Tuesday, January 25, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - One Step Too Far; Lisa Gardner

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.  I started this book and it's quite addictive. It's Book #2 of the Frankie Elkin series which began last year with: Before She Disappeared (loved that one.)

One Step Too Far; Lisa Gardner
Dutton - January 2022

THE FIRST THREE MEN CAME stumbling into town shortly after ten A.M., babbling of dark shapes and eerie screams and their missing buddy Scott and their other buddy Tim, who set out from their campsite before dawn to get help.

"Bear, bear, bear," the first guy moaned.

"Mountain lion!" the second guy insisted.

Third guy vomited.

What do you think - read more or pass?  (Lots of details about hiking, camping and rescue and recovery.)

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Book Review - Mouth to Mouth; Antoine Wilson

Mouth to Mouth; Antoine Wilson
Simon & Schuster Audio - 2022 and Avid Reader Press
(audio download and eGalley provided by publisher in exchange for my unbiased review)
(Edoardo Ballerini - Narrator - very good - just under 5 hours)

Every once in a while I am drawn to a book that is somewhat unusual.  Initially, it was the cover art and title. The story proved to be different and rather addictive as well - it's a story within a story.

Our unnamed narrator is a struggling cult author who is at JFK airport as the story begins. His flight bound for Berlin is delayed. When he hears a page for a Jeff Cook and then notices the handsome face of a 40-something man with fancy luggage, he's pretty sure it is the same Jeff Cook he knew at UCLA some 20 years earlier.  After a quick conversation, Jeff invites the narrator, who is flying coach, into the First Class lounge with him.  Jeff proceeds to tell the narrator a story that he has never told anyone else. It seems that he saved a drowning man some 20 years earlier. He claims he became obsessed with finding and learning what happened to the victim, Francis Arsenault.  It seems Arsenault became a somewhat devious but successful art dealer in Beverly Hills. Cook continues to tell how when he meets Francis he wasn't recognized by him yet, despite this Francis sees something in Jeff and takes him under his wing, introducing him to the world of art. 

Why did Jeff supposedly keep this story to himself this long and, why reveal it at this time to someone he hasn't been in touch with since college?  To say more would lead to spoilers. 

This is one of those novels that is hard to stop reading once you begin and because it is just under 200 pages in print and under (5) hours on audio, it is entirely possible to finish it in one day.   This character driven story has a slow build up and a truly unexpected ending as well. The story isn't perfect but, is a doozy. I'm glad I had a chance to read/listen to it.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Friday, January 21, 2022

Book Review - Mala's Cat; A Memoir of Survival in World War II; Mala Kacenberg


Dreamscape Audio and Pegasus Books - 2022
(audio download provided at no cost by publisher and NetGalley)

Mala Szorer, a Jewish girl, grew up in quaint forested village in Poland.  Her family had a good life until WWII began and the German invasion changed everything.  She wasn't even 14 when she witnessed the killing of her older brother and her family by SS men.  

 Knowing she had to flee the area if she had any chance of surviving, Mala and her cat, Malach, who she truly believed was her guardian angel, fled to find safety. Mala was a strong, smart, blond blue-eyed girl and, the fact that she did not look Jewish worked to her advantage.  With the help of some kind-hearted people along the way she was provided with occasional food and clothing and, eventually she able to pose as a Christian, fake her identity and even find work and shelter. 

I loved listening to Mala's story and her nearly (6) year fight to survive.  This book, originally published in 1995 as, Alone in the Forest, was a wonderful and important story.  Unlike many other WWII, Holocaust stories, I did not find this one too dark and depressing despite the subject manner. Mala was a wonderful character, she was so determined with a nothing to lose kind of attitude that worked to her advantage. A beautiful story of survival despite the odds. The audio, narrated by Kristin Atherton, is highly recommended.

Rating - 5/5 stars

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros; Ladder of the Years; Anne Tyler

 Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.  

I love Anne Tyler and recently realized that I don't think I've ever read her 1995 book, Ladder of the Years so, in anticipation of her coming March (2022) release French Braid, I want to remedy that.

Recorded Books (Library loan)


Baltimore Woman Disappears During Family Vacation

Delaware State Police announced early today that Cordelia F. Grinstead, 40, wife of a Roland Park, physician, has been reported missing while on holiday with her family in Bethany Beach.

Mrs. Grinstead was last seen around noon this past Monday, walking south along the stretch of sand between Bethany and Sea Colony.

Witnesses of her departure--her husband Dr. Samuel Grinstead, 55, her three children, Susan 21, Ramsay, 19, and Carroll, 15--were unable to recall any suspicious characters in the vicinity.  They reported to the best of their recollection, she simply strolled away. Her failure to return was not remarked until late afternoon.

A slender, small-boned woman with curly fair or light-brown hair, Mrs. Grinstead stands 5'2" or possibly 5'5" and weighs either 90 or 110 pounds. Her eyes are blue or gray or possibly green, and her nose is mildly sunburned in addition to being freckled.

I don't know about you but this intro about Mrs Grinstead made me smile - how very little attention her family seemed to pay her.  Have you read it---would you read more?  Can't wait to begin it.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Book Review - Joan is Okay; Weike Wang


Joan is Okay; Weike Wang
Penguin Random House Audio - 2022
Narrator: Catherine Ho - very good

Joan is a 36 year old Chinese American, her parents who came to American in search of a better life.  Joan works as an attending physician in a busy ICU unit of a New York City hospital.  She works long hours, sometimes 7-days a week and doesn't have a life outside of work.  In fact, when her father dies unexpectedly back in Shanghai, Joan goes to China taking only the weekend off to be with her family.
By contrast, Joan's brother Fang is living his version of the American dream in an upscale Connecticut neighborhood. He's married, into material possessions and lots of vacations for the family. His wife can't understand why Joan does not like jewelry, shopping or vacations.

When Joan is forced by the HR Department at the hospital to take a proper bereavement leave, she is forced to reflect on the past and her present situation.  

This story takes place around the early pandemic and has both a serious side and some fun scenes as well.  Joan's neighbor for example, is a compulsive shopper who wants to be a minimalist like Joan, giving away his possessions and then repurchasing things he gave away once again.  In many ways Joan is Okay is a quiet kind of story yet it gives the reader much to think about and, I think it would make a good discussion book as well.  Joan is a great character study as were her family members. She reminded my of Keiko in the Convenience Store Woman, another book which I loved as, at least on audio, Joan appears to be somewhere on the spectrum.  I enjoyed this book, it was a quick, interesting listen (the audio book was just over six hours.) I do wish that the ending was not quite as rushed. Recommended.

Rating - 4/5 stars

(Thanks go to PRH Audio for providing me this book at no cost in exchange for my unbiased review. The book releases in the US tomorrow.)

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Book Review - After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond; Bruce Greyson, M.D.

Bruce Greyson, M.D. - St. Martin Essentials - 2021 
 (library loan - hardcover)

I decided to try this book after a woman in my book group was talking about how much she liked it. It is written by an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia and covers nearly 50 years of research.

Greyson, a self-proclaimed skeptic and not a religious man began to study Near-Death experiences as a medical student.  One day while in medical school and eating lunch in the hospital cafeteria he was called to the ER to see an unconscious woman who attempted suicide.  Something she said the following day after she regained consciousness perplexed him and made him want to pursue NDE's further.  

This book shares a good amount of other ND experiences and what the individual reports having experienced. The ages and sexes of the individuals varied (from as young as age 8years of age.) The religious beliefs of the individuals and what they experienced all varied - white light,  welcoming presence and seeing others that passed earlier.  One 17 year old, non-believer, a college student from NJ had reported during a scuba diving incident where he was drowning described it as a peaceful, floating experience , very peaceful with flowery meadows - no heaven, hell or limbo rather a peaceful surrender. Another 49 year old non believer described it as a peaceful, pleasant transition to another state. 

Greyson also mentions that many others keep ND experiences to themselves because of a fear or stigma associated with the experience - fearing that others would think were mentally ill or that they would face ridiculed The doctor doesn't provide all the answers people may be looking for but , he does provides food for thought. I do wish there was more research on what comes after.  Overall - a different kind of read for me - taken with a grain of salt.

SIDE NOTE - When my own brother was dying of cancer in 2009, his wife and I asked him in his final weeks to provide us with a sign that he was okay after he died. (I also asked him not to call any family reunions any time soon - as I would be the last of my birth family still living.)  Well, it's (2022) and I'm still here but in the (12 ) months after he died, his wife had to replace nearly (30) light bulbs that would randomly burn out in her (6) room condo - is this freaky or what?  Once a year had passed, this too had stopped.

Do you believe in an afterlife? (I do not but, if I'm wrong, I'd like to come back as someones well-loved, well-fed house cat who lives an additional (9) lives.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Book Review - The Maid; Nita Prose


The Maid; Nita Prose
Ballantine Books and Penguin Random House Audio - 2022
Narrator - Lauren Ambrose - very good
(eGalley and audio sent to me by publisher)

Molly Gray is a 25 year old "maid" at the Regency Grand Hotel. It is a job Molly loves and one she takes great pride in.  Raised by her grandmother after her mother had abandoned her, Gram was also a maid.  It is clear that Molly and Gram, who has recently passed away, had a special relationship. which helped Molly to thrive.  It is also clear listening to Molly narrate this story that she has difficulties understanding facial expressions and trouble with social skills and that she loves her life of routines.  

Charles Black is is businessman who, with his wife Giselle, stays at the Regency Grand almost weekly. Molly is always happy to service their suite and, grateful for their generous tips as well.  One day upon entering the suite Molly finds Charles, fully dressed, but dead in bed and, his younger wife Giselle is not around.  Following proper protocol Molly reports the incident but, she soon finds herself interrogated as murder is suspected in the death of Charles Black.

This was a delightful, light mystery. Molly is a terrific character, I loved how content she was with her simple life of routine and order. She made a wonderful narrator with her quirky, matter-of-fact style and honesty.  The Maid has a good cast of characters and turned out to be a real feel good mystery that will kept me guessing; the audio was very good.  This story has already been optioned for a movie.  Read it!

Rating - 4.5/5 stars