Thursday, March 31, 2016

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - (3) new picks for May and June

(3) Coming Soon Books for May and June

The Fireman; Joe Hill
William Morrow - May 2016

From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.
The fireman is coming. Stay cool.
No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Doubleday - June 2016


A spellbinding psychological debut novel, Swan Huntley's We Could Be Beautiful is the story of a wealthy woman who has everything—and yet can trust no one. 

Catherine West has spent her entire life surrounded by beautiful things. She owns an immaculate Manhattan apartment, she collects fine art, she buys exquisite handbags and clothing, and she constantly redecorates her home. And yet, despite all this, she still feels empty. She sees her personal trainer, she gets weekly massages, and occasionally she visits her mother and sister on the Upper East Side, but after two broken engagements and boyfriends who wanted only her money, she is haunted by the fear that she'll never have a family of her own. One night, at an art opening, Catherine meets William Stockton, a handsome man who shares her impeccable taste and love of beauty. He is educated, elegant, and even has a personal connection—his parents and Catherine's parents were friends years ago. But as he and Catherine grow closer, she begins to encounter strange signs, and her mother, Elizabeth (now suffering from Alzheimer's), seems to have only bad memories of William as a boy. In Elizabeth's old diary she finds an unnerving letter from a former nanny that cryptically reads: "We cannot trust anyone . . . " Is William lying about his past? And if so, is Catherine willing to sacrifice their beautiful life in order to find the truth? Featuring a fascinating heroine who longs for answers but is blinded by her own privilege, We Could Be Beautiful is a glittering, seductive, utterly surprising story of love, money, greed, and family.

William Morrow - May 2016

Pulled into a deadly game of deception, secrets, and lies, a woman must find the truth in order to defeat a mysterious opponent, protect her daughter, and save her own life in this dazzling standalone psychological thriller with an unforgettable ending from the New York Times bestselling author of Woman with a Secret and The Monogram Murders.
You thought you knew who you were. A stranger knows better.
You’ve left the city—and the career that nearly destroyed you—for a fresh start on the coast. But trouble begins when your daughter withdraws, after her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school.
You beg the principal to reconsider, only to be told that George hasn’t been expelled. Because there is, and was, no George.
Who is lying? Who is real? Who is in danger? Who is in control? As you search for answers, the anonymous calls begin—a stranger, who insists that you and she share a traumatic past and a guilty secret. And then the caller threatens your life. . . .
This is Justine’s story. This is Justine’s family. This is Justine’s game. But it could be yours.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing & Tidying Up; Marie Kondo

Spark Joy; Marie Kondo
Ten Speed Press - 2015

In her 2014 book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, this author was highly successful in drawing readers who were interested in decluttering and learning how to organize and minimize messes around their homes.  I personally thought that first book, which I purchased, was helpful.  It did seem weird to me when she suggested talking to your possessions - asking each item if it "Sparks Joy".

I borrowed her most recent book, Spark Joy, from the library.  The second book in many ways is a rehash of the first except that this one has drawings which the first book lacked.  (It would have been helpful to see the folding techniques in a photo in the first book, IMO).  This book does get into other areas such as, how to pair down your book collections, paper items, toiletries, memorabilia etc.

This book begins with the Kon Mari method (tidying up by category, not by room - beginning with clothes). With all items - anything which doesn't "spark joy" should be gotten rid of.  But is that practical?  My Kitchen Aid mixer that sits on my counter doesn't really bring me joy but, I use it every few weeks.  Not all of my cookbooks "spark joy" but, I like the way they look in my kitchen.

I also had issues with "praising my possessions and talking to them."  So overall, this book was just okay for me. I did like the visuals and wish the first book had contained some.  I also think the binding is all wrong for this ope of book. It's impossible for it to stay opened to a page or lie flat when trying one of the folding methods for example.  A spiral bound comb would have made this book much more useful, IMO. I know I may have sounded a bit critical here, as there are many helpful suggestions.  It's just that in order to find the useful info, I needed to read through some ideas which just seemed rather odd to me.  If I were to only buy (1) of Kondo's (2) books, I think I would have chosen this one that has the illustrations and most of the info that was important in her first book.

So far I've tackled my clothes and books and purged about 75-80% of what no longer "sparked joy".  RW - Look at her purged closet illustration. Seriously, who has a closet that contains so few items? This seemed impractical to me. Have you read these books? What were your thoughts?

3/5 stars

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Clash of the Civilizations Over An Elevator in Piazza Vittorio; Amara Lakhous

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where I share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that I'm reading or plan to read soon. I love these Europa Editions, this one is translated from the Italian.

Europa Editions - 2008

"A few days ago--it was barely eight o'clock in the morning--sitting in the metro, rubbing my eyes and fighting sleep because I'd woken up so early, I saw and Italian girl devouring a pizza as big as an umbrella.  I felt so sick to my stomach I almost threw up.  Thank goodness she got out at the next stop.  It was really a disgusting sight! The law should punish people who feel free to disturb the peace of good citizens going to work in the morning and home at night.  The damage caused by people eating pizza in the metro is a lot worse than the damage caused by cigarettes.  I hope that the proper authorities do not underestimate the sensitive issue and will proceed immediately to put up signs like Pizza Eating Prohibited, next to the ones that are so prominent at the metro entrances saying No Smoking! I would just like to know how Italians manage to consume such a ridiculous amount of dough morning and evening"

What do you think -- keep reading or pass? 
(Feel free to join in this week by posting your intro below?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter and Reading Update

A quick Easter Sunday post before I get preparations underway for company and Easter Dinner.  I made desserts last night and since we are not fans of ham, I'm cooking a turkey for dinner.  I'm looking forward to family being together and those (3) cute little kiddos.  Do you have any special plans for Easter?

One new book came by mail last week, it's a memoir which I think sounds pretty good  and the reviews have been wonderful ---

Henry Holt & Company - 2016

(This weeks library loot)

On the reading front I have been very busy. This past week I finished, Spark Joy; Marie Kondo, Find Her; Lisa Gardner and All the Light We Cannot See; Anthony Doerr (audio) but, I still need to work on reviews.  I'm in the process of reading, The Guise of Another; Allen Eskens, Shelter; Jung Yun, Missoula; Jon Krakauer (audio)

That is about it for today. Wishing you all a happy day and wonderful week.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bear is Not Tired; Ciara Gavin

Bear is Not Tired; Ciara Gavin
A.A. Knopf  - 2016

Bear is Not Tired is an adorable book about blended families and accepting the differences of others.

In this story Bear and the Duck family live together as one happy family, doing lots of things together.  As winter approached the ducks went along with most of their normal activities, while Bear grew sleepy because bears sleep the winter away.  Not wanting to miss anything Bear tried to remain awake but, kept dozing off.  Mama duck assured Bear that he wouldn't miss much and so he reluctantly agrees to go to sleep. The rest of the family stays close by while he sleeps away the winter.    When spring arrives Bear awakes well rested and the ducks show him of photo album of what they did while he slept the winter away.

The illustrations are so soft looking and lovely and Bear is very cuddly looking.  It was nice to read a story that celebrates differences and takes a look at blended families in the animal kingdom.

4.5/5 stars

Peppa Pig and the I Love You Game

Candlewick Entertainment - 2015

In celebration of Valentine's Day Mummy Pig suggests that the family play the I Love You game.  She has each of the family members: Mummy, Daddy, Peppa and brother George, naming all of the things they long and enjoy doing, and each names many things and people that they enjoy and love.

While the illustrations are once again awesome and fun, this book wasn't a favorite of mine.  I do think these books are best appreciated by readers who have seen Peppa and her family on television as that is where all of the characters really come alive and warm your heart.

3.5/5 stars 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald; Therese Anne Fowler

St. Martin's Press - 2013

My book group met this week to discuss Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and almost everyone enjoyed it.

I think many readers are somewhat familiar with Zelda's story, a Southern Belle who meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a dance in 1918 when she was only seventeen.  She sees him as exotic, exciting and desirable.  Her father is against the marriage as he isn't a Southerner and doesn't come from a prominent family or have money.  He assures Zelda that his writing will bring them fame and money.

Although their Jazz Era life style is exciting and a series of travels and endless parties, their marriage is in trouble early on.  Both drink too much and Scott is a mean drunk.  He's physically and verbally abusive and, he has a way of crushing Zelda's every dream: actress, dancer, artist and writer. If that's not bad enough he's a womanizer and hadn't been very successful as a writer so the couple is always broke.

When Zelda needs to stop drinking for health reasons she busies herself in ballet and writing but, her marriage starts to crumble and Scott needs new drinking buddies.  Zelda definitely exhibits some form of mental illness (our group differed on whether she suffered from bipolar or schizophrenia) and whether Scott was the major cause of her breakdowns or whether she was victim of society during that time -- her ambitions stifled.  

The story is told from Zelda's POV mostly from the time the couple met until the end of their relationship.  Despite their love for one another they were disastrous for one another.  Scott had a huge ego and was terribly insecure and his behavior at times seemed to worsen Zelda's mental health issues.  I felt for Zelda at times, I thought her judgement was so much keener than Scott's yet she differed to her husband as women at that time were expected to do.

The author does a great job of capturing Zelda's voice -- both at the high and low points of her life.  Zelda was intelligent but, she was a woman born generations too early when ambition in women was not seen as a favorable trait.  Although a work of fiction, I thought this book served as a very good intro to Zelda and Scott lives.

QUOTE I liked --"Single women could work all they wanted; married women locked themselves into a gilded cage.  All of that seemed natural before.  Now it made me angry.  Now I saw how a woman might sometimes want to steer her own course rather than trail her husband like a favored dog."

4.5/5 stars
(library book)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - 3 May Releases

(3) coming soon May releases that look very good to me.

Nitro Mountain; Lee Clay Johnson
Knopf- May 2016


An astonishing, even shocking debut written with both humor and heart by, as John Casey puts it, “a natural-born writer who inhabits every one of his characters—the good, the bad, and those who swing back and forth.” 
Set in a bitterly benighted, mine-polluted corner of Virginia, Nitro Mountainfollows a group of people bound together by alcohol, small-time crime and music. There’s Leon, a hapless bass player who can embroil himself in trouble just by getting out of bed in the morning. And his would-be girlfriend, Jennifer, who’s living with Arnett, the town’s most dangerous thug—and hoping Leon will help her poison him. And there’s Arnett himself, a psychopath for the ages—albeit so charming and deranged, so strikingly authentic, that he arrests the reader’s attention at first sight and holds it fast. His mirror image, a singer-songwriter named Jones, has his own moral issues, though at least he’s tryingto be a good man. The bright if battered soul who pulls us through this story is Jennifer, a vulnerable yet strong woman struggling heroically to survive the endemic hopelessness and violence that have surrounded her since birth. 

Relentless? Yes, of course, but never remotely gratuitous. Every single moment is shot through with the pain and misery that inspire so much of the music these people love more than life itself.

Knopf - May 2016


A bold, spellbinding novel featuring one of the most fascinating protagonists in recent memory, Dear Fang, With Love tells the story of seventeen-year-old Vera—ravishing, troubled, wildly intelligent—who travels to Europe with her estranged father, hoping that an immersion in history might help them forget his past mistakes and her uncertain future.

Lucas and Katya were boarding school seniors when, blindingly in love, they decided to have a baby. Seventeen years later, after a decade of absence, Lucas is a weekend dad, newly involved in his daughter Vera's life. But after Vera suffers a terrifying psychotic break at a high school party, Lucas takes her to Lithuania, his grandmother's homeland, for the summer. Here, in the city of Vilnius, Lucas hopes to save Vera from the sorrow of her diagnosis. As he uncovers a secret about his grandmother, a Home Army rebel who escaped Stutthof, Vera searches for answers of her own. Why did Lucas abandon her as a baby? What really happened the night of her breakdown? And who can she trust with the truth? Skillfully weaving family mythology and Lithuanian history with a story of mental illness, inheritance, young love, and adventure, Rufi Thorpe has written a breathtakingly intelligent, emotionally enthralling book.

The Veins of the Ocean; Patricia Engel
Grove Press - May - 2016


“Engel has an eye for detail. She knows how to drown the reader in a sense of enchantment... She writes exquisite moments.”—Roxane Gay, The Nation

Reina Castillo is the alluring young woman whose beloved brother is serving a death sentence for a crime that shocked the community, throwing a baby off a bridge—a crime for which Reina secretly blames herself. With her brother's death, though devastated and in mourning, Reina is finally released from her prison vigil. Seeking anonymity, she moves to a sleepy town in the Florida Keys where she meets Nesto Cadena, a recently exiled Cuban awaiting with hope the arrival of the children he left behind in Havana. Through Nesto’s love of the sea and capacity for faith, Reina comes to understand her own connections to the life-giving and destructive forces of the ocean that surrounds her as well as its role in her family's troubled history, and in their companionship, begins to find freedom from the burden of guilt she carries for her brother’s crime.

Set in the vibrant coastal and Caribbean communities of Miami, the Florida Keys, Havana, Cuba, and Cartagena, Colombia, with The Veins of the Ocean Patricia Engel delivers a profound and riveting Pan-American story of fractured lives finding solace and redemption in the beauty and power of the natural world, and in one another.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Guise of Another; Allen Eskens

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where I share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that I'm reading or plan to read soon. I really enjoyed The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens so I'm looking forward to his most recent book as well.

The Guise of Another; Allen Eskens
2015 - Seventh Street Books


"That night, there were a few things that the man knew to a religious certainty.  He knew that he'd soon be having sex with the woman sitting in the passenger seat of his Lexis.  He knew that neither his wife nor the woman's husband yet suspected their infidelities.  And he knew that any whisper of guilt he may have felt would soon be silenced by the tumult of their act.

There were other things, however, that the man did not know.  He didn't know where or how they would be having sex.  He didn't know whether his feelings for this woman reached beyond the carnal pull of her body.  And he didn't know that their recklessness that night would trigger a chain of events that would ripple far beyond their self-absorbed little world."

What do you think -- keep reading or pass? 
(Feel free to join in this week by posting your intro below?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Invaders, Karolina Waclawiak

The Invaders; Karolina Waclawiak
Blackstone Audio - 2015
(narrator - Bernadette Dunne - was fantastic)

Little Neck Cove is a wealthy seaside community in Connecticut where outsiders are clearly not welcomed. Here snobby country club ladies embellish stories to police for the purpose of having "the invaders" removed.  It's a place where border fences are built along the seawall by migrant workers to keep harmless fishermen out as well.

Cheryl is a 40-something year old wife of much older Jeffrey who never felt like she fit in among the other country club wives.  Once a trophy wife for Jeffery who ditched his first wife for Cheryl, now Jeffrey has lost interest in middle-aged Cheryl as well.  Teddy is Jeffrey's son, who is living with the couple after he was kicked out of Dartmouth. He's a troubled kid, whose mother has died and he is unable to curb his drug use. Cheryl and Teddy have something in common though - both of their lives are falling apart.

The storyline is hard to describe but for the most part, it is a story about identity, fitting in and family.  There is a good deal of focus on women and aging and how women are easily cast aside by some men for younger trophy wives.  The story begins with a lovely sunrise and ends with a hurricane approaching which was so appropriate for how the story plays out.

Most of the characters are unlikable and some are clearly racists.  Even though Cheryl and Teddy were not exactly likable characters, at times I felt their internal turmoil.  The Invaders reads like a dark satire about what life is probably like among the rich, bored inhabitants of one snobbish coastal community.  I was on the fence about how I really felt about this book. It is definitely a story that annoyed me at times yet I loved the audio version so much.  The narrator Bernadette Dunne was fantastic. She made the characters and their self-destructiveness come alive to make this story feel like a screenplay at times.

3.5/5 stars
(library audiobook)

Friday, March 18, 2016

He Will Be My Ruin; K.A. Tucker

He Will Be My Ruin; K.A. Tucker
Atria - 2016

Maggie Sparkes was born into a wealthy family that traveled the world when she was young, often leaving her in the care of Rosa Gonzalez who raised her since she was just five.  Rosa's daughter Celine, and Maggie became the best of friends, a friendship which continued for many years.  

When Rosa contacts Maggie to tell her that Celine 28, is dead and that suicide (by pills and booze) is suspected, she asks Maggie to go to New York City to clean out her apartment.  In New York, Maggie begins sorting through Celine's personal effects and the deeper she digs the less she believes that her friend took her own life.  She also learns that she did not know her good friend as well as she thought she did. Unfortunately everyone who Maggie speaks to including the police seem to disagree with her theory, but Maggie persists especially because just too many things just don't make sense to her.

I read several chapters of this thriller on my Kindle each night in bed and it really drew me in. I found myself hitting the sheets earlier and earlier each night just to get back to it. The story is well-paced and kept me guessing.  Maggie is a feisty character who was determined to get to the bottom of her friend's death, even though it puts her own life in jeopardy.  She does make some foolish decisions along the way.  All of the characters (and there were quite a few) were interesting and, there are quite a few suspects that kept me guessing. I especially liked Celine's nosy neighbor across the hall who made me smile at times.  

This is my first thriller by this author and I would definitely consider other books she has written. If you love a good thriller, try this one.

4.5/5 stars

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You in April

(3) new books hitting the shelves in April that I thought sounded good.
Do any of these appeal to you?

Sunset City; Melissa Ginsburg
Ecco - 2016

(Description) --- A taut, erotically charged literary noir set in Houston about a woman caught up in her friend’s shocking murder, and the dark truths she uncovers.
Before the drugs, Danielle Reeves was Charlotte Ford’s most loyal and vibrant friend. She helped Charlotte through her mother’s illness and death, and opened up about her own troubled family. The two friends were inseparable, reveling in Houston’s shadowy corners. But then Danielle’s addiction got the best of her and she went to prison for four years. When she gets out, she and Charlotte reconnect. Charlotte hopes this is a new start for their friendship.
But then, a detective shows up at Charlotte’s apartment. Danielle has been murdered, bludgeoned to death.
Overwhelmed by grief, Charlotte is determined to understand how the most alive person she has ever known could end up dead. But the deeper Charlotte descends into Danielle’s dark world, the less she understands. Was Danielle a hapless victim or master manipulator? Was she really intent on starting over or was it all an act? To find out the truth, Charlotte must keep her head clear and her guard up. Houston has a way of feeding on bad habits and Charlotte doesn’t want to get swallowed whole, a victim of her own anguished desires.

Touchstone - 2016

(Description)---The Middlesteins meets The Virgin Suicides in this arresting family love story about the eccentric yet tight knit Simone family, coping with tragedy during 90s New York, struggling to reconnect with each other and heal.

Claudio and Mathilde Simone, once romantic bohemians hopelessly enamored with each other, find themselves nestled in domesticity in New York, running a struggling vinyl record store and parenting three daughters as best they can: Natasha, an overachieving prodigy; sensitive Lucy, with her debilitating heart condition; and Carly, adopted from China and quietly fixated on her true origins.

With prose that is as keen and illuminating as it is whimsical and luminous, debut novelist Christine Reilly tells the unusual love story of this family. Poignant and humane, Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday is a deft exploration of the tender ties that bind families together, even as they threaten to tear them apart.

The History of Great Things; Elizabeth Crane
Harper Perennial - April 2016

(Description)--A witty and irresistible story of a mother and daughter regarding each other through the looking glass of time, grief, and forgiveness.
In two beautifully counterpoised narratives, two women—mother and daughter—try to make sense of their own lives by revisiting what they know about each other. The History of Great Things tells the entwined stories of Lois, a daughter of the Depression Midwest who came to New York to transform herself into an opera star, and her daughter, Elizabeth, an aspiring writer who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s in the forbidding shadow of her often-absent, always larger-than-life mother. In a tour de force of storytelling and human empathy, Elizabeth chronicles the events of her mother’s life, and in turn Lois recounts her daughter’s story—pulling back the curtain on lifelong secrets, challenging and interrupting each other, defending their own behavior, brandishing or swallowing their pride, and, ultimately, coming to understand each other in a way that feels both extraordinary and universal.
The History of Great Things is a novel about a mother and daughter who are intimately connected and not connected enough; it will make readers laugh and cry and wonder how we become the adults we always knew we should—even if we’re not always adults our parents understand.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Good Death; Ann Neumann

The Good Death; Ann Neumann
Beacon Press - 2016

It seems like the past year has brought us our share of books that deal with death and dying: Being Mortal and When Breath Becomes Air were two which I've read and thought were very well done.

My most recent read on the subject was by author, Ann Neumann shares the death and dying experience of her father and then further examines death in the American Culture.  Ann was 37 when she returned home to help care for her 60 year old father who was dying of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.  After refusing the last ditch chemo effort, he chose to go home to die.  Unfortunately, his death wish to die at home with his daughters and hospice helping out were not to be.  His drawn out death required that he be hospitalized for pain management levels that were not possible at home.

Ann shares some stories of her time as a hospice volunteer and discusses the history of death in the US.  She shares her findings about death experience and how the experience differs based on socioeconomic environment -- the wealthy, those in poverty as well as those incarcerated.   The Good Death also revisits some prominent right-to-die cases many of us recall to this day.  For me the Karen Ann Quinlan and Terry Schiavo cases seemed in some ways like a media circus.  It caused some individuals to change their views on living and dying and many others to put their final wishes in writing.

It's clear that the author believes that dying should be a "choice" and that individuals should have "choice" when recovery is no longer an option.  She believes that there is not one particular scenario that constitutes "a good death", it's a personal situation that individuals, even those who avoid thinking about death, need to start planning for by making your wishes known to loved ones.

"A good death is whatever the patient wants. There is no such thing as a perfect date as humans aren't perfect."

Overall, I felt this book was well-done although the focus seemed to shift abruptly at times.  An important subject, I'm glad I read it.

4/5 stars

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Shelter; Jung Yun

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where I share the first paragraph sometimes   two of a book that I'm reading or plan to read soon.

Shelter; Jung Yun
Picador - 2016



"The boy is standing in the doorway again.  He's smiling, which hardly seems right.  A smile means he's not sick.  He didn't have a bad dream.  He didn't wet the bed.  None of the things he usually says when he enters the room uninvited.  Kyung nudges his wife, who turns over with a grunt, face-first into her pillow.  He sighs and sits up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

What's wrong? he asks. What's the matter?"

What do you think -- keep reading or pass? 
(Feel free to join in this week by posting your intro below?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Mailbox Monday - New Books

I never did get a chance to do a weekend post but, I wanted to share the new books which arrived by mail over the last (2) weeks.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Vegetarian; Han Kang

The Vegetarian; Han Kang
Hogarth - 2016

The Vegetarian is a somewhat bizarre and unsettling story about a woman whose life begins to quickly spiral out of control when she decides to become a vegetarian .

Yeong-hye was a passive wife who after experiencing several bloody nightmares decides to give up eating meat.  She shocks her husband when he finds her cleaning out the refrigerator and tossing out all meat-related products into a trash bag.  Her decision throws her husband's ordered life off course.  Her husband, only referred to as Mr. Cheong, was somewhat embarrassed by his wife's plain appearance before she makes this decision and, now that she has stopped eating meat he is uncomfortable taking her to work related functions as well.  In addition, Yeong-hye no longer wants to have sex with her husband claiming "he smells like meat." As weeks turn into months Yeong-hye , can't eat and can't sleep and is emotionally and is physically wasting away. 

The story is told in three parts, first by Yeone-hye, when she decides to become a vegetarian and how her family reacts to that decision (this part was my favorite).  The second part involves her brother-in-law who becomes somewhat obsessed by his sister-in-law when he learns from his wife that she has a Mongolian birthmark on her butt.  The last part is told from the POV of her older sister, In-hye, who manages a cosmetics store. In-hye is trying to cope with the fact that her sister is now in an institution, abandoned by her husband and that the family is now fractured.

This story gives the reader plenty to think about.  Dreams play a significant part in the novel for several characters, and it's clear from some of the dreams and distorted faces that they see that the family members know very little about each other.  I thought the male characters in this novel were particularly loathsome.  From the very first paragraph of the novel, this is how Mr. Cheong views his wife ------

[Quote] --Mr. Cheong
"Before my wife turned vegetarian I'd always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.  To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn't even attracted to her. Middling height, bobbed hair neither long or short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know. As she came up to the table where I was waiting, I couldn't help but notice her shoes--the plainest black shoes imaginable.  And that walk of hers--neither fast nor slow, striding nor mincing."

There is nothing happy about this short novel, it's clearly a cautionary tale that is less about being a vegetarian and more about the family unit. The writing is very descriptive, at times bloody and definitely weird at times as well.  I think this book will appeal most to Kafka and Murakami fans. For the most part I did enjoy this one -- Translated from Korean.

[Quote] p. 166 - Young-hye (his wife)
"For the first time, she became vividly aware of how much of her life she had spent with her husband.  It had been a period utterly devoid of happiness and spontaneity.  A time she so far managed to get through only by using up every last reserve of perseverance and consideration. All of it self-inflicted."


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Miller's Valley; Anna Quindlen

Miller's Valley; Anna Quindlen
Random House - April 2016

"My name is Mimi Miller, I lived in Miller's Valley.  Everyone I knew lived in Miller's Valley.  I wasn't ignorant; I knew there was a world outside.  I just had a hard time imagining it."

Miller's Valley takes place in rural PA where the Miller family has lived for generations.  While some have sold their land and homesteads to government agencies who have plans for the land, the Miller family refuse to sell out.

Our narrator, Mary Margaret Miller (Mimi) tells the story of her family over the course of many decades beginning in the 1960s when Mimi was just eleven years old and culminating in her old age.  The youngest child and only daughter of the Miller family,  Mimi is a keen observer and reporter of the interactions of her family members.  Her older brothers are as different as night and day -- one the perfect son and the other the troubled one.  Her mother is a strong character who works as a nurse and her father is a bit more passive and is a Mr Fix It of sorts.  There is also Aunt Ruth, an interesting character who lives in a separate house on the property. She is a woman who has not left her house in years.

Miller's Valley is a quiet story about family, friends and the secrets that many families harbor.  In some ways this story felt so intimate that it almost read like a memoir.  Mimi was a wonderful, wise and memorable narrator. She and all of the other characters were very well drawn which made me very eager to keep reading.  There were some family secrets that had me wondering and was never fully explored but, that was okay and it did not effect my enjoyment of this novel in the least.  Readers who enjoy coming of age stories and stories about family life should enjoy this novel - another winner for Anna Quindlen.

4.5/5 stars

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - (3) New Titles

(3) soon to be released titles I have my eye on.

Mira - May - 2016


In this poignant and curiously charming debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure 

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden. 

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam's death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam's possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he's never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife's secret life before they met—a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places. 

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a joyous celebration of life's infinite possibilities.

Knopf - April - 2016


A luminous, intensely moving tale that begins with a secret lovers’ assignation in the spring of 1924, then unfolds to reveal the whole of a remarkable life. 
Twenty-two-year-old Jane Fairchild has worked as a maid at an English country house since she was sixteen. For almost all of those years she has been the clandestine lover to Paul Sheringham, young heir of a neighboring house. The two now meet on an unseasonably warm March day—Mothering Sunday—a day that will change Jane’s life forever. 
As the narrative moves back and forth from 1924 to the end of the century, what we know and understand about Jane—about the way she loves, thinks, feels, sees, remembers—expands with every vividly captured moment. Her story is one of profound self-discovery, and through her, Graham Swift has created an emotionally soaring, deeply affecting work of fiction.

Ludivine; Marie NDiaye
Knopf - April - 2016


 From the hugely acclaimed author of Three Strong Women—“a masterpiece of narrative ingenuity and emotional extremes” (The New York Times)—here is a harrowing and subtly crafted novel of a woman captive to a secret shame.

On the first Tuesday of every month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her husband and young daughter and secretly takes the train to Bordeaux to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse herself has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads and despises but also pities. Long ago abandoned by Clarisse’s father, Ladivine works as a housecleaner and has no one but her daughter, whom she knows as Malinka. 

After more than twenty-five years of this deception, the idyllic middle-class existence Clarisse has built from scratch can no longer survive inside the walls she’s put up to protect it. Her untold anguish leaves her cold and guarded, her loved ones forever trapped outside, looking in. When her husband, Richard, finally leaves her, Clarisse finds comfort in the embrace of a volatile local man, Freddy Moliger. With Freddy, she finally feels reconciled to, or at least at ease with, her true self. But this peace comes at a terrible price. Clarisse will be brutally murdered, and it will be left to her now-grown daughter, who also bears the name Ladivine without knowing why, to work out who her mother was and what happened to her.

A mesmerizing and heart-stopping psychological tale of a trauma that ensnares three generations of women, Ladivine proves Marie NDiaye to be one of Europe’s great storytellers. 

Translated from the French by Jordan Stump