Tuesday, May 31, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Mercury, Margot Livesey

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.  

Mercury; Margot Livesey
Harper - 2016
Part One

"My mother called me after a favorite uncle, who was in turn called after a Scottish king.  Donald III was sixty when he first ascended the throne in 1093.  He went on to reign twice, briefly and disastrously.  As a child I hated my name--other children sang Donald, where's y'er troosers? in the playground--but as an adult I have come to appreciate being named after a valiant late bloomer: a man who seized the day.  Of course most Americans, when I introduce myself, are thinking not about Scottish history but about a cartoon duck.  They are surprised when I tell them that a Scot invented penicillin and that James VI, for whom the Bible was so gloriously translated, was a keen amateur dentist.  I used to believe that in my modest fashion, I was contributing to the spread of Scottish values: thrift, industry, integrity.  I have my own business, a full-service optometrist's, in a town outside of Boston.  More than most people, I have tested the hypothesis that the eye is the window of the soul"

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Summer 2016 Must Read Picks

For me, Memorial Day Weekend and a summer leading list just seem to go hand in hand.  This year I've selected (15) books I really want to read. Here they are...

  1. The Charmers; Elizabeth Adler
  2. Commonwealth; Ann Patchett
  3. The Fireman; Joe Hill - 4/5 stars (June)
  4. Girl in Pieces; Kathleen Glasgow
  5. The Grand Tour; Adam O'Fallon Price
  6. Ink and Bone; Lisa Unger
  7. The Island House; Nancy Thayer
  8. Leave Me; Gayle Forman
  9. Mercury; Margot Livesey
  10. The Nest; Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - 3.5/5 (June)
  11. The Red House; Mark Haddon
  12. The Sun in Your Eyes; Deborah Shapiro
  13. Weekenders; Mary Kay Andrews - 3/5 stars (June)
  14. What Was Mine; Helen Klein Ross  4/5 stars - (June)
  15. Zero K; Don DeLillo
Do you have your own summer reading list?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep; Michael Schulman

Harper - 2016

Meryl Streep is one Hollywood actress who seems to shine in whatever movie she has been cast in.  

Born to a middle class New Jersey family, the oldest child of three, she studied voice as a child but, never got interested in acting until she attended Vassar.  Her talent set her apart from her peers there and she was able to earn a spot at the competitive Yale School of Drama as a result.  

Her success in Hollywood earned her 19 Oscar nominations and she's won 3 Oscars.  Her first real love was with actor John Cazale who passed away quite young. She's been married to Don Gummer for nearly 40 years and the couple has four children.

I enjoyed this bio, and found it somewhat informative and even entertaining but,  I wished that there was a more in-depth exploration of Streep's 40 year career as an actress and more about her roles.  Unfortunately, the book I read was a review copy and it did not have any photos which are included in the finished copy.  I think Meryl fans should give this one a try if you are interested in finding out more about her life and success as an actress.

3.5/5 stars
(review copy)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mothering Sunday; Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday; Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday is a very short novel, fewer than 180 pages, but one that is very well written. Mothering Sunday represents the fourth Sunday of Lent, a day when hired help in England were typically given the day off to visit family. 

The story begins in 1924 on Mothering Sunday in London.  Jane Fairchild is a lowly maid who is in love with Paul Sheringham, the wealthy land owner who lives next door.  Paul is the good friend of Jane's employer.  For nearly seven years the two have been carrying on a secret affair. On this particular day, since Jane was an orphan and has no family she spends the day with Paul making love. For the first time the manor house is empty and, their lovemaking is slow yet intense yet, there is a sense that their time together is about to come to an end.  In fact, as Paul leaves Jane he is off to meet the woman he is about to marry in two short weeks. Jane stays behind taking her time to have lunch at his house and even to walk around naked exploring the empty house. She is particularly fascinated with the library. At Beechwood manor where Jane works she has been given full access to the library where her passion for books and reading are fueled.

Mothering Sunday is a story of self discovery. The story alternates from the past to present where Jane, now in her 90's, has seen her life transformed in unexpected ways.  The author has a talent for capturing the mood, the tension and the period in history.  Although it took me a little while to get into this story, I was happy I stuck with it as I so enjoyed Jane's journey.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Fireman; Joe Hill

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. 

The Fireman; Joe Hill
William Morrow - May 2016



"Harper Grayson had seen lots of people burn on TV, everyone had, but the first person she saw burn for real was in the playground behind the school.

Schools were closed in Boston and but in New Hampshire they were still open.  There had been cases in New Hampshire, but only a few.  Harper had heard that half a dozen patients were being held in a secure wing of Concord Hospital, looked after by a medical team outfitted in full-body protective gear, every nurse armed with a fire extinguisher."

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Orphan Train; Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train; Christina Baker Kline
William Morrow - 2013

Molly Ayer has been in over a dozen foster homes in just 17 years of life. She's been though plenty and despite her tough exterior of piercings, wildly colored hair and tattoos, she's a wounded child inside.  When she takes a tattered copy of Jane Eyre from the library, she's required to do community service for the offense.  Her service assignment is to help out 91 year old Vivian Daley, a wealthy widow who also lives in Maine.

As Vivian's story unfolds, it's clear that she did not always have an easy life.  As a child, Vivian was an Irish immigrant who traveled with hundreds of other orphans by train from NYC to the midwest. As it would turn out, the fates of these children were mostly determined by luck.

The story is told in dual narratives and, the characters come to life on the pages.  I loved how the relationship between the two characters develops as they sort through boxes of keepsakes from the past. It was touching to see how Molly and Vivian had much they in common than one would expect despite a 70+ year difference in their ages. A moving story that was well written. This would make a good discussion book. The audio narrated by Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren.

4.5/5 stars
(library audio)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My New Books

Except for a few reviews here and there blogging has been taking a back seat to life, family and nice weather.  I have received some wonderful books over the last few weeks that I really want to try. Are any of these on your "hope to read" list?

Forty Rooms; Olga Grushin - DNF

Forty Rooms; Olga Grushin
Blackstone Audio - 2016

Although Forty Rooms was a different kind of novel and  although Christa Lewis' narration was excellent, I was unable to finish this one. It just wasn't for me.

The story begins in Soviet Russia with an unnamed narrator at the age of four. The young girl is bright, imaginative, and dreams of being a poet. Each of the chapters centers on a different "room" which represents a memorable life experience for the narrator who as an adult is referred to as only Mrs Caldwell.  The chapters have a dream like quality and for me, there seemed to be little connection. As the narrator matures, I started to find the protagonist unlikable. Although the audio version had a pleasant tone, I had to jump abandon this one around the halfway mark.

(library audio)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Somebody I Used to Know; David Bell

Sorry - for late post today - Blogger was uncooperative uploading images!

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. 

Penguin - 2015

Chapter One

"When I saw the girl in the grocery store, my heart stopped.

I had turned the corner into the dairy aisle, carrying a basket with just a few items in it. Cereal. Crackers. Spaghetti. Beer.  I lived alone, worked a lot, and rarely cooked.  I was checking a price when I almost ran into the girl.  I stopped immediately and studied her in profile, her hand raised to her mouth while she examined products through the glass door of the dairy cooler.  

I felt like I was seeing a ghost."

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here; Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here; Fredrik Backman
Atria - 2016

"Forks. Knives. Spoons. In that order.

Britt-Marie is certainly not the kind of person who judges other people. Far from it.  

But surely no civilized person would even think of arranging a cutlery drawer in a different way from how cutlery drawers are supposed to be arranged?

We're not animals are we?"

Britt-Marie is a 63 year-old woman who is socially awkward and set in her ways.  After leaving her cheating husband she needs a job and the only job she finds is in Borg, 12 miles away.  Her new job is to clean the recreation center in the town.

The people that Britt meets at her job and in Borg are what makes this book a fun read. There were many funny scenes like when Britt-Marie finds out that the recreation center does not stock the ONLY acceptable cleaning product that someone would use.  Britt-Marie is a woman who never had children of her own yet, she finds herself in charge of a kids soccer team with children who are longing for some attention.

Britt-Marie's debut came in Backman's last book, My Grandmother Told Me To Tell You She's Sorry. When that story ended Britt was leaving driving in her car.  This story picks up where the other left off but, it isn't necessary to read that book to enjoy this one.  The author knows how to create quirky, yet sympathetic characters.  Britt-Marie was so rigid and opinionated yet because of her past and present situation, she's an easy character to root for. You'll know everything there is to know about her and, by the end of the book she felt like someone I knew most of my life. It was so nice to see her become a vital part of the community.

Readers looking for a sweet story with a quirky protagonist should try this book. Almost every phrase uttered by Britt-Marie ended up being highlighted and put a smile on my face.

4/5 stars
(review copy)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Be Frank With Me; Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me; Julia Claiborne Frank
William Morrow - 2016

Mimi Banning is a reclusive Hollywood Hills author who has lost all her money in a ponzi scheme. As a result she is now feeling the pressure to finish another book by her deadline.  To help her meet this deadline the publishing house sends Mimi an assistant named Alice Whitley who was previously working at the Genius Bar at Apple.  Alice is unclear on what exactly her role will be but, she seems to fit Mimi's criteria: [No Ivy leaguers or English Majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, insane.]

When Alice arrives at the Banning mansion she is quickly introduced to Frank, Mimi's nine year old son.  Frank has a photographic memory and is quirky and set in his ways. He has nothing in common with the other fourth graders in his class.  He and Alice develop a unique relationship as Alice's job turns out to be as a full-time companion for Frank.

There is not a lot that happens in this story but, it's the relationship between Alice and Frank that makes this novel special.  The story is told by Alice and is dialogue driven.  

Frank is a terrific character, he loves to dress in top hats and cuff links and old fashion styled garb.  It's easy to see why he and most other nine year olds wouldn't have a lot in common. One can assume he has some autism related diagnosis but, we never learn exactly what that is.  

Julia and Frank will make you laugh and maybe even shed a tear as you get to know them.  Readers who like eccentric and lovable characters should give this novel a try.

4/5 stars
(review copy)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Two-Family House; Lynda Cohen Loigman

The Two-Family House; Lynda Cohen-Loigman
St. Martin's Press - 2016

Set in Brooklyn beginning in 1947, The Two-Family House is the story of two Jewish families over the course of two decades. Abe and Mort are brothers, Helen and Rose are their wives.  Abe and Helen have four young sons and Mort and Helen have three young daughters.  The families are very close. The brothers own a business called, The Box Brothers and, Helen and Rose are closer than many sisters.  The two families live in a two-family brownstone in Brooklyn where the parents and children share meals and celebrations as one big family.  Then something happens when the women, with the help of a midwife,  each give birth to one more baby on the same snowy night while their husbands are snowed in at the factory.

What happens on this snowy night  fractures the families and changes their lives forever.

This was a tough book to review without giving spoilers and, if you are planning on trying this one, I recommend avoiding reading the book description and the many online reviews which seem to give away too much info.

The story is told from the perspective of each of the major characters and explores the meaning of family.  Abe and Helen were certainly the more likable couple.  Mort was bitter and cold and his lack of affection for his wife or children caused his wife Rose to sour as well.  Readers who enjoy stories steeped in family dynamics, and stories with secrets should give this one a try. I found the ending satisfying as well. There are many themes to explore here: marriage, children, family, grief, secrets and more. This would make a good discussion book and I found this to be an impressive debut novel.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - A Perfect Life; Eileen Pollack

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. 

A Perfect Life; Eileen Pollack
Ecco - May 2016

"In another few minutes, I will need to climb the stairs and explain to my daughter why her father and I gave her life when we knew she would need it watching the clock, watching herself.  Maybe Lila won't hold her fate against me any more than I held my fate against my parents.  But then, I was older. I knew they had acted out of ignorance.  And how could I condemn the very people to whom I owed my existence, enthralled as I was with the mystery, the miracle, of being Jane Weiss?

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Passenger; Lisa Lutz

The Passenger; Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster - 2016

After finding her husband Frank dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs, Tanya Dubois is on the run. She claims proclaims on page one that she had nothing to do with his death but, why has she decided to run and to change her name and her appearance as she travels cross country from one small town to another?

As the story progresses it's clear that this woman which I'll refer to as Tanya has a somewhat checkered past. She was having an affair with her chiropractor while married to Frank. On the road she stops at one flea bag motel after another, where true identities as not as important as cash customers. She gets to know all the public libraries in the each town so that she can check to see whether her name or picture has made the news. She also checks her email -- there is an interesting exchange with a male from her past that gave interesting clues about these two individuals. 

Tanya's new looks and new identities keep her just under the radar for a while bit, all too frequent stops for drinks at small town bars make more than a few individuals suspicious that she is running from something.  So who is the woman we first know as Tanya Dubois and what is her real story?

This novel doesn't have a lot of action or even a cat and mouse feel.  There is not a lot of character development either but, this is a page turner that held my interest from start to finish.  I enjoyed the first person POV and getting to understand why Tanya felt the need to run.  Readers who enjoy psych thrillers should give this one a try. It's one of those books that are hard to put down after you begin reading.

4/5 stars
(library book)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Spill Simmer Falter Wither; Sara Baume

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - 2016

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a debut novel about two wounded creatures (man and dog). The story takes place over the course of one year beginning in spring, in a rural Irish village.

Although we really never learn the man's name, one can assume it is Ray, as we learn it is the same as "sunbeams and winged and boneless sharks."  Ray is a 57 years-old disabled man who has had a very sad and lonely life.  

After Ray's father chokes to death, an incident he witnesses,  Ray spends time reading and taking walks, but the people of the village view him as odd and shun him.  For companionship he adopts a disfigured, abused dog he names "Oneeye".  After an incident with another dog along their walk, the duo takes to the road traveling the seaside.  As Ray unburdens his soul to the dog as they hit the road, the readers learn the lifetime of secrets and tragedy that Ray and, to a much lesser extent, Oyeeye has experienced.

The story is really Ray's story and the quiet way in which it unfolds, season by season, makes is difficult to avoid feeling at least some of the pain and loneliness that the protagonist has experienced. It's definitely not an upbeat story or even a story with a happy ending. It is, however, a beautifully rendered story. The author manages to show us not just the ugly side of humanity but, the beauty of all that surrounds us as well.

This is not a terribly long novel, but it is one that is best enjoyed slowly, the writing is beautiful.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Two-Family House; Lynda Cohen Loigman

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 started this one last night and am really enjoying it so far.)

The Two-Family House; Lynda Cohen-Loigman
St. Martin's Press - 2016


"She walked down the stairs of the old two-family house in the dark, careful not to slip.  The steps were steep and uneven, hidden  almost entirely beneath the snow.  It had been falling rapidly for hours and there had been too much excitement going on inside the house for anyone to think about shoveling the steps for a departing midwife.  Perhaps if the fathers of the two babies born had been present, they would have thought to shovel.  But the storm had prevented their return, and neither had been home."

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