Tuesday, November 29, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Setting Free the Kites; Alex George

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph or two, from a book I'm reading or will be reading soon.  (I LOVED this author's last book, The Good American.)

Putnam - 2017


Haverford, Maine

"Nathan Tilly gave me the story I'm going to tell, but it was the old paper mill that set my memories free.

I read the report in the Haverford Gazette the previous week.  The mill had not been operational for more than fifty years, but now the land has been sold to a supermarket chain, and the old building is to be razed to make way for a customer parking lot.  The news has prompted vigorous local debate.  Some are angry that the city council has allowed part of our municipal heritage to be sold off.  Others are excited at the prospect of rest bagels. Such is progress

For myself, I'm sorry to see the old place go.  I want to pay my last respects, watch the thing go down."

Based on this intro, would you read more or pass on this book?

Feel free to join in by posting your own First Chapter First Paragraph Intro and linking below.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - I'll Take You There; Wally Lamb

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph or two, from a book I'm reading or will be reading soon.  

I'll Take You There; Wally Lamb
Harper - 2016

"I turned sixty earlier this year, an age that brings deficits, of course: Creaky knees, a temporary inability to remember familiar people's names, a second colonoscopy.  But there are benefits to reaching this age, too.  One is wisdom, or so they tell me.  Another is the senior citizen discount at Dunkin' Donuts--once you survive the shock of being asked if you're eligible, pr more shockingly, the cashier's assumption you're eligible without asking. Geezerdom's got a third perk too.  Let's call it bemused appreciation for how ironic life can be.  Take, for instance, adult diapers: from Pampers we came to Depends we shall return.  Ironic, no?  It's the same with tears.  We cry easily when we're kids, not so much as grown-ups.  Then, at about the time those AARP magazines start showing up uninvited in the mailbox, the lachrymal glands come alive again.  Mine do, anyway.  I can tear up at sappy commercials, sentimental newspaper articles, Facebook posts about some family's decision to have their dog put down. And when the TV news shows one of those surprising reunions between a soldier returning from war and his kids--or her kids--man, I lose it."

Based on this intro, would you read more or pass on this book?

Feel free to join in by posting your own First Chapter First Paragraph Intro and linking below.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady; Susan Quinn

Susan Quinn - (Penguin - 2016)

Although I knew Eleanor Roosevelt was a well respected and amazing woman, I had never read anything about her life before now. I devoured this book and found it to be very well written.

When FDR became president, the Roosevelt's marriage was already on shaky grounds. His mother threatened to cut ties with her son if he separated from Eleanor so the two remained married yet, in many ways they maintained separate lives. Eleanor had never wanted to assume the role as First Lady. She had a busy independent life but, her unhappiness was difficult to conceal.  FDR had several extramarital affairs before he was stricken with polio while vacationing in Maine.  The couple had six children in ten years. 

Lorena Hickok "Hick" was a reporter for the Associated Press. She later quit her job to become the reporter for the Roosevelt administration. For a number of years she had her own room next to Eleanor in the White House. The women soon became very close.  Confidants, professional advisors, friends and possibly lovers, it was not unusual for the two women to vacation together and take long weekends away.  Their relationship would span some 30 years.

Both woman had very sad childhoods and although Eleanor's family was wealthy, Hick wasn't as lucky. Her mother died when she was just 13 and her father was abusive.  She began working as a maid at the age of 14 when her stepmother kicked her out of the house.

There is so much information in this book about the accomplishments of both FDR and Eleanor that I found fascinating. The photos were wonderful as well and, although this book is 400+ pages, it was a pleasure to read and keep reading.  It's a wonderful story about a 30 year friendship that transformed two women.

The author does an impressive job chronicling not only Eleanor and Hick's relationship through excerpts from letters the two were constantly exchanging.  I felt bad about the fact Hick died several years after Eleanor and that her ashes remained unclaimed.  Her remains were eventually dumped in an unclaimed remains area of a cemetery in Rhinebeck, NY.  Fortunately, on May 10, 2000, some 32 years after her death, a simple ceremony, marker and dogwood tree were placed there and dedicated on her behalf.

5/5 stars
(sent by publisher)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Faithful; Alice Hoffman

Faithful; Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster - 2016

Faithful is a relatively short novel about tragedy and redemption.  To me it felt more a YA novel but, regardless it still managed to hold my interest.

Shelby Richmond and her friend Helene Boyd were making plans for college life when an automobile accident with Shelby behind the wheel changed everything for both girls.   While Shelby recovered physically, she remains guilt ridden and stuck  She can't deal with the fact that her good friend is in a coma.

At least initially Shelby doesn't feel that her life is worth living. She can't stop punishing herself and she even spends time in a psych hospital.  Once released she lives in her parents basement, rarely emerging for nearly two years until one day with the help of her friend Ben, and the power of animals to heal, she begins to come around.

Shelby's character felt very genuine as did her gradual healing.  As the title suggests, "faith" plays a significant role in the healing process.  A story of survival, I loved the way that the novel ended on an uplifting note but, I wasn't a fan of the way Hoffman used Helene's coma as a touchstone for believers in need of a miracle in their own lives to visit Helene and touch her hand with the hopes of being healed.  

It's been a while since I've read a novel by Alice Hoffman and although I had a few minor issues with this one it was still a good story.

4/5 stars
(review copy)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption; Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption; Bryan Stevenson
Random House Audio  - 2014
(read by author - excellent)

Just Mercy is an inspiring memoir about one man's quest to right the wrongs of a flawed justice system.

Bryan Stevenson grew up as a poor black child in Delaware. His great grandparents were slaves.  Bryan was the first in his family to attend college, eventually graduating from Harvard Laws school.  He was committed to helping the incarceration poor in both GA and AL and was co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.

His memoir covers many of the cases he worked on, which focused on poor minorities who were in prison for sometimes ridiculous reasons, like the woman who was in prison for stealing food to feed her children in AL. Deep seated racism seemed to be everywhere.

The focus story in this memoir involved a black man named Walter McMillan, whose affair with a white woman got him targeted as the person responsible for murdering another white woman in a laundromat. He was sentenced to death row and scheduled for execution.  Stevenson was determined to free this unjustly accused man.

Listening to the author tell his story was an eye-opener. There was plenty in this memoir that made me angry about the racism that still exists in our country.  This is such an important book. It was mind boggling to read that some 2,500 children in the US are serving sentences of life without parole in this great country of ours.  Bryan Stevenson is to be admired: a lawyer with a heart who made a difference to many.

Be sure to read this one!

5/5 stars

“Finally, I've come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” 

"Simply punishing the broken only ensures they remain broken and we do too. Each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done."

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The First True Lie; Marina Mander

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph or two, from a book I'm reading or will be reading soon.  

The First True Lie; Marina Mander
Hogarth - 2014

Some Days

Some days I wonder: What does it mean to be a half orphan?

You can't know because you are a grown-up.

You've got parents who already seem like grandparents, a house where you're free to go into all the rooms, a car to get away in....There are so many things you can forget."

Based on this intro, would you read more or pass on this book?

Feel free to join in by posting your own First Chapter First Paragraph Intro and linking below.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Commonwealth; Ann Patchett

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
Harper - 2016

I started and stopped this book about 3 times since late summer, and finally finished it last week.  It's an excellent story but, I just had some issues with the writing style. It's a style that one reviewer describes as a "hot mess". I tend to agree.

Commonwealth, begins with a christening party in Southern, CA for Fix and Beverly Keating's second child, Franny. At the party there are far too many people, too much alcohol and an uninvited guest who works with Fix that shows up.  Before the evening is up, two families will be torn apart. 

Bert Cousins, is the uninvited guest. He's a man who can't deal with spending his weekend with his three small kids and pregnant wife.  He leaves home and shows up at the party with a bottle of gin.  Bert has always been a womanizer and at this event it's Beverly Keating who proves just too irresistible for Bert. One kiss, and a mutual instant attraction and soon two fractured families.  Bert and Beverly move from CA back to Bert's home state of VA.

The title "Commonwealth" is significant and, the story follows the children and adults of these marriages through middle and old age.  The family saga is large in scope. It's complicated, dysfunctional and even tragic. Yet, despite the sad parts, at times I found myself laughing as I read. The characters are well drawn and for the most part memorable.

The non linear writing style was hard for me to get used to. The story, although very good, kept moving from one character to another and, the constant shift in POV felt off putting after a while.  Despite my struggles with this one, I loved the way that the author chose to end this family drama.

3.5/5 stars

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Book That Matters Most; Ann Hood

W.W. Norton Co - 2016

Ann Hood's latest novel was an enjoyable story about mothers, daughters and the ups and downs of life.

Ava Tucker is a 40-something French professor in Providence, Rhode Island. Her 25 year marriage has fallen apart and, for the first time in decades she finds herself alone.  Her grown son is in Africa and daughter Maggie is studying abroad in Florence, Italy (so Ava thinks), however, Maggie's life abroad is in turmoil.

To help deal with her loneliness, Ava's friend Cate encourages her to join her book group. For the coming year each of the (12) participates selects the one "book that mattered most" to them. Ava's choice is a relatively unknown, out of print selection about a grieving mother who has lost a child. Ava lost both her mother and a younger sister when she was a child. 

Without giving away too much of the story, I'll just say I really enjoyed this story and the way the author drew me in early on. I loved that the story started out in RI, a place where the streets and references were familiar to me.  The story then travels to Italy and Paris which was also a treat to read about. I liked most of the characters that she introduced and the fact the story has a bit of a mystery going on as well.  Readers who want to settle into an easy flowing story about life, love, loss and family should enjoy this one.  I think this book would be a great book club discussion choice as well.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Faithful; Alice Hoffman

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph or two, from a book I'm reading or will be reading soon.  

Faithful; Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster - 2016
Chapter 1

"In February, when the snow comes down hard, little globes of light are left along Route 110, on the side of the road that slopes off when a driver least expects it.  The lights are candles set inside paper bags, surrounded by sand, and they burn past midnight.  They shouldn't last for that amount of time, but that's part of the miracle.  One the second anniversary of the accident, a gang of boys creep out their windows and gather at two in the morning to see if Helene's mother, Diana Boyd, drives along the road replacing each melting pool of wax with a fresh candle.  They're hoping to reveal a con in process and dispel the myth of a miracle, but after keeping watch for a while the boys all flee.  In the early morning hours, safe in their beds, they wonder how much of the world can never be understood or explained."

Based on this intro, would you read more or pass on this book?

Feel free to join in by posting your own First Chapter First Paragraph Intro and linking below.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Q is for QUIZ - feel free to play along

I haven't participated in one of these quizzes in a number of years so after seeing this on Vicki's blog I decided to give (at least part of it) a try.

Have you ever?

  • Fired a Gun – no thanks, not in this lifetime
  • Been Married - yes, a few times
  • Fell in Love - yes, a few times
  • Gone on a blind date - yes
  • Skipped school - yes, senior year, a few times
  • Watched someone give birth - yes, worked in a labor and delivery room years ago
  • Watched someone die - yes, my mother
  • Been to Canada - yes
  • Ridden in an ambulance - no
  • Been to Hawaii - no
  • Been to Europe - yes, France & Switzerland
  • Been to Las Vegas - yes
  • Been to Washington, D.C. - yes
  • Been to Nashville - yes, on business
  • Visited Florida - many times
  • Visited Mexico - yes
  • Seen Grand Canton in person - no
  • Flown in a helicopter - no
  • Partied so hard you puked - yes decades ago
  • Been on a cruise - no thanks
  • Served on a jury - no
  • Been in a movie - no
  • Been to New York City - yes, many times
  • Been to Los Angeles - no
  • Played in a band - no
  • Sang karaoke - no, you wouldn't want to hear me sing, trust me
  • Made Prank phone calls - yes, as a kid
  • Had children - yes, 2
  • Had a pet - yes,  mostly cats
  • Been sledding on a big hill - yes
  • Been water skiing - no
  • Rode on a motorcycle - no thanks
  • Traveled to all 50 states - just 31
  • Jumped out of a plane - another, no thanks
  • Been to a drive in movie - yes
  • Rode an elephant - no
  • Rode a horse - no
  • Been on TV - no
  • Been in the newspaper - a few times
  • Stayed in the hospital - yes, childbirth
  • Donated blood - no
  • Gotten a piercing - yes
  • Gotten a tattoo - no
  • Driven a stick shift - yes
  • Drive over 100 MPH - no
  • Been scuba diving - no
  • Rode in the back of a police car - no
  • Gotten a speeding ticket - yes, a few
  • Lived on your own - no
  • Broken a bone - no
  • Gotten stitches - no
  • Traveled alone - just on business

Feel free to play along!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Someone; Alice McDermott

Someone; Alice McDermott
Farrar, Straus and Giroux - 2013

Our October book group read was Someone by Alice McDermott.  We had a full house for this discussion and, for the most part everyone enjoyed this novel on some level. (I really liked it a lot - a 4.5/5 stars for me. This book had me requesting one more of McDermott's books: After This, which I hope to get to this month).

Amazon Description

An ordinary life-its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion-lived by an ordinary, but unforgettable woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott's extraordinary seventh novel.
We first glimpse Marie Commeford as a child: a girl in thick glasses observing her pre-Depression world from a Brooklyn stoop. Through her first heartbreak and eventual marriage; her delicate brother's brief stint as a Catholic priest and his emotional breakdown; her career as a funeral director's "consoling angel"; the deaths of her parents and the births of her children-we follow Marie through the changing world of the twentieth century and her Irish-American enclave. Rendered with remarkable empathy and insight, Someone is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived, with passion and heartbreak, a crowning achievement of one of the finest American writers at work today.

Book Group Comments

  • A quiet enjoyable novel, character driven, but not much action
  • A couple of readers thought it was reminiscent of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • The writing was great and so descriptive; read it in 2 sittings
  • Strong brother sister bond was special
  • I loved Marie the main character; she was real yet ordinary but just so likable. The story begins when Marie was 7 and follows her through the end of her life in an assisted living facility
  • Marie's first boyfriend, Walter was a cad. He was no prize physically yet he broke up with her and said he was going to marry someone "prettier and whose family had more money".
  • A story of life, love and heartbreak

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Eleanor and Hick; The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady; Susan Quinn

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph or two, from a book I'm reading or will be reading soon.  

Susan Quinn
Penguin - 2016

"BY THE TIME FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT was elected president in 1932, his wife Eleanor, had succeeded in forging an independent life for herself--a life of teaching, writing, and political activism.  Now she was about to become First Lady, with all the duties that would entail.  In the midst of victory celebrations, Eleanor was filled with dread about her future.

Lorena Hickok, a top reporter assigned to cover the new First Lady for the Associated Press, was one of the few who noticed Eleanor's unhappiness and took it seriously.  Hickok--'Hick' to everyone who knew her--worked patiently to gain Eleanor's trust.  By the time she wrote her stories for the AP, Eleanor and Hick had fallen in love.  Hick knew both the publishable and unpublishable reasons for Eleanor's unhappiness.  She wrote a profile that was frank about Eleanor's reluctance to become First Lady, but without revealing all the reasons why."

Based on this intro, would you read more or pass on this book?

Feel free to join in by posting your own First Chapter First Paragraph Intro and linking below.