to California in search of Teddy, someone who will take care of them. They find themselves alone after the sudden death of their mother and her current creepy boyfriend, Wade.  Teddy was a previous boyfriend who had been kicked out of their home right before Wade came on the scene.  Terrified they will fall into the hands of Child Protective Services, they begin the long walk.

When exhaustion and hunger take over, the girls find themselves behind the wrong end of a shotgun belonging to Delores, an elder of the Wakapi tribe.  She insists they stay and work off their debt of stolen eggs from her henhouse. The younger Jen welcomes the sense of security they are given in Delores' care.  Sixteen year old Carly does not.  She's a teenager fighting with every ounce of strength to become an adult.  We've all been there in our lives so it is easy to see what drives her.

I've read several novels written by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  They all share a message of hope, pitting bad people against all that is good in the world.  But please don't think that one is the carbon copy of another, far from it.  Ms. Hyde's most well known book is Pay It Forward, which I haven't read yet.  I've gotten so much enjoyment from Take Me With You, Worthy and now Walk Me Home that I never seem to get to it. I'm still basking in the glow of a well written book with a feel good ending, knowing there are far more good people in the the world than bad.  And that's worth reading about over and over again.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Call The Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary J MacLeod

Call The Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary J MacLeod

My sisters and I are going to Scotland this summer to visit our ancestral home.  Dunrobin Castle is in the Scottish Highlands and we've been studying about wars and royalty in preparation for our trip.  It's not just Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, I'm longing to find, it's to learn about the culture, food and customs of my homeland.

I came across this book, Call the Nurse and boy did I learn a lot!  Mary MacLeod and her family decide they want a simpler life and move to one of the many islands of Scotland.  She is a nurse and quickly lands a job taking care of the people on the island.  At first she is considered an outsider but soon becomes entwined in their lives.  Some are kind, some are cranky and all are a bit quirky.

I got an in depth look into the ways of the Scottish people.  While the Scots speak English, it's combined with the Gaelic so quite a bit of translation happens.  My mouth waters every time I think of the food she described being served at the many gatherings.  Scottish pancakes are at the top of my list of must have foods.  Hagis, a kind of sausage, is also on that list but I'm not so sure I'm going to enjoy that as much as a sweet fluffy pancake drizzled with syrup.

Call the Nurse is a charming collection of stories of life and death and all that happens in between.  I absolutely adored this book.  I learned so much and I can't wait to see the Sottish heather on the hillside with my own eyes.  Whether you are a Scot or not, this is a book that will make you laugh and make you cry and is sure to warm your heart forever.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists is the story of an English newspaper that is published in Rome, Italy. Each chapter tells the story of a different person with a link to the paper, some are employees, their significant others and one is a customer of the paper.  In between are flashback of how the paper came into being in the mind of Mr. Ott and how his family over the years led to its demise in a now digital world.

Each character's story stands on it's own.  I have to say for the first half of this book, I had no idea how these stories were connected and I almost gave up.  These were a bunch of people struggling to make something of themselves in a dirty and dusty newsroom.  It was not really all that exciting for me.

It took awhile, but them the story clicked.  Finally the author started making the connections.  There is not a single likable character in this entire novel.  Not one!  And their interactions are tense and unpleasant.  But I had to laugh at one reference.  Anyone who knows me well will understand it.

Accounts Payable, as she's called, made the decision to fire one of the employees in an effort to cut costs.  She finds herself on an airplane sitting next to a man she sizes up as dull and drab and must have a job working at Office Depot.  Since I worked for Office Depot for over 15 years, I don't know a single person there who would classify themselves as uninteresting.  I laughed over that line for a very long time.  Accounts Payable finally realizes that he's the one she fired and the overseas flight is not very pretty.

I think the writing in this story is fresh and sharp, but kind of dark.  It's not an uplifting book to read by any stretch of the imagination.  For me as a writer, The Imperfectionists is a great study in the craft of writing. Not every story has a happy ending and this one shows how rough and raw life can be.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

I recently read an article about Herman Wouk.  He's 100 years old and still going strong.  He's led a great writing life which all of us wanna be authors long to have.  I knew his name but had never read any of his work so I was ecstatic when my trusty book club decided to read it.  It was the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1951 so I'm always happy when I can cross one of those off my list.

Willie Keith is a Princeton boy, fresh out of college and off to Naval Officer Training school to serve his country during World War II.  While there he earns the distinction of having more demerits than anyone else, and barely shy of requiring expulsion.  Willie has a talent for making up silly songs which he sings in a nightclub just for fun.  While there he meets a beautiful lounge singer, May Wynn.  The pair fall in love but struggle to reconcile the very different cultures in which they've been raised.

Willie is shipped off to an ancient rust bucket, a minesweeper, The Caine.  His life on board under the direction of an eccentric and overwhelmed, Captain Queeg, turn the pampered mama's boy into a man.  As a writer, I pay attention to how characters change and grow in the midst of the story.

Herman Wouk doesn't write fancy prose or use complicated literary devices.  He's simply an excellent storyteller.  The Caine Mutiny is a compelling story, well told.  I felt it dragged on especially during the court martial and I didn't quite understand the the storyline of the naval lawyer, but neither detracted from my overall enjoyment of the novel.

I have to add that the history lesson that lives within these pages is a good one.  The Caine Mutiny is one that will stick with me for a long time.  Sometimes there is nothing like a good, old fashioned classic to stimulated my gray matter and enrich my reading list.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Starla Claudelle, a white girl, lives in Mississippi with her not so nice grandmother, Maime.  Her father works on an oil rig, only making it home every few months.  Lucinda, her mother has gone to Nashville to become a star.  At nine years old, Starla feels that no one loves her.

Starla is a redhead and has a temper to match.  So when she punches the school bully, Maime grounds her just in time for the Fourth of July fireworks display.  When she's discovered outside the confines of her bedroom, she decides to head to Nashville in search of her mother.  Eula, a colored woman, picks up the pint sized hitchhiker along the side of the road.

The year is 1963 and the civil rights movement is beginning to take shape in the deep south.  Their journey together shows the bad and the ugly of this time in America.  But it also shows that people can be kind and caring while staring adversity in the face.

What I loved about Whistling Past the Graveyard is the development of the rich array of characters.  Starla is a child and we see the story through her eyes.  Eula shows us what a life of abuse means for a colored woman in a white world.  Both of them learn about themselves growing through the course of the story. That is not always easy for an author to accomplish and the way it played out in Whistling Past the Graveyard warmed my heart.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

In 1867 Lisa See's great great grandfather arrived in America from China.  As an herbalist, his services were in great demand by immigrant laborers.  This is where her family history begins.

Fong See, her great grandfather started making ladies underwear, married Ticie, a Caucasian woman before building a successful antique business.  The family's story involves racism, romance, secret marriages and betrayals.  Not only does On Gold Mountain tell the story of a family, it documents the history of America from the building of the railroads through the Great Depression into the post war boom of the fifties.

That is a lot of territory to cover.  The story is meticulously researched and Ms. See does a good job of keeping the reader's head focused on the family tree. There is a lot going on and people and places to keep track of.  In some areas the story dragged on.  I felt some parts were important to document for the family but maybe not so interesting to the average reader.

I love Lisa See's fiction much more than this book, but I fully understand her desire to write it. In any event On Gold Mountain is a wide and sweeping history lesson in the people that help to make American the wonderful place it is.  And I'm glad I read it.  I learned so much.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

My reading life follows a predictable pattern. I muddle through a string of so so and decent but unexciting novels and then Boom!  I find something absolutely delightful.  So here I go again and this time I found Ella Minnow Pea. We were meant to find each other.  I had a $5 coupon at the bookstore and forgot to use it for my relaxing cup of coffee.  I searched the aisles for a book, which I didn't really need but I couldn't let $5 go to waste.  I picked up and put down dozens before Ella Minnow Pea finally spoke to me.

The story is set on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina.  The island has been named for Nevin Nollop, the man who wrote the panagram, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog".  When the statue in his honor in the town square begins losing its letters, the councilmen ban each letter from use within hours of it crashing to the ground.  It's an omen they say from the great Nollop.  The punishment is strict for using a banned letter and the citizens either get creative or are banished to the mainland.

Ella Minnow Pea is wonderful fun!  The story is told through letters written by cousins Ella and Tassie and sometimes their parents missives are sprinkled in.  If you love language and letters, which I do, you will find Ella Minnow Pea a crazy wild ride through words.  It will bring a smile to your face!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

Travis Shelton is by all accounts a typical teenage boy.  While fishing for speckled trout in his out of the way spot, he comes across what appears to be unattended marijuana plants and helps himself.  He sells them to Leonard, the local drug dealer, who lives a quiet life in a rundown trailer outside of town.  Travis sees easy money and goes back for more, only this time he's caught by the Toomeys, owners of the plants.

The chain of events lands Travis in a heap of trouble.  Leonard takes him in when he has nowhere else to go.  Once a teacher, Leonard encourages Travis to study for his GED and shares his love of the Civil War, in particular, the 1863 Shelton Laurel Massacre.  The Toomeys meanwhile are laying in wait, watching Travis' and Leonard's every move.

The World Made Straight is a story of conflicts, conflicts within families, between cultures and in history. It is the story of who we are and where we've come from. This novel is a book club selection and as always, I'm grateful to be pushed into reading a story I never would have picked up on my own.  But I have to say I just didn't like this book all that much.  For me the multiple story lines didn't connect and I felt like I was jumping around in and out of several completely distinct books.  The pace was slow and grinding.

I've talked to a lot of people who love Ron Rash.  I'd never heard of him until now.  Maybe this wasn't the book I should have started with, he's written several others.  I wouldn't say the book was good or bad, only that The World Made Straight is much more crooked than I'd like it to be.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I'm not sure where to begin with Miss Jean Brodie.  She's a teacher at the very proper Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland and she is in her prime.  She's passionate about her unorthodox teaching methods of impressionable young girls and makes sure they know she's in her prime, whatever that means.

The group of girls become known as the Brodie set for their loyalty to her.  They are highly sought after by the headmistress who hopes to glean information from them that will allow her to fire Miss Brodie.  She's in love with the married art teacher but carries on an affair with the single, but not so interesting music teacher.

Miss Jean Brodie tries her best to manipulate the set.  But the girls, well trained by her, are able to turn the tables.  The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie doesn't have much of a plot.  The reader is however, taken deep inside the ego of a woman who insists she's in her prime.  And we hike through the minds of children as they grow to maturity.  This novel is really a brilliant psychological mind trip.

I had no idea where this book would take me when I started reading it.  I often hoped for more twists and turns but in the end I was left feeling fully satisfied.  Unusual is the best word I can think of to describe a woman in her prime.  I'm still wondering if I'm in my own prime or if it as already passed me by.  Where is Miss Jean Brodie when I need her?

Monday, April 4, 2016

All That Ails You: The Adventures of a Canine Caregiver by Mark J. Asher

All That Ails You: The Adventures of a Canine Caregiver by Mark J. Asher

Wrigley is the house dog at the SunRidge Assisted Living home.  In his short life, he's lived in several different homes, none of which had been all that happy.  So when he came to SunRidge, his prayers had been answered, a soft cozy bed, an endless supply of rubs behind his ears and peanut butter treats simply for the asking.

I toyed with the idea of simply not writing a review of this book. I don't have a feeling about it one way or the other. I'm too addicted however, to the process to stop and I enjoy adding my two cents worth. In some small way I feel I'm helping not only people who are considering reading the book but the authors too, to know how readers are reacting to their work.

What's not to love about a dog story?  Nothing really.  This is a very simple story, told from the dog's point of view.  He's smart in a dog kind of way.  But the story telling from a human point of view lacked excitement, color and tension.  Wrigley is a sweet guy, but that's all I can say.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

It's spring!  That means it's time for a fresh start and spring cleaning!

I happen to be a pretty neat person.  My clothes are hung up the minute I take them off, I throw out all the junk mail as soon as it comes,and I take out the trash on a regular basis.  But I still often feel like I have too much stuff.  Frankly, too much stuff can be overwhelming.

Are there too many clothes in my closet?  Yes, but my real issue is books.  Books have their own chapter in this book so I know I'm not alone.  Ms. Kondo requires that I take all my books off the shelf and put them in a pile.  This will make it easier for me to decide if the book sparks joy in my heart.  If I bought the book and then never read it, most likely it gave me some kind of joy when I bought it, but quickly lost it's spark.  It needs to go.  This same theory can apply to clothing, mementos and even all that stuff I didn't know I had under the bathroom sink.

Ms. Kondo loves being tidy and she discovered her passion for it at a very early age.  What she conveys so well in this book is that tidying up is not only about our clothing, books, and papers, it's about how we live our lives.  We must ask ourselves, do the things we have spark joy?  If they don't, do we really need to keep them?

I'm not quite ready to empty all my drawers, shelves and closets, looking for joy, but I did take a load of items that no longer delighted me to Goodwill today.  I'm looking for joy and when I don't feel it, I can more easily let it go.  I've been given a great tool to use in all aspects of living.  What a better world we would live in if we could take the time to feel a spark of joy. I highly recommend this life changing magic even though the title may be frightening.  It will change your life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

I first learned of Jonathan Evison on my new favorite television show about books, Well Read.  The subject of his latest book, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance didn't really appeal to me, but his conversation about writing intrigued me enough to see what else he'd written.  Since my latest project is about aging, I thought The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving might be good research.

Benjamin Benjamin enrolls himself in a class on caregiving.  He has hit rock bottom and figures it's as good a place as any to start rebuilding his life, even if it only pays $9 an hour. Ben's first assignment is to care for Trev, a young man with a rare form of muscular dystrophy.  Trev comes with an overprotective mother and a clumsy father who she kicked out of the house long ago.  Trev is angry about life in general.  That is until Ben becomes his caregiver and his friend.

When I sat down to write this review, a book club discussion came to mind.  When you dislike the protagonist, is it a good book or not?  Ben is not a likable guy.  His marriage and his family have collapsed, he's broke, has a drinking problem, refuses to sign the divorce papers his wife keeps trying to serve him, and the list goes on.  Here's the spoiler alert.  I might have been more sympathetic to Ben, if I had been told why his life was in such a state of disarray sometime before I had read 75% of the book.

Mr. Evison is the master of creating tension.  There were so many great scenes in the book that could keep a reader on the edge of her seat.  But I just couldn't warm up to a guy for no reason at all.  The author kept me on the hook for far too long until Ben's disagreeable personality became ingrained in my mind and I couldn't change it.  It turned out Ben had a pretty good reason for being the way he was, but for me, I remain stuck in between good and not so good.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

I felt it was time for me to do a little self reflection.  Recovering from a hip replacement forced me to face the fact that I'm getting older.  My ability to write a decent story seemed to have dissipated into thin air, and then both of the granddaughters dropped out of high school.  I needed some words of wisdom to get me back on track.

The author starts by reminding us that we have chosen to believe what we are programmed to believe. We are a product of of our environment and to shift our core beliefs is extremely difficult. He lays out The Four Agreements as the steps we need to take to effect real peace in our lives.

The Four Agreements are simple. Be impeccable with your words.  Say only what you mean and speak with integrity.  Our lives today are busy and hectic.  Gossip and negativity can roll easily off our tongues, spreading evil instead of the goodness we crave.

Don't take anything personally.  Others project their own version of reality and you don't need to be their victim.

Don't make assumptions.  I still remember Felix Unger on The Odd Couple when in a courtroom, he delivered his famous speech, "When you assume, you make an ass of you and me."  So true, so don't do it.

Be the best that you can be.  Everyday I now wake up each morning and say these four agreements out loud.  It's my own little pep talk that gets me ready to start the new day, fresh and with peace in my heart.  All those things that tried to derail me, are no longer worth all the negative energy I wanted to give them.  The wisdom of The Four Agreements will open your mind to a better life and a more peaceful world.  Share it with those you love.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber

A Girl's Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber

As you can see by the titles I review for this blog, I read many different genres by many different authors. It's part of my study of the craft of writing.  Knowing that Debbie Macomber is a best selling author, I snapped up a free advance reading copy of her latest, A Girl's Guide to Moving On.

Leanne has suffered through 35 years of marriage to a man who didn't love her and constantly cheated on her.  Her indifference in order to live the country club lifestyle, passed down the behavior to her son, Jake.  When Jake's wife, Nichole calls it quits after 5 years of marriage, Leanne also decides to file for divorce.  The women move into apartments across the hall from one another and try to live by the new rules set down in their guide to moving on.

I typically like to read stories with more depth.  I liked the characters of Leanne and Nichole and I detested their no good ex-husbands.  But the constant repetition of the backstory such as how long they'd been married, how big the houses were they had lived in, the parade of other women, got tiring.  And the transformations of the character of the men involved in the story was far too abrupt for my taste.  Jake went from bad guy to really nice guy in the blink of an eye.

To some readers, I may find that I'm not too popular with this review of Debbie Macomber's work.  She has a very large and loyal following.  I'm just not a fan of the way she tells a story.  It's not my cup of tea.  I have to admit however, I sprouted a little tear in my eye while reading the epilogue and the very happy ending.  So my quest for knowledge about how to write a novel is better off for reading The Girl's Guide to Moving On and that's what I was looking to do from the start.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

I've read other novels by Joshilyn Jackson.  They are always smart, sassy and southern.  Someone Else's Love Story is no different.

Shandi Pierce is madly in love.  In love with her 3 year old son, Natty, whose birth she insists is a miracle.  Shandi believes she's a virgin and hangs on to that belief until the day she and Natty are held hostage at gunpoint in a Circle K.  The actions of another hostage, the hunky William, set her down a path of discovery.  Although she may never want to share Natty, Shandi now wants to find his father and stand up for her rights as a mother.

Right there is where the story got weird for me.  A virgin birth?  I completely understand the dynamics of a college fraternity party fraught with drugs and alcohol.  And that Shandi can't remember what happened that night is totally believable.  I can even accept that she doesn't know who Natty's father is, but the virgin part...  That belongs in the Bible and Shandi was no saint.

So right there I was turned off about the story.  That doesn't mean it wasn't a fun read with a lot of laugh out loud moments.  Ms. Jackson certainly doesn't disappoint with her snappy style of writing. I just simply couldn't get my head the whole premise of the story.  This book was not only, Someone Else's Love Story, for me, it was someone else's story to love.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Every now and then a book comes along that touches me like no other.  Something about The Light Between Oceans made me feel as if I'd lived it before, in the far reaches of Australia, on an isolated island, tending a lighthouse. Everything about this story seemed familiar to me.

I understood these characters. Tom Sherbourne is a war hero, driven to always do what's right and his wife, Isabel, who is young, energetic and believes love will carry her through what is a secluded and lonely way of life.  Tom is content tending the light, while Isabel longs for the children that will fill the void.

When the cries of baby pierce the usual quiet of the island, Janus, the Sherbournes come running.  In a small boat that's washed ashore they find a dead man and a screaming baby.  Having recently buried a stillborn, Isabel is determined to keep the baby as her own.  Tom wants to follow the rules but in a moment of weakness, eventually gives in to his wife's wishes.

The Light Between Oceans is a beautifully crafted story.  The words glide easily over the page as if rolling over the waves of the ocean. The joy, the pain, the heartbreak are vivid and real. And I lived my emotions all over again on these pages.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

I picked up this book at the annual library sale, all the books you can stuff in a bag for $5.  I read The Space Between Us years ago and loved it, so another novel by Ms. Umrigar caught my eye.

Reading the first page, I thought what did I get myself into.  It's written in halting English, the speech of Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant now living in New York.  At first I found it very difficult to read and couldn't quite wrap my head around what was happening to her.  In the next chapter, the voice switches to Maggie, the psychologist who has been called on to treat Lakshmi.  Their two very different worlds collide and suddenly the story becomes magic.

Both of these women are carrying deep and dark secrets.  Maggie struggles to maintain a professional relationship with Lakshmi but Lakshmi, in her simple ways gets into Maggie's heart.  In return Maggie helps Lakshmi become the independent woman she always longed to be.  But no good deed goes unpunished.

The Story Hour is beautifully written.  It shows the reader the differences in cultures and the battle that still exists for women regardless of where they have come from.  I wanted this story to go on, but Ms. Umrigar's use of her craft left me wanting more.  She is a wonderful writer and I hope I find some more of her works at the next library sale.  Maybe I won't be able to wait that long.  My Kindle is waiting.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

We meet Lucy Barton as she lies in a hospital bed in New York City.  She will remain there for nine long weeks, though the cause of her illness remains a mystery.   While she's in the hospital, her mother comes to visit for five days.  She never leaves Lucy's side and never sleeps.  They discuss people they knew over the years and this is how we learn who Lucy Barton really is.

Lucy grew up dirt poor, her family living on the fringes of their rural Illinois community.  Her husband had sent her mother the airplane ticket.  She had never been on an airplane before and Lucy hadn't seen her in many years. They talk about the past and look out at the Chrysler Building. Every now and then the doctor checks on her and periodically some nurses who she's given nicknames to, come to take her temperature.

The story is peppered with some talk of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's, the decade in which we first meet Lucy Barton.  First we go back to her childhood when her father locks her in his truck with a brown snake of which she's terrified.  Her brother grows into a man yet is still reading Little House on the Prairie books. The reader is never given any explanation for why theses event are important.  We see snippets of Lucy's marriage and her children.  Then we skip to her quest to become a writer after her illness. And when her mother goes home, her life moves on.

I loved Olive Kitterridge but I just couldn't wrap my head around Lucy Barton.  I got more out of the advice she received from another writer, than I got from reading her story.  I just couldn't find much about Lucy to like, I found her kind of blah.  With that being said, Olive Kitteridge wasn't a likable character either but she was tough, funny and feisty.  And it's not to say, My Name is Lucy Barton is not a well written novel, but Lucy couldn't grab my attention.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

In my quest to become well read, I've become hooked on a PBS show called "Well Read".  The hosts are bookworms who know just the right questions to ask the authors appearing on the show.  Each week features one author who has released a new book and then we are treated to a list of similar books that a reader would find comparable.

Sarah Vowell discussed her new book, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. While Lafayette is an interesting character, when she mentioned Lincoln and Garfield in Assassination Vacation, my fascination peaked. Since I was unfamiliar with Ms. Vowell's work, a book on a topic I was interested in seemed like a good place to start.

Sarah is a history buff and her research is flawless.  She vacations at all kinds of remote spots and hideaways where long forgotten bits of history have happened.  And she drags her friends, twin sister and 3 year old nephew, Owen, along with her.  They all seem to understand this quirky side of her and happily investigate with her.  We are lead down dark trails and city sidewalks in search of the plaque that marks the historical spot.  I never knew we were a nation of so many plaques.  I'll pay more attention to them next time.

The tales of assassinations of our presidents are told in a funny, sarcastic and entertaining way.  I learned so much by reading Sarah's version.  Fifty percent of this book was dedicated to the story of Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Dr. Mudd and the people surrounding them. I enjoyed that but I was really looking forward to learning about Garfield. Sarah didn't devote as many pages to Garfield much to my disappointment. I'm kind of a freak about Cleveland and Lakeview Cemetery where he's entombed.  I visited it on my vacation.

Assassination Vacation is a great way to learn about the rich and diverse history of the United States.   Sarah puts her own personal spin on what can be dry and dull.  Laughter is not only the best medicine but can also be the best teacher.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I don't think I've read an Agatha Christie novel since high school and that was a very long time ago.  So I have to say thank you to Lori, the librarian for selecting this for book club.  It's fun to get nostalgic while trying to solve a murder on a train.

The Orient Express is suddenly stopped by snow on the tracks shortly after midnight.  The following morning a man is found dead in his compartment, stabbed multiple times.  M. Hercule Poirot is on board and is asked to put his skills to work to solve the case.  The train is unusually full for the time of year so he has a lot of ground to cover.  The possible suspects are many and none are exempt from scrutiny.

Murder on the Orient Express is charming. The story flows smoothly and effortlessly page after page. The cast of characters represent the class structure of the times, and are rich with personality and suspicion.  And what's not to love about M. Poirot with his calculating mind and his direct, yet subtle line of questioning.

I loved this book. What a refreshing change of pace!  A good old fashioned murder mystery was the perfect distraction to a modern life.  Agatha Christie is a master.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

In my quest to become well read, I decided I should read one of the most talked about and controversial books in modern literature, Lolita.  I was well aware of the premise of the novel, but had no idea what to expect or why the book is held in such high esteem.

Humbert Humbert is a pedophile.  Plain and simple.  But this story takes the reader so far inside his head that we can almost justify his actions the same way any criminal and mental disturbed person would.  An unfulfilled love affair as a young teenage boy has left Humbert obsessed with what he refers to as a nymphet, a young, prepubescent girl.  He searches high and low for one that suits him until he lays eyes on Dolores Haze, his Lolita.

Humbert marries Lolita's mother to remain close to her.  While Lolita is away at summer camp, Charlotte is hit by a car and dies.  From there on out, Humbert passes himself off as Lolita's father and takes her on a road trip across the United States. He plots out a complicated scheme to seduce Lolita, only to find she is already sexually experienced.

I found this book funny, absurd, and distasteful all at the same time.   The prose is delightful and engaging.  For the most part it was a page turner, but I felt it dragged on in some parts.  But when it was funny, it was laugh out loud funny.  And when it was disgusting, it turned my stomach.  Lolita has all the makings of a classic novel, with wonderful writing full of emotion. And I'm feeling a little more well read.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Wedding on the Banks by Cathie Pelletier

A Wedding on the Banks by Cathie Pelletier

Amy Joy Lawler is getting married and Mattagash, Maine is abuzz.  Her fiance, Jean Claude Cloutier, speaks French, lives in Frogtown and is Catholic.  Horrors!  Gossip races through the backwoods town, while Amy Joy's mother, Sicily, is dreaming up yet another imaginary illness so she can take to her bed. Once the invitations are mailed, the big city relatives arrive bringing more than what's packed in their suitcases, while the no good local Gifford brothers plot to crash the reception and steal the wedding gifts. The wedding day is set for May 1st. Can a spring snowfall bring the festivities to a screeching halt and are Sicily's wishes finally granted?

I'm a big fan of Cathie Pelletier and the antics in Mattagash.  The Funeral Makers, the first book in this series, is one of my favorites. It introduced me to the residents of Mattagash earlier in their lives. Their antics made me laugh out loud.  Even though they've grown up, their penchant for the absurd hasn't changed.

A Wedding on the Banks has lots of funny and laughable moments but the story just didn't come together for me.  The backstory overwhelmed the present.  Many times I felt like I was reading The Funeral Makers all over again. I understand that as a writer of a series, each book still needs to stand on its own.  In this case, the new story sprinkled itself over the backstory.  A good writer knows it should be the other way around.

Ms. Pelletier's works are funny, lighthearted and border on the ridiculous.  A Wedding on the Banks is sure to take your mind off whatever is ailing you.  The laughs are many.  But some of her other works are more entertaining and worth taking the time to read.  Just remember, this is Maine without the lobster, the way life should be.  Or not.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

Vanessa Michael Munroe is a hired gun of sorts, who's handsomely paid to gather information for corporations doing business in developing countries.  She's an expert in analyzing the political and cultural practices in far corners of the world where few dare to tread.  How she came to this line of work is buried in a past that's filled with both physical and emotional scars. Sometimes she uses all of Vanessa's charms to lure her subjects, other times the makeup and heels come off and Michael takes over.

This novel is set in Africa and the author did a fabulous job of research to set the scene for the reader. The jungle, the non stop rain mixed with heat, the government corruption all got under my skin. Other things got to me also.  The writing was only okay. I found a lot of repetition and cliches.  For me, it ruined some of the enjoyment of the story.  Plus I found it difficult to read the words "Equatorial Guinea" over and over again in my head.

The Informationist is a book club selection.  What I love about book club is that I have to read books I've never heard of and wouldn't normally be attracted to.  It's rare that I would pick up any kind of suspense or thriller.  But I like being pushed outside my comfort zone. The Informationist is full of twists, turns and heart stopping surprises.  I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending, but then again, I don't read many mysteries or thrillers.  I'm also not a serial reader so it's unlikely I will read more of Vanessa / Michael's adventures.  But if suspense is what you like, I think you will find The Informationist a compelling and fulfilling story.

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...