Sunday, July 31, 2016

July in Review and Some New Books

Not sure what I've got but there is nothing worst than a summer fever and body aches in the middle of a 5 day heat wave. I've been feeling under the weather since Thursday evening and yesterday I finally took my temp  yesterday and it was 100.7.  After a 4 hour mid day nap the fever seemed to break. I showered and was feeling better but, then went to bed again with more chills and, I tossed and turned all night, hopefully this virus will go away soon (no fever right now).  

July was a fairly good book for reading. I really enjoyed most of my selections.

  1. Lily and the Octopus; Steven Rowley - 4/5 (eGalley) (July)
  2. Vinegar Girl; Anne Tyler - 3.5/5 stars (audio) (July)
  3. In a Dark Dark Wood; Ruth Ware - 4/5 (library) (July)
  4. Ink and Bone; Lisa Unger - 4/5 (eGalley) (July)
  5. Tuesday Nights in 1980; Molly Prentiss - 4/5 (arc) (July)
  6. Before the Fall; Noah Hawley - 4.5/5 (eGalley & audio) (July)
  7. The Dogs of Littlefield; Suzanne Berne - 4/5 (eGalley & Audio) (July)
  8. Grief is a Thing With Feathers; Max Porter - 3.5/5 (eGalley) (July)
  9. Wilde Lake; Laura Lippman - 3/5 (audio) (July)
  10. The Good American; Alex George - 4.5/5 (library/bookgroup) (July)
New Books by Mail

Hope everyone has a great day and a wonderful August.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Good American; Alex George

A Good American; Alex George
Penguin Audio - 2012
Gibson Frazier, narrator - excellent

A Good American was my book group pick for July and everyone loved it.  It's a wonderful story about the German immigrant experience from 1904 through 2010.

When Jette's mother rejects the man she has fallen in love with she convinces Frederick Meisenheimer to set sail for America. The couple, with a baby on the way, eventually settle in Beatrice, Missouri, a small town with other German immigrants.  While  Frederick immediately falls in love with all the possibilities American has to offer, Jette  with new infant son Joseph is homesick and restless, and when a second child, Rosa arrives, the couples relationship becomes strained.  When World War I calls eligible young men to duty, Frederick, although now 39 and running a restaurant, enlists in the military feeling a sense of duty to the country he loves. Jette is furious.

Music is of significant importance in this story, Jazz and Blues helps the family through the tough times and keeps the family close.  There are several wonderful characters who come to life on the pages as the reader follows the Meisenheimer  through the generations: WWI, prohibition, the Great Depression and WWII.  Heartbreak and tragedy comes often to this family and to the people they care about but, despite this they remain stronger together.  The story has a nice balance of love, life, romance and loss.

Although I definitely enjoyed the first half of this book more, the entire novel was a transporting experience with an unexpected revelation as the story wound down.  Alex George is a talented debut author to watch for. If you love well done immigrant stories, be sure to check this one out.  The audio was excellent.

4.5/5 stars
(library audio)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Grief is a Thing With Feathers; Max Porter

GrayWolf Press - 2016

Grief is a Thing With Feathers is a work of fiction, a short novella that takes place in London.  The story opens a few days after a man, with young twin sons has lost his wife.  The cause of her death is not disclosed but, her death was quick and unexpected.

The father, a Ted Hughes scholar, is deep with despair and unable to work. The young boys are dealing with their own sadness, sometimes without the supervision that they need.  Just when things seem they can't get much darker, the three are visited by "Crow" whose purpose is to watch over the grieving.  Crow finds humans dull, except when they are grieving, and he plans to stick around until he is no longer needed by this threesome.

I found this novella somewhat complex, much like grief. The POV shifts between the father, sons and Crow and, the narrative consists of both observations and pieces of poetry.  Of course, Crow had the biggest impact declaring early on, " I won't leave you until you don't need me anymore."  If you are poetry lover you may be reminded of Emily Dickinson's poem, "Hope is a Thing With Feathers."  It was refreshing to see Crow's efforts a success as the father and his sons begin to heal.

If you are looking for something different to read, something that will make you think give this novella a try.

3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Bilgewater; Jane Gardam

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. 

Bilgewater; Jane Gardam
Europa - 2016

"The interview seemed over. The Principal of the college sat looking at the candidate.  The Principal's back was to the light and her stout, short outline was solid against the window, softened only by the fuzz of her aging but rather pretty hair.  Outside the bleak and brutal Cambridge afternoon --December and raining.

The candidate sat opposite wondering what to do.  The chair had a soft seat but wooden arms. She crossed her legs first one way and then the other -- then wondered about closing her legs at all.  She considered whether to get up.  There was a cigarette box beside her.  She wondered whether she would be offered a cigarette.  There was a decanter of sherry on the bookcase.  It had a neglected air."

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Watching Edie; Camilla Way

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. 

Watching Edie; Camilla Way
(NAL) New American Library - 2016


Outside my kitchen window the long afternoon empties of light.  I look at London stretched out far below, my dripping hands held poised above the sink.  The doorbell rings, one long high peal; The broken intercom vibrates.  The view from up here, it's incredible, as if you're flying.  Deptford and Greenwich, New Cross and Erith, then the river, and beyond that there's the Gherkin, over there the Shard.  From my top floor flat here on Telegraph Hill, you can see forever and as usual it calms me, soothes me: how big it is, how small I am, how far from where I used to be.

The doorbell rings more urgently--whoever it is is putting their finger on the buzzer and holding it there.  The night hovers.

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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Dogs of Littlefield; Suzanne Berne

 The Dogs of Littlefield; Suzanne Berne
Brilliance Audio & Simon & Schuster
Carol Monda - narrator (excellent)

The Dogs of Littlefield was one wacky novel, it made me laugh and smile a lot. The audiobook reader, Carol Mondo, was perfect for this offering.

Littlefield, Massachusetts was recently named the 6th best place to live in the US. Great schools, charming town,  tree-lined streets and 1,146 psychotherapists and 679 psychiatrists and a few other unusual statistics.

Just after Dr. Clarice Watkins, a psychologist from Chicago, arrives in town to research the quality of life in Littlefield, someone begins poisoning the dogs in the town.  Things like this just do not happen in Littlefield, a town full of quirky, upper class busy bodies. So could the poisonings be in protest of the controversial off-leash proposal of a local dog park?

This book can best be described as a comedy of manners with a little mystery added to the mix. There  were a lot of characters but, it wasn't critical to keep them straight, the enjoyment factor was in the behavior and actions of the opinionated, neurotic and self-obsessed residents of Littlefield.  For example,  Dr. Watkins, new to the town,  is one of two persons of color in the town, and since she's from Chicago, some assume she knows the Obamas personally.  Equally insane is the way they react to a student from Pakistan.

I have to be honest, the mystery aspect of this novel is weak and the story lacks substance, but, the snarky writing never ceased to entertain me. I loved the descriptive writing about this insular town and the reactions of the wealthy people behaving badly.  If you enjoy quirky characters, this is a great summer book for you.  I highly recommend the audio as well.

Plot - 3 stars
Entertainment Value - 5 stars
(audiobook & eGalley)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Before the Fall; Noah Hawley

Before the Fall; Noah Hawley
Grand Central Publishing - 2016
Robert Petkoff - Narrator

Definitely one of the best books I've read this summer, Before the Fall, begins with the plane crash of a private jet headed to NYC from Martha's Vineyard.  Except for the crew, one passenger, and bodyguards, the other passengers were all wealthy people of influence.  Just 16 minutes into the flight the plane plunges into the ocean and only two individuals survive.

Scott Burroughs is a struggling artist who normally takes the ferry from Martha's Vineyard to NYC. On this particular day he is invited on the flight by Mrs. Bateman, an acquaintance. After the plane crashes Scott and JJ. Bateman, the four year old son of the CEO of a major news affiliate are the only survivors. Scott, a strong swimmer, is able to save JJ, however, his parents and older sister are among the casualties.

The rest of the novel is a wonderfully plotted narrative about the passengers, crew and next of kin of little JJ. As the stories surrounding the other passengers unfold, there is speculation about the cause of the crash and whether a bomb was involved.

The news media, as they often do, make a media circus out of this tragedy and, Scott's life is turned upside down. He is judged and accused by others based on speculation.   I must admit I couldn't stop thinking about John F. Kennedy Jr. as I read. If you recall his private plane also crashed over Martha's Vineyard, 17 years ago this coming Saturday. 

This is a suspenseful story with excellent character development and page turning plot.  I suspected this was going to be a perfect read for me but, I must say I was kind of disappointed the way the story played out in the end.  I still encourage you to try this one, a great summer read.

4.5/5 stars
(audio & eGalley)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Edith Wharton's former Home - The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts

This week we took a road trip to Lenox, Massachusetts (we love this area) and we toured the former estate of Edith Wharton which is now open to the public.  It's an amazing property to enjoy a guided tour or just stroll the lush grounds (we did both). There were several artists painting on canvas as we walked around the property. It's a place I like going back again and again.
In 1901, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) bought 113-acres in Lenox, Massachusetts then designed and built The Mount, a home that would meet her needs as designer, gardener, hostess, and above all, writer. Every aspect of the estate—including its gardens, architecture, and interior design—evokes the spirit of its creator. The mansion was built in just 15 months and cost approximately $175,000 to build in 1901 - 1902. Previously the couple lived in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island and traveled frequently to Europe. Teddy Wharton supported the couple with his inheritance while Edith focused on her writing.
Sadly, the couple only lived at "The Mount," in Lenox, Massachusetts for ten years. It was a decade for Wharton, full of professional triumphs and emotional turmoil. Here she would write some of her greatest works, including The House of Mirth (1905) and Ethan Frome (1911). All while her marriage disintegrated under the weight of Teddy Wharton’s mental instability. The Whartons sold The Mount in 1911, they divorced in 1913. Edith Wharton moved permanently to France, Teddy returned to his sister’s home in Lenox.

"The Mount" open for tours from May through October and ghost tours are scheduled during the summer as the mansion is reportedly haunted.  Musical and other performances are held on the property and the grounds are covered with beautiful walking paths and sculpture exhibits for the public to enjoy.

Here are a few of the pictures I took with my phone.

If you are ever touring New England, be sure to check out The Mount and The Norman Rockwell Museum ( also very close to The Mount).

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tuesday Nights in 1980, Molly Prentiss

Tuesday Nights in 1980; Molly Prentiss
Gallery/Scout Press - 2016

Tuesday Nights in 1980s was very different kind of story for me, it felt kind of edgy.  It's a story about the SoHo art scene from 12/31/79 through the end of 1980.

James Bennett is an unusual art critic with synesthesia, a condition that allows him to see, hear, smell and feel the world in an usual way. Raul Engages is an orphaned, Argentinian exile whose art is on the verge of being discovered.  Lucy Ollison is their muse, a high school girl from Idaho who escapes to New York looking for something more than Idaho has to offer.

The story shifts in POV between the characters who have come to the New York art scene to escape their past, each having experienced loss of some kind. Each character is flawed, selfish and not very likable yet their story felt real.  The author did a great job making these disconnected characters come together. I thought the writing was very good but, very different  At times I found this book a bit challenging yet, I loved the reading about the NY art scene before gentrification.

Readers looking for something different should try this debut. The writing and character development was well done.

4/5 stars
(review copy)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - A Good American; Alex George

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.   (This one was chosen by my book group for July, and although I don't read a lot of historical fiction, I fell in love with the writing just from the intro).  

A Good American; Alex George
G.P Putnam - 2012

"Always, there was music.

It was music--Puccini, to be precise--that first drew my grandparents into each other's orbit, more than a hundred years ago.  It was an unusually warm afternoon in early spring, in the grandest municipal garden in Hanover, the Grosse Garten.  Mygrandmother, Henriette Furst, was taking her usual Sunday stroll among the regimented flower beds and manicured lawns so beloved of city-dwelling Prussians.  At twenty-five, she was a fine example of Teutonic rude health; Jette, as she was known by everyone, was six feet tall, and robustly built.  She walked through the park with none of the feminine grace that was expected from ladies of her class.  Rather than making her way by trippingly petite steps on the arm of an admirer, Jette clomped briskly along the graveled paths alone, too busy enjoying the day to worry about the unladylike spectacle she presented to others.  Rather than squeezing her considerable frame into the bustles and corsets that constrained the grim-faced ladies she so effortlessly outflanked, Jette preferred voluminous dresses that draped her outsized form like colorful tents.  She swept along in a dramatic, free-flowing swirl, leaving all those rigidly contoured women hobbling in her wake."

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

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Books

A few new books arrived by mail that I wasn't expecting and, I must admit all of them sound good.

  • The Hopefuls; Jennifer Close - (sent by Knopf) - A brilliantly funny novel about ambition and marriage from the best-selling author of Girls in White Dresses, The Hopefuls tells the story of a young wife who follows her husband and his political dreams to Washington, DC, a city of idealism, gossip, and complicated friendships among the young aspiring elite. 
  • This Must Be the Place; Maggie O'Farrell - (sent by Knopf) This Must Be the Place is a novel about family, identity, and true love: an intimately drawn portrait of a marriage, both the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart. O’Farrell writes with complexity, insight, and laugh-out-loud humor in a narrative that hurtles forward with powerful velocity and emotion. 
  • All the Time in the World; Caroline Angell (sent by Holt) - An unforgettable debut about a young woman's choice between the future she's always imagined and the people she's come to love.
  • Agnes; Peter Stamm (sent by Other Press) - Peter Stamm's best-selling debut novel, Agnes, now available for the first time in the United States. "Write a story about me," Agnes said to her lover, "so I know that you think of me." So he started to write the story of everything that had happened to them from the moment they met.
         At first, he works with Agnes to create a narrative that is most true to life, but as time passes and he grows more enamored with the narrative he has begun, he continues writing on his own, imagining a future for them after he reaches the present. Happy couples do not necessarily make for compelling reading, and as Agnes sees the unexpected plot he has planned for her, the line between fiction and reality begins to blur. 
         In this unforgettable and haunting novel Stamm incisively examines the power of storytelling to influence thought and behavior, reaching a chilling conclusion.
  • The Last September; Nina DeGramont - (sent by Algonquin) - Set in the desolate autumn beauty of Cape Cod, this riveting emotional puzzle explores the psyche of a woman facing down the meaning of love and loyalty.
Although I already read, The Last September, I can't wait to share it with my SIL, it's a page turner - Loved it.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ink and Bone; Lisa Unger

Ink and Bone; Lisa Unger
Touchstone - 2016

Finely Montgomery is rarely alone, the spirits enjoy keeping this 20 year old company.  When those spirits come on a bit too strong, Finely has always turned to her grandmother Eloise, a psychic, for help.

Merri Gleason's daughter Abbey was abducted and has been missing for almost a year.  Abbey was taken while her parents were vacationing in the Hollows. Abbey was hiking with her father and brother and was abducted while her father was distracted by his cellphone.  Merri hires Jones Cooper a PI who has worked with Eloise in the past on tough cases and this is one case where he will need the help on both Eloise and Finely.

The story is set in the remote Hollows in upstate New York, as were several of Unger's previous novels.  Although this could be read as a standalone novel, there are references to places and characters from earlier Unger novels.

Ink and Bone was a fast paced thriller with some supernatural aspects and a surprise ending which I enjoyed. The story itself kept me quickly turning the pages. Finely was a great character, a little on the wild side but smart, very smart.

4/5 stars

Thursday, July 7, 2016

In a Dark Dark Wood; Ruth Ware

Gallery/Scout Press - 2015

I recently finished Ruth Ware's, The Girl in Cabin 10 and enjoyed it so, I decided to read her debut mystery as well which is also reminiscent of Agatha Christie's books.

In this story, Nora, A.K.A. Lee is a 26 year old reclusive writer living in London. One day she receives an unexpected email inviting her to a "hen party" weekend at a remote cabin.  She hasn't seen Clare, her former school mate in over 10 years and is surprised she is being invited.  The two used to be very good friends until some happened between them and they haven't seen each other since.

Even though Nora only knows one of the other guest besides Clare she decides to venture outside of her comfort zone to attend.  When all the guests arrive things go very bad very soon after arriving.

The novel begins with Nora waking up in a hospital trying to recall what happened at the party. The story held my interest and is very atmospheric, that glass house out in the middle of the woods and the snow has fallen. A good deal of tension fills the pages as I tried to piece together what had happened and why.  The story is told in flashbacks both past and more recent.  I found this to be a satisfying mystery overall.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Vinegar Girl; Anne Tyler

Vinegar Girl; Anne Tyler
Random House Audio - 2016
(Kirsten Potter - narrator - very good)

Anne Tyler's, Vinegar Girl is a retelling of sorts on Shakespeare's, Taming of the Shrew.

Kate Battista is a single, 29 year old preschool teacher's assistant in Baltimore.  She loves her kids but, their parents have had  heir share of complaints about Kate.  Yes, she's quirky and a bit antisocial but, she's also not very satisfied with the trajectory of her life. Kate lives at home with eccentric father, Louis, a scientist and her ditzy 15 year old sister, Bunny.  Her mom died shortly after Bunny was born and had suffered from mental illness prior to that.  Kate's responsible for keeping the home running smoothly, which it does most of the time. 

One day Kate's father makes an unusual request.  Her father''s brilliant research assistant, Pyotr, is in the US on a 3 year visa which is about to expire,  he comes up with a plan for Kate and Pyotr to marry so that his cutting edge autoimmune research project can continue, and Pyotr can remain in the US legally.

This is a relatively short audiobook, which was fun to listen to.  The characters could have been a bit more developed. I felt Kate came across as somewhat acidic yet she failed to stick up for herself, allowing herself to often be taken advantage of.  The father was eccentric, brilliant but just so self absorbed and selfish. Pyotr was like Dr. Jekyll  and Mr. Hyde oftentimes.  Overall, although funny at times, this book was not up to the high standards I've come to expect on Anne Tyler's work, but still a fun summer read.

3.5/5 stars
(audio download from publisher)

Lily and the Octopus; Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus; Steven Rowley
Simon & Schuster - 2016

This is one of those novels that is incredibly difficult to review without giving away spoilers but, I'll try my best.

Ted Flask and his dachshund, Lily have been there for each other through thick and thin. Ted's turned to Lily for comfort throughout his periods of loneliness and relationship struggles.  But, now Ted needs to be there for Lily's crisis as well.

The author uses "the octopus" as the  "elephant in the room" that these best buddies are dealing with. Throughout their ordeal, you can feel Ted's concern, panic and compassion for Lily.   Ted and Lily (and the Octopus) is a love story about man and dog, full of emotion and bitter sweet reflection. It's a story that all animal lovers can enjoy (even a cat lover like me),  It's a heartfelt story that made me laugh and cry.

Lily talks in ALL CAPS and exclamation points.  I loved the way the author developed his characters and their crisis. I would have rated this story 5 stars but, there was one part of the story, a voyage that Ted and Lily experience that didn't work well for me.  Despite that minor complaint, I highly recommend this sweet story of unconditional love between man and dog.

4/5 stars

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Wilde Lake; Laura Lippman

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.  

Wilde Lake; Laura Lippman
Harper Collins - 2016


"When my brother was eighteen, he broke his arm in an accident that ended in another young man's death.  I wish I could tell you that we mourned the boy who died, but we did not.  He was the one with murder in his heart that night and, sure enough, death found him. Funny how that works."

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
ECCO - 2016

Grown siblings behaving badly is the central theme upon which, The Nest, has been built.

The four Plumb siblings, Leo, Jack, Bea and Melody have long thought about "the nest" they would inherit when Melody, the youngest, turned 40 and, that day is just months away.  The watched the stock market soar and made plenty of plans for the money. They'd pay off mortgages, fund college tuitions and enjoy life more. However, as the saying goes, "don't count your chickens before they hatch."

Truth is Leo, the oldest and perhaps most irresponsible of the Plumb clan has chipped away at their inheritance, with the permission of their mother,  Leo loves women, booze and drugs perhaps a bit too much.  As the story begins he crashes his Porshe causing his young nineteen year old companion to lose a foot.  This accident costs him plenty including money from "the nest" that the others were expecting. Now they expect Leo, the irresponsible, golden boy to pay up.

The characters are both quirky and unique and come alive on the pages as we learn about their drama and baggage.  Their issues: parenting, relationships, finances, substance abuse etc. make some of them more likable than others.  Some of their situations were funny, others seemed unrealistic. Perhaps I just don't have a clue about rich people who live beyond their means and then expect to be handed a golden spoon really behave.

I thought the set up for this story was great but, I found most of the characters either shallow or annoying.  Family dysfunction is a topic I generally love to read about and I was enjoying the Plumb clan but, I felt a huge disappointment by the way this novel wrapped up. 

3.5/5 stars

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fates and Furies; Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies; Lauren Groff
Riverbed Books  - Penguin Audio - 2015
Will Damron and Julia Whelan (narrators)

Fate and Furies is the story of a twenty-four year marriage. It's one of those books that starts off a bit slow but, there's a big payoff for those who stick with it to the end.

Lotto (Lancelot Satterwhite) and Mathilde were that couple everyone envied: looks, brains, confidence and sophistication. They met at Vassar when they were just 22 and married just a few weeks later.  Lotto was born into a wealthy family but, his father's early death left his mother unable to cope and battled mental illness for years to come.  Mathilde an aspiring model, was attractive, quiet and reserved and supportive wife. Lotto was loud, welcoming and sexy. His interest was acting but, suffered from episodes of manic depression. His true calling came later as a playwright.

The story is told in two parts - FATES (Lotto's story of their marriage) moved slowly at times for me but, the multiple thread and beautiful writing was so good that I looked forward to turning the pages. I liked getting to see the couple through the highs and lows of their relationship as well as through the eyes of their friends. Lotto was a unlikable character but, a man who loved his wife deeply. As I read I wondered how much Mathilde knew about his past.

FURIES (Mathilde's story) totally caught me off guard. It's true what they say to watch out for the quiet ones. Mathilde had a sad dark childhood.  She comes across as loving Lotto but, that love seemed to have a dark, sadistic side and at times she's filled with anger and rage.  At times I couldn't believe just how different her story of their marriage was from the one we heard from Lotto.

I loved the structure of this novel and couldn't help thinking about what a fantastic choice this would be for bookclub discussions. If you enjoy beautiful writing, flawed, complex characters and stories about marriage don't miss this one. This is one I'll be thinking about for a long while.

4.5/5 stars
(audio & eBook)