Thursday, December 5, 2013
1. THE PANOPTICON by Jenni Fagan
2. SPARTA by Roxana Robinson
3. AND ALL THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED by Kaled Hosseini
4. BLUE ASYLUM by Kathy Hepinstall
5. THE PURCHASE by Linda Spalding
6. THE FEVER TREE by Ruth Rendell
7. LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian
8. THE VIEW FROM PENTHOUSE B by Elinor Lippman
9. CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois
10. NOON AT TIFFANY'S by Echo Herron
11. THE AVIATOR'S WIFE by Melanie Benjamin
12. IS THIS TOMORROW by Caroline Leavitt
13. WHEN SHE WAS GONE by Gwendolen Gross
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
If you are a Joanne DeMaio fan, you expect a book with heart and kindness, vivid scenes of cozy towns, and friendships that extend across the generations. Joanne's new book, out for Christmas, is the heart-warming SNOWFLAKES AND COFFEE CAKES. Just the title puts you in the mood to grab your mug of cocoa and start decorating a tree.
In this novel, Vera comes to Addison, CT, out of work and hoping for a place that she will fit in.. Though her sister's wedding calls her there, it is the old house with the Christmas Barn that keeps her in town. Not to mention, hunk Derek, whose life has turned inside out after the death of his little girl.
Vera's father is the local weatherman. He keeps us updated on the coming storms and through him and Vera's interest in snow, the reader learns a lot about snowflakes, which are as unique as people. Vera has taken on a lot to restore her aging home, but she enjoys the process even though money is tight. Sometimes, she seems a little pushy is trying to get Derek over to help her out. The man has a job. But he likes her determination to hold on to the past because for him the past includes his little girl, Abby, drowned when she fell through thin ice.
DeMaio offers hope and kindness, warm neighbors, and a sense of community. She is not taking on the savagery of the modern world or the many problems that beset society. Instead, she gives us a Christmas story full of light, warmth, and joy. Although Vera did seem to fall into good situations with little resistance to overcome, SNOWFLAKES AND COFFEECAKES is an enjoyable holiday read.
When my mother-in-law visits, she always mentions how the world has changed and not for the better. I will give her a copy of this book for Christmas to take her back to the good old days, a time without mass shootings, vitriolic politicians, and bad manners.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
No one captured the 20th century the way the photographers of LIFE magazine did. This huge "coffee table" book is filled with pictures of the Kennedys, the happy days, the terrible day, the aftermath. Whether one is suddenly coming to an interest in this part of American history or has lived it, this book is well worth the high price, for it will become an heirloom of the family.
The Zapruder film is handled in very small frames that make it hard to see exactly what is happening when. The noble grief of Jackie Kennedy and the historic handling of the family's phone calls, notes, and pain are documented.
It has been said that this event changed America. All our idealistic dreams of youth and energy came crashing down in a single moment. Later the salacious details of the Kennedy penchant for beautiful women would come out to dull our admiration. The book put me back into my 14-year old self, who loved John Kennedy and was sent to my room for crying.
The book comes with a copy of the magazine that came out that week. What surprised me most was the number of ads in such a solemn issue.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
My father served in Germany post-war and took his family with him. I remember the ruined bombed out buildings and the deep darkness of the Black Forest. I was two.
Paul Sinkinson brings the European war to life in THE FRENCHMAN'S DAUGHTER. With British troops surrounded by Nazi squads, every road seems a bad decision. Joe and Lofty survive the first attack, but what next? They make their way to a farmhouse, where more mayhem breaks out. They move on, with Adelaide and two girls under their wings. The advantage is that they now have a map to count on. The disadvantage is travel with children.
This wide-ranging novel grows in suspense. Even when the coterie seems safe, a glance in their direction by an eagle-eyed scout can turn a rest stop into sudden death.
Paul Sinkinson is a master of details. He presents landscapes, characters, and events with emotion and enough character quirks to make the reader feel thrown into battle. It's easy to tell right from wrong, heroism from blood lust. A+ writing for Mr S!
Monday, October 28, 2013
The Southern Pacific with its island people and exotic flora/fauna is a setting I can't resist. FIJI by Lance and James Morcan makes the most of the setting to fulfill the reader's expectations in the area of geographical and historical fiction even though the characters are somewhat stereotypical.
As soon as we meet the daughter of Reverend Brian Drake, we find Susannah thinking fairly scurrilous thoughts, considering that she is a missionary, a preacher's daughter. Her vivid sexual imagination stands out as her most important characteristic. In films and books, those strait-laced women are always sex kittens underneath the tight bindings of their underwear.
Susannah lusts for Nathan Johnson, an American with the brashness of Rhett Butler. His enterprise, selling sea slugs to China, is a great detail in terms of the ravishment of the island paradise on the altar of white man's greed. Nathan doesn't think in environmental terms--what 19th century adventurer did? He brings muskets to the natives for trade without a second thought of how guns will change traditional values among the tribes (cannibals, true fact and fittingly gory story suspense).
The book reveals a good look at the changes the modern world makes when it collides with primitive people. The love affair is somewhat less interesting as Susannah seems to think as a man wishes a woman would think rather than as women actually do. Some of the sexual explicitness detracted from the story for me, simply because Susannah's thoughts are way too experienced for the virgin-in-danger.
Regardless, this long book held my attention. I would like to visit the South Seas to see these wonders of nature, but there's not a character among them that I would like to be my guide.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I like women's fiction. Whether it's an oldie (To the Lighthouse) or contemporary (STAIRS OF SAND), I find the pages filled with laughs and heartaches as well as a sense of what make women tick. I am a woman; I tick. I also get ticked off at some of the mindless women's fiction out there.
SHY TOWN GIRLS by M.G. Wilson is my kind of women's fiction. Although we have a frazzled narrator, the voice seemed realistic to me. Young women are pushes in a 1000 directions, and Bobbie (Roberta) is one of them. She breaks off her relationship with her hunk, Charlie, which seems like a good idea since his ego is out of control. But she has to see him at work, which makes life harder.
Luckily, she finds a new family. Her new family is not because she's an orphan but needed because she is grown-up now and it's time to live in the city. The title is a play on Chi-Town, Chicago. Even though I am not familiar with Chicago except through House Hunters, Mason brings the sights and sounds, the neighborhoods alive. She uses contemporary music and styles with natural grace to set the modern mood.
Bobbie's new family includes a dowager, Barbara Shafer,who provides amenities for the house (a roof top garden)from her oodles of money and some long-in-the-tooth advice about love. The girls who rent her rooms are kind to her, not just for the gifts she loves to give, but because they value and need a mentor in the ways of the world.
The other roommates are somewhat underwritten (thus, 4 stars) in SHY-TOWN GIRLS, but that is probably because the next books will be told in their different voices, with the advantage of seeing the world through their eyes, not just Bobbie's. There is Meryl, a college friend of Bobbie's, Ivy, and Ella. The girls are cute, funny, open-hearted, and willing to party.
I loved this book, and I'm anxious to hear what happens next to all of them, and for this moment, especially to Bobbie. I bought this e-book on Amazon after reading about it from Twitter. This review is the same review I have posted on Amazon and goodreads. You may enter the SPOOKTACULAR here by joining my blog and leaving a comment on this post.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Poetry speaks to me. I like the standard poets, Plath, Heaney, Auden, Housman, Dickinson, and the full canon of must-read-because-you're-an-English-major, Sir Thomas Wyatt, John Donne, John Milton, Percy Shelley.
For pure love and enjoyment, I turn to Mary Oliver. When I found out her new book would be published in October, I pre-ordered it. How could I resist a book named DOG SONGS?
I read these poems aloud to my dogs. Oliver reminds us that our dogs live in the moment, but they also feel our emotions. We know when we love a dog that its lifespan will probably be shorter than our own, and we must come to terms with the grief.
In this volume, Oliver's poems give the various dogs, some hers, some from the neighborhood,voices. They do speak to us.
Her Percy poems (Percy now deceased) are magical. She says, "For often I see his shape in the clouds/and this is/a continual blessing." I look for my dogs in the clouds too. I know this feeling.
Other poems celebrate dogs running leash-free, dogs making friends, dogs sharing their finds (dead fish), the dog's adoration of his human: "Percy, meanwhile,/leans against me and gazes up into my face. As though I were just as wonderful/as the perfect moon."
If you love a dog, pick up these poems. They will help you celebrate your love, and when that someday comes, grieve the loss. Another favorite line, "Tell me you love me, he says./"Tell me again."
Yes, Mary Oliver, I will tell my dogs I love them. And I love you too.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
In HELP FOR THE HAUNTED, Sylvie is somewhat used to the weird things that happen at her house. Her parents use prayer to recover the lost and the lonely. Sometimes they choose to have these people stay with them.
Everything changes after a late-night phone call lures them to a church where the parents are shot, and Sylvie is wounded. Besides the grief. Sylvie finds herself wrestling with her new life under the thumb of her older sister, Rose. And Rose is no rose. She's a hellion. She's irresponsible about basics like food and laundry. She dislikes being forced to work to keep their little two-some afloat.
As Searles tells the story mostly through Sylvie, we see that she is loyal to a fault. She had had some fears about her parents' work, but she wanted to be the good child, the one they didn't worry about since Rose is such a pain.
Time is fluid in the novel, moving between incidents from long ago and new acquaintances. It seems that none of the members of this family are anything close to normal. Sylvie feels like an outsider. As she grows up, she takes more chances, trying to learn the truth of what she saw and heard on the fatal night.
There's a creepy doll, a wise detective, and an injured farmhand. There's Rose acting out, and Sylvie going places she shouldn't. HELP FOR THE HAUNTED is a book that intrigues with a complex web of clues and miscues. Wildly weird entertainment.
Friday, September 27, 2013
COLIN PRESTON ROCKED AND ROLLED does not purport to be a Kafka novel. It is an entertainment, and it does that very well.
Colin is 19, in his second year of college. His father is still overbearing, weighing in on what an appropriate major should be. Colin cares more for drama than economics.
But what he cares about most is GIRLS, and most specifically, girls he can woo into his bed. So not much has changed since Shakespeare wrote MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
Early in the school year, Colin cannot believe his luck when the beautiful Jasmine reciprocates his sexual advances. She is the most beautiful girl on campus. How could he be so lucky? We find out as the story unfurls that Jasmine has particular quirks of character, and she too is seeking something. Colin also befriends a lonely druggie who lives in his basement, a lonely Spanish teacher and novelist who needs a new muse, and almost any girl he can pick up at the local bar.
With all this sexual activity to keep him occupied, it's no wonder his grades suffer. Will he get kicked out of school or placed on probation? You know Dad will go ballistic over that. And Jasmine, how can someone as ordinary and kind as Colin keep the campus beauty queen as his own?
Despite all the emphasis on sex, Bert Murray has constructed a character with a heart. Murray allows Colin to go off the deep end with his drinking, his schemes to win the war of the beaux, and the responsibility to himself to get the education his parents are paying for.
This is a funny, nostalgic look at college in the 80s, which is probably not so different from college in the '90s or college in the 60s. Young adults are seeking to understand the opposite sex, and in doing so, they learn a lot about themselves. I would definitely read another book by Murray.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
I picked up THE 25th HOUR because I loved City of Thieves. Lesson learned: a debut novel will be different than later novels. The 25th Hour is a decent book; it's just not of the same quality as the latter title.
Benioff drops us into the life of Monty Brogan. Monty was living the good life in terms of money and assets until he was caught in his little drug-running ring. He now faces seven years in prison. We follow his final day of freedom. He starts by doing a good deed, saving a pit bull lying injured on the highway. Now we have to like him a little just for that act, right?
He is surrounded by gangsters, hipsters, and generally weird people. His girlfriend, Naturelle, is lovely, however. She has a kind heart and many assets to go with her fine physical attributes. Each chapter follows someone different in Monty's life, and we can see that he has definitely put himself into the place he's in.
The conclusion of the book made the violent chapters worth reading. No spoilers here, but Benioff shows his potential as a writer with this unexpected ending to the book. The author creates suspense and nostalgia and characters right out of the neighborhood. It's as if we had insider knowledge of some of the rough places in New York City.
Monday, September 9, 2013
The immediate impression of CARTWHEEL is that it is the Amanda Knox story retold.
As the book goes on, Dubois brings in a new set of conflicts other than the murder of an exchange student's roommate. The story is set in Buenos Aires, not Italy.
Lily is accused of the murder of Katy. To what extent each was involved with the boy next door is only clear for Lily. Katy is the victim of the murder, and yet, we don't know much about her life except that she is quiet and tries not to cause trouble for the host family.
Lily comes into the story as a self-centered, conceited person, who has lived her life in the shadow of her older sibling's death. Lily likes to experiment. She likes to talk and break rules. Her parents, now divorced, try to stand by her side despite the enormous cost of travel to Argentina. In addition, they have been extremely over-protective of her, forcing her to live in a bubble, since the death of their first-born child. Her younger sister, Anne, seems to have escaped the bubble enough to be more independent and thoughtful.
The last of the main characters is Sebastien LeConte. He is supposed to be mysterious and enticing. He comes off as a fake, another rich kid with no plans, no agenda, no purpose, except to get through every day throwing around enigmatic quotations to sound like Camus or Sartre. Sebastien's charade wears thin quickly with some people (Katy) and probably all readers.
Nevertheless, with all these characters in the "dislike" category, I read fiendishly through to the end to find out the answer to the murder mystery. The end of the book was such a let down that I dropped the fifth star from my review. The author's propensity to use odd words is balanced by the narrative of Lily and Sebastien who never say what one would expect them to say. The vocabulary fits with their outlandish self-esteem. The author, however, is in control of the book's ending, and that is where I found Dubois in a rush to judgment. I will be interested in how others react to this book.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
After reading the non-fiction book, These Precious Days, about Jack and Jackie Kennedy, I wanted to know more about Marilyn Monroe. I read a biography of her, the highest rated one I could find. But I still wanted to know more, so I picked up BLONDE by Joyce Carol Oates. I've had mixed results with JCO books, liking some but not others.
I loved BLONDE. Although it's fiction and therefore impossible to know which scenarios are based on facts or interviews, the action of the book keeps the reader inside Marilyn's devastated psyche. Her life at the orphanage, her crazy mother, her hopes and dreams to be more than a sex pot, Oates makes all of this very clear. We are given some of Marilyn's poetry. We hear her yearning for a baby, though the author also includes details of Marilyn's alcohol and drug abuse that would not have boded well for any child. The issue of abortions is debated in the press, but Oates has a character give a number on the procedures Marilyn may or may not have had.
The desperation Marilyn felt to be sheltered and loved and to act with conviction in weighty works of art is starkly conveyed. Whether you have never cared about Marilyn Monroe and her early demise, possible link to CIA intervention or you are a modern-day expert on her life, it seems there should be something to appeal to both sides in this long, detailed, suspenseful work. Though we know the end of her life is going to be a fall from grace that probably made her suicidal, Oates argues that the death was not a mere overdose but something more sinister.
I really loved this book. At over 700 pages, it is a daunting read, but Oates had me hooked early on. Definitely a revelatory tale of the price of fame.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Friday, August 30, 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013
A Baker's Dozen to load a Kindle or buy at a bookstore!
1. The Panopticon (Fagan)
2. Sparta (Robinson)
3. And the Mountains Echoed (Hosseini)
4. Is This Tomorrow (Leavitt)
5. When She was Gone (Gross)
6. Crazy, Rich Asians (Kwon)
7. War (non-fiction--Junger)
8. The Light in the Ruins (Bohjalian)
9. The Aviator's Wife (Benjamin)
10. The Fever Tree (McVeigh)
11. Call Me Zelda (Robuck)
12. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Fowler)
13. Flora (Godwin)