Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First Chaper First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Removers; Andrew Meredith

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.  I couldn't resist this one when I saw the cover at the library. (This memoir is just 177 pages)

The Removers (a memoir)
Andrew Meredith
Scribner - 2014

"Dad parks the hearse at the curb under a pink-petaled dogwood, in the glory of the first balmy April Saturday afternoon.  We're on Cantor Avenue in front of a tan brick apartment building, treeless courtyard, three stories high, a block long but invisible, a place that marks the edge of our Philadelphia neighborhood and the next, a structure populated by pensioner bachelor mailmen and mothers and toddlers learning English together.  At the rec center baseball diamond across the street, screams of 'GO!" followed an aluminum plink.  At the corner, tulips in yellow, red, violet, planted to partition the sidewalk from a tiny row house lawn, salute a crew-cut man in a tank top, gold crucifix swinging as he soapy sponges his four-wheeled stereo.  The fried onions from the grill at the steak shop a block away whisper that the cold and dark have passed and we've been delivered somewhere better, and yet inside our little brick houses these last six months a secret part of us wondered: is this the year winter doesn't end? A girthy old woman in her sleeveless summer house dress, sunlight warming her arms for the first time this year, hoses the dirt under the rosebush.  She looks like a Helen.  She might be a Carol.  An ambulance lines up at the red light like all the other cars, in repose, maybe coming back from an oil change."

What do you think?
Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking below.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Virtues of Oxygen; Susan Schoenberger

The Virtues of Oxygen; Susan Schoenberger
Lake Union Press - July 2014

The Virtues of Oxygen is a book that I was initially drawn to because of the title and, I  also because I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about someone who had contracted polio as a child.  In this story Vivian Markham, now 63, contracted polio when she was just 6 years old. As a result she has spent nearly her entire life living in a iron lung so that she could simply breathe.  His older sister Darlene, age 10, also had polio but died  while still young.

Having lived on a farm when the Vivian was young, the parents provided the constant care required, but as they got older they moved from the farm town to a small town, where the church and residents rallied their support providing companionship and care.  One of the women who helps Vivian is Holly, a young woman who hasn’t had an easy life either.  She recently lost her husband, has two sons, and her mother has now suffered a stroke and needs constant care.  Holly’s job as a newspaper editor for the small town paper doesn’t cover her expenses and the excessive medical bills she has been left with. She is trying her best to make ends meet. My heart went out to Holly and her struggles. Holly’s is a story that will resonate with readers whose lives were turned upside down by job loss, loss of a spouse or home foreclosure.

Vivian, on the other hand, was a very strong character who lived life to the fullest despite her disability. Great with investments, computers, and business savvy in general, she was a woman who maintained friendships despite her situation.  I was inspired by the way Vivian had made the most of her life. Her story and how the community rallied to help seemed very realistic of small town life. I especially liked learning of Vivian’s early years when she was stricken with polio. She’s a woman to be admired.

The Virtues of Oxygen is a story of friendship, it’s never overly sad or sappy and the author does a great job of portraying the economic struggles of a town and its people. If you’re looking for something a bit different, this one is based on a true story, try The Virtues of Oxygen.

⅘ stars

(review copy)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Road Ends; Mary Lawson

Road Ends; Mary Lawson
Dial Press - 2014

Road Ends begins in the mid-1960s,  and tells the story of the dysfunctional Cartwright family, Edward, Emily,  and their eight children who live in the fictional town of Straun, somewhere around Ontario.  Straun a remote town where severe winters are commonplace.

Daughter Megan, the only girl and second oldest child of the family now 21, has decided that she needs to venture out on her own and start living her life and is planning on moving to London.  From a very early age she has acted as the head of household, taking on the  duties that her mother,. Her mother wraps herself up in fawning over each successive newborn and basically ignoring the rest of her family. With the arrival of yet another newborn son mother, most often can be found in her room with the baby.

With talk of Megan’s decision to leave the nest, the fractured family begins to come apart.  Edward, the father, is pretty much a non entity. He was raised by an abusive father and has kept his distance from his own children for fear of losing control. He doesn’t seem to even realize what is happening to those around him. Oldest son Tom has returned home after the death of a close friend, he is depressed and unable to cope with life on the outside. 

One character I really felt for was little Adam, just 4 years old and desperate for love, attention and affection, my heart went out to both him and Tom for what they were dealing with.  Even Megan, who had dreams of something more, a better life learns that  the path to happiness and fulfillment are not always easily attained, and that it is not always easy to cut ties with family either.

The Road Ends is a beautifully written  and compassionate but dark story.  The cold and desolate landscape adds to the bleakness of the story and depressing emotions some of the characters. It’s a story that portrays a family with all their warts and vulnerabilities exposed. This book is part of a stunning trilogy which I really enjoyed -  Crow Lake; The Other Side of the Bridge; and now Road Ends.  If you have not tried this author, I highly recommend that you do.

4.5/5 stars
(review copy)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You - The Life We Bury; Allen Eskens

This week's "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick is a book that recently caught my eye. 

The Life We Bury; Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books - October 2014

College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe's life is ever the same.

Iverson is a dying Vietnam veteran--and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl's life, especially Carl's valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?
Would you try this one?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Road Ends; Mary Lawson

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. 

Mary Lawson is an author I've enjoyed in the past. I'm featuring both the first paragraph of the prologue as well as from chapter one from her new book Road Ends.

Road Ends; Mary Lawson
Dial Press - July 2014

Struan, August 1967

" The road was heavily overgrown and they had to stop the car half a dozen times in order to hack down the shrubs or drag fallen trees aside.  Once a sizeable beech blocked the way and they attacked it with a cross-cut saw. Simon had never seen a cross-cut saw before, far less used one, and he was predictably useless, but ridiculing him was part of the fun."

Struan, February 1966

"Two weeks before Megan left home she began a clear-out of her room.  She put her suitcase (the biggest she could find, purchased from Hudson's Bay) on the bed and a large cardboard box (free of charge from Marshall's Grocery) on the floor beside it and anything that wouldn't fit into the one had to go into the other.  She was ruthless about it, she intended to travel light.  Out went any items of clothing she hadn't worn for a year or more, any shoes ditto, any odd socks or underwear with holes in it that she had saved for days that didn't matter, in full knowledge of the fact that none of her days mattered, or at least not in a way that required respectable underwear.  Out went the debris left in the bottom of drawers: safety pins, bobby pins, fraying hair ribbons, a beaded bracelet with half the beads missing, the remains of a box made of birch bark and decorated with porcupine quills, ancient elastic bands looking so much like desiccated earthworms that she had to close her eyes when she picked them up and a quill pen fashioned from an eagle's feather, made for her by Tom when he was at the eagle's feather stage."
What do you think?

Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking below.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Paying Guests; Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests; Sarah Waters
Riverhead Books - Sept 2014

Set just outside of London in 1922, The Paying Guests, is a literary thriller which kept me quickly turning its 500+ pages. 

Frances Wray is a 26 year old spinster who lives with her 50-something mother in what was once a comfortable life.  Now, Mr. Wray is deceased and has left the women in his life with substantial debt.  In addition, the economy after WWI has taken a downward turn and mother and daughter  have decided to take in boarders to help with expenses and repairs needed on their home.  The couple who joins their household are Lilian and Leonard Barber.

By day Leonard works, and Lilian is staying home adjusting to life as a new wife in a new place.  Frances and her mother have plenty of adjustments as to make as well, and each walks of fine line as to being friendly to the "paying guests" and giving them the privacy and space they deserve.  The lifestyle and manners of the Barbers are a bit of a shock to the system, especially for Mrs. Wray, and at times the two feel very awkward around the Barbers even in their own home. 

When Len goes off to work and Mrs. Wray out about town during the day, Lilian and Frances spend time getting to know one another and become confidants. Frances is a lesbian who had recently ended a relationship with a woman because of family obligations. She feels comfortable enough to tell Lilian about this relationship hoping she will not think any less of her.  Yet with each new day Frances finds herself attracted to the young woman and she does her best try to go about her daily activities in spite of these feelings.  

For the first 200 pages or so the author builds the tension as the reader is getting to know the "paying guests" and how the lives of the Wrays are impacted with their arrival and sharing a home together. The second section ratchets up the tension even more with the turn of each page as Lilian and Frances relationship develops into something more than friendship. The added tension and some shocking violence add to the overall psychological drama. The final section deals with an investigation and trial with an ending that left me satisfied.

Sarah Waters knows how create a suspenseful novel. The time period and characters came alive on the page.  I can't say that I liked any of the characters, but I did feel like I was right there watching the happenings firsthand.  This is a story has it all - forbidden love, scandal and crime.  I was hooked early on and invested until the end.  This is sure to make my list of favorites list for 2014 - Read It!

Highly recommended to readers who enjoy finely crafted historical crime fiction.

5/5 stars
(review copy )

Sunday Blatherings - Books and Pics

See cat's like comfort too

Well, this seems like the shortest weekend ever. Guess I was spoiled by a (4) day one.  Yesterday was one of my favorite annual book sales, part of a fall festival, but it sure didn't feel like fall. Hot and humid and almost 90 degrees. Fortunately, this week is suppose to offer high 70s and 50s at night (my kind of weather.

I showed amazing restraint at the book sale and only picked up theses (2) stacks of books. One small stack for me and a few like new books for the grandchildren. All were priced between 25 cents and $1.00.

Then, again, not my fault (2) more new books below arrived from the publisher this week.

  • The Book of Strange New Things; Michel Faber  (Crown-Hogarth) - I had blogged about this one recently and in my mailbox it arrived -- the end papers are gold on this ARC - it's very sharp looking.
  • How to Be a Good Wife; Emma Chapman (St. Martin's Press) - The hub was amused by the title and said maybe I'll learn a few things LOL
and, a couple pics of special little people

sister love
2 yrs 4 mths  & and 4.5 mths

cousins getting to know one another
2 mths & 4.5 mths

Hope everyone enjoys the day and has a great week.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dear Daughter; Elizabeth Little

Dear Daughter; Elizabeth Little
Viking - 2014

Dear Daughter tells the story of Hollywood "It Girl",  Jane Jenkins who served 10 years in prison for murdering her mother, Marion Elsinger, a high society beauty and philanthropist who has had numerous husbands over the years.

Jane, as a teen was spoiled rotten and totally out of control, often appearing in the media for some drug or alcohol offense.  Now at 27 and newly released from prison on a technicality for evidence mishandling, she immediately goes into hiding. She is a woman on a mission,  determined to find her mother’s killer,  although the night of her mother’s murder she was heavily under the influence.

Jane changes her appearance, leaves town and recreates herself. Even her lawyer isn't sure where she is. With only a vague memory of a conversation she overheard her mother having with a man the night of the murder, she headed to two small mining towns in South Dakota, to get to work. However, once she begins asking questions she quickly learns that she’d better be careful or she could even be a target like he mother.

Our protagonist Jane (Janie) is what makes this novel a treat. She’s a spunky, in your face kind of person, she’s very vain and knows how to turn on the charm when it’s to her benefit, but she is very witty and funny as well and that’s what this novel so good. Imagine an in your face Beverly Hills girl in small town South Dakota looking for a killer. It makes me laugh just thinking about it. Although a lot of what happens in this novel seems very unrealistic, it’s fiction, and if you can allow yourself to suspend belief, you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Dear Daughter is a  multi-layered mystery with a protagonist you won’t forget. Although not all of the threads are completely tied up, the ending did not disappoint, and it left me wondering if a sequel might be in the works.  Elizabeth Little is a new author with talent who knows how to create interesting and quirky characters, I’ll be looking out for more books by her moving forward.

(book received from published)

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour; Joshua Ferris

Little Brown and Company - 2014

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris is entertaining read, with a quirky protagonist that will make you laugh or at least have you scratching your head and asking yourself what planet does this guy come from?

Paul O’Rourke is our lonely and messed up protagonist. He’s a guy who has felt like an orphan ever since his father who suffered from manic depression took his own life when Paul was still a child. Although Paul’s a successful Park Avenue dentist now, with a five-chair practice that is opened until 10 pm some nights, and master of his craft in providing pain free services, his personal life is a mess. He’s not a great friend, and he prefers to add to his misery by watching the Boston Red Sox self destruct in solitude.  He has lots of opinions of his beloved baseball team and and their arch rivals as well.  He knows how to screw up a romantic relationship by diving in hard and fast, stalking women and by obsessing about pleasing the parents instead of focusing on building a relationship with the person he is dating.

He  smokes too much and is a pseudo atheist who seems to be obsessed with other religions at the same time. One day technology turns on Paul when someone creates a website pretending to be Paul O’Rourke DDS, then tweets begin and even a Facebook account surfaces. Who is behind this and why are they targeting Paul?  A group referred to as Ulms with a belief system is based on a “doubting God”. The group instead of targeting Paul, when all is said and done, may be the key to the sense of community Paul had been longing for all along.
This was an incredibly difficult book to review, I liked the writing, and enjoyed many of the quotes. At times I felt sorry for Paul, who creates much of his own misery, other times I was laughing about the absurdity of what I was reading. Like Paul,as a conflicted Red Sox fan (especially this year) I found his musings and even obsession with the team and players a delight. However, once the Ulms surfaced, the story seemed too weird and I lost interest. Overall, this was an okay read for me. I think readers who enjoy satires might enjoy this one a bit more than me.
3.5/5 stars
(eGalley and audio)

Quotes to help you understand our protagonist--
  • “I encouraged my patients to floss. It was hard to do some days. They should have flossed. Flossing prevents periodontal disease and can extend life up to seven years. It’s also time consuming and a general pain in the ass. That’s not the dentist talking. That’s the guy who comes home, four or five drinks in him, what a great evening, ha-has all around, and, the minute he takes up the floss, says to himself, What’s the point? In the end, the heart stops, the cells die, the neurons go dark, bacteria consumes the pancreas, flies lay their eggs, beetles chew through tendons and ligaments, the skin turns to cottage cheese, the bones dissolve, and the teeth float away with the tide. But then someone who never flossed a day in his life would come in, the picture of inconceivable self-neglect and unnecessary pain— rotted teeth, swollen gums, a live wire of infection running from enamel to nerve— and what I called hope, what I called courage, above all what I called defiance, again rose up in me, and I would go around the next day or two saying to all my patients, “You must floss, please floss, flossing makes all the difference.”   

  • “The mouth is a weird place. Not quite inside and not quite out, not skin and not organ, but something in between: dark, wet, admitting access to an interior most people would rather not contemplate--where cancer starts, where the heart is broken, where the soul might just fail to turn up.”

  • "I had never thought much of genealogy. A lot of wasted time collecting the names of the dead.  Then stringing those names, like skulls upon wire, into an entirely private and thus irrelevant narrative, lacking any historical significance. The narcissistic pastime of nostalgic bores."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You - The Unknown Bridesmaid; Margaret Forster

This week's "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick is from of my favorite imprints -- Europa.  What do you think -- would you try it?

The Unknown Bridesmaid; Margaret Forster
Europa - September 2014


Margaret Forster's twenty-sixth work of fiction is a subtle, psychologically probing of personal history, guilt, and redemption. Julia, a troubled and isolated child with few friends, is tormented by the irreparable damage she believes she has caused her family during a seemingly innocuous outing with her cousin's newborn Hild. Haunted by guilt and anxiety, she becomes a child psychologist and, later, a magistrate. Yet as The Guardian notes, "It's a gripping read without being a thriller because we are drawn ineluctably into something darker that we sense is always floating just beneath the surface of what Julia chooses to tell us." Executed with razor-sharp control and remarkable confidence, Forster's novel is a powerful case study on the consequences of self-deception and the unforeseen effects it can have on he rest of our lives.