Sunday, July 9, 2017

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

For every book I want to read on my Kindle, I've decided to read one that's been sitting out there for awhile, skipped over and unread.  I don't want any of the books I've selected to feel unwanted.

All of the Above was one of those that I'd ignored.  I've read other titles by Shelly Pearsall and have always enjoyed them.  Yes, I know they are middle grade books aimed at middle schoolers.  But that has never stopped me from enjoying a good book.

Mr. Collins struggles to spark some interest in math in his students.  He comes up with the idea of constructing a tetrahedron (whatever that is, I had to look it up, so see I learned something already).  The students feign disinterest at first.  James Harris III is an artistic tough guy who puts himself in charge of color coordinating the triangular pieces.  Marcel helps his father at his barbecue restaurant when he would rather be building the tetrahedron. Rhondell is quietly and systematically headed to college.  And Sharice is the neglected foster child who sees the project as a safe warm, place to stay when the current foster mother locks her out of the house each night.

Pearsall is a wonderful writer with diverse characters who have depth.  Their stories are real.  So if you're looking for a change of pace, don't shy away stories that are classified as middle grade or young adult.  You may find a hidden gem and learn about something new.  All of the Above checked all the boxes for me.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Anyone who has ever loved a dog will fall for Lily and the Octopus.  Lily is a dachshund who has an octopus living on the top of her head.  When her owner, Ted, discovers the sea creature, he sets out on a mission to purge the octopus from their lives.  The pair have a special bond.  They play monopoly, talk about cute boys, and sleep cuddled up together.  Ted will not let go of his precious Lily.

Let's face it, the octopus as Ted calls it, is a brain tumor. While I didn't give Ginger's tumor in her mouth a name, I did ask her if she'd gotten that fat lip going 10 rounds in a boxing match.  We so love our dogs and the unconditional love they give us, it's easy to be in a state of denial.  We want to believe they will never get sick and leave our loving embrace.

Ted made a list of all his names for Lily.  It's several pages long. I decided to make my own list of names I call Ginger just for comparison sake.
Gin
Ginge
Sweet Pea
Babe
Baby Girl
Pumpkin
Little Munchkin
Ginger Snap and I could go on.

Ted and Lily spoke to me.  I loved all their crazy adventures imagining Ginger and I following along. You see Ginger has her own kind of octopus and I will do anything to help her fight it.

I read Lily and the Octopus in a day. Lily grabbed my heart and Ted's quest to save her was my own.  Lily had the ability to teach us about love, life and moving forward in time.  The octopus will never win.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

In my ongoing search for a great book, I found You Will Know Me on a list called "Books I Couldn't Put Down".  The list contained several other books I had already read and enjoyed so I trusted that the rest of the titles would live up to the name of the list.

You Will Know Me is the story of Devon Knox, a 15 year old, highly talented gymnast at the BelStars gym.  Her parents have devoted their existence to making sure she someday lands an Olympic gold.  The path however, is long, hard and very expensive.  Her little brother, Drew, goes along without ever complaining about all the attention paid to Devon. Katie and Eric drive worn out cars and max out their credit cards to follow the dream they have for Devon.

The story plunges the reader deep into the word of gymnastics to the degree that nothing else interesting ever seems to happen.  I'd read 50 % of the book, skimming as I went, before the inciting incident occurred.  Frankly, I'm not all that interested in rich and entitled parents pushing their children to the limits that will impact the child's health and well being for the rest of their lives.  And the more I read the less interest I had in the million minute details on how to stick the perfect vault.

And then there was the writing itself.  Most of it was not even complete sentences, the author choosing to use fragments most of the time.  The story lacked cohesion, jumping from one point of view to another so often that I struggled to know who was speaking or where the character was and who they were with.  Anytime I read a book that forces me to go back before going forward to figure out where I am, there's trouble.  I suffered through to the end and I still can't tell you who did it.  Don't be fooled by this one.  I definitely don't need to know you and I'm crossing you off my list.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Baker's Secret by Stephen P Kieran

The Baker's Secret by Stephen P Kieran

The Baker's Secret is set in a small village in Normandy, that is suffering under Nazi occupation during World War II.  Emma, who had been apprenticed to Uncle Ezra, the village baker, at age 18, is convinced the Allies will never come to rescue them.  She takes things into her own hands in an effort help her starving neighbors when Ezra is brutally executed after being forced to wear the yellow Star of David.

Her secret is adding straw to the bread she is made to bake each morning for the Kommandant. The two extra loaves she's able to bake from the extra dough are hidden from the Germans and passed around to the villagers.  Emma is quite clever, managing to find eggs, tobacco and fuel, distributing it to those who need it most to survive.  That is all anyone in the village wants to do, survive.

The first half of this book, I found to be stiff and sluggish.  Being a historical novel, we know how it's going to end. The Allies will come and prove Emma wrong. And what this author did very well, was build of the tension on that day.  June 5, 1944, Emma sets out on her daily rounds, but some things are askew and the roar of planes overhead distract her thinking.  The reader is led through all the changes in the usual sounds and landscape of the area with increasing anxiety.  And by the time the American soldiers appeared at Emma's door, I had tears in my eyes.

All good books should make the reader feel emotion.  Although The Baker's Secret had a slow start, it ended leaving a warm spot in my heart.  May we never forget the sacrifice our countrymen made for others in the name of freedom.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

Every now and then I scan through the unread books on my kindle and select something that I have long since forgotten as to why I wanted to read it in the first place.  I have a bad habit of that, loading up the Kindle with books I heard about from a friend or saw on a list in the newspaper or read about in Time Magazine.  Usually within a few days, another title pops up and sparks something different for me taking the place of what I downloaded previously.

Amazon was happy to remind me that I had purchased If I Loved You I would Tell You This in 2014.  Whatever I might find on its pages, the time to read it and send it on its way was long overdue.  The book begins with a story of a young woman who is receiving a guide dog.  She lost her sight in a fluke accident with an aerosol paint can.  Her father can't keep his mind off his super hot young mistress, while he accompanies her to meet the dog who will open up her world.

And then I turned the page and began to read of a woman and her disabled son who are battling the neighbor over the property line.  What happened to the charming blind girl and her father's guilt?  What happens to them?  You see, I had no idea this was a book of short stories.  But I kept going.  The end of each story left me wanting more, the writing and story telling was superb, and I couldn't put it down.

Each story has a very dark side.  This is not a book that will lift your heart and leave you smiling.  The people are real and struggling with tragedies that are outside of their control, something all of us face at some time in our lives at many different levels. But it's a book that will make you feel deeply.  Robin Black has a talent for writing with passion and emotion. I couldn't stop reading and when the last story ended, I didn't want it to be over.  If I Loved You I Would Tell You This has been patiently waiting for me and I'm glad it did.  It's a keeper.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Letter by Kathryn Hughes

The Letter by Kathryn Hughes

A friend of mine asked me recently if I'd read this book.  I hadn't heard of it but I was intrigued by the title.  I happen to love letters.  They are a dying art and I miss finding them in my mailbox.  I checked it out on Amazon and fell for the tag line of "Number 1 Bestseller that everyone is talking about".  The book sounded like everything I would love to read.

In 1973 Tina is trapped in an abusive marriage.  She works as a typist during the week and volunteers her time in a thrift shop on Saturdays.  One day she finds an old letter in the pocket of a man's suit left in a bag of clothes on the shop's doorstep.  She's intrigued by the words of a young man, Billy, as he professes his love and commitment to Christina.  Tina decides she'd like to deliver the letter herself even though it is 40 years later.  But as her own marriage falls apart, Tina's desire to find Billy and Christina is put on the back burner.

The story then flashes back to 1939 and a young girl, Chrissie, defies her parents and falls in love with Billy.  A series of tragic turns rips the lovers apart.  A letter meant to mend broken hearts is deliberately never delivered by Chrissie's father.  The letter at the center of this story is actually very sweet and heart warming.  But the story surrounding it is ordinary at best.  The circumstances were so predictable I could have told the rest of the story myself and arrived at the same conclusion after reading less than the first fifty pages.  The characters were flat and one dimensional, the settings, ordinary.

The promise of the letter had so much potential, but it fell far short.  And if this is the "Number 1 Bestseller that everyone is talking about", I need to find myself another conversation.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

I'm not sure why I felt the need to read this book again, other than I'd suddenly immersed myself in World War II books and movies.  I'd probably been required to read it as a teenager for school and something in my memory about Anne Frank rose to the surface.

Now in my sixties, I can relate to Anne's story with an entirely different perspective.  The first entry is dated near the beginning of June, 1942.  My husband was born June 4, 1942.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  On one hand a baby is born in America, into a safe and loving home, doing all those things a new baby is supposed to do.  On the other hand, across the ocean, war is raging and a young girl is preparing to go into hiding in an attempt to save her life and those of her family.  Reading the dates at the beginning of each entry served to make Anne's story personal for me.  When I read the book the first time, I can guarantee, I made no connection to the calendar.

Anne is a teenage girl, growing up in abnormal circumstances.  She wants to fall in love, she wonders if she's pretty and she wants to see the sun again, all the things young girls wonder about. Her thoughts and emotions are written on the pages of her diary.  They are the same emotions that a teenage girl experiences no matter what the time and place of her life.

Many years ago I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.  It's a sobering event.  But I have to say that reading Anne's diary again at this time in my life made her even more real to me.  Anne's story uses war and hatred as the backdrop to growing up. Her story has impacted me now more than ever.  It is timeless.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I have to admit I knew nothing about zombies.  My friend, Stanley, who is a big fan of The Walking Dead had to clue me in over dinner the other night.  I'm a little slow, but I think I get the idea now.

R is the zombie.  He lives at the abandoned airport with all the other zombies.  He's been lucky enough to make an airplane parked at a departure gate his own home.  Periodically he and all the other zombies need to go out and feed on the living.  They walk down roads overgrown with brush and littered with rusted out cars searching for their prey.  Sounds appealing, doesn't it?

It's on one of these hunts, R and his companions ambush a group of the living.  He's immediately smitten with Julie, and eats her boyfriend, Perry, instead.  By doing so R lives Perry's memories and based on what he sees about Julie, he decides to take her home.  As they spend more time together, the lines blur between the not quite dead and the living. The pair is falling in love which unbeknownst to them may have the power to change the desolate world they are living in.

Warm Bodies is a little gruesome mixed with a lot of charm.  R and Julie are lovable characters even though they are not without faults.  The plague has brought the apocalypse to Earth but the earthly emotion called love can't ever be destroyed.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

For those of you who know me, I love reading about China and its culture.  I'm a big fan of Amy Tan, especially The Joy Luck Club.  So when I found The Valley of Amazement on the shelf, I was intrigued by the blurbs on the cover.

This book requires a big investment of time at over 900 pages, but I was all in.  The story begins from Violet's view point.  She's the daughter of Lulu Mimi, an American woman running a high end courtesan house in Shanghai in the early 20th century.  Violet is a precocious young girl and truly believes she is an American girl, living as a foreigner in China.  When her mother decides to return to the United States, and Violet's birth certificate is missing, she allows Violet to go with a man to the consulate to retrieve a copy for the trip.  Lulu Mimi is tricked and Violet is sold into the life of a courtesan.

The plot line sounds interesting so far.  But I began to tune out when I suffered through at least 50 pages of instruction to Violet on how to become a courtesan.  The word 'pudenda' was used so often, it became annoying.  I get it, she's learning the nuances of enticing a man with sex.  From that point on I slugged through all kinds of death and disaster and I still couldn't feel sorry for Violet or her mother.

I'm so disappointed. There is so much going on in this book but no one was able to keep my interest.  The Valley of Amazement was everything but amazing.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Advice from Baba Yaga by Brenda L Baker

Advice from Baba Yaga by Brenda L Baker

Lissa Jackman still misses advice from Baba, her grandmother, ten years after her death.  She's left Baba's room exactly as it was in the aging family home, Swan House.  She wears Baba's clothes and is searching for any bit of advice she can from Baba to keep her life on track.

But when a dead body is found in the stables, everything changes.  Lissa's struggling tea house is forced to close and there is not much left in the family vault to sell and pay for repairs to the expensive slate roof.  Baba is watching over her, leaving small clues in unexpected places but it takes more than a little detective work on Lissa's part to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed Advice from Baba Yaga.  Some of Baba's clues were too simple and others simply didn't make sense to the story but all added another piece to the puzzle.  But to Lissa's life they made sense because she and Baba had a special connection.  The tales of her childhood with Baba were both tender and entertaining.  I pictured Baba Yaga as a shriveled, old Russian witch.  The real Baba was anything but even though she hid a mysterious past as a spy.

This novel is full of interesting characters, love, espionage and an unsolved  murder.  A perfect mix for a Baba Yaga.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

There was a time when I too was crazy about orchids.  Not quite as crazy as LaRoche but enough that I was familiar with the people and places he ran up against in his dealings.  During the time The Orchid Thief takes place, I lived in Delray Beach, home of the American Orchid Society.  I had a backyard with colorful orchids hanging from every available tree branch.  I loved my orchids but I didn't love them enough to go traipsing through a remote swamp teaming with mosquitos, snakes and alligators in search of a rare ghost orchid.

The Orchid Thief tells the true story of obsession with these rare and beautiful plants.  The book tells many interesting tales of the Everglades and South Florida.  The Seminole Indians also played a large role in the development of the area.  LaRoche, the orchid thief, was just another nut, one of many that live in sunny Florida and creates the centerpiece of the story.

I had read The Orchid Thief once before, several years ago, and remember enjoying it.  But this time it seemed sluggish to me.  Susan Orlean is a journalist and the book is written in a journalistic style which is much more dry and to the point than a work of pure fiction.  Or maybe since I moved north to Melbourne out of the fray that is South Florida, the characters didn't hold as much appeal.  Or I might just be a little bit like LaRoche in that once my obsession is over, I'm done.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

This story starts out in the toilets of Soweto and propels us around the globe only to land hanging out with the King of Sweden on a potato farm.  This book is a hysterical farce where everything can go is certain to go wrong.  It is pure fun from start to finish.

Nombeko is a poor girl in the ghettos of South Africa who has a head for figures.  Her mind is always calculating where and what to do next. And she has patience, plenty of it, to wait for her next golden opportunity.

Alternately we are in Sweden immersed in the lives of twin brothers, Holger One and Holger Two.  Their father has a grand plot to destroy the King of Sweden.  Part of his plan involved registering the birth of only one of his sons so the other would not exist.  The flaw in that however was that Holger One was quite stupid and Holger Two, brilliantly smart.

As you can imagine, Nombeko gets involved with an atomic bomb in South Africa that also doesn't exist and lands with the bomb in tow in the Holgers back yard in Sweden.  One unbelievable event leads to another and another and another.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is just plain fun.  You never know what awaits on the next page and and no matter what you are anticipating, you will most certainly be surprised.   

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

I've discovered lately that I'm drawn to reading modern classics, like John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe and Carson McCullers.  Their prose is rich and smooth, engaging as well as captivating.  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter revolves around a diverse array of characters whose lives intersect while interacting with John Singer, a deaf man.  He allows them to bare their souls without offering any criticism or comment.

Mick Kelly is a 12 year girl experiencing all those adolescent changes.  Mr. Singer rents a room in her family's home.  Dr. Copeland is a black physician who is so driven to improve his race at the expense of driving away his own family.  Jake Blount is intent on spreading his communist mindset in order to save the world.  Biff Brannon owns the cafe where the others appear at different times for a drink, or a meal or in Mick Kelly's case, a cold coke.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is about the diversity in our country that still exists for us even in our current society.  The story is set in the South in the 1940's but it makes it apparent that our differences in skin color, economic standing, age or disability still often separate us.  I'm still thinking about this story, trying to sort it out in my mind.  These characters are rich and vibrant, and I'm still trying to understand what drives them.  More than a half a century later, our struggles still exist and we are still searching for answers.  For me, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is classic novel that is relevant in modern times.  The book has the ability to make me think, maybe reading it should be a must if we are to come together again as neighbors, friends and fellow Americans.


The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

Macon is the author of a series of travel guides specifically for business travelers so they can make their limited time in a city as comfortable as possible.  After the senseless murder of his 12 year old son, Ethan, while away at summer camp, Macon finds his marriage and his life falling apart.  When his wife moves out of the house, Macon is left with Ethan's untrained dog, Edward, as his only company and when Edward's usual kennel refuses to board him because of his bad behavior, Macon ends up at the Meow Bow. There he meets Muriel, the quirky dog trainer, who attempts to get him back into reality.

Anne Tyler is the master of character development.  As a writer myself, I've read other novels she's written just to study the characters.  Macon and his siblings eat potatoes at each meal.  All lack a sense of direction and usually become lost while running their regular errands.  And then their mother shows up in her flowing caftan and armful of bangle bracelets.  The family is a study in contrasts.

It's these kinds of things that I love about this book.  The story is funny and often comical which serves to help the characters overcome the tragic loss of Ethan.  But they never really can, the loss is too deep.  Every author finds a way to either tie up the loose ends or leave the ending more open ended much like real life.  I have to say however that I hated the ending.  But in defense of a book that I mostly enjoyed, I have hated the ending of every Anne Tyler book I have read.

Like every book I read, I try to keep an open mind.  Many of my friends loved the ending.  The Accidental Tourist is full of interesting people, places and things.  Find inside these pages a trip that appeals to you and leave the rest to critics like me.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

A couple months ago my book club read Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb.  A few of the members raved about his other books, although they found them quite different from his Christmas story.  Based on this recommendation, I selected I Know This Much is True and dowloaded it to my Kindle without a second thought.

I read on my iPhone during my lunch hour and started this book with great anticipation.  The first chapter is quite gruesome but sets the tone for all that is to come.  If you can get yourself through the beginning, I'm pretty sure you can get through the rest.  I kept reading.  And reading.  The percent read that my kindle happily tracks for me, barely moved.  Day after day I watched my barely existent progress.  When I'd had enough I finally checked the statistics of the book.  It has a whopping 982 pages!  I will be sucking down the battery on my phone for the next ten years reading the story on a 4 1/2 by 3 inch screen.  But I persisted.

Thomas and Dominic are twins, one born on December 31st and the other born on January 1st. They are even born in different decades, one in 1959 and the other in 1960.  Their mother, Connie is not married but thank goodness her strict Italian father died before he discovered she was pregnant.  The boys are never told who their biological father is and both have an very contentious relationship with Ray, their step father, who adopts them as toddlers.

The brothers are angry.  The tone of their story is filled with anger because everyone here has issues.  Thomas is mentally ill and finds himself living in a variety of mental institutions.  Dominic, the supposedly sane twin, is Thomas' self appointed protector.  Dominic's life is a train wreck and he blames Thomas for all that is wrong with him.

There is so much going on here, that Mr. Lamb needed those 982 pages.  The story blew up slowly until is became a big abscess and it finally burst, letting the infection run freely out.  The story ended all tied up in a neat little bow.  I couldn't stop reading this book but I wasn't always engaged in this book.  I Know This Much is True requires a commitment of time and energy.  The treatment of mental illness in this country is spread out for the reader to live and experience.  The story is worth reading but beware.  It's exhausting.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman

Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman

Andre and Vonnie are struggling to make ends meet while raising their young son, Simon.  Little do they know however,  how much their lives will change when their elderly neighbor, Elizabeth decides she can fly and falls from her roof.  This event sets in motion the arrival of Jody, Elizabeth's granddaughter, who is banished to the small town by her mother, to take care of grandma.  Jody is a teenager with plenty of oats to sow, and quickly sets her eyes on Andre, well just because she thinks she can do whatever she feels like.

As the chaos heats up between Andre and Jody, Vonnie is stricken with severe panic attacks.  She can't leave the house and spends hours a day driving her truck up and down the muddy driveway desperately trying to break through her imaginary bubble.  Adorable little Simon, is trapped between the comings and goings of all of the adults.

Alice Hoffman does a great job of developing a diverse cast of characters and weaving their actions together.  I enjoyed this book for the most part.  The one thing that bugged me however, is why the title was Illumination Night.  The lighting of lanterns played a very small part in the story.  And I didn't feel that any of the characters found "illumination" by the end.  Only Jody moved on, every one else simply moved back into a pre existing comfort zone.

Illumination Night is not my favorite Alice Hoffman novel but it's high on the list and worth the time  I invested in it.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

First off, my thanks to NetGalley for an advance reading copy of The Fifth Petal.  I remember reading The Lace Reader many years ago and wanted to give this new novel by Ms. Barry a try.

In 1989, on Halloween night in Salem, Massachusetts, three young women were brutally murdered while trying to honor their ancestors who were hanged in the Salem Witch Trials.  The women were known as the goddesses and carried a dark secret.  The child of one of the women, Callie survived, along with the goddesses's mentor and local historian, Rose.

The murders remained unsolved and the case cold, until another suspicious death on Halloween night, in the town of Salem, happens some thirty years later.  Enter John Rafferty, the police chief, who is now married to Towner, a gifted lace reader. Callie, now a grown woman and a music healer, returns to Salem to help uncover the truth.

I enjoyed the parts about Salem and the witch trials.  From a historical perspective, I found there was a lot to gain from this book.  I felt there were many holes in the plot of the story though.  I found myself backtracking a few pages too many times to pick up the current story thread.  That is never a good thing.  The characters didn't make me want to care about them.  For example, Callie and her love affair were flat and unemotional, sparking no romantic engagement from me.

If you're a fan of Salem, or like witches and mystery, then I think you will find a lot to like in The Fifth Petal. I want to be fully invested with the characters in the books I read, and even though I learned about a piece of history, I just didn't get there with the rest of the story.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

I have loved this book since the first time I read it!  And I've read it more than once. This time however, I listened to it on CD.  I loved Lily, August and Rosaleen even more when their voices came to life.  And I disliked T Ray even more when I heard him yelling "Jesus Christ, Lily".  And he said that a lot.

On her fourteenth birthday, the motherless Lily decides accompany Rosaleen, her black housekeeper, who plans to register to vote. Lily doesn't bother to tell her always angry father, T Ray, where she is headed.  He didn't remember her birthday anyway so what would have been the point.  The racial divide of the south in the 1960's sets in motion events that will change Lily and Rosalyn's lives forever.

The Secret Life of Bees shows the reader all that is good in the world while trying to make sense of all that is bad.  Through the eyes of a teenager, life takes on a naive and often highly emotional slant. But the Boatwright sisters welcome Lily into their home and as they teach her the business of bees, she learns that life can be filled with the sweetness of honey.

There is much in this novel that is pertinent to the struggles we are facing in society today.  So if you haven't read it, please put it on your list.  And if you've read it, please listen to it.  The Secret Life of Bees is more than special, it's extraordinary.  

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall For every book I want to read on my Kindle, I've decided to read one that's been sitting ou...