Monday, June 30, 2014

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage; Ann Patchett

Harper Audio - 2013

Although I've enjoyed Ann Patchett's novels in the past, when I heard that her last book was a collection of essays, I wasn't as anxious to rush out and read it. Silly me. After reading several glowing reviews, I got a copy of the audio (read by the author) and I was pleasantly surprised. It's very good.

The books is a story of some 22 essays that felt very intimate. The author talks about how she knew early on that she wanted to be a writer, even though she suspected that she'd never make enough money to pay the bills. She supplemented her income with waitress jobs as needed, but the lack of money never deterred her from doing what she loved. Most of the essays were written over a 20-year period and many appeared in literary journals and magazines.

Patchett talks about the fact she got married at 24 and knew even before the ceremony that she was making a huge mistake. She talks about her divorce after just one year of marriage, and an eleven year relationship and eventual remarriage.  One particular story that moved me was one about her relationship with her grandmother and how she took an active care-giving role when she suffered from dementia. Another story, one I was very familiar with, was about her long friendship with Lucy Grealy, who was stricken with a rare form of cancer at an early age. A cancer which left her disfigured after having most of her jaw removed and over 50 different surgeries. Patchett's 2004 book, Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, was a gut-wrenching story about their friendship, what Lucy had been through and her early death from a heroin overdose.

I also liked when the author tells us how a Catholic school nun named Sister Nena made a significant impact on her life when she was quite young. The author also reflects on her rescue dog, Rose, and their relationship in which she wheeled the aged dog around in a stroller when she could no longer walk, because she wasn't yet ready to say goodbye to her.  The essays are all very personal, autobiographical in nature and often infused with both humor and emotion. I enjoyed some of the essays much more than others,  and I found listening to the entire collection was a very positive experience.  I highly recommend the audio book for this one. The author's voice added so much to the experience.

4.5/5 stars
(library audio)

Mailbox Monday - New Books

Mailbox Monday - Join us HERE
Very excited about the new books that came by mail this week.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bye Bye June - Month in Review

Well we are on the downward slide of 2014 -- half the year is officially over.  Are you pleased with the progress you've made with your reading?

I've read (71) books in the first half of 2014. I am pleased with the number, but I am not doing very well with my "perpetual bucket list", since I've been reading mostly new releases this year.  Hope to have more of a balance in this area for the rest of 2014.

Here is what June looked like. I read (14) books - (2) were cookbooks and (2) were kids books. --
  1. Summer House With Swimming Pool; Herman Koch - 4.5/5 (eGalley) - June 
  2. Picnic; John Burningham - 4.5/5 (print) - June  
  3. The Way to the Zoo; John Burningham - 5/5 (print) - June
  4. Be Safe, I Love You; Cara Hoffman - 4/5  (eGalley) - June
  5. The Book of You; Claire Kendal - 4/5/5 (eBook) - June
  6. Among the Missing; Morag Joss - 4/5 (audio) - June 
  7. All the Birds, Singing; Evie Wyld - 2.5/5 (arc) - June 
  8. The Book of Unknown Americans; Christina Henriquez - 5/5 (audio) - June 
  9. The Vacationers; Emma Straub - 3.5/5 - (audio and eBook) - June 
  10. The Greek Yogurt Kitchen; Toby Amidor - 4.5/5 (eBook) - June 
  11. What Strange Creatures; Emily Arsenault - 4.5/5 (review copy) - June 
  12. The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Funerals; Wendy Jones - 5/5 (eGalley) - June 
  13.  The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook: A Complete Nutritional and Cooking Guide for Healthy Living; Tom Malterre and Alissa Segersten - 5/5 (eGalley) - June
  14. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage; Ann Patchett (audio) - 4.5/5 - June (no review yet)
Favorite Book

July Plans 
Happy Reading

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What George Washington, Sigmund Freud, Richard Nixon, The Pope, The Queen of England and I Have in Common

Back in June of 2008 when i started blogging about books (yes - it's 6 years for me), I thought blogging would be a short term hobby. I've tried and given up so many hobbies over the years.  Yes, ever since I was a little kid, I was a quitter -- Girl Scouts, student council, jobs and even marriages. When I got bored, I moved on to something else.  I admit, I've gotten better with age.  I think I found books and a second career working in libraries to be a better fit.  I'm guessing that's why I am still blogging after 6 years as well -- I haven't gotten bored of books or all of the wonderful book lovers who stop by now and then to read my posts --- Thank you for humoring me. I also think blogging about books fits my "introverted nature".

Over the years I've had to take a few personality tests for a few managerial positions, and always seemed to get the job I was applying for as a result.  It always surprised me, because I know I can be kind of rigid. But that's good in some jobs right?  I'm not very patient and tend to get annoyed and impatient with indecisive and incompetent people as well (yikes, that sounds bad). Whenever a job left me unchallenged, I looked for something new.  I've had 4 HR jobs in 20 years, and then I changed careers when my children finished school. My second career, in libraries,was a much better fit. Just 2 jobs in (13 years), but I only changed jobs because I moved to another state.

 Do you take much stock in Personality Tests?

Here's what the profile said about me .....ISTJ - (introversion, sensing, thinking, judgment)  - responsible, planner, private, loner tendencies, perfectionist, organized, detail oriented, organized, would rather be friendless than jobless (wouldn't mind being jobless right now), realistic, observer, clean (LOL), focused, does not talk about feelings, finisher, punctual, private, does not appreciate strangeness, not adventurous, not spontaneous, follows the rules, dutiful, (tries to) avoids mistakes, conventional, likes solitude, insensitive to the hardships of others (not really true - just not emotional about it), prepared, anti-tattoos, things and rules are important, cautious, security seeking, prepares for worst case scenarios, logical, analytical, does not accept apologies easily (holds grudges), hard working.

Want to find out what famous people share your personality Traits?
(I hope you'll leave a comment and share your results)

Have a great Sunday - I'm off to a solitary activity -- reading

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook: A Complete Nutritional and Cooking Guide for Healthy Living; Tom Malterre and Alissa Segersten

Grand Central Life - 2014

I know I should have focused more on healthy eating when I was younger, but it’s really never too later to try and improve oneself. I was anxious to checkout this book as it seemed all-encompassing as far as “whole foods and nutrition” was concerned.

It’s truly a beautiful book.  It’s all about gluten-free and whole foods for living a healthy life. The cookbook offers some 300 recipes with beautiful color photos.  For me, learning what to buy and how to stock my shelves with healthy staples and go-to products was so helpful, and with 450 pages it was actually almost overwhelming (in a good way) at times.

The book is well organized with Part I, (5-chapters) is all about Whole Life Nutrition and health. Part II, (also 5 chapters) is about Eating, Preparing, and Stocking Whole Foods and Part III, is Recipes (300 of them).

 Beautiful color photos – everything a nutrition cook book should be. It’s not just recipes, although the Banana Breakfast Cake and the Vegan Maple Pecan Pie immediately called my name, it’s also a teaching tool on nutrition and healthy eating as well. As recommended, I’ve also finally tossed all my plastic containers and replaced them with small Pyrex bowls and lids that will not be a health risk when heating or exposing them to acid based liquids like lemon, tomato products or vinegars.

Take a look at this one. I think you will be glad you did. 

5/5 stars 

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - A Song for Issy Bradley; Carys Bray

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today.  What do you think about this debut novel -- would you try it?  

  Ballantine - August - 2014

A mesmerizing literary debut novel of doubt, faith, and perseverance in the aftermath of a family tragedy—for fans of Me Before You, Little Bee, and Tell the Wolves I’m Home.
The Bradleys see the world as a place where miracles are possible, and where nothing is more important than family. This is their story.

It is the story of Ian Bradley—husband, father, math teacher, and Mormon bishop—and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife, Claire, her lonely wait for a sign from God, and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with tragedy.

And it is the story of their children: sixteen-year-old Zippy, experiencing the throes of first love; cynical fourteen-year-old Al, who would rather play soccer than read the Book of Mormon; and seven-year-old Jacob, whose faith is bigger than a mustard seed—probably bigger than a toffee candy, he thinks—and which he’s planning to use to mend his broken family with a miracle.

Intensely moving, unexpectedly funny, and deeply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith, and of a family trying to figure out how to carry on when the innermost workings of their world have broken apart.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals; Wendy Jones

Wendy Jones - Europa Editions - 2014
Intro ...

“It was because of a yellow dress. She was wearing a yellow dress and her arms were bare. It was slightly tart, the colour of lemon curd. He couldn’t remember seeing a dress in that shade before. It was pleated silk and sleeveless, with a low waistband and a square neck that was slightly too low, perhaps only by half an inch.  Wilfred wondered how she got the dress on. Maybe there were hooks and eyes hidden on the side, under her arm. Ladies dresses sometimes had those. Women hooked and encased themselves in their dresses but there was always a way out."

A beautiful day, a picnic in a garden and a woman in a "yellow dress" in 1924, turns out to be a disastrous combination for 27 year-old, still a virgin, undertaker, Wilfred Price.  Caught up in the moment of her loveliness, Wilfred blurts out to Grace Reece, a woman he barely knows, "Grace, will you marry me?"  She accepts his proposal on the spot.

Although, he retracts his proposal, Grace doesn't seem to acknowledge it. Meanwhile, Wilfred can't stop thinking about the lovely Flora Myffanwy.  Flora's father has died and Wilfred handled the funeral. The grieving Flora lost the love of her life in the Great War, and now her father has passed away. She and Wilfred had been spending time together on Saturdays and their fondness for one another continues to grow.

Meanwhile, Grace tells her father she is pregnant, and her father, the local doctor, forces Wilfred to marry Grace. Wilfred doesn't have a clue about the pregnancy, and why would he suspect anything especially since he and Grace have never been intimate.  Now poor Wilfred feels he must marry Grace or his funeral business will be ruined. He is afraid that he will not be able to support his widowed father. After a quick wedding, Wilfred begins to feel that he's preparing for of his own funeral, wondering whether, he will ever feel joy in his life again, when Flora is the woman he wants to be with.

Set in rural Wales -- Narberth, Pembrokeshire, this was a wonderful old-fashioned comedy of errors story. The writing is wonderful, especially the fine details of daily life in a small village. The scenes and vivid and the story memorable. The characters drive the story and, it was refreshing to see how much the characters thought about the feelings of other people before acting. In some ways this made Wilfred appear weak, yet I admired him for this gentlemanly quality. For me, this was a refreshing, rewarding reading experience. I'm not surprised that this has been optioned for a mini series by the producers of Downton Abbey.

5/5 stars
(eGalley - Edelweiss)

First Chapter First Paragraph ~ Tuesday Intros - The Transcriptionist; Amy Rowland

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? (Started this one at lunch and enjoying it)
The Transcriptionist; Amy Rowland
Algonquin - 2014
Chapter One 
Scientists Celebrate Theory of Everything

"No one can find it. That's the first thing. The Recording Room is on the eleventh floor, at the end of a rat-hued hallway that some workers at the newspaper have never seen; they give up on the ancient elevator, which makes only local stops with loud creaks of protest.  Like New Yorkers who refuse to venture above Fourteenth Street, there are newspaper workers who refuse to go above the fourth floor for fear of being lost forever if they leave the well-lit newsroom for dark floors unknown.  The newsroom, renovated, almost aglow with new computers and pale paint, seems to float in the center of the hulking institution, as if someday it will break off, drift over to Broadway, and join the Clifford and Barney balloons in the annual Macy's parade."


What do you think? Would you keep reading? 

Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Strange Creatures; Emily Arsenault

What Strange Creatures; Emily Arsenault
William Morrow - 2014

Theresa Battle, is a 30-something, young woman who has been working on her PhD for seven years and still isn’t done with her dissertation. She writing about Margery Kempe, a 14th century mystic, or at least she was purported to be one.

Her lack of focus and her life in limbo is not all Theresa’s fault though.  She comes from a dysfunctional family, and she’s had some setbacks along the way – a marriage and a divorce, and now she is working at a dead end job writing for a local candle company. She’s an animal lover too, as animals don’t disappoint you. In fact each time Theresa ends a relationship she acquires a new pet, right now it’s (2) cats and (1) dog.

Things do get a bit more exciting in Theresa’s life when she agrees to watch the dog of her brother’s  girlfriend (Kim). When girlfriend, Kim, never returns to pick up the pooch Jeff, a directionless guy who has a bit of an issue with alcohol, tells his Theresa that he doesn’t know where Kim is. However, it isn’t long before Kim's body is found, and Jeff is arrested for her murder after some incriminating evidence is found.

Theresa, refusing to believe that her brother Jeff is guilty, starts her own amateur investigation with a list of possible suspects.

The writing style is very good, with a good balance of suspense and humor which helps to drive the story along. I think I would classify this book as a literary mystery.   I loved the main character -she was quirky, gutsy, and yet very down to earth.  I found the info, dispersed along the way, about her PhD subject, Margery Kempe added interest to the story as well, and I was happy that the mystery itself was not predictable. I definitely plan to read more books by this author.

4.5/5 stars 
(review copy from publisher)

Mailbox Monday - New Books - June 23

Lots of new books arrived by mail in the last (2) weeks. Can't wait to try most of them --soon I hope. Have you read any of these yet?

Audio books for review
ARCS and finished copies for review

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hello Summer - My Summer Reading Picks for 2014

For many of us it is officially the first day of summer. Warmer and longer days, ice tea, trips to the beach or relaxing by the pool, on the porch or deck. For me, summer means lighter reads and a time when I tend to pick books, I really want to read solely based on the description provided by the publisher. I may review all the books I read, but I won't feel pressured to do so. For me summer is about pleasure reading.  So to kick off summer, I've picked (20) books that called out to me. Hoping to read at least (15) of them by Labor Day. Do you have a summer list?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Greek Yogurt Kitchen; Toby Amidor

Toby Amidor - Grand Central May 2014

As a huge fan of Greek yogurt, I was anxious to see what this cookbook had to offer in terms of using Greek yogurt as a substitute ingredient in other recipes.  I couldn't have been more pleased as this book give so many more options for yogurt than as a go-to breakfast or snack food.

I loved how the book gave me ideas of how to substitute Greek yogurt for many higher fat items that I often use in recipes such as -- butter, cream cheese, oil and even mayonnaise.  All of the recipes in this books use only whole foods which was a pleasant surprise as well.

There are over 130 recipes, at least 3/4 of them I would not hesitate to try. There was a lot of variety when it came to healthy smoothie recipes, and as for comfort foods, my eyes lit up with a mac and cheese recipe made with Greek yogurt and Panko bread crumbs.  Blueberry/Bran Muffins, Banana/Walnut Muffins and Cobb Salad with a delicious creamy dill dressing were other awesome recipes that I plan to try.

The chapters are well organized: Greek Yogurt Superstar Food; Breakfast; Snacks & Appetizers; Salads, Soups and Sandwiches; Main Dishes; Side Dishes; Desserts. There is also a metric conversion chart that I loved. The only negative for me was the lack of visuals to go along with the recipes:(

4.5/5 stars - NetGalley

The Vacationers; Emma Straub

The Vacationers; Emma Straub
Riverhead  and Penguin Audio– May 2014

With summer officially in gear this week, I thought, what better book to kick off my summer reading than with Emma Straub’s, The Vacationers. (I also felt I was way overdue for a fun read).

In this story the Post family of New York is heading out for a (2) week family vacation to the Spanish island of Mallorca, hoping to enjoy its white sandy beaches and picture perfect blue waters. Jim and Franny are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary and, their daughter Sylvia has graduated from high school. Also joining them is their older son, Bobby, and his unlikeable girlfriend Carmen. Also joining them is a longtime friend of Frannys – Charles and his husband Lawrence.  Sounds great right? Not so fast.

The vacation gets off to a rocky start with Jim, age 60, suddenly retired (early). He’s just confessed to Franny that he’s had a fling with an intern at the company where he worked.  But it’s not just Jim who has issues, each of the other characters has some drama going on in their lives as well. All of this ramps up the tension and pretty much eliminates the possibility of anything close to a peaceful, idyllic vacation.

Family dysfunction is running high in this novel. This was a fun read for me,  even though the characters did feel somewhat stereotypical. It made me thankful to be far beyond the whiny-teenager days as a parent. Funny at times, insightful in ways as well, the author creates a good balance of the highs and lows of family life. One final thought, after reading this story, you may just rethink how and with whom you spend your next vacation. 

The audio version is read by Kristen Sieh; she did a nice job.

3.5/5 (Edelweiss and Penguin audio)

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You - The Good Girl; Mary Kubica

 Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today.  What do you think -- would you try it?  
The Good Girl; Mary Kubica
Harlequin/Mira - July 29, 2014

"I've been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don't know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she's scared. But I will."

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life.

Colin's job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family's world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a propulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Book of Unknown Americans; Christina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans; Christina Henriquez 
Random House Audio - 2014

The Book of Unknown Americans is a wonderful and what seems to be realistic story about the immigrant experience in the US.  It is likely to make my top reads list for 2014. Beautifully written and heartfelt, a story I will be recommending over and over again.

Arturo and Alma Rivera had a good life in Mexico, where Arturo owned a construction company.  One day their only child, Maribel, had a accident at the construction site for which Arturo felt responsible for.  A resulting head injury leaves the couple desperate to help their daughter who has experienced memory loss and is no longer the happy child she once was. When Arturo is granted a work visa to work on a large mushroom farm in PA, he jumps at the chance.

The opportunity  to give their daughter the best medical care possible and school advantages as well is worth the hard, menial work, long hours without lunch breaks which he must endure.  In the US the family lives in an apartment building in Delaware where other Latin American’s also live.  Though adjusting to life in a new country is difficult, they become friendly with another family in their building. The Toro family is also in the US legally from Panama.  The Toro’s have (2) boys, (1) boy is in college of a scholarship and the other boy, Mayor, still lives at home.  Mayor thinks Maribel is very pretty, but the fact that she has difficulty communicating, makes friendship difficult, but before long Mayor proves helpful in helping Maribel communicate.   However, lurking in the shadows is another American boy, who doesn’t have Maribel’s best interest at heart and, his actions cause justified reactions on the part of Maribel’s parents who are extremely protective of their daughter.

The story is told through the POV of both Alma and Mayor Toro, and the author does an awesome job demonstrating the struggles that the Latin-American immigrants experienced.  From homesickness, racial profiling, and the difficulties trying to adapt to a new way of life, each of their issues were heartbreaking.  I liked the fact the antagonists in this story were “white men”, which made the prejudices they suffered by these ignorant individuals seem very realistic.  There were other immigrants who had a small voice in this novel as well, each relaying what brought them to American and what they loved about the US.  I loved hearing their stories but do wish some of their stories were expanded a bit.

This author knows how to tell a story – from the hook early on and the wonderful voices of all, I found it difficult to put this one down for a breather. The audio book is read by a talented cast and I was happy that I had the opportunity to listen to this story.

(The audio book was provided by Random House for review).

 5/5 stars

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

All the Birds, Singing; Evie Wyld

Pantheon - 2014

When I first heard about this book, I was so intrigued and anxious to try it as it seemed to have many of the elements I like in a novel: a woman living alone in isolation with animals as companions (dog and sheep) and supposedly a story of survival and redemption.

Briefly, the central character, Jake Whyte is the woman who is living in isolation on a small island off the coast of England, along with her dog named "Dog".  She tends a flock of sheep, a skill she picked up when she lived in Australia. She is not interested in connecting with locals even though she has been in the area for 3 years. Lately, her solitary life finds Jake a bit unhinged. Someone or something is killing off her flock of sheep. But, what brought Jake here in the first place? Is she trying to hide from someone and why?

Bit by bit the readers learns about Jake's horrific past in Australia where she first learned her sheep shearing skills. Why does she suffers from bad dreams and paranoia, why is her body heavily scarred? How much of her fear is real and what is imagined, and, why does she sleep with a hammer under her pillow? 

Told in two timelines, the book is deeply menacing. I thought it was a tough story to read and, although the book was just 225 pages, it ultimately was a hard one to finish for me.  The writing was very good --vivid and it left a lasting impression, there was an element of mystery and psychological suspense. In the end there was just too gore for me. A very bleak story, definitely not for the faint of heart.

2.5/5 stars
(review copy)

First Chapter First Paragraph - Tuesday Intros ~The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances; Ellen Cooney

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?

Ellen Cooney - August 5, 2014
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

"It was dusk on a winter day, and from high on the mountain came barking, drifting down above the snow peals of a bell, one, two, three, four, more, just to say the light was leaving, but that was all right: here I am, I'm a dog and all is well.

At the inn on the flat of the lowland, Mrs. Auberchon made her way upstairs, grumbling to herself.  But she paused out of habit to listen.  She was a large-frame woman of fifty, with the outer crust of anyone who used to be tender.  Her name was Lucille, but no one used it.  She was Mrs. Auberchon only: dependable, competent, solitary Mrs. Auberchon, always there, always far away, even if you were standing right in front of her."

What do you think? Would you keep reading? 

Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Among the Missing; Morag Joss

Among the Missing; Morag Joss
Blackstone Audio - 2011
It seems like I’ve been reading many less than happy novels lately and, Among the Missing, is a book that falls into that same class.  The story takes place in the Highlands of Scotland and focuses on three unrelated individuals whose lives collide after a bridge collapse in the area.  The incident is caught on film with cars plunging into the waters below.  Some people are dead, some missing, and one of the cars in particular is key to the story.
There is Anna who married her husband Colin after meeting him in the internet. When Anna finds out she is pregnant, Colin wants nothing to do with fatherhood. He tells her to get an abortion or he will leave her. She is heartbroken, but can’t imagine ending her pregnancy either.
Ron has spent some time in prison after being charged with causing an incident which killed several people. His family wants nothing to do with him. Newly released from prison, his sister gives him some money so that he can purchase a car. He works day jobs and has a habit of picking up hitchhikers, longing for human connection.
Silva is an illegal immigrant woman who has had a tough life. She lives by the river in an abandoned trailer. She works and earns a meager wage in a clerical job while her husband, Stefan stays at home with their very young daughter.
Without saying too much more about the story, I’ll just say it’s very well written and I liked the way it came together. The characters are desperate people, each seeking peace and salvation. They are characters I came to care about. The audio book is somber in tone, which was appropriate for a story like this. The use of multiple narrators:  Robin Sachs, Kate Reading  and Cassandra Campbell worked extremely well. Again, not a happy story, but one I was happy that I read.
4/5 stars (library audio)