Friday, February 27, 2015

A Letter to My Cat: Notes to Our Best Friends; Lisa Erspamer

Crown Archetype - 2014

A Letter to My Cat is one of those unique books that is a must read for anyone who has ever owned and loved a cat or two or more.  The book is a collection of short letters that cat owners have written to the cat(s), generally one letter per page, along with a beautiful colored picture of the cat.

Some of the letters in the story are funny, some will make you smile or remind you of  your own cat. There are stories from people who have rescued strays, and how the stray cat ended up rescuing them afterward by being there for them during the darkest days in their life.  Handicapped cats. therapy cats and ordinary house cats, each with a unique personality, fill the pages of this beautiful collection. There is a letter from a soldier who served in Iraq who rescued an abused cat while serving our country. He tells of how the cat ended up saving him from committing suicide down the road.

Many of the letters are written by celebrities about their cats, and even cat behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy offers a personal letter.  A few of the letters I ended up reading out loud to my husband -- stories about cats who sleep with their owner and gets their human to willingly rearrange their body so as not to disturb their cat's sleep. Cats who accompany you to the bathroom when you shower, the vocal cats who don't take "no" for an answer,  the cats who know your every emotion and when you need a fluffy warm lap warmer most of all, and just so much more.

At the end of the book there is a small photo and bio collection about the contributors of each letter and information about the animals in their lives.This beautiful book would make a great gift for the cat lover in your life.

5/5 stars
(library book)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - A Little Life; Hanya Yanagihara

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today.  What do you think?

 A Little Life; Hanya  Yanagihara
Doubleday - March - 2015


Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its publisher.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Interestings; Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings; Meg Wolitzer
Penguin Audio - 2013

 I had read several reviews about this book over the past year and thought the story sounded "interesting" (no pun intended).

The Interestings follows the lives of (6) individuals who meet at an artsy summer camp called Spirit in the Woods, in the Berkshires. All but one of these teens came from very wealthy families living in New York City, while Julia (Jules), was there on scholarship - her father passed away in his 40s of pancreatic cancer. It's the1970s, and during the course of that summer, the group calls themselves "The Interestings", making a pact of sorts that they will make something of themselves and their lives moving forward. 

Over the course of some 40 years, the lives of, Julia (Jules), Ethan, Cathy, Jonah and siblings Ash and Goodman are followed. If the group stays true to their promise, what happens when one member of the group makes it really big, and others are still trying to figure things out?  From meaty topics like feminism, the AIDS crisis, sexual preference and 9/11, to the more common themes like marriage, children and careers, the author explores these issues and more in much detail.  

Each of the characters were well developed and, while I thought that the story was way too long at over 500 pages, it was still a good audio book to listen to. The book was narrated by Jen Tullock who did a great job.

Throughout the story there were keen observations and raw emotions that really made you think about what each character was feeling at the time. Although I was expecting that some of the group would fare better than the others, I wasn't expecting as much tragedy as what was written into this story.  This story demonstrated how some adults never do realize their full potential in life as a result of the things that happen to them as children. Although I couldn't relate to a lot of what these individuals experienced, it was still a story that made me reflect on my own life and the friendships that were made early on.

3.5/5 stars
(library audio)

The Drop; Dennis Lehane

The Drop; Dennis Lehane
2014 - William Morrow

The Drop has been on my radar since last fall. I'm a big fan of author, Dennis Lehane and, the film version was the last film that James Gandolfini starred in before his untimely death. It's a very short crime thriller that takes place in Boston (movie version Brooklyn).
Bob Saginowski, a quiet, lonely guy who works as a bartender at his cousin Marv's bar. Cousin Marv no longer owns the place, but still runs it. The place is also a "drop" site for illegally obtained money collected by the Chechen mob.
But in this story, it's Bob, not Marv, who is by far the most interesting character of the story. He is guilt-ridden, spends time at church, and tends bar. A few days after Christmas, he is walking home from work and hears whimpering coming out of a trash can on the sidewalk. He finds a beaten, pit bull puppy. The woman who lives in the house helps Bob, clean and nurse the puppy, and Bob soon becomes the dog's savior.  The puppy who he names Rocco, and the woman play an integral role in the complications which arise as the story progresses.

The Drop, is a story about desperate people and the desperate situations that occur when people make bad decisions in life.  The author paints a very vivid description of the characters, the neighborhood and how the mob operates.  A very short story with an ending that packs a punch.

4/5 stars
(review copy)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ Etta and Otto and Russell and James; Emma Hooper

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon.

Simon & Schuster - 2015


"The letter began, in blue ink,

I've gone. I've never seen the water, so I've gone there.  Don't worry, I've left you the truck. I can walk. I will try to remember to come back.

Yours (always),

Underneath the letter she had left a pile of recipe cards.  All the things she had always made.  Also in blue ink,  So he would know what and how to eat while she was away.  Otto sat down at the table and arranged them so no two were overlapping.   Columns and rows.  He thought about putting on his coat and shoes and going out to try and find her, maybe asking neighbors if they had seen which way she went, but he didn't.He just sat at the table with the letter and the cards.His hands trembled. He laid one of top of the other to calm them."
What do you think, would you read more?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cat & Bunny; Mary Lundquist

Cat & Bunny; Mary Lundquist
Balzer & Bray - 2015

Cat & Bunny  are the very best of friends, in fact, they were even born on the same day and same year.  Every since they were little, they've done everything together -- just the two of them.  They've even made up games, where they are the only ones who know the rules.

One day when they are out playing, Quail, asks to join in. Bunny says, "sure", but Cat isn't so sure about inviting someone else into the circle.  Soon many other children join in the fun, but Cat is sad and upset and runs off to be alone.  Cat, however, isn't alone for long, when someone comes along and Cat begins to understand what friendship is all about.

This is a very cute debut book about friendship.  The illustrations are so terrific -- mostly earth toned, pencil and water color drawings against a white background.  The little children are dressed in cute animal costumes, and simple sentences help tell a story about friends having fun.


5/5 stars
(library book) 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Foreign Gods Inc; Okey Ndibe

Foreign Gods, Inc; Okey Ndibe
Blackstone Audio - 2014

Foreign Gods, Inc. tells the story of Ike - Ikechikwu Uzondu, a brilliant man from Nigeria with a degree in Economics from prestigious Amherst College. Ike lives in Brooklyn and now works in New York City as a taxi driver. He's capable of so much more, but has been told that his foreign (Igbo) accent is holding him back from obtaining a job on Wall Street. 

Disillusioned with the American dream, trying to make ends meet, and now divorced from the woman he married with the hopes of getting his green card, Ike has a plan. After he reads an article about, "Foreign Gods Inc.",  a gallery that buys and sells foreign deities, items which have become popular among the "I have more money than I know what to do with crowd", Ike decides to return his native village of Nutonki, in Nigeria to steal a war statue called Ngene. The statue revered by many from his former tribe, he believes he can sell it off once he returns to New York. After borrowing the money to return home in hope of carrying out his plans, he runs into a few obstacles and surprises along the way.

Back home his family and former friends have their own issues. He finds they are caught up in a religious war and conflicted. The first real love of his life is now a widow with five children. And, to make matters work Ike's uncle is now a devoted priest of Ngene, the very god figure he planned to steal.

Foreign Gods, Inc., is a wonderful tale about one immigrant's pursuit of the American Dream. Ike is a compelling character who experienced more than a few bad breaks. It's easy to get caught up in his story and that of those around him back home. He was an easy character to root for. The writing is engaging, clever and darkly humorous. Foreign Gods, Inc. is one of those stories that I wasn't sure I would enjoy, but ended up liking so much, such a pleasant surprise. This is definitely an author with talent, I plan to be on the lookout for more of his work moving forward. The audio book is read by, Dominic Hoffman who does an excellent job.

4.5/5 stars
(library audiobook)

The Half Brother; Holly LeCraw

The Half Brother; Holly LeCraw
Doubleday - 2015

When I think about fiction, boarding school settings, and particularly schools in New England, have always been high on my list for perfect settings. The Half Brother, by Holly LeCraw does have that perfect setting.

In this story the protagonist, Charlie Garrett is just out of Harvard when he is hired as an English teacher at the Abbott School in Massachusetts.  Growing up in Georgia, Charlie lived with his mother, Anita, wealthy step-father, Hugh and younger half-brother Nicky, 12 years his junior. Now just out of college, Charlie's first job at the prestigious Abbott school, feels a bit intimidating at first, given the fact that that he is not that much older than many of his students.

As Charlie gets a bit more comfortable there, he begins an innocent friendship with May Bankhead, a student there, and the daughter of the school's chaplain.  When May graduates the two continue to keep in touch, but it isn't until sometime later that they are reunited when May returns to the area to care for her dying father. It's then that the two of them realized that there is something more there besides friendship.
When Charlie learns something shocking, he chooses not to discuss it with May, but breaks up with her instead. Fast forward a decade or so and May, as well as Charlie's, half-brother Nicky, handsome, smart and outgoing, are also teaching at the Abbott school.  
You can probably guess where this story is headed. Sadly, I had such high hopes for this novel, but it just didn't work for me.  It's a slow moving story about love, lies and past betrayals. Unfortunately, the prep school setting was just not enough for me. The story and characters just felt flat.

2/5 stars
(review copy)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Aquarium; David Vann

Aquarium; David Vann
Atlantic Monthly Press - March 2015

Aquarium is an addictive read that hooked me early on, shocked me as the story progressed and made me wonder whether emotionally wounded individuals can ever truly heal.

The story opens in 1990's Seattle, where 12-year-old Caitlin lives in a tiny apartment with her mother Sheri.  Sheri works long hours at the local container port to support the two of them.  Together their life has been built on routine. They wake early, have breakfast, and then mom rushes off to work and Caitlin goes to school. She is always the first kid to arrive at school.  Mom works overtime whenever possible, and Caitlin goes to the "aquarium" after school until her mother is done with work.  This arrangement was cheaper than childcare, but Caitlin doesn't mind, she loves her time spent at the aquarium, and is fascinated by all of the exotic fish she visits with each day. She hopes to study the science of fish when she gets older. When day is done sometimes Caitlin and her mom collapse together or talk briefly, unless Sheri has her boyfriend over, and then Caitlin is off to her room.

One day Caitlin befriends an elderly man at the aquarium, the two talk about the fish. Soon every time she goes to the aquarium, the man is there as well and soon they begin to talk about more than just fish. Caitlin likes the man and is unafraid, so when he asks a favor of her, she thinks nothing of telling her mother.  No way could Caitlin have anticipated how her mother would react, and the horrific consequences that would result as a result of the situation which has been set in motion.  The mother/daughter relationship will forever be changed.

I loved everything about this simple, but well crafted story.  Caitlin is such a strong, and brave young girl. She's smart, inquisitive and longs to be loved. Despite the situation over which she has no control, she displays a childlike determination to make things right.

The book contains lovely color photographs of exotic fish which is such a nice touch.  Readers who enjoy stories about dysfunctional childhoods or coming of age stories, this is one of the best of its kind that I've read in a long time. Be prepared to be shocked! A word of caution -- a few reviews out there give away some significant spoilers, do yourself a favor, and just dive in, too much detail will spoil the experience for you.  So far this is my favorite read of 2015.

5/5 stars

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - Act of God; Jill Ciment

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today.  What do you think? (I love the cover, and the potential for lots of laughs.)

Act of God; Jill Ciment
Pantheon - March 2015

It’s the summer of 2015, Brooklyn. The city is sweltering from another record-breaking heat wave, this one accompanied by biblical rains. Edith, a recently retired legal librarian, and her identical twin sister, Kat, a feckless romantic who’s mistaken her own eccentricity for originality, discover something ominous in their hall closet: it seems to be phosphorescent, it’s a mushroom . . . and it’s sprouting from their wall.

Upstairs, their landlady, Vida Cebu, a Shakespearian actress far more famous for her TV commercials for Ziberax (the first female sexual enhancement pill) than for her stage work, discovers that a petite Russian girl, a runaway au pair, has been secretly living in her guest room closet. When the police arrest the intruder, they find a second mushroom, also glowing, under the intruder’s bedding. Soon the HAZMAT squad arrives, and the four women are forced to evacuate the contaminated row house with only the clothes on their backs.

As the mold infestation spreads from row house to high-rise, and frightened, bewildered New Yorkers wait out this plague (is it an act of God?) on their city and property, the four women become caught up in a centrifugal nightmare.

Part horror story, part screwball comedy, Jill Ciment’s brilliant suspense novel looks at what happens when our lives—so seemingly set and ordered yet so precariously balanced—break down in the wake of calamity. It is, as well, a novel about love (familial and profound) and how it can appear from the most unlikely circumstances.