Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July in Review - Books and Movies

As one of those people who believes summer ends with Labor Day, it's hard for me to believe we only have one more month of summer, but, I should not complain after seeing all the CA fire devastation -- so sad.  We managed to make the best of the of often hot, humid and rainy weather we experienced in July.  We just got back from a little getaway to Hanover, NH, Home of Dartmouth College (founded in 1769). Hanover, NH is also home to a favorite author, Jodi Picoult.  We had fun touring Dartmouth -- what lovely grounds and the array of gorgeous buildings typically found at these Ivy League schools. We loved the quaint town with fun shops and food stops.

In July, I finished 9 books (4) audio (4) print and (1) ebook, for a total of 59 YTD.  I need to play catch up with some mini reviews over the next week, but here are the completed books and ratings (some with links to the book/overview itself). 

 I/We also watched 7 movies - Curious? (see below)

  1. The Hand Maid's Tale; Margaret Atwood (REREAD/audio) - 4.5/5 - July/2018
  2. 84, Charing Cross Road; Helene Hanff (library) - 5/5 - July 2018
  3. Tin Man; Sarah Winman (library) - 3/5 - July/2018
  4. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership; James Comey (audio) - 5/5 - July/2018
  5. Beartown; Fredrik Backman (print) - 4/5 - July/2018
  6. Moon Glow; Michael Chabon (book group) - 2/5 - July/2018 -  (Our Book Group 12/13 really disliked this book, many did not even finish it)
  7. The Ones We Choose; Julie Clark (eGalley) - 4.5/5 - July/2018
  8. Educated: a memoir; Tara Westover (audio) - 4/5 - July/2018
  9. The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump (NF); Michiko Katutani (audio) - 4.5/5 - July-2018

My Movie Ratings

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Visible Empire; Hannah Pittard

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book that they are reading or plan to read. 

Visible Empire; Hannah Pittard
Houghton, Mifflin & Harcourt - 2018


"In the first few hours, confusion.

The numbers kept changing.  The French were saying 121 dead, which meant--according to the manifest--there must be 11 alive.  But New York--how could they have known more than Paris?  more than Atlanta? --New York was insisting on 130: the French hadn't included their own countrymen--9 dead, 2 alive--in an initial count.  They hadn't thought the U.S. would care. We had our own numbers to deal with, or so their logic went."

What are you thoughts based on the intro?  I haven't started this one yet as I have 2 other books to finish first but, I'll begin it soon.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership; James Comey

Macmillan Audio - 2018

A Higher Loyalty: Truth Lies and Leadership was a fantastic memoir, narrated by James Comey.  The memoir, spanning Comey's childhood to his post FBI days was not a bashing of the current political climate, rather more of a look back at Comey's life, his values and commitment to ethical leadership.  Fired in May of 2017 by the current President, Comey is often self-critical when he talks about his life and his career. It is clear, above all else, truth, integrity and respect for others were not just words for Comey, he lived by these values.

Much of this memoir was an eye opener. He was bullied as a child, the victim of an armed home invasion and, we are also given insight to his early work ethic, college days, marriage, family as well as all of the key cases he was involved in throughout his career.

I was so impressed by Comey's writing and the book overall. I wasn't exactly sure how I would react to this book, hoping that it would not be strictly political -- it was not.  We listened to the audio on a recent road trip and it was fantastic. It's a memoir that actually made me tear up on one occasion and, even my husband thought it was one of the best memoirs he's experienced. The book is narrated by James Comey, his voice very pleasing and sincere.  I highly recommend this book!

Note: As a side note, James Comey's baby brother, Chris is a wonderful neurosurgeon who we feel saved the life of a family member, to Chris we are grateful.

Rating - 5/5 stars

Friday, July 20, 2018

Tin Man; Sarah Winman

Tin Man; Sarah Winman
GP Putnam - 2018

I decided to read this book after several reviewers mentioned the beautiful writing.

The story begins in the 1950's with Dora Judd in what seems to be a very unhappy marriage to Leonard. Unfulfilled with her life in general, a newly acquired Van Gogh print of "sunflowers" that she claims she won in a raffle, is the one thing that means the world to her.

Ellis and Michael were just 12 years old when they became friends in Oxford, both boys had domineering fathers.  What begins as friendships grows into something more but, their lives move in different directions.

Fast forward to 1996 and Ellis is a conflicted man who works at the Crowley car plant, he is now married to Annie and prone to periods of sadness. He often thinks about his boyhood friend Michael. As the story progresses the reader learns what happened to the people who meant the most to Ellis.

Based on the reviews I've come across, I'm probably in the minority here, but I had a hard time finishing this book. Yes, the writing was very good,  but often felt too melancholy and over done at times as well.  So overall, this one just wasn't for me and left me disappointed.

Rating - 3/5 stars

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Once again - The Handmaid's Tale; Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale; Margaret Atwood
read by Claire Danes (excellent)

I first read this book back in January of 2010, but since everyone seems to be talking about the television series or the book lately, I decided to try it again, but this time on audio -- read by Claire Danes (who did an awesome job). Once again, I really enjoyed this book, which is clearly outside of the kinds of books I am normally drawn to -- happy reading surprise.  Below is my review from 2010.

Margaret Atwood's, The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead, formerly the US, a place now run by a conservative Christian dictatorship.  It is here where the men are in charge, everyone is being watched over, and all offenders of ANY laws are prosecuted.

The narrator, thirty-three year old Offred, is a "handmaid". (a handmaid is a fertile woman whose life is one of isolation. She is forbidden associations with other men or friendships with other women). Previously, Offred enjoyed life with her husband and child. She use to have her own job, own money, and own interests.  Since she is presumed fertile, the new leadership has taken away her child, her money and she is being offered to the Commander of the government as a "handmaid" for the purpose of being him a child.  With birthrates declining dramatically, women are prized only for their fertility and their ability to reproduce. They are forbidden to work, own property or even to (GASP) read. If no baby is produced within two years these "handmaids" are sent to colonies for "unwomen".

MY THOUGHTS - Can you imagine such a scary thought -- women being stripped of their identity and having their existence justified by their ability to breed? Without giving away too much of the plot, I'll just say that there is even a monthly "ceremony" ritual that made me scratch my head in disbelief. How about a repressive society where order is maintained by terrorizing its people?  A chilling, but thought provoking read that drew me in from the very first page. I did not expect to enjoy this book, however by the end I was amazed at what an effect this book had on me.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

I haven't seen the television series yet, have you? If so what did you think?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Kinship of Clover; Ellen Meeropol

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book that they are reading or plan to read. 

Kinship of Clover; Ellen Meeropol
Red Hen Press - 2017

Chapter One

"The first time Jeremy saw the plants go crazy was at the cat's funeral, held in the family greenhouse crowded with teas and herbs and medicine-plants growing in pots and flats, their vines spiraling up wooden stakes against the walls. The air was earthy and moist and candles--dozens of them, hundreds maybe--shimmered and the plants danced in the flickering."

What are your thoughts on this intro? I can't wait to begin this one. The reviews seem very positive.

Monday, July 16, 2018

84, Charing Cross Road; Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road; Helene Hanff
Penguin - 1970

This book was such a lovely, charming and even sometimes funny memoir. A story that began with a simple letter inquiring about the availability of some used books.  Helene Hanff lived in New York City and worked as a freelance writer, she initiates a book inquiry letter. Frank Doel, is a proper Englishman who managed a used book store, 84, Charing Cross Road in London, the bookstore where Helene's first letter is sent. 

Helene and Frank never meet but correspond for over 20 years. Initially their letters seem to be mostly about books, but as the years go by the letters begin cover a variety of topics.  Where Helene is often witty, Frank is generally serious and proper. It was wonderful to see how over the years their letters change and a very special friendship develops. I found the ending unexpected and sad but, I was so happy I finally decided to read this slim gem of a book.

I immediately decided to watch the movie version of this memoir, staring Anthony Hopkins and Ann Bancroft, and, although I did like the movie, I loved the book even more.

Here is a paragraph from of the letters that Helene writes that made me chuckle ---

"Trust you and Nora had a fine holiday. Mine was spent in Central Park, I had a month's vacation from Joey, my dear little dentist, he went on his honeymoon.  I financed the honeymoon. Did I tell you he told me last spring I had to have all of my teeth capped or all of my teeth out?  I decided to have them capped as I have got used to having teeth. But the cost is simply astronomical.  So Elizabeth will have to ascend the throne without me, teeth are all I'm going to see crowned for the next couple of years."

Have you read this book or watched the movie?

Rating - 5/5 stars

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Tin Man; Sarah Winman

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book that they are reading or plan to read. 

Tin Man; Sarah Winman
GP Putnam - 2017


"All Dora Judd ever told anyone about that night three weeks before Christmas was that she won the painting in a raffle.

She remembered being out in the back garden, as lights from the Crowley Car Plant spilled across the darkening sky, smoking her last cigarette, thinking there must be more to life."

This book is just 213 pages and, although I've only read a few pages, I'm really enjoying the writing. What do you think, pass or read more.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBI; David Grann

David Grann - Penguin Random House - 2017

In the 1870's the US government drove the Osage Indian tribe off their land to a small reservation in Oklahoma. 

Fast forward to 1920 and the Osage were some of the richest people in the world once oil was discovered on their land.  However, it wasn't long before members of the tribe were ending up dead. Some had been poisoned, murdered and others dead under mysterious circumstances.  Those who attempted to investigate also found their lives cut short. When over 20 members were killed, the newly formed FBI took matters into their own hands. The FBI uncovered until a conspiracy of vast proportion which revealed coverups, greed and other injustices done to members of the Osage tribe.

A moving, chilling, eye opening, well-written story that will stick with. The audio book was well done and narrated by Will Patton..

Rating - 4/5 stars

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Chalk Man; Tudor and The Outsider; King - a couple of creepy reads - mini reviews

 The Chalk Man; CJ Tudor
Crown and Random House Audio - 2018

I wasn't actually sure what to expect when I first started listening and also reading this book but, it wasn't long before it started to feel like a story Stephen King might write.  It had a small town setting, gritty, some nail biting moments and even a bit a horror.

The story begins in 1986 and follows Eddie Adams and his buddies as a young boys when the gang would draw chalk figures leading others to a particular location.  One day someone else leaves an unrecognized chalk figure drawing leading to a body in the woods.  Fast forward 30 years with the guys now in their 40's, when a letter arrives with a chalk figure drawing. The letter arrives while one friend is visiting another to work on a book about that terrible year, 1986. When a friend ends up dead with a chalk figure drawing attached to the body, finding the identity of the "chalk man" killer is critical.

The story alternates between flashbacks of 1986 and the present day, the characters are great, a nice dose of creepy and enough twists that led to an ending that I didn't expect.  This was a nice surprise by a new to me author, it's worth reading or listening  to for fans of creep fiction.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars
(eGalley and Audio)

The Outsider; Stephen King
Scribner - 2018

In this 58th King novel in the last 44 years, a young 11 year old boy is found brutally murdered. All evidence seems to be leading to Terry Maitland, an English teacher and youth sports coach.  Terry is a well respected, family man who seems like an unlikely suspect but, the evidence against him is strong.  Yet, there is one opposing piece of evidence that seems to contradict all the other facts that have been gathered including DNA.  How can this be? Has Terry been living a lie?

I loved the first half of this 500+ page novel. I also liked that the strong central characters from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy reappeared in this book.  I found myself quickly turning pages and thinking that King plot style was about to change and soften a bit but, then by the second half the old King style had returned with some blood, gore and supernatural elements at work.  I should have known better.  I loved the set up, the small town mystery elements and the characters but, I ended up a bit disappointed by the end -- don't get me wrong it was still worth reading just headed into territory I wasn't expecting.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy 4th of July and a few short book reviews

Wishing everyone a peaceful day!

Right Behind You; Lisa Gardner
(Book #7 of the Quincy and Rainie Series)
Brilliance Audio - 2017

The story begins with when Sharlah May Nash was just 5 years old and living with her older brother Telly Ray and their alcoholic and drug abusing parents.  One terrible night, in an attempt to protect his little sister, the parents end up dead and the siblings separated in foster care.

Now 13, Sharlah is about to be adopted by FBI profilers Quincy & wife Raine, and the brother Sharlah hasn't seen is 8 years is on the run after he is wanted for questioning for the deaths of his foster parents and some store clerks.

While Quincy & Rainie try to protect Sharlah from harm, they try to piece together what has happened in the last 8 years to Telly.

Although this was book #7 of a series, it wasn't necessary to read the previous books to enjoy this one. There were good plot twists and it was a fun story to listen to on a recent road trip.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

 The Banker's Wife; Christina Alger
GP Putnam & Sons - 2018

A private plane carrying Swiss United banker, Matthew Weiner and his assistant crashes as they fly to Geneva.  He leaves behind his young widow, Annabel whose life soon turns chaotic when it appears she is being followed.  As Annabel delves deeper into Michael's business she soon realizes that that her life might just be in danger.

Back in New York, Marina is engaged to the grandson of a presidential candidate and, although she planned to stop working as a journalist, the unexpected death of her mentor makes her want to find out more.

Readers who enjoy political intrigue, international conspiracy and mystery might want to try this one.

Rating - 3.5/5 stars

The Waiting Room; Emily Bleeker
Lake Union Publishing - 2018

Veronica Shelton is a children's book illustrator now suffering from postpartum depression. She hasn't even been able to hold her baby for the last 6 months so her mother has taken on that role.  She's in therapy as she's also dealing with the loss of her husband.

As things seem to be improving slightly, her infant daughter goes missing and Veronica becomes the prime suspect.

This is a story that hooked me immediately but, soon began to feel like just another story with an unstable, unreliable narrator.  I do think that readers who like twisty, psychological fiction might want to try this as it was a very quick read.

Rating - 3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Moonglow; Michael Chabon

Each Tuesday, Vicki, from I’d Rather Be At The Beach hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where  readers post the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book that they are reading or plan to read. 

Moonglow; Michael Chabon
Harper Collins - 2016


"This is how I heard the story.  When Alger Hiss got out of prison, he had a hard time finding a job.  He was a graduate of Harvard Law School, had clerked for Oliver Wendell Holmes and helped charted the United Nations, yet he was also a convicted perjurer and notorious as a tool of international communism.  He had published a memoir, but it was dull stuff and no one wanted to read it.  His wife had left him. He was broke and hopeless. In the end one of his remaining friends took pity on the bastard and pulled a string.  Hiss was hired by a New York firm that manufactured and sold a kind of fancy barrette made from loops of piano wire.  Feather combs, Inc., had gotten off to a good start but had come under attack from a big competitor that copied its designs, infringed on its trademarks, and undercut its pricing.  Sales had dwindled.  Payroll was tight. In order to make room for Hiss, somebody had to be let go."

This one is a book group read for July. What do you think?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Month in Review _ Goodbye June

June was a busy month in general and yet, still a good month for reading. I finished (9) books in June, making this (49) books for the first half of 2018. 

Books Read in June (reviews coming soon - I hope)
  1. The Great Alone; Kristin Hannah (audio) 4.5/5 - June/June 2018
  2. The Little Clan; Iris Martin Cohen (ARC) 3.5/5 - June/2018
  3. Saving Cee Cee Honeycut; Beth Hoffman - 4/5 - June 2018 (reread-book group)
  4. The Banker's Wife; Christina Alger - (eGalley) 3.5/5 June 2018
  5. Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI; David Grann - 4/5 (audio) June/2018
  6. Right Behind You; Lisa Gardner - 4.5/5 (audio) - June/2018
  7. The Outsider; Stephen King (print/library) - 4/5 June 2018
  8. The Chalk Man; C.J. Tudor (audio) 4/5 June/2018
  9. The Waiting Room; Emily Bleeker (eGalley) 3.5/5
New Book Arrivals
  1. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock; Imogen Hermes Gowar (sent by Penguin UK)
  2. The Great Believers; Rebecca Makkai (sent by Viking)
  3. Sweet Little Lies; Caz Frear (Zaffre Publishing)
  4. Putney; Zafka Zinoieff (sent by Harper)
  5. Go Ask Fannie; Elisabeth Hyde (sent by Amazon Vine - GP Putnam)
  6. Safe Houses;Dan Fesperman (sent by Knopf)
  7. The Myth of Perpetual Summer; Susan Crandall (sent by Gallery Books)
  8. The Long Path to WisdomJan Philipp Sender (sent by Other Press)

In case you missed my post with my summer reading plans, here are the books I hope to complete.
  1. Baby Teeth; Zoje Stage - We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Gone Girl meets The Omen...a twisty, delirious read that will constantly question your sympathies for the two characters as their bond continues to crumble.”―Entertainment Weekly
  2. 84, Charing Cross Road; Helene Haniff - "84, Charing Cross Road will beguile and put you in tune with mankind... It will provide an emollient for the spirit and sheath for the exposed nerve." -- The New York Times
  3. Clock Dance; Anne Tyler - "A bittersweet, hope-filled look at two quirky families that have broken apart and are trying to find their way back to one another . . . The cast of sharply drawn characters dominates in ways both reflective and raucous across a series of emotional events.”
    Publishers Weekly
  4. The Dry; Jane Harper - A small town hides big secrets in The Dry, an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.
  5. The Outsider; Stephen King - An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories. (completed 4/5)
  6. The Other Mother; Carol Goodman -“An atmospheric and harrowing tale, richly literary in complexity but ripe with all the crazed undertones, confusions, and forebodings inherent in the gothic genre. Recommend this riveting, du Maurier–like novel to fans of Jennifer McMahon.” — Booklist (starred review)
  7. Made for Love; Alissa Nutting - From the exciting and provocative writer of Tampa, a poignant, riotously funny story of how far some will go for love—and how far some will go to escape it. 
  8. The House Swap; Rebecca Fleet -" She may not know exactly who is in her house. But she knows why they are there.  A house swap becomes the eerie backdrop to a chilling look inside a broken marriage filled with tantalizing secrets."
  9. Something in the Water; Catherine Steadman - “With unreliable characters, wry voices, exquisite pacing, and a twisting plot, Steadman potently draws upon her acting chops. . . . A darkly glittering gem of a thriller from a new writer to watch.”Kirk's Reviews (starred review)
  10. Moonglow; Michael Chabon - “A wondrous book that celebrates the power of family bonds and the slipperiness of memory….A thoroughly enchanting story about the circuitous path that a life follows, about the accidents that redirect it, and about the secrets that can be felt but never seen, like the dark matter at the center of every family’s cosmos.” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post)
Somebody had a birthday ---

Our youngest granddaughter is now 4
(Where did the time go?)