Tuesday, March 28, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - How to Be Human; Paula Cocozza

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

How to Be Human; Paula Cocozza
Metropolitan Books - Henry Holt - 2017


" There was a baby on the back step.  A white bundle, downward sloping, spilling two arms and a head, the head looking at the edge of the step precariously.  Not really looking.  The eyes were shut. One hand lay beside an ear, fingers stiffened into a fist that might have held something.  Such a beautiful hand: its sliver of palm was streaked with shimmers of purple and blue, veins rubbed with moonlight.

The surprise came not after seeing the baby, but from seeing what was around her.  A baby on a back step.  It was the step that was wrong.  She was meant--Mary turned to check that she was alone before she finished the thought.  She was meant to take the child into the house."

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, March 25, 2017

Books Read - Week in Review - W/E - 3/25/2017

Another week has flown by, definitely more cheerful than the previous.  I had my book group meeting, spring flower show and yoga. We also celebrated my daughter and DIL's birthdays with a nice restaurant lunch on Tuesday, and then we watched the girls at our house on Wednesday so that my daughter and her husband could enjoy a nice kid-free dinner out.  Here are a  few pictures from the flower show.

Books Read Last Week

Ill Will; Dan Chaon
Ballantine Books - 2017

(My Thoughts) - In the present, Dustin is psychologist in Cleveland, Ohio who has recently lost his wife to cancer. He has 2 grown sons, one in college and another struggling with drug addiction. Some 30 years earlier Dustin's parents, aunt and uncle were brutally murdered.  The individual convicted of the crime was his adopted foster brother Rusty who has spent decades in prison until DNA evidence later proved his innocence. So who was the real killer?  In addition to this crime, there is also a present day serial killer thread that runs through the story. Ill Will is a gripping thriller that hooked me from the very beginning but, it's not a quick or easy read. The story is told by a series of narrators, some in the first person and others in the third.  A lot of the story relies on memories, some events having occurred some 30 years earlier,  while the story jumps back and forth in time. Despite this it's a well written novel that kept me on the edge of my seat. Worth reading (4/5 stars)

All the Stars in the Heavens; Adriana Trigiani
Harper - 2015

(March Book Group Read) - Loosely based on the true Hollywood love story of actress Loretta Young and Clark Gable who meet on the set filming Call of the Wild in 1935. Clark Gable is married and 13 years her senior. Alda Ducci, was in training to be a nun at an orphanage when she was forced to leave. She is given a job as Loretta Young's personal secretary, a job which she's ill prepared for given the contrast between her background and the things that go on in Hollywood yet, the two grow very close. The Hollywood story includes other stars such as David Niven, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy and a few others as well.  Although I liked Alda's story, I struggled with this book, finding the dialogue between the stars trivial and uninteresting which resulted in my skipping pages while plodding along.  can't recommend this one.

The other women in my book group (most older than me) seemed to enjoy what they described as a "trip down memory lane" so I found myself, along with one other reader about my age to be the only ones disappointed by this offering.  (2/5 stars overall)

Swing Time; Zadie Smith
Penguin Random House Audio - 2016

(My Thoughts) - This was a DNF for me. I had high hopes for this novel, a story of first friendships between two biracial girls in London.  Both girls dream of being dancers, even though only one (Tracey) has real talent. The story is told in the first person by an unnamed narrator and later by Tracey. I started out enjoying the audio but as the story moved from past to present and back again and location to location. London, New York and West Africa, I found myself losing interest. After falling asleep listening 3 nights in a row, I decided to abandon ship. (Honestly, the story seemed unfocused and, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed this one any more if I had tried the print version instead -- probably just not for me. (DNF)

Widowmaker; Paul Dorion
Macmillan Audio - 2016

The Futures; Anna Pitoniak
Lee Bourreaux Books - 2017

(3) new books arrived by mail last week. I think they all sound great.

How was your week ?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Widowmaker; Paul Dorion

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph, maybe two, of a book that I'm reading or plan to read soon.  This week's selection is part of a series. I started the audio version without reading the earlier installments and it's working out great so far.

Widowmaker; Paul Dorion
MacMillan Audio - 2016


"On my first day as a cadet at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, the instructors showed my class the most disturbing video I had ever seen.  It was a montage of real-life footage--most of it taken during routine traffic stops -- of police officers who had been ambushed on the line of duty.  We saw cops being run over, cops being wrestled to the ground by multiple assailants, cops having their service weapons stripped from their hands and used to kill them.

"You only need to get careless once,' our instructor told us.  As if we needed to be told.

Five years had passed since I'd seen that video; I was no longer a twenty-three-year-old cadet, no longer a rookie, and yet those horrible images still made regular appearances in my nightmares.  Every time I went on patrol, without exception, I would hear my instructor's warning in my head, and I would wonder if this was the day that some seemingly harmless stranger would smile at me through a window and then shoot me in the face.

I might have called myself paranoid if I hadn't watched those cops being murdered,"

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, March 18, 2017

Books Read - Week in Review - W/E 3/18/2017

It's been another one of those weeks that I'm happy to see behind us.  Between the Nor'easter, 17" of snow here and, the frigid temps which followed, I'm definitely suffering from some cabin fever. We also had a loved one with pneumonia which resulted in a 2 day hospital stay in the midst of Storm Stella (home now and doing well). Enough of winter already.  

I did manage to finish (3) books last week and enjoyed them all. 2 out of 3 were audio books

What I Know for Sure; Oprah Winfrey
(read by author - so awesome)
Macmillan Audio - 2014

(My Thoughts) - This audio book was just what I needed this week.  The book is read by Oprah herself and she does a marvelous job. It's very heartfelt and inspirational.  Told as a short series of essays on a variety of topics, organized by theme: joy, resilience, connection, gratitude possibility, awe, clarity and power,  I found myself nodding my head and surprised by many of the things that Oprah struggled with had been issues for me as well throughout my adult life. There were a few parts that really resonated with me and made me tear up because it hit so close to home. No there is nothing earth shattering that we all have not heard at some point in our lives but, her words are powerful and inspirational.  I may need to purchase the print version and reread this one at the beginning of each new year --- loved it.  (5/5 stars)

Books for Living; Will Schwalbe
Random House Audio - 2016
(Jeff Harding -Narrator)

(My Thoughts)  - This is another audio book that was amazing. My first experience with this author was his audio version of, The End of Your Life Book Club, a non fiction offering, which I loved, where Schwalbe and his mother, who was dying of pancreatic cancer, read and discussed  various books during her illness. It was a way to share their love of books and briefly escape from the reality of impending death.  In Books for the Living, the author shares his love of reading and the books that made a difference in his life. He asks the reader, Why is it That We Read? Is it to Pass Time? To Learn Something New? To Escape From Reality? For the author he states, It is a form of entertainment, to become a better person and to help make sense of the world.  He discusses some 27 books (20 of which I've read) and what they meant to him.  Of course since my reading taste seemed to mesh with his, I found myself adding (3) new books to my must read list: The Importance of Living; Lin Yutang (which he mentions over and over again); Bird by Bird; Anne Lamott and A Tale for the Time Being; Ruth Ozeki. A must read for book lovers who understand the magical power of books. (5/5 stars)

Every Living Thing; Cynthia Rylant
Modern Curriculum Press - 1988

(My Thoughts) - This book is targeted at the middle grade student and I know a blogger (?) had recommended it years back so I purchased it.  It is a lovely collection of (12) very short stories in which an animal has made a profound effect on a human being. I can see how this book would be a great teaching tool in the classroom. Quick read for adults but, very thought provoking.  (4/5/5 stars)

(4) new book arrivals came by mail last week.

  • The Futures; Ana Pitoniak (ARC - from Amazon Vine) (Lee Bourdeaux Books) (good)
  • lll Will; Dan Chaon (eGalley - Ballantine Books) (very good but, a challenge)
  • Swing Time; Zadie Smith (the audio is good but, put me to sleep several nights - think I need the print version)
Enjoy Your Weekend!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Swing Time; Zadie Smith

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

Swing Time; Zadie Smith
Penguin - 2017


"It was the first day of my humiliation.  Put on a plane, sent back home, to England, set up with a temporary rental in St. John's Wood.  The flat was on the eighth floor, the windows looked over the cricket ground.  It had been chosen, I think, because of the doorman, who blocked all inquiries.  I stayed indoors. The phone on the kitchen wall rang and rang, but I was warned not to answer it and to keep my own phone switched off.  I watched the cricket being played, a game I don't understand, it offered no read distraction, but still it was better than looking at the interior of that apartment, a luxury condo, in which everything had been designed to be perfectly neutral, with all significant corners rounded, like an iPhone. When the cricket finished I stared at the sleek coffee machine embedded in the wall, and at two photos of the Buddha--one a brass Buddha, the other wood--and at a photo of an elephant kneeling next to a little Indian boy, who was also kneeling.  The rooms were tasteful and gray, linked by a pristine hallway of tan wood cord. I stared at the ridges in the cord.

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, March 11, 2017

Books Read - Week in Review - W/E - 3/11/2017

This past week I felt restless and in a bit of a funk.  I think the loss of our sweet Lily (3) weeks ago has caught up with me.  I also feel bad because the death of our cat has seemed to have generated all sorts of questions about death and getting old for our oldest granddaughter who not yet 5. (I hate that this little one is being troubled by the concept of death at such an early age).

The weather has been very cold and extremely windy so that hasn't helped with and on Tuesday they are anticipating an almost spring snowstorm...ugh

I did have a good reading week and managed to finish (3) books and began (2) others as well.

Finished Reading

Among the Lesser Gods; Margot Catts 
(Arcade Publishing - 2017) 

(My Thoughts) - A lovely debut novel about family, secrets, hope, healing and redemption.

Elena Alvarez should be happy that her college days in LA are over but, she's a young woman who  seems stuck and can't get past her troubled younger years and the guilt that lingers.  As a child Elena was indirectly responsible for a fire that took the lives of (3) people. Soon after the tragedy her mother left, never to return and there has been a disconnect with her father as well.  With no job prospects yet and an unplanned pregnancy as well, she decides to pursue an offer for a summer job posed to her by her grandmother back in Leadville, CO.  The job is to care for (2) young children ages 12 and 5. The children's mother has just died and the father's job requires frequent travel.  Little does Elena realize but summer proves to be one of healing for not only herself but, those she is surrounded by as well. Descriptive writing; very enjoyable. (4.5/5 stars)

First Women: Kate Anderson Brower 
(Harper Audio) (2016) (Karen White-narrator)

(My Thoughts) - An entertaining, sometimes gossipy and occasionally eye opening look at the First Ladies of the White House from Mamie Eisenhower to Michelle Obama. I enjoyed this audio book but felt it was poorly structured, jumping from past to present and back again which led to some repetitiveness.  I listened to this book and The Residence (by the same author) back to back and, so some of the information seemed like I had heard it before in the other book. 

Some interesting tidbits - Mamie Eisenhower was not happy about having to relinquish her residence to the Kennedy family.  In fact when Jackie visited the White House after JFK's win, she had just given birth to John John by C-section and, although a wheel chair was available, Mrs. Eisenhower didn't offer it to her, making Jackie walk the massive residence. Jackie later spent several weeks on bedrest as a result. Jackie's story was sad by circumstance: newborn son Patrick's death, assassination of JFK and widowhood in her early 30s.  I thought Jackie, Betty Ford and Ladybird Johnson seemed to be shown as the most respected First Ladies, followed by the Bush women and Mrs. Clinton. Nancy Reagan seemed like the most difficult of the women. I thought the author's commentary on Michelle Obama was lacking. She basically stated that Michelle never wanted to be a First Lady and that Michelle found her experience to be "too confining."  She did state that Michelle O along with Jackie seemed to be the most protective of their children. Overall, I was happy I listened to the book but as you can tell, I had a few issues with it as well. 
(3.5/5 stars)

The Residence; Kate Anderson Brower 
(Harper Audio) (2015) (Karen White-narrator)

(My Thoughts) - Another entertaining, informative, gossipy look at the private lives of the First Families, from Kennedy to Obama as seen through the eyes of the service staff through their everyday interactions.  The maids, butlers, chefs, painters and more, many of which had over 30 years of employment serving our First Families share their candid observations. This book also could have benefited from a more chronological structure.

A few interesting tidbits - The senior Mr & Mrs Bush were the most liked by the White House staff. They always interacted with staff and made them feel appreciated. The Clinton's and Obamas came across as more private and at times standoffish. Bill Clinton's need for head stitches during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bill claimed he hit his head on a door during the night, while the staff were confident that Hillary hit him with one of the many heavy books from her nightstand.  President Johnson was a tyrant and treated the staff terribly. He demanded an elaborate shower that required all new plumbing to get it just the way he wanted it. His wife Ladybird was kind and well respected. Nancy Reagan was so quirky and annoying  and known for her outbursts when things didn't go a certain way. Young Jackie Kennedy's story was just so sad because of circumstance yet she always treated the staff kindly. 

Many significant and even tragic events such as the JFK assassination and 9/11 attack and its aftermath are covered in this book.  Enjoyable read overall (4/5 stars)

Current Reads

Ill Will; Dan Chaon                                                                  
Ballentine Books - 2017  

 Books for the Living; Will Schwalbe
Random House Audio - 2016

Enjoy Your Weekend Everyone!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Among the Lesser Gods; Margo Catts

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros sharing the first paragraph, maybe two, of a book that I'm reading or plan to read soon.  (I actually started this one yesterday and am enjoying it).

Arcade Publishing - 2017


"I wasn't thinking about rescue when my grandmother's letter came.  Nothing in my life had given me reason to expect divine giveaways, and I certainly didn't deserve any.  No, to be honest, I was  thinking about a nap.

I'd started out well. Made an effort to tackle the day or shape my destiny or whatever useless crap the placement office motivational posters said would fix everything.  I really had--went to campus, checked in at the job board again, added my name to the Physics Rules! advertisement list to show my availability tutor. Again. For another week."

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 above.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Books Read - Week in Review - 3/4/2017


Lion is one of those movies that would be difficult for viewers not to be moved by in some way.  I found the beginning especially sad.  Based on a true story of Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family at the age of five. The movie begins with his tragic separation and later his quest to find his real family over a period of 25plus years. The young boy part was played by Sunny Pawer, who was just incredible as was the adult role played by Dev Patel.  Nicole Kidman plays his adoptive Aussie mother (she was excellent as well). (Must See)

BOOKS READ (this week)

Behind Closed Doors; BA Paris
St Martins Press - (eGalley) 2016
Audio (library) - Macmillan (Narrator Georgia Maguire - very good)

(My Thoughts) - Who hasn't met what seems to be that perfect couple, they have money, looks and class. Jack is a successful lawyer and Grace a stay at home wife, gardener and protector of her disable sister.  The couple seems to love to entertain but it's not easy to get Grace away from Jack, to get to know her better, in fact it's impossible. Although still newlyweds, Jack has taken total control over Grace and she doesn't get to leave the shuttered, gated house with tall shrubbery that Jack has purchased for her.  Unless she is with him, she is a prisoner in her own home, no cell phone or means of communication unless Jack is in earshot.  Jack is seriously disturbed and as the plot unfolds things take a very bizarre and sadistic turn.  The audio book was well done but disturbing to listen to at times. This debut, psychological thriller will disturb some readers but, I found it difficult to put down. (4/5 stars)

Everything Happens Today; Jesse Browner
Europa Editions - 2011
(Print edition - my shelves)

(My Thoughts) - Wes is the lovable, seventeen year old protagonist of this novel. He attends the prestigious Dalton school in Manhattan.  Wes is there on scholarship and lives in a run down house in Greenwich Village with he terminally ill mother, a father who brings his girlfriend home, and his younger sister Nora, who he is very protective of. As the novel begins we learn that Wes has lost his virginity to the wrong girl and is sure he has ruined his life. In addition he has a major assignment on War and Peace due on Monday and he wants to cook a special meal in hopes of having all of his family together and happy.

What a delightful read and protagonist you'll root for. The entire novel takes place in a single day and since Wes is a literary lover, the novel has loads of literary references, some serving as metaphors for the things he is dealing with. There's some touching scenes when he spends time caring for and talking with his ailing mother which really moved me. I loved Wes and think this novel will stay with me for a while.  (4.5/5 stars)

Agnes; Peter Stamm
Other Press - 2016 - translated from the German)
(review copy)

(My Thoughts) - I read this novella in a few hours but, it took me a while to sort through my thoughts.  We learn immediately that the title character, Agnes, has been "killed by a story".  Our unnamed narrator, meets Agnes in the Chicago Public Library.  The narrator is a failed writer who has been trying to write a book about locomotives. He is cold, aloof and unlikable, but, from the time he sees Agnes, he is attracted to her. Agnes is working on a research project and suffers from an anxiety disorder and seems obsessed with death. Before long the two begin a relationship. Since the narrator (first person) is cool and unexpressive, Agnes asks him to write a story about her so she knows what he thinks of her. Each has different memories of what has occurred in their relationship and he, in turn, writes how he sees her life playing out. The ending is somewhat vague, and left open to interpretation IMO, but, for me that was okay as I really liked this odd little offering -- lots of interesting excerpts to ponder. Somewhat haunting; very different (4/5 stars)

What I'm Reading 
(listening to now)

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies; Kate Anderson Brower
Harper Audio - 2017 (Read by Karen White - very good)

Have a Great Weekend All!