Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls; Anton DiSclafani

Author: Anton DiSclafani
Publication Year:  2013 
Setting: Florida and North Carolina 
Publisher: Penguin / Riverhead Books
Edition: eGalley and audio
Source: Edelweiss - publisher
Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 4/5 

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a coming of age story set in the 1930s Depression era, but unlike most coming-of-age stories set in this time period, the main character is rich. Fifteen- year old Thea Atwell and her twin brother Sam have grown up in a sheltered and privileged environment among the orange groves in Florida. Her father is a doctor, her mother, the beautiful doctor's wife who likes to spend her time gardening, Thea rides horses and brother Sam loves to explore the woods and commune with nature. For Thea, her brother Georgie and cousin Sam are pretty much her only exposure to other kids her age.

Early on it is clear something has happened involving Thea. Without notice her parents send her away to an equestrienne camp for Southern debutantes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. When Thea realizes that the "camp" is also a boarding school, she is puzzled and angry about her parent's decision. While she does make friends with some of the girls, and becomes very friendly with the headmaster and his family, life is quite different for her there. While her family is still very wealthy, other rich kids have seen their families lose everything and must leave the camp. Time away from family allows Thea the opportunity to reflect on events leading up to her being sent away from her family.

The story weaves back and forth from Thea's life at home in Florida and the months before she was sent away, to the one year she spent at the riding camp/boarding school. At the heart of the story is the question that readers will want answers to - "why was Thea sent away?"  Readers will get the answer to that question, but for me it happened just a little to early into the story.  I would have preferred if it had evolved more like a good mystery, but it is still a good story.  Definitely a character-driven novel, for me, there was a feeling of tension throughout.  It was also a book that really had so many elements that I like reading about: a story of social class, a family drama, young love and coming of age. All which takes place in a time when so many people have lost everything, yet for the family at the center of this story, all they had to worry about was minimizing the potential of public humiliation.

Told in the first person from Thea's POV,  I thought Thea made for an interesting character. I liked how headstrong she was for a young girl considering how sheltered she was.  I enjoyed how she grew and evolved throughout the story. I thought this book was a good read, and would make a good book club selection as well.  Anton DiSclafani, is a debut author that I hope to read more of in the future.

Try it.

Always Watching; Chevy Stevens

Title: Always Watching 
Author: Chevy Stevens
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Edition: audio
Reader: Joyce Bean (very good)
Source:  Library and NetGalley (eGalley)
Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 3.5/5

For readers like me who have not read the (2) previous novels by Chevy Stevens, the main character of this novel, Dr. Nadine Lavoie was also a character in the other two books.
Dr. Lavoie is a psychiatrist who has some mental health issues of her own.  She suffers from panic attacks and claustrophobia, but the root of these conditions was never known by her. 

One day Nadine is working with Heather Simeon,  a new psychiatric patient who has attempted suicide. Heather shares some disturbing information with Nadine that begins to trigger memories long repressed.  When Nadine was about thirteen, her unstable mother in an effort to escape her husband's violent mood swings, took Nadine and her brother to live at a commune run by a crackpot named Aaron Quinn.  Aaron used mind control over his followers or rather his victims, and although people have left the commune -- Aaron in some ways always seems to be close by.  Although the family eventually left the commune, it's clear that things happened that perhaps were covered up.

The novel also has a subplot about Nadine's daughter Lisa who is a current target of Aaron. Lisa has battled drug issues and has been living on the streets.  Nadine isn't sure where her daughter is or, even if she is still alive.

Readers of psychological thrillers who enjoy a lot of edge of your seat moments, might find themselves a tad disappointed by this effort, but for me it was still a decent read. I enjoyed the set up of the first half of the book, more than the finish. I am looking forward to reading the author's two earlier books, Still Missing and Never Knowing, which Steven's fans have seemed to rave about.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Mouse-Proof Kitchen; Saira Shah

Author: Saira Shah
Publication Year:  2013
Setting: London and France 
Publisher: Atria / Emily Bestler Books
Edition: eGalley
Source: NetGalley
Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 4.5/5

I have to confess, it was the title that made me curious about this book, but I never would have expected to be reading a book that touched so many different emotional responses from me.  This book made me angry and sad one minute and smiling and even laughing the next.  I read it pretty slow, as I was in some ways afraid to get to the end.  Here's why ---

As the story begins Anna, 38 in labor at a London hospital, expecting her first baby. Her husband Tobias arrives while she is already in labor (to myself I'm calling him a jerk already).  Anna, is a planner who loves to control what happens in her life, even if that is not always possible. She and Tobias have already discussed moving to Provence once their baby is born, so that their child can be raised in a quaint, peaceful place.  Anna is a chef and she is already hoping to open a restaurant in Provence as well. Tobias is more of a fly-by-the-seat of your pants kind of guy; he is a musician and film writer.

When Baby Freya, arrives into the world, it's by an emergency C-section after some heart-rate problems are detected.  When she has a seizure right after birth, it is clear she has some issues.  MRI's and testing reveal her brain has not developed normally, and has a condition called: Polymicrogyria. She will be severely limited for as long as she lives and her life expectancy is unknown. Her frequent seizures could end her life at anytime. Anna and Tobias are devastated and after learning more details about her daughter's condition, they even consider abandoning Freya and moving on with their lives.  They fear that they will be unable to love and care for Freya, believing they could never handle all that responsibility required of someone who is raising a disable child.

Convinced to take their daughter home, even briefly, the couple move to an isolated town in France. To add more chaos to their already stressful lives, they decide to make a rodent-infested, rundown, crumbling, farmhouse home [ I'm picturing a French version of the place in Under the Tuscan Sun]. Anna's obsession with order and control at times serves to shift her focus from her disabled baby to trying to "mouse-proof" her kitchen.

The chapters in this story are the months of the year beginning with the month that Freya was born. There is a quirky cast of characters, each of whom in some way serves to help, or even sometimes distract Anna from the constant pressure and ever-present anxiety that the couple faces 24-7. Anna's annoying mother, was someone who made me especially angry when she came to visit - she is totally self-absorbed, yet, there were a few occasions that she surprised me in a pleasant way as well.

As you can imagine, this book has some gut wrenching moments. How hard it must be to allow yourself to love a very sick baby, never knowing whether it will be taken away from you tomorrow. I was surprised to read that this story, at least in part, was inspired by the personal experience of the author.The Mouse-Proof Kitchen is an incredibly touching story. It is one of those books that would make for a great book club discussion. It reminded me how our some of biggest challenges in life, are usually the things that made us a better, and stronger person in the end.

Very well done - Read it.

We Need to Talk About Kevin; Lionel Shriver -- - Beware --Spoilers Galore -- Rambling Thoughts on the book and the movie

Recorded Books audio book 
narrated by Barbara Rosenblat
For those of you who haven't read or watched the movie, We Need to Talk About Kevin, it's a gut-wrenching story that I think will stick with me forever. it is also one of those stories that make you question, what you would do if you were faced with a similar situation. It is a story I will never forget and certainly, I can certainly understand why Lionel Shriver won the Orange Prize in 2005, I highly recommend both if you think you are up for this story.

The novel begins with the narrator, Eva Khatchadourian, mother of Kevin, writing a series of letters to her former husband Franklin. Their son Kevin committed a horrific act a few years earlier, just a few days before his 16th birthday. It is through these letters that the readers get a glimpse into the head of the mother, who never wanted to have a child in the first place -- she admits to this. The reader could easily fill a small notebook with the parenting missteps of both parents -- they made me angry -- very angry, especially the mother Eva.  But, then at times I had to take a step back and question whether there was such a thing as "the bad seed" or is it just bad parenting that creates sociopaths and future killers.

Kevin clearly had issues early on in life, but I never really got a good sense of maternal nurturing going on in this family, especially during those important first 12 months of life.  I'll get off my high horse about Eva's shortcomings and say at times I felt sorry for her to have to deal with all of Kevin's issues alone. How awful that her husband didn't believe the things she told him about Kevin.  Then I got really mad, I had to ask myself, if motherhood was such a horrible experience for Eva from the get-go, why in the world would she have another child?  The two children were not that close in age so why would would Eva think motherhood the second time would be make things better in her life?

In a nutshell - both the book and the movie were gritty and haunting, yet unbelievably brilliant.  I read the book first and as I read I was filled with dread and a sense of impending doom. I I kept asking myself as I listened to the audiobook, what horrible thing would happen next? The movie was terrific as well and each cast member was perfect for their part IMO: , and
SPOILERS - How the Book and Movie Differs

Although the book followed the movie pretty closely, there were a few differences. For example, in the book the mother and father actually divorce, but in the movie, they only talk about it.  I also thought that Eva, the mother, at times seemed to try to mother Kevin, whereas in the book, I never felt that for a minute.  Unfortunately, his obsession with archery and Robin Hood, started early -- it was the one book that he allowed his mother to read and read and read to him over and over again.  The biggest difference however, was the fact that in the movie, the father and sister died at the hands of Kevin., Aug coworker and discussed the book and we disagreed about the ending in the book, versus the movie together we read the last chapter of the book (at work...LOL), and she was right....the ending was the same both, but the way Shriver worded one sentence, made me think differently initially.

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Quarry; Iain Banks

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. Care to join us?

This week I'm featuring an intro from a book that was released in June.

The Quarry; Iain Banks
Redhook/Hachette; June 2013

"Most people are insecure, and with good reason. Not me.

This is probably because I've had to think about who I am and who I am not, which is something your average person generally doesn't have to do.  Your average person has a pair of parents. or at least a mother, or at least knows roughly where they fit into all of that family business in a way that I, for better or worse, don't.  Usually I think it's for better, though sometimes not.

Also, it helps that I am very clever, if challenged in other ways.  Challenged in the context means that I am weird, strange, odd, socially disabled, forever looking at things from an unusual angle, or however you want to put it."
What do you think? Would you keep reading?  Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below.

Friday, July 26, 2013

After Her; Joyce Maynard

Title: After Her 
Author: Joyce Maynard
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher: William Morrow
Edition: eGalley/personal copy
Source: Publisher / Edelweiss
Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 4/5

In part a coming of age story, but also based on the Trailside Killer...a.k.a Sunset Strangler case that terrorized Marin County, California, in the late 1970s, After Her tells the story of young sisters Rachel and Patty Torricelli. Patty is the youngest, in 5th grade when the story begins.

Both Rachel and Patty adore their dad, a homicide detective and also a big-time womanizer. Their relationship with their mother pretty much consists of living under the same roof.  After the parents split up, early on in the story, the mother becomes depressed and detached and the girls are pretty much left to care for and amuse themselves, except for the occasional times when they visit with their father and his girlfriend.

The girls like to play detective games, like what's up with the odd neighbor who lives on their street. They also enjoy entertaining themselves by making up stories, peering in windows to watch the televisions of their neighbors, since they no longer have cable television, and hanging out in the mountains nearby. However, when local women begin to turn up dead along the mountain trails, and there aren't any real suspects, Rachel and Patty are forbidden by their father to spend time in the mountains.

Instead of running scared, the sisters are even more curious about clues that might have been missed. When the murder count continues to go up,  their detective father, who is in charge of the investigations, seems at a loss and his career is on the line.  Rachel comes up with a plan to use what she claims be be her intuitive powers, which she thinks may help solve the cases, putting their lives at risk in the process.

......."Lying in my bed at night, I wanted to tell me father that I knew a few things about the killer too. (About his black loafers. His chubby fingers. And maybe a dog.) But I knew he would just have told me to stop thinking about it."

While the sisters at times seemed somewhat naive, at other times times seemed older than their years. Preoccupied with sex, in one instance Rachel conjures up images of the murderer having sex with the dead girls. The story is told from Rachel's POV and, I really loved reading about the close relationship between these sisters. Much of their daily activities seemed to ring true for what kids did for fun after school and in the summer at least in the 1960s and continuing into at least some of the 70s, before latch-key kids became popular and kids kept themselves amused indoors with television, video games and computers.

Overall, this novel had a lot going for it, which made non stop reading very easy. Part coming of age story, Family drama and even a real-life murder mystery. There were good doses of suspense,  I really loved how the author portrayed each sister. I felt like I knew girls rather well. I do wish that the murder aspect of the story could have been more fully developed. Although I liked this book, readers who need a clear cut resolution to all aspects of a story might be a little disappointed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Big Brother; Lionel Shriver

Title: Big Brother 
Author: Lionel Shriver
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher: Harper
Edition: personal copy/eGalley
Source: Amazon Vine / Edelweiss
Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 4/5

Big Brother, is 46 year-old Edison Appaloosa, once a pretty hip jazz pianist who calls NYC home. Now claiming that he has some free time, he is coming to small town Iowa to visit his sister Pandora who he hasn't seen in 4 years. When his sister meets him at the airport, she literally does not recognize her own brother. He is being wheeled in an extra wide wheel chair by two flight attendants. Edison now weighs nearly 400lbs, having gained over 200lbs in the last 4 years.

Pandora cannot believe her eyes, and she is immediately thinking about what her often opinionated, exercise fanatic, husband Fletcher will say when he sees Edison. Especially since Fletcher is less than thrilled about having Edison come for a visit in the first place. On top of that their marriage is a bit strained as it is even before Edison arrives. While Pandora has a thriving career, Fletcher builds high end furniture pieces their basement. Fletcher has two teenage children that live with the couple (Pandora's step-children).

Once Edison settles in at the couple's home, it's obvious that he isn't exactly the ideal house guest. He wallows in self-pity and begins to get on Fletcher's nerves from the get-go. He also interferes in the lives of Fletcher's teenage children, has no real interests and all he wants to do is eat. He even breaks one of the chairs that Fletcher has made, making Fletcher lose patience fast with his brother-in-law, adding stress to the already strained marriage. Pandora, however, is torn, but she sees this as Edison's cry for help. His life has been compromised by his morbid obesity. Pandora convinces Edison to embark on a year long weight loss program, stating that she will be there to guide and support him all the way, even if it does mean stepping away from her marital-family in the process.

I thought Big Brother was a very good story. Yes, it certainly is a story about  our obsession with weight and in this case obesity. It makes you think about what leads some people to choose food in times of stress or even as a source of comfort. It is also, perhaps even more, a story about family and the choices we make for those we love. Is blood thicker than water? I think so, but other readers may view this differently. The ending will bug some readers I suspect, and though I was surprised, I kind of liked the way that the story played out. This certainly is a character driven novel, and while both Edison and Fletcher annoyed the hell out of me at times, at other times I also felt really sorry for Edison. In the end I was happy that I read this book.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Translator; Nina Schulyer

Title: The Translator
Author: Nina Schulyer
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher: Pegasus / W.W. Norton
Edition: eGalley/personal copy

Source: Publisher / Edelweiss

Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 4/5
Fifty-three year old Hanne Schubert is a literary translator; she is fluent in seven languages.  She has just completed an important work for Kobayashi, a famous Japanese writer.  The success of his novel, The Trojan Horse Trips, into English, is important to both parties -- for the author it's being recognized in the American market, and for Hanne, a job well done means the potential of more work coming her way from various sources. While diligently working on the translation of this book, Hanne begins to feel that she knows the main character, Jiro, even better than the author does. This is reflected in how she translates the story as well. 
Shortly after completing the project, Hanne falls down a flight of stairs, and suffers a head injury which results in an unusual condition — the loss of her native language. For some reason, she is left with the ability to only speak Japanese, a language she learned later in life.  Hanne is a widow with two grown children, a son and a daughter. Through bits and pieces the reader is able to discern that Hanne is estranged from her daughter as a result of some issues that occurred years earlier. Since Hanne is unable to speak English, she decides to leave San Francisco to accept a speaking opportunity in Japan, but she is not prepared for what happens next. 
In Japan, Hanne is confronted by a furious and drunken Kobayashi, who humiliates her publicly and accuses her of deliberately trying to ruin him with her English translation of his book. Hanne in turn is determined to set her reputation straight. She seeks out Moto, the Noh actor that the author based the main character of his book after. She sees quickly that Moto is very deep and so very different than she is when it comes to dealing with important life issues. As Hanne gets to know and understand Moto better, she learns things about herself and how some of her past decisions could have been dealt with differently. her transformation from past to present leaves the reader to wonder whether she be able to heal her troubled relationship with her daughter, Brigette before it's too late.
I finished this book a few weeks ago, but I had a little trouble writing a review.  Did I like it? Yes, the writing is beautiful and there is plenty to think about as you read. Imagine how difficult it would be to lose one's ability to speak in your native tongue. I was moved as I read about Hanne as a mother and the mistakes she made. It made me think about a few things that I wished I had done differently or more of when my own children were young.  I also thought it was great to learn more about the Japanese culture.  This book took me much longer to read than I thought it would, it's very different, and although I liked it, I am not sure it's the kind of story that every reader will enjoy. Having said that, I do think that readers who love language and powerful meaning behind the written world should read this one.

Waiting on Wednesday - The Affairs of Others; Amy Grace Loyd

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.  Bloggers spotlight upcoming releases that they are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. I love the sound of this one:

The Affairs of Others; Amy Grace Loyd

August 27, 2013 - Picador
A mesmerizing debut novel about a young woman, haunted by loss, who rediscovers passion and possibility when she’s drawn into the tangled lives of her neighbors

Five years after her young husband’s death, Celia Cassill has moved from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, but she has not moved on. The owner of a small apartment building, she has chosen her tenants for their ability to respect one another’s privacy. Celia believes in boundaries, solitude, that she has a right to her ghosts. She is determined to live a life at a remove from the chaos and competition of modern life. Everything changes with the arrival of a new tenant, Hope, a dazzling woman of a certain age on the run from her husband’s recent betrayal. When Hope begins a torrid and noisy affair, and another tenant mysteriously disappears, the carefully constructed walls of Celia’s world are tested and the sanctity of her building is shattered—through violence and sex, in turns tender and dark. Ultimately, Celia and her tenants are forced to abandon their separate spaces for a far more intimate one, leading to a surprising conclusion and the promise of genuine joy.

Amy Grace Loyd investigates interior spaces of the body and the New York warrens in which her characters live, offering a startling emotional honesty about the traffic between men and women. The Affairs of Others is a story about the irrepressibility of life and desire, no matter the sorrows or obstacles.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat; William Braden

 William Braden - Ten Speed Press - 2013

Calling all cat-lovers, Henri, le Chat Noir will surely make you smile. Feline-Philosopher, Henri's insightful musings struck a chord with me. He's cute, he's smart and thought-provoking.

In general, Henri does not trust the out side world; he doesn't like when he has to wait for his breakfast, and he sleeps because our world is troubled and he thinks other cats who play with toys, fake mice etc are "delusional".

Tastefully done in, what else but "black and white", the photos are terrific and do justice in portraying Henri in the best possible light:) One page features one of Henri's musings, while the opposite page has a different photo of Henri.

One of my favorites:
When I watch you go about your activities, make no mistake about my intentions.  I am not curious or coy.
I am judging you.

A few more great musings

People often wonder if cats climb up to high places so they can feel superior.
This is absolutely absurd. Elevation does not affect our superiority

They curse the fur on the bed, but what is shedding if not a reminder of my own spiritual evanescence?
It is my soul they vacuum up.

The best way to enjoy this book is with a cup of tea or glass of wine and your own "Henri-ite purring on your lap.  Trust me, you will appreciate your own complex felines all the more, and perhaps even gain a better understanding of them as well.  

This book is a great conversation piece when you leave a copy in out for company to enjoy. The book would also make the perfect gift for yourself or the cat-lover in your life and priced under $10.00 as well.

Highly recommended

You are Stardust; Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim (illustrator)

 You are Stardust; Elin Kelsey and Soyean Kim
Owlkids Books - 2012
Elin Kelsey is not only the author of this book, but she is also an environmental scientist. Her love for the environment shines through in through in this book. Adult readers will be amazed at how well the author succeeds in explaining to younger children how very close our human connection is with nature.

For example, we see that people shed their hair much like trees shed their leaves, and how our life began with just a single atom, as was true for the lives of fish, dinosaurs and other living things. When we were very young, we learned to speak much the same way baby birds learn to sing -- we are taught by our family.

This book is lovely as well as educational. It teaches children how animals depend upon one another and it is a book that will make young children ask questions. Once children read this book (or have it read to them), they will want to learn more about how they are connected to nature and all that we have in common.

Soyean Kim's brightly colored dioramas are a combination of pen, pencil, ink and paper-cuts. They make for truly wonderful illustrations, that not only add interest, but also help little ones (K-2) better understand the world that surrounds them.

(5/5 stars) - Highly recommended especially for libraries and classrooms.
 Add it to your wish list.

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Mouse-Proof Kitchen; Saira Shah

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. Care to join us?

This week I'm featuring an intro from a book that was recently released: 

Emily Bestler Books /Atria/Simon & Schuster

"Pains come and go.  I am riding on waves of them. They are nothing like the orgasmic surges described by my New Age birthing teacher, but not nearly as bad as as my mother's tales of pelvises split in two and of women losing their minds from the agony.

I suck on gas and air and long for the sight of Tobia's face, full of roguish charm,  as if he's inviting the world to share a secret joke with him.  When my mother first met him, she told him he looked like a friendly horse.  It's a comparison he loathes, but I cherish it. 

And, finally here he is, his dark curls even more rumpled than usual, typically late for the birth of his first child.  His haggard look is, I'm sure, simply due to an ill-timed night out on the town.  Tobias is not one of nature's worriers."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?  Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Salon - and Mailbox Mailbox July 21, 2013

Considering that summer is about half over, I thought I'd ask what has everyone been doing this summer?  It's been so hot and humid here most of July thus far. This week is suppose to be be better, but the older I get the more I hate the heat.  I have not been doing my regular outdoor things like walking everyday, enjoying reading on my deck or even going to the beach.  Staying indoors with the central air wins every time for me.

I have been doing a lot of reviewing reading, and I have quite a few reviews to write (which I haven't felt like doing just yet).

Finished reading but no reviews yet (all were good-very good):
Current Reads: (enjoying both)
New Books - (Europa editions sent by paperback swap members)

 Have a great week everyone! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Snapshots - July 20, 2013

A big thanks to Alyce of At Home With Books, who has hosted this meme for a number of years. She is taking a summer hiatus at her blog. Our new host is Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

To participate, simply post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on West Metro Mommy's blog.

Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Not sure how these followers survived the
high 90 degree temps of the past 2 weeks.
fortunately, low 80's predicted staring tomorrow

 anxious for fall already

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tenth of December: Stories; George Saunders

Author: George Saunders
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher: Random House and Books on Tape
Edition: eGalley/audio

Reader:  author read (well done)
Source: NetGalley and library (audio)

Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 3.5/5

I don't read a lot of short stories, but I wanted to try this collection as I heard this author was a bit different and worth trying.

There are 10 stories in Tenth of December; some of the stories are very very short, in fact, a few really didn't seem like a story at all.  Other stories are longer, and some had a surreal feel to them.  Most every story has to do with human nature and social mores. Many are written in such a way that made me flinch a bit at what I had just read.  Although some of the stories are satirical in nature, others packed a punch -- sad or ugly, but definitely powerful. Most of the characters were down on their luck or in a crisis situation, others were just pathetic. A welcomed relief to all the darkness was the dark humor and irony, which I enjoyed. It actually provided some much needed relief from the darker moments,

My favorite story was actually the last story and title story "Tenth of December". It is a story about a dying man contemplating suicide. He wanders into the woods prepared to end his life, when an incident with a young boy makes him rethink his situation.  "Puppy" was a story that really bothered me - it is about (2) women who meet by chance and yes, there is a puppy involved - I'll just say that this story left me feeling very sad.  "Victory" is another story  where a woman is being attacked and kidnapped, but the neighbor boy is torn whether to do something or not. In his head, he hears his strict father's voice telling him that what is happening is "none of his business".

Now two weeks after I finished this collection, I must admit that some of Saunder's stories left me as soon as I finished reading it, but a few, like the ones above, stuck.  This is definitely not a collection that will appeal to everyone, but George Saunders is a very good writer, it is just for the most part, most of the were too dark for me. Try it and decide.

Waiting on Wednesday - Mercy Snow; Tiffany Baker

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.  Bloggers spotlight upcoming releases that they are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine. I loved this author's first book (4 years ago) - The Little Giant of Aberdeen County.

  Mercy Snow Tiffany Baker 
Grand Central Publishing - Hachette
January - 2014
In the tiny town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, the paper mill dictates a quiet, steady rhythm of life. But one day a tragic bus accident sets two families on a course toward destruction, irrevocably altering the lives of everyone in their wake. — June McAllister is the wife of the local mill owner and undisputed first lady in town. But the Snow family, a group of itinerant ne'er-do-wells who live on a decrepit and cursed property, have brought her--and the town--nothing but grief.

June will do anything to cover up a dark secret she discovers after the crash, one that threatens to upend her picture-perfect life, even if it means driving the Snow family out of town. But she has never gone up against a force as fierce as the young Mercy Snow. Mercy is determined to protect her rebellious brother, whom the town blames for the accident, despite his innocence. And she has a secret of her own. When an old skeleton is discovered not far from the crash, it beckons Mercy to solve a mystery buried deep within the town's past.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Woman Upstairs; Claire Messud

Title: The Woman Upstairs
Author: Claire Messud
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher: Knopf
Edition:  print

Source: my shelves

Setting: Massachusetts
Date Completed: July - 2013
Rating: 4/5

Nora Eldridge is "the woman upstairs". She approaching 40, average looking, never married, and she works as a third grade teacher at a school in Boston. Although she has a few friends, she pretty much spends her days at school and her evenings alone in her third floor apartment.  She once had dreamed of becoming an artist, but deep down it seems that Nora lacked the confidence to take a chance as an artist. At one point she had a rather high powered consulting job, and she left that job and to become a teacher. She also spent years caring for her mother who died of cancer, and then looking after her aged father.
When 8 year old Reza Shahid becomes one of her students, he makes an impression on Nora. Reza clearly stands out both in dress and manner. He last home was in Paris, but now living in Boston, at least temporarily, while his Lebanese father Skandar, is a professor, on a fellowship at Harvard.  As children can often be cruel to other children who seem to stand out from the crowd, Reza becomes the target of bullies.  The post 9/11 incident where other children call him names and refer to him as a terrorist, makes Nora want to protect Reza all the more.  In fact at times, the role she assumes seems more motherly than teacherly. 
When Nora meets Sirena, Reza's beautiful, Italian mother, she learns that she is an up and coming "artist", just like Nora always wanted to be.  Nora is immediately drawn to her, and she begins to spend time in a shared studio with Sirena  after she encourages Nora to pursue her interest in art.  Nora is also drawn to the intelligent and handsome Skandar, Reza's father, and is crazy about their special little boy Reza, who she even offers to babysit for.  Deep down Nora resents the seemingly perfect family, their cosmopolitan flair, and the more time she spends with them, the more envious and angry she becomes.
The story is told from Nora's perspective and it is clear that she sees herself stuck in the role of "good daughter", and her life is the product of choices she has made.  Yes, she has friends and a decent job, but the arrival of the Shahid's only serves to reinforce what Nora has missed out on.  I saw Nora as a woman who was often smiling on the outside, but crying and about to explode on the inside. This was further evidenced in her artwork, where she focused on the rooms inhabited by suicidal and depressed women like Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson.
Overall, I really liked this book, but it was not a quick and easy read for me.  The characters are extremely well crafted and believable, and although similar stories have been written in the past, of the ones that I've read, none have been as cleverly plotted as, The Woman Upstairs.  I do think that readers who enjoy a lot of action and surprises in what they read might be a bit frustrated or disappointed this novel.

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Inferno; Dan Brown

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. Care to join us?

This week I'm featuring an intro from a book that was recently released:

Chapter 1

"The memories materialized bubbles surfacing from the darkness of a bottomless well.

A veiled woman.

Robert Langdon gazed at her across a river whose churning waters ran red with blood.  On the far bank, the woman stood facing him, motionless, solemn, her face hidden by a shroud.  In her hand she gripped a blue tainia cloth, which she now raised in honor of the sea of corpses at her feet.  The smell of death hung everywhere. 

Seek, the woman whispered, And, ye shall find."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?  Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sunday Salon Catch Up Edition

This is my last day of vacation after being off since July 3rd.  I loved me time off, but the weather was not very and humid, thunderstorms and rain.  Despite that we had some fun. We caught up with friends for lunch, they are friends we only see 3-4 time a year, but when we do, it's always wonderful.  This get-together over lunch was no exception. I also got to see my granddaughter twice (always special), but no beach time as planned as I can't stand being outdoors long when the weather is hot and humid,(never mind rain and thunderstorms:) 

About Books:

I did get to finish (4) books: (2) were kids books that I enjoyed. I also read, After Her; Joyce Maynard (good) and The Woman Upstairs; Claire Messud (also good). No reviews yet --

One book I really was disliking, ended up being a DNF, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail; C. Strayed. I thought I might like this one as my mom died quickly from cancer when i was in my early 30s, much like the author's own mother.  so I though perhaps I might find some similar experiences - that never happened, it was the main character and the choices she made that really bugged me.  I actually was happy this was a library book and i hadn't paid $$ for it. It seems I'm in the minority based on reviews. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you read this one.

New Books by Mail: 

 All were gifts of the publisher (thank you) with the exception of Henri, le Chat Noir.

Enjoy Your Day!