Monday, December 12, 2011

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

It all began with a simple seaside vacation, a brother and sister recapturing their childhood.  Antoine Rey thought he had the perfect surprise for his sister Mélanie’s birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach.  It had been too long, Antoine thought, since they’d returned to the island—over thirty years, since their mother died and the family holidays ceased.  But the island’s haunting beauty triggers more than happy memories; it reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and deeply disturbing about their last island summer.  When, on the drive home to Paris, she finally summons the courage to reveal what she knows to Antoine, her emotions overcome her and she loses control of the car.

Recovering from the accident in a nearby hospital, Mélanie tries to recall what caused her to crash.  Antoine encounters an unexpected ally: sexy, streetwise Angèle, a mortician who will teach him new meanings for the words life, love and death.  Suddenly, however, the past comes swinging back at both siblings, burdened with a dark truth about their mother, Clarisse.  

Trapped in the wake of a shocking family secret shrouded by taboo, Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children.  How well does he really know his mother, his children, even himself?  Suddenly fragile on all fronts as a son, a husband, a brother and a father, Antoine Rey will learn the truth about his family and himself the hard way.

I was anticipating a book on the level of “Sarah’s Key” and was disappointed.  As much as I loved “Sarah’s Key” I felt that the ending of it kind of fell flat.  This book was the same but without the enthralling beginning.  I only was mildly interested in the first half of the book and was a bit repulsed with the ending.  Also there was way too much unnecessary sex.

2 stars (Rated R – sex)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Last Noel by Heather Graham

A friend gave me this book to read, and me being the “book chain-smoker” that I am I just picked it up and started reading it expecting a sweet Christmas story.  I didn’t realize those were drops of blood on the cover.  In the first chapter there is a robbery and the shop-keeper is killed.  But I was hooked.  It moved fast and was an intriguing story with a few surprises.  But I won’t be reading any more of these types of books.  I read 100+ pages the first night and then had nightmares.  Yup, I’m a real wimp.  I just don’t do scary.

3 stars (Rated PG-13)

The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

It all begins with Birdie Pickett’s first Christmas letter in 1944.  A lonely young war bride, Birdie is far from home and taking care of a new baby while her husband is fighting overseas.  At Christmastime, she writes home to her family about the joys and sorrows of her new life, and—being a wonderful cook—includes a recipe.  As her life changes and her children grown up, Birdie continues to write gossipy letters to her family and friends every holiday season.

Birdie’s daughter, Mary takes on the Christmas letter tradition—recipes and all—when she leaves college in the 1960’s to start a family of her own. Like her mother, she goes from poverty to prosperity, but she loses herself—and her marriage—along the way.

Finally, in the 1990’s, Mary’s daughter, Melanie, pours over the letters and lives of the women who came before herm and writes her first Christmas letter.

I can’t say that I highly recommend this book.  It was only 125 pages—I think too much happening in too short a time.  It didn’t seem to go anywhere, it fell kind or flat.  The last chapter (letter) written by Melanie seemed to be an advertisement or teaser for a book to come, but as far as I can tell, Ms. Smith has not written anything with the outline given in that letter.  In all, nothing special, and none of the recipes were all that special either! I would, however try another book by this author.

3 stars (Rated G)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Prayers For Sale by Sandra Dallas

It’s 1936 and the Great Depression has taken its toll.  Eighty-six-year-old Hennie Comfort has lived in Middle Swan, Colorado—up in the high country of the snow covered Rocky Mountains—since before it was Colorado.  When she first meets seventeen-year-old Nit Spindle, Hennie is drawn to the young grieving girl.  Nit and her husband have come to the small mining town in search of work, but the loneliness and loss Nit feels are almost too much to bear. One day she notices an ode sign that reads “Prayers for Sale” in front of Hennie’s house and takes out her last nickel.  Hennie doesn’t actually take money for her prayers, never has, but she invites the skinny girl in anyway.  The harsh conditions of life that each has endured help them to create an instant bond, and a friendship is born, one in which the deepest of hardships are shared and the darkest of secrets are confessed. 

One of the vehicles that keeps the book moving forward is Hennie’s stories.  While the story of the current day is happening, Hennie is always telling Nit stories of things that happened in Middle Swan in days past.  Hennie’s stories are a treat and you find yourself drawn in and then she comes back to the present and the story of the book is just as delightful. She also speaks in the jargon of the time and day.  She uses words like ‘harbornation” instead of ‘hibernation’ and ‘disremember’ instead of ‘forget’.   Lovely, lovely book.

Mormon Mention:  This is a new feature I want to try out.  When Mormons are mentioned in a book I am going to call it out just for fun.  In this case it was a very brief ‘mention’.  The women were having a quilting bee and the quilt had a cotton batten which was not common as they were expensive.  One of women mentioned how nice and easy it was to quilt, that the needle went through the material so easily.  She said she was glad it wasn’t made of overalls (which was a common material to use for the middle of the quilt) to which another woman say, “A Mormon blanket. That’s what you call an overalls quilt.”   Then someone changes the subject so you are never told anymore about why it’s called a Mormon blanket.  Anybody ever heard of it?

4 stars (Rated PG for topics only.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

When Rakhee Singh is just ten years old, her world is shaken irrevocably when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her father and their Minnesota home to visit her ancestral estate in an Indian village untouched by the centuries.  It is there that Rakhee meets her enigmatic relatives for the first time, seeks adventure with her three cousins and learns the devastating truth about why her mother fled the childhood home she loved. During the course of the scorching summer, Rakhee will discover the mysterious jungle behind the house, a walled-up garden holding a terrifying secret.  It is a secret that will expose long-hidden family skeletons and forever influence her beliefs about fidelity and love.

I really enjoyed the story and the mystery behind the ‘girl in the garden’.  It kept me guessing until the end. Ms. Nair has a real talent for descriptive prose.

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for themes)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Modern Magi by Carol Lynn Pearson

Oh, I love Carol Lynn Pearson.  Her stories are almost as good as her poetry. 

This is a sweet short novella about fifty-seven year old Annabelle Perkins who lives alone in a small Midwestern town and works as a waitress.  She dreams of traveling to the Holy Land and giving a gift to Jesus at his birthplace, just as the Magi did two thousand years before.  After saving her money for months, her dream is about to come true.  Then something unexpected happens and forces Annabelle to make a series of difficult decisions.

Lovely story.

5 Stars (Rated G)

The Christmas Clock by Kat Martin

Ok, I'll admit it. I'm addicted to Christmas books.  This one was just a quick romantic book, but the story was sweet.  Mostly about a young boy who lives with his grandmother and his relations with the other adults in the town. His grandmother has Alzhiemer's and eventually can't care for him anymore.  The question about who he will live with is the major play of the book and the romance is between two of the adults that love him the most.

3 stars (Rated PG-13 for one brief scene of unnecessary sex-talk)

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is always entertaining.  This book is about a 40th high school reunion and it follows four main characters. We hear what they are anticipating, what happens leading up to the reunion and then the actual reunion itself.  It was interesting that it was a 40th reunion.  People are way past the anxities of high school (or should be).  There is a scene where they all sit down and actually discuss their real feelings from high school.  During this scene the following was said... 

"So many people go to reunions thinking they can change what happened to them.  That the person you've become might erase the person you were then. But of course that doesn't happen.  In some respects this reunion has shown me that it's not that you can't go home again; it's that you can never leave."

4 Stars (Rated R for brief sex talk and a sprinkling of f-bombs)

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This delightful diversion was a lexicon lover’s treasure trove of wonderful words.  It was so much fun!  It is the story of 18 year-old Ella Minnow pea who lives on a fictional island called Nollop off the coast of South Carolina.  Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  Now the memorial to Nollop and his pangram (a sentence using all 26 letters of the alphabet) is starting to loose its letters.  As the letters drop from the monument they are outlawed by the island’s Council and people start to desert the island for the safety of the United States.  The book follows Ella and others as they try to save their beloved island from total desertion and loss of language. 

So much fun!

5 stars (Rated G)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

I almost didn't read this because...Wally Lamb...meh!  So glad I did.

It's 1964 and ten-year-old Felix is sure of a few things: the birds and the bees are puzzling, television is magical, and this is one Christmas he'll never forget.

LBJ and Lady Bird are in the White House, Meet the Beatles is on everyone's turntable, and Felix Funicello (distant cousin of the iconic Annette!) is doing his best to navigate fifth grade—easier said than done when scary movies still give you nightmares and you bear a striking resemblance to a certain adorable cartoon boy.

Great quick Christmas story!

4 stars (Rated PG-13 brief prepubescent-teen-boy talk)

Maynard and Jennica by Rudolph Delson

Maynard Gogarty is a defeated musician, who makes a hobby of surreptitiously filming the fashion faux pas of New York City commuters. On an uptown 6 train in the sweltering summer of 2000 he meets Jennica Green, a nostalgic Californian who calculates that she s been lonesome 68.53 percent of her adult life. Though their initial acquaintance is fleeting, when fate next brings them together, at a screening of Maynard s film, romance intrudes. And as with most things in life, everyone has an opinion.  

This is a very unusual novel.  If you like a multiple-voice novel, this is for you.  The story is told in no less than 35 voices…and done in such a way that the reader doesn’t get thoroughly confused. Mr. Delson’s characters are unforgettable and his imagery is often hilarious.  Take this excerpt as an example…
“…[it was] a wet furnace of a morning. My armpits were—have you ever used a droplet of water to test the heat of a wok?  While I was waiting on the platform for the train to City Hall, ay armpits were informing me that the wok was ready.”

3 stars (Rated R – some bad language and brief sex)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck

Rachel Price’s one happy memory from her childhood is of playing outside with her father, Mitch, on a cold and snowy day. In that moment he took her hands in his and called her his angel. She felt safe, loved, and protected. Rachel’s mother dies in a car crash a few years later—a sudden and unresolved ending to a complicated relationship. Mitch’s reaction to certain realities surrounding the death pushes Rachel away and confirms her fear that Mitch never truly loved her at all.

Years later, Rachel’s daughter, Lily, is the only light in her dark life. Rachel is consumed by an abusive marriage but too afraid to escape. On Christmas Eve, Rachel’s husband raises a hand to Lily in a moment of aggression that finally snaps Rachel out of her docile state. She realizes immediately that she must protect her daughter in ways her own parents didn’t protect her, and remove Lily from the situation. Through the help of an old and dear friend, Rachel has a safe place to go, but first, she must say goodbye to her father.

As the snow falls on this Christmas Eve, Rachel learns that it’s never too late to start over. The Snow Angel is a tale about family, forgiveness, and learning to treasure our memories while allowing ourselves to move forward.
Glenn Beck just gets better and better.  This is the best of his books yet...emotional, real, faith-filled and very moving, a perfect Christmas story.

4 stars (Rated PG for abusive situations)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Loose Diamonds by Amy Ephron

I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy from .  I love getting free books!  Amy Ephron is a screenwriter and the sister of Nora Ephron of “Sleepless in Seattle” and many other wonderful chick flicks. This book is a selection of essays which one can imagine that Amy wrote throughout her life and finally had a chance to publish.  Some are more interesting than others.  Some funny…some sad…some downright creepy.

The ‘downright creepy’ one was “My Afternoon with Squeaky Fromme”, yes THAT Squeaky Fromme.  When Amy was nineteen and didn’t know enough to be too scared to do it, she went to the Ranch where the Manson Family lived and interviewed Squeaky Fromme.  This was right after the murders of the “Helter Skelter” fame and most of the ‘family’ was currently on trial.  Squeaky had nothing to do with it, so she wasn’t behind bars.  Amy speaks of the eerie feeling of the ranch and the oddness of the few people that were there.

Some of the pieces had to do with growing up in Hollywood and the odd circumstances there.  Her mother’s obsession with everything on the table had to be in a dish of it’s own, including mustard and ketchup. And then when she had her first child she was in the hospital next to Elizabeth Taylor daughter-in-law.  The entrance of the famous movie star with her small dog and assistant at her side caused quite a stir.

Several of her chapters discuss her marriages and children.  Her first husband and his girlfriend who rams Amy’s car with her Land Rover in the car pool lane at her children’s school.  She tells of trying to get all the family (first and second husband and all their children) together for a vacation.

Overall it was an interesting read.  I enjoyed reading of a life so completely different from mine.  I didn’t agree with all she had to say…but that’s ok.

3 stars (Rated PG-13 for themes and brief language.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Prairie Christmas Collection by Tracie Peterson et al.

This was a book of 9 different Christmas stories.  They all take place in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, etc. in the late 1800’s.  They are all Christian romances.  It was a nice gentle read.  Not great literature, but a fun read.

3 stars (Rated G)

So Big by Edna Ferber

This is another Pulitzer Pize winng book. The back of the book touts this as “A rollicking panorama of Chicago's high and low life, this stunning novel follows te travails of gambler's daughter Selina Peake DeJong as she struggles to maintain her dignity, her family, and her sanity in the face of monumental challenges."  I found this rather misleading as after the first 50 pages or so, Selina's father passes away and she leaves Chicago to live in the country as a school teacher.  Selina sees the beauty in everything she sees. Her observation on first seeing a field of cabbages, "Cabbages are beautiful" becomes a source of mocking from the country folk and is repeated throughout the novel as a means of separating Selina from the people with whom she lives among.

She quickly marries a ‘truck farmer’ and has a child…a son, Dirk or “So Big”.  Her husband dies after only a few years of marriage and then the story really begins. Selina is forced to work hard to give her son all the things she longed for and was never able to attain. 

I really enjoyed the first part about Selina, but when the story switches focus to Dirk, it falls kind of flat to me, but maybe that was intentional...hmmm.  I keep going back and forth about the ending.  I can’t decide if it was a ‘cop-out’ or a brilliant way to end the book.  I am looking forward to discussing it with the women of my book club to see if they felt the same way.  It definitely has a message to deliver and it does that well, whether you like the ending or not.

3 stars (Rated G – for young audiences as well)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese

I chose this book because I loved Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone (highly recommend it).  If I had read the summary more clearly, that it was not fiction, but a memoir, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to read it.  I mean, tennis...really?  That said, I did enjoy parts of the book and it did read like a novel.

Verghese is a doctor working in a hospital in El Paso.  David is a intern from Australia.  David and Abraham strike up a friendship that originally revolves around tennis and then grows deeper.  David has a drug problem which is exacerbated by working in a hospital. 

I enjoyed reading about the cases in the hospital and the friendship and drug issues were quite fascinating.  Ironically, the parts that did not work for me were the excerpts about tennis.

3 stars (Rated PG-13 for drug-use and language)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Angel of Bastogne by Gilbert Morris

Chicago newspaper reporter Ben Raines is a full-fledged cynic trying to bypass what he feels is the least wonderful time of the year. But his plan to escape Christmas on an overseas vacation is foiled when he’s assigned to write the big front-page holiday story.

In a humbug twist, Ben decides to sour the sugar coatings of December 25th with a piece that will debunk a World War II legend involving his father.

Willy Raines fought in the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne on Christmas Day in 1944, and, to Ben’s embarrassment, openly believe a real angel saved the lives of his men in the 101st Airborne unit.
Along with a new friend, Ben makes a cross-country journey to find other veterans who witnessed the angel of Bastogne, sure to return empty-handed.  Instead, he comes home with a heart that is overflowing.

Not very well written but a lovely Christmas story with a Christian influence.  I loved it.

4 stars (Rated G – for everyone)

The First Day of the Rest of My Life by Cathy Lamb

Madeline O’Shea tells people what to do with their lives.  A renowned life coach, she inspires thousands of women through her thriving practice—exuding enviable confidence along with stylish suits and sleek hair.  But her confidence, just like her fashionable demeanor, is all a front.

For decades, Madeline has lived in fear of her traumatic past becoming public.  Now a reporter is reinvestigating the notorious crime that put Madeline’s mother behind bars, threatening to destroy her elaborate façade. Only Madeline’s sister, Annie, and her frail grandparents know about her childhood—but lately Madeline has reason to wonder if her grandparents also have a history they’ve been keeping from her.

As the demons from the past swirl around her, a childhood friend with a gentle heart is urging Madeline to have faith in him—and in herself.  As she allows her resistance to thaw, the pain she expects pales in comparison to the surprises headed straight to her door. With one bold, unprecedented move, Madeline O’Shea may just wake up out of the sadness and guilt that have kept her sleepwalking through life for so long—and discover that the worst thing that can happen is sometimes the very thing we desperately need.

Cathy Lamb is a master storyteller, with the ability to craft characters that go right to the edge of insane and then pull back.  I have know read all of her books and I have loved every one of them.  This book is no exception.  You will laugh out loud and cry all on the same page.  This is a book where lavender fields, a violin and the color pink are all characters right along with the people that occupy its pages.  Treat will not be disappointed.

5 stars (PG-13 for abuse situations and randy talk by a dementia-driven grandmother)

The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha

I think this was a case of over-anticipation.  I was eager to read this for so long that when I finally did, it didn’t live up to what I’d hyped it up to be.  It is a cute book.  The author lists things that are AWESOME and then give a little vignette about how they come to be, or why they are so awesome.  It does make you appreciate the small things in your every day life. A few of my favorites (that are small enough to share) were:
Solving the Wheel of Fortune puzzle before the people on the show. Sure, most of the time they beat you to the punch.  But once in a while you manage to get in there and shout it out before they’re done buying a vowel. Screaming out the right answer is great because it means you’re smarter than three random people on TV.  And since at the time you’re gorging on a plate of cookies on the couch with your eyeballs hal-drooped, this is a pretty good feeling.  We’ll take it. AWESOME!
Waking up and realizing it’s Saturday. CRAP WHAT TIME IS IT I GOTTA GET TO WORK. Wait a minute. AWESOME!
Finally remembering a word that’s been on the tip of your tongue for so long. It’s like throwing a pail of cold water on all your smoking inner head parts. Gears unjam, lines start rolling and you settle back in the restaurant booth with a satisfied smile on your face and just blurt it out.  “Parcheesi, that’s what it was called.” AWESOME!
3 stars (Rated G – for everyone.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Paper Bag Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne

This is a sweet Christmas story to read as a family.  Give the final chapters to Dad to read though, Mom won’t make it through without some Kleenex.

Nine year-old Mo and his 11 year-old brother, Aaron find themselves acting as elves in a Children’s Hospital along side a jolly wheelchair-bound doctor/Mall Santa who promised them the “best gift they never wanted” for Christmas.  What happens at the hospital and the things Mo and Aaron learn that year are a lesson for all of us and a wonderful story.

5 stars (Rated G for everyone)

On Folly Beach by Karen White

To most people, Folly Beach is simply the last barrier island before reaching the great Atlantic. To some, it's a sanctuary for lost souls, which is why Emmy Hamilton's mother encourages her to buy the local book store, Folly's Finds, hoping it will distract Emmy from the loss of her husband.

Emmy is at first resistant. So much has already changed. But after finding love letters and an image of a beautiful bottle tree in a box of used books from Folly's Finds, she decides to take the plunge. But the seller insists on one condition: Emmy must allow Lulu, the late owner's difficult sister, to continue selling her bottle trees from its back yard.

For the most part Emmy ignores Lulu as she sifts through the love letters, wanting to learn more. But the more she discovers about the letters, the more she understands Lulu. As details of a possible murder and a mysterious disappearance during WWII are revealed, the two women discover that circumstances beyond their control, sixty years apart, have brought them together, here on Folly Beach. And it is here that their war-ravaged hearts can find hope for a second chance...

I loved the way the story went back and forth in time.  The mystery builds beautifully.  I had figured some of it out, but not all, there were some surprises.  Ms. White builds the characters well.  You find you have become involved in their lives and care about the outcome of the story.

4 stars (Rated PG for adult themes)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

This is the astounding story of almost 4 year-old Colton Burpo’s trip to heaven during a life saving surgery.

Colton had a brush with death in March and then in July he starts to tell his parents matter-of-factly about his experience during the surgery. Pieces of the story come out little by little over the coming months. Colton tells his father that he saw him praying for him and Jesus told Colton he had to go back because of his father’s prayers. Colton describes Jesus and God, how they were dressed, but more importantly he always end with, “But Jesus loves us a lot, I mean A LOT!”

He visits with Pop, his father’s grandfather. When they show him a picture of Pop that had been taken just before he passed away, Colton responds, “Nobody is old in heaven.” They later show him a picture of Pop at 29 and he responds, “Where did you get the picture of Pop!”

The book is filled with many fascinating insights by this precious little boy. Amazing story!

4 stars (Rated G – for everyone)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger's by John Elder Robison

This book is Robison’s account of growing up undiagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  He was not diagnosed until he was in his 40’s.  His writing is compelling and surprisingly emotional.  He himself says that he learned emotion.  That if the book had been written in his 20’s instead of in his 50’s it would have been colder.

His story tells of not getting along with other children in elementary school, failing classes in high school even though his IQ was extremely high.  He was very good with electronics and machinery:
“Many people with Asperger’s have an affinity for machines.  Sometimes I think I can relate better to a good machine than any type of person.  I’ve thought about why that is, and I’ve come up with a few ideas.  One is that I control the machines.  We don’t interact as equals.  No matter how big the machine, I am in charge.  Machines don’t talk back.  They are predictable.  They don’t trick me and they are never mean.”

He built special effect guitars for KISS in the late 70’s and was on tour with them.  He then got a job building electronic toys.  Then later, he started a high-end Auto Repair business.  He was very successful in business. 

He talks a lot about his relationships and how he learned to respond as was expected. From his insane parents, to his brother (Augusten Burroughs author of Running With Scissors), his first and second wife and his son. 

Overall, a very interesting insight into Asperger’s Syndrome. (Interesting note at the end of the paperback edition he tells of schools wanting to use his book to teach about Asperger’s and diversity, so he toned down the profanity in the paperback edition.  If you read the hardback edition, it remains as it was originally written.)

4 stars (Rated PG for theme)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This Is Us: The New All-American Family by David Marin

“It was no mystery why California had 98,000 children stuck in foster care. There were not 98,003 because I was stubborn.”

This is David Marin’s own account of adopting three Hispanic children from out of the California foster system.  Marin is a white, red-headed man in his 40’s who wants children.  He has not found a woman yet so decides to find the children on his own.  He falls in love with these three ‘chocolate’ children at first sight and then fights fiercely to have them in his life.  The problems he faces with a system that is there to help these children find permanent homes is unbelievable.  The problems he faces in taking three small children into his life are laugh-out-loud funny and endearing. 

His writing is wonderful.  He keeps the story moving along.  A few times he switches back and forth in chronology but it isn’t too hard to follow.  A definite “feel-good” read.

4 Stars (Rate PG – for theme)

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

After reading this book I had to process it, mull it over, and I must admit, watch the movie!  I also discussed it with the women at my book club before writing this.  At face value this is an interesting story with a bunch of weird characters. But dig a little deeper and there is a story of a misfit, neer-do-well man who comes to his own in the cold, austere Newfoundland.  (As I just wrote Newfoundland, I realized the significance of its name New – found – land).

Quoyle is a large, “a great damp loaf of a body”, man with a very prominent chin, of which he keeps his hand over most of his life.  He never quite fits in anywhere.  He falls into a job in newspapers through his only friend.  He meets his wife Petal in a bar.  She wants him only for sex.  While married she frequently brings home other men and he listens to them in living room.  They do manage to have two daughters, Bunny and Sunshine. 

Then all at once, Quoyle’s life changes;  his parents commit suicide, he loses his job and Petal takes the children and leaves.  She has left many times, but not with the children.  An Aunt shows up to help him through.    The police call, Petal is dead from a car accident, but the children are fine because she sold them.  Once the children are home the Aunt suggests they all move to Newfoundland ‘where their people are from.” 

In Newfoundland things slowly change.  He gets a job at the small newspaper there and through a cast of many wonderfully odd characters he finds is way again. 
“Quolye was not going back to New York.  If life was an arc of light that begins in darkness, ended in darkness, the first part of his life had happened in ordinary glare.  Here it was as though he had found a polarized lens that deepened and intensified all seen through it.”

Ms. Proulx’s writing was a little difficult at first.  Incomplete sentences.  But you get used to it.  Her descriptiveness was beautiful.
“Suddenly he could see his father, see the trail of ground cherry husks leading from the garden around the edge of the lawn where he walked while he ate them. The man had a passion for fruit. Quoyle remembered purple-brown seckle pears the size and shape of figs, his father taking the meat off with pecking bites, the smell of fruit in their house, litter of cores and peels in the ashtrays, the grape cluster skeletons, peach stones like hens' brains on the windowsill, the glove of banana peel on the car dashboard. In the sawdust on the basement workbench galaxies of seeds and pits, cherry stones, long white date pits like spaceships. . . . The hollowed grapefruit skullcaps, cracked globes of tangerine peel.”

Overall, it was well worth the trip!

4 Stars (Rated R – crude language and brief sex scenes)

Monday, October 3, 2011

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

What an absolute treasure!  I can’t remember how long it has been that I was just ‘tickled’ by a book, probably since the first time I read Pride and Prejudice. 

Helene Hanff is a writer living in New York City and is disappointed in the physical quality of the books she can purchase there so she writes to a bookstore in London at
84 Charing Cross Road
to request a few books.  Thus begins a correspondence that spans over twenty years between the writer and the bookstore. The copy I read also had the sequel The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street which covers the authors visit to London.

Side note: I have to tell you a bit about myself so you will understand the next thing I am going to say about the book.  I was raised by a mother who loved literature and felt very strongly about giving credit to the author.  When she read books to us as children she would always read the Title and Author together.  I’m not sure how old I was before I realized the name of the book was not, “Go, Dog, Do by P.D. Eastman” or “Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey”.  When we moved from Maine to Arizona when I was 16 my mother and I played the “Books and Authors” game most of the way.  This is a game of our making which consists of one player saying to the other, “G.W.T.W by M.M.” and the other replying, “Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell” or “P.A.P by J.A” (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen).  You get it!  This also the reason the authors name is included in the title here on my blog.  Okay, so back to the book.  I was reading along, about halfway through and I realized I didn’t know who wrote the book, I quickly turned to the cover to see the author’s name.  When I saw Helene Hanff, I thought to myself, “Wait that is the main character’s name?  Is this real?” Imagine my delight when I read on the back cover that it was non-fiction.  This really happened!!  That’s make this book even better.

I wanted to add a few excerpts but all of them are too long.  Let me just say this, if you delight in books and reading, do not miss this book.

5 stars (Rated PG – very brief, very mild profanity)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Lillian holds cooking lessons at her restaurant.  This book follows one group of students and their adventures into the cooking world and their subsequent memories along with their progressing relationships with each other.  Each chapter follows one student and one ingredient or dish.  The students include; Claire, a young mother of two small children; Carl and Helen, an older couple, very in love and very together; Antonia, a kitchen designer and recent immigrant from Italy; Tom, a recent widower; Chloe, a young woman who can’t seem to find her place in the world; Isabelle, an older woman with beginning dementia; and Ian, a young accountant.

I especially enjoyed the story of Ian and his dealing with a Chinese Restaurant close to where he lives.  The first time he goes there and gives his order.  What shows up at his table is something else entirely. He tells the old Chinese woman who is the waitress.  She goes away without responding.  Not knowing what to do, he eats what he was given and finds a delightful meal.  When the waitress finally returns she asks, “You like?”  After that it becomes the norm.  He orders something from the menu and is brought something else.  Something he probably would not have ordered on his own.  One day, when he is trying to learn to cook rice and not being very successful he goes to the restaurant for advice. 

“Do you know how to cook rice?” Ian blurted out as he was sitting down. 

The waitress stared at him.

“I mean, of course you do; I was just wondered if you could tell me how.”

“Why? You eat rice here.”

“I want to learn how.”

The old woman noted the urgency in his voice; she looked at him more closely, nodded.  “You don’t cook rice, you take care of it, she stated.  “I’ll get your dinner now.” She returned to the kitchen without even the pretense of asking for his order.”

Interestingly, Lillian, the character who brings them all together, we are told very little about. She remains as mysterious as her abilities with food are mystical.

Ms. Bauermeister writing about food is sensual, as is evident in this sentence about making a cake.  “The mixer began its revolutions again as the liquid blended into the sugar-butter, the yolks turning the batter darker again, loose and glistening.”  Or this, about eating crab.  “She took another bite and felt her feet settle into the floor and the rest of her flow into a river of ginger and garlic and lemon and wine.

I dare you read this book and not gain five pounds!

Here Speeching American by Kathryn & Ross Petras

This is just a short little “travel guide” about English in other countries.  The authors take care at the beginning to state they are not making fun or saying that others are not as intelligent.  That if we were to reverse the situation (look at how we as Americans translate other languages) there would be just as much at which to laugh.

Here are few examples (taken from the Goodreads review):

• Feel like shopping?
We have no good things to sell.
–shop sign, Lovina Beach, Bali

• Feeling sick?
Are you haunted by the horribles? Do you run after your own nose?
–Japanese medical form

• Wondering what to wear?
A sports jacket may be worn to dinner, but no trousers.
–in a French hotel brochure

• Wondering where to eat?
Grill and Roast your clients! Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch.
–slogan of the Hibiscus restaurant in the Jakarta Hilton International

3 stars (Rated PG-13, some of the translation are a bit crude)

All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein

Why does Holocaust literature draw me in so much?  This is the author’s story.  Greda grew up in a loving family in a small town in Poland.  We watch the progression of the infiltration of the Nazis.  First, her brother has to leave, and then they are made to sell their belongings and move to the basement of their family home.  Then they are moved to the ghetto. Then the fateful day comes when they are rounded up and sent to the ‘camps’.  At this point Gerda is separated from her parents and they are sent to three separate camps.  Gerda goes to a labor camp that is not too horrible and likes to imagine that her parents are in the same sort of place, all the while knowing that that is probably not so. 

Gerda reflects, “Why? Why did we walk like meek sheep to the slaughterhouse?  Why did we not fight back? What had we to lose? Nothing but our lives.  Why did we not run away and hide? We might have had a chance to survive.  Why did we walk deliberately and obediently into their clutches?

“I know why. Because we had faith in humanity.  Because we did not really think that human beings were capable of committing such crimes.”

I have thought quite a bit over the years as I read many books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the Holocaust and what we need to learn from this episode in history.  Certainly there are the lessons of tolerance and humanity, but I personally feel an obligation to these people to not let this happen to me or anyone within my reach.  We cannot let someone else take control of our very existence.  We must be aware and fight against the first little offenses and not let them become greater until we have given up our freedom to others.

Loved the book.

5 stars (Rated PG for horrendous cruelty)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

We went to the café and drank some absinthe, we went down the street to another café and had some wine, we went to bed ‘tight’.  The next day we did the same thing.  The girl comes into the picture, we all fawn all over her.  We drink some more and get tight.  Then we go fishing and to the bull-fights and drink at both of those as well.  We fight over the girl and then set her up with the bull-fighter (all the while drinking until we are tight). 

That’s the plot!  Hemingway’s famous terse prose did nothing for me.  I was bored most of the time. After reading The Paris Wife which was about Hemingway’s first wife, I was very interested in reading this book as it was written during the time frame of The Paris Wife. I must say, I enjoyed the book about the book more than the book itself!

I read through SparkNotes to see what they had to say about the novel.  I was amazed at all the symbolism and imagery they reported was in the book.  I say, you have to dig pretty deep to come up with all that.  What I felt the book was saying to me was that this generation of young people living in between the two World Wars truly lived up to their moniker of “The Lost Generation”, and The Sun Also Rises is the quintessential novel of that time frame.

2 stars (Rated PG for Adult situation and riotous living)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

I can’t remember where I heard about this book.  It has been on my wish list on PaperBackSwap for some time. I received it in the mail yesterday and read it last night.  It is a children’s book, probably in the 9-12 years old range. 

Miranda is a savvy New York City sixth-grader. She and her friend Sal know which places are safe and which are not.  One day someone punches Sal for seemingly no reason and Sal seems to withdraw.  Then she receives a note: “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” The notes keep coming and the mystery building.  Miranda realizes the person writing the notes, knows things they should not know. 

Great story and great writing.  If you like A Wrinkle in Time, you will like this.

4 stars (Rated G)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman

Kaaterskill Falls follows a close-knit Orthodox Jewish community from NYC who escapes en masse each summer to the mountains of New York.  The characters and many and varied.  Isaac and Elizabeth have five daughters.  Elizabeth yearns for something more, something outside of her cloistered community.  Andras and his adoring older sisters, Eva and Maja enjoy sitting and discussing the frivolities of Andras’ much younger Brazilian wife Nina.  Then there is the venerable Rav whose health is failing and is deciding which of his two sons to name as his successor, the steady, devoted Isaiah or the brilliant, rebellious Jeremy.  The year is 1976 and the community struggles with the inevitable changes that come to a closed community when the outside world creeps in.  

One concept that I found interesting and a bit disturbing was the comment that the Bicentennial Celebration was “not our celebration”.  They felt they were not part of the United States.  They live here, but it was not their history.  They also complained about their children being taught US history and not Jewish history.  On the other had, this community of Jews were not Zionists either and did not feel that Israel was their homeland.  They felt that Israel was run by a bunch of “atheist, socialists” and was not a place where they longed to go.

I ran across this gem of a sentence.  Elizabeth’s oldest daughter Chaini discovered some albums of Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay reading their poetry.  She describes it as, “Old voices that creaked and swung in rhythm, their long phrases like the screen door on the bungalow, closing slowly, partway, a little more, and then, with a long sigh, thumping shut.” 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but that may have something to do with my love and fascination with all things Jewish.

4 stars, (Rated PG – for a few sensitive subjects, overall pretty mild)

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I like to imagine myself as a great literature connoisseur.  I was excited to read this book and add it to my list of well-loved classic novels.  After all it won a Pulitzer Prize, someone must have thought it was fabulous, right?  Let me say, I would like to meet and speak to those people.  I think of all the Pulitzer Prize winning books I have read this year, this has to be the most disappointing. Someone….please….tell me why this book is so great.

Newland Archer is a young man in New York City high society in the 1870’s.  Society has some very strict rules and Archer seems to think they apply to everyone but him.  At the beginning of the book he announces his engagement to the beautiful, young, very innocent May.  May’s cousin the Countess Olenska comes to New York having left her cad of a husband behind in Poland.  May insists that Archer should be kind to the disgraced Countess.  Archer finds himself falling in love with the Countess.  From there he just continues to act like an insipid ass.  The Countess desires a divorce from her husband, which Archer talks her out of, yet he also insists that she not go back to her husband.  All the while he is pressing May to push up their marriage date. 

I don’t get it!  I couldn’t seem to care about any of the characters as they all seemed to have no spine.  The only person I liked at all was the demanding grandmother. 

2 stars (Rated PG – for adult themes)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

When John and Ricky Ryrie‘s third child lives only fifty-seven hours they are thrown into a tailspin of grief.  They along with their other children 14year-old Paul and 10 year-old Biscuit strive to continue along normally, almost ignoring the birth and death of Simon.  When Biscuit’s truancy from school and odd antics become an issue, they must all deal with the feelings that have been hidden deep inside.  They realize that they can no longer mourn alone, but must come together to heal.

Ms. Cohen does a great job of wrapping the emotions and difficulties of grief with lyrical prose and an engaging story.  At the end of the book there is an essay she wrote on grief that ends with this question, “Isn’t it a funny and a fine thing to realize that: being whole nearly always requires not just the tending of ourselves, but the tending of our bonds with others?”

I received this book as an uncorrected proof. The final version of this book may vary.

4 Stars (Rated R - Brief explict sex and language)