Friday, November 30, 2018

November in Review

November was busy month and although I read (14) books, (7) were children's books, a much easier and oftentimes, an even more enjoyable experience.

My favorite books for the month were:

November - (14) books: (7) were kids books (1) audio / (12) print (1) eBook
YTD - 2018 - 111
  1. In Pieces; Sally Field NF (personal copy) - 4/5 (Nov/2018)
  2. Strike Your Heart; Amelie Nothomb  (library) - 5/5 (Nov/2018)
  3. There's a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor; Wade Bradford (personal copy) - 5/5 (Nov/2018)
  4. Heads and Tails; John Canty (personal copy) 5/5 (Nov/2018)
  5. Anne of Green Gables; L.M. Montgomery - (personal copy) 4.5/5 (Nov/2018)
  6. Vox; Christina Dalcher (library) - 4/5 (Nov/2018)
  7. OK Mr. Field; Katherine Kilalea - (library) - 2.5/5 (Nov/2018)
  8. Red & Lulu; Matt Taveres - personal copy 5/5 (Nov/2018)
  9. Coming Home; Kerry Hyndman - personal copy 4/5 (Nov/2018)
  10. Little Christmas Tree; Jessica Courtney-Tickle - personal copy - 5/5 (Nov/2018)
  11. The Christmas Eve Tree; Delia Huddy - personal copy - 4/5 (Nov/2018)
  12. Elevation; Stephen King - library - 4/5 (Nov/2018)
  13. The Mars Room; Rachel Kushner - library audio - 4/5 (Nov/2018)
  14. The Swans of 5th Avenue; Melanie Benjamin - book group read - 4/5 (Nov/2018)
December Reading Plans (definites -- I hope)

How did your month go? Any reading plans for December?

The Mars Room; Rachel Kushner

AUTHOR: Rachel Kushner
PUBLISHER: Simon and Schuster Audio
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - library download
RATING: 4/5 stars

The Mars Room is a fictional look at women in prison. The central character, Romy Hall is 29 year old white woman, serving two consecutive life terms at Stanville Women's Correctional Facility in California. Romy had worked at a strip club called "The Mar's Room" as a lap dancer but, after she attacked a stalker and killed him her life behind bars, shut off from the outside world, becomes her new normal.

The story follows Romy from her bus ride to prison and bit by bit we learn of her backstory and sad childhood.  There were a few story lines that I wish were explored in more depth but, it was evident the author did a lot of research on the California Penal system.  Although this book was a work a fiction, it makes you understand just why our criminal justice system needs to be reformed.

The story is raw and gritty to the point that there were a couple of times I needed to skip ahead with the audio version. Although I thought the book was well done overall, I wasn't a fan of author/narrator's performance. (I'd recommend the print version if you are considering this one).

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Witch Elm; Tana French

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.

The Witch Elm; Tana French
Viking - 2018


"I've always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person.  I don't mean I'm one of those people who pick multi-million euro lotto numbers on a whim, or show up seconds too late for flights that go on to crash with no survivors.  I just mean that I managed to go through life without any of the standard misfortunes you hear about.  I wasn't abused as a kid, or bullied in school; my parents didn't split up or die or have addition problems or even get into any but the most trivial arguments; none of my girlfriends ever cheated on me, at least as far as I know, or dumped me in traumatic ways; I never got hit by a car or caught anything worse than chicken pox or even had to wear braces.  Not that I spent much time thinking about this, but when it occurred to me, it was with a satisfying sense that everything was going exactly as it should."

What  do you think? Read more or pass?

Monday, November 26, 2018

Elevation; Stephen King

AUTHOR: Stephen King
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - library
RATING: 4/5 stars

Something is wrong with Scott Carey, divorced white male with a cat named Bill. He's steadily losing weight, even though you'd never know it by looking at him.  No matter how much he eats or how heavy his clothes are, when he gets on the scale his weight continues downward.  Even his retired doctor friend can't figure out what is going on. At this rate, soon there will be nothing left of him -- yes, he could be weightless.

In Scott's town of Castle Rock, Maine, there's something else going on as well. The locals are not tolerant of people who seem different. In this case it's Dee Dee and Missy, the married couple who just opened a new Mexican restaurant in town. The locals are avoiding the place and the couple's livelihood is being threatened. When Scott tries to befriend the women to show them that not everyone is trying to drive them out of town, his act of kindness has a profound impact.

A short, hopeful story (just 146 pages) - certainly not perfect but I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

(4) adorable Christmas Books for kids from Candlewick Press

Red and Lulu; Matt Tavares
Candlewick - 2017

Such a lovely Christmas story featuring two gorgeous cardinals who lived a happy life in a bog evergreen. It was a tree that sheltered them from the elements in all kinds of weather.  For Christmas, people even decorated their tree and sang songs there as well.

One day the huge tree was cut down and hauled off in a big truck; the cardinals were frantic. They flew fast but couldn't keep up and, soon found themselves in an unfamiliar place.  Their tree had found a new home where people come to sing as well -- Rockefeller Center in New York.

Gorgeous, vibrant illustrations, sweet story and a history of the Rockefeller Tree tradition as well -- Loved this sweet book.

Coming Home; Michael Morpurgo

Beautiful birds and Christmas just seem to be the perfect combination.  A beautiful red breasted robin braves the weather in hopes of returning home to his mate in time for Christmas.

Beautifully illustrated, somewhat poetic story that adults will appreciate reading to little ones. I do think early readers 6+ might be a bit frustrated trying to read and understand this one fully on their own. It is a lovely book though.

Little Christmas Tree; Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Big Picture Press - Candlewick - 2018

The Little Christmas Tree is the story of a lonesome Christmas tree with is slowly transformed into a thing of beauty.   A lovely, tall board book with little lift up flaps that hide elements of nature and colorful creatures everywhere. This is not your average board book, it's special: beautiful illustrations and design - a definite keeper.

 The Christmas Eve Tree; Delia Huddy
Candlewick - 2018

In this Christmas story a young homeless boy rescues a crooked, carelessly planted tree that no one wanted and was about to be discarded. He takes the tree to where he has been living, under a bridge, and decorates it, and an unexpected magical Christmas Eve is enjoyed by many. When Christmas is over the tree gets planted and lives on. The boy, now a young man, returns and admires the tree.  

This is a hopeful story. What starts out very sad, ends with a sense that the homeless boy is doing well as a young man.  This is a story that will take some discussion between adult and child as it might not be totally obvious how to interpret the ending from the final illustration.  I liked the old-fashioned illustrations and the beautiful surprise pop up as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Elevation; Stephen King

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.

Elevation; Stephen King
Scribner - 2018

Chapter 1

Losing Weight

"Scott Carey knocked on the door of the Ellis condo unit, and Bob Ellis (everyone in Highland Acres still called him Doctor Bob, although he was five years retired) let him in.  Well, Scott, here you are.  Ten on the dot. Now what can I do for you?

Scott was a big man, six-feet-four in his stocking feet, with a bit of a belly growing in front. I'm not sure. Probably nothing, but... I have a problem. I hope not a big one, but it might be.

What do you think?  (It's just 146 pages instead of the heavy tome King generally writes.)

Monday, November 19, 2018

OK Mr. Field; Katherine Kilalea and Anne of Green Gables; L.M. MontgomeryGables

 Anne of Green Gables; L.M. Montgomery
Modern Publishing - 2001

I can't believe I never read Anne of Green Gables until now, but as they saying goes - "better late than never". 

Set in Avonlea, Canada, it's very sweet story about an orphan girl who wants a family of her own.  Adopted at the age of eleven by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, older siblings who actually thought they were adopting a young boy that would be able to help out on the farm.  At first they are not sure how to deal with a young girl in the household.

Anne turns out to be a joy, the bright spot in the lives of all she meets. Happy, adventurous, smart and spirited, her enthusiasm for life is just so uplifting.  Of course, there is drama and at times her new family isn't sure how to handle various issues that pop up. I great story that shows us the importance of love, friendship and family.  (Hope to read the entire series in 2019).

OK Mr. Field; Katherine Kilalea
Crown Publishing - 2018

When Mr. Field (no first name), a British concert pianist injures his wrist in an accident, he is no longer able to perform.  He decides on a change of scene, moving to to Cape Town, South Africa and a house on the beach with his wife Mim, might be just the thing to make him happier. The move, however, seems to have the reverse effect. When his wife leaves him after just a few weeks, things go from bad to worse for Mr. Field.

This was a short novel, just over 200 pages.  I kept waiting for something to happen to Mr. Field but, it never really does. The story was almost a dream-like, series of happenings, watching his life slowly unravel.  This was a debut novel and the writing was actually pretty good. I'm just not having much luck with stream of consciousness fiction these days.  

Vox, Christina Dalcher

AUTHOR: Christina Dalcher
PUBLISHER: Europa Editions
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - library
RATING: 4/5 stars

Vox is a sometimes chilling look at women in America in the not too distant future.  It's an America where women are silenced by an electrical shock if they utter more than 100 words a day. They can no longer work or even have a bank account. Then it gets even more terrible, when young girls are no longer taught to read. How can this be happening?

It all comes about as a result when a misogynistic president and government officials begin to fit women and young girls with bracelets that send powerful electric shocks if they exceed the 100 word a day limit. If they break the law, they are faced to labor as prisoners. 

The story is told by Dr. Jean McClellan, a former cognitive linguist who was sent home, no longer to work outside the home, once the new Pure Movement took off.

Although our current President's name is never mentioned, the inference is there - the first totalitarian president, elected after the first black president.  

I liked the initial set up of this novel with the formation of the Pure Movement more than how it all played out. It makes you realize how important it is to speak up and let your voice be heard. This would be a good book group discussion choice as well. 

An entertaining novel that makes you think - just what if?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A few cute Kids Books from Candlewick Press

2018 - Candlewick Press (Kevin Hawkes - illustrator)

Will Mr. Snore ever find just the right hotel room at the busy Sharemore Hotel, to get some much needed sleep?

A funny story, full of comic relief, laugh out loud moments as Mr. Snore seems to find a problem with every room he tries on the various floors of the Sharemore Hotel.  The ending is so darn cute that most kids will want to read this one over and over again. The illustrations are clever and fun as well. Unique and fun!

Heads and Tails; John Canty
2018 - Candlewick Press

Does the special kiddo in your life love animals and guessing games? If so, this fun book is a must read.  On one page there are clues about a particular animal  -- what it looks like, where it lives etc. and just part of a picture of the animal.  Turn the page and in large letters the animal is identified as well as a very large picture of the animal. There are some 14 different animals to keep the kiddos guessing. The illustrations are terrific as well.

Curious little children who love animals will enjoy reading or having this unique book read over and over again.  Each will enjoy showing off their animal knowledge as well. Loved it!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Strike Your Heart; Amelie Nothomb

AUTHOR: Amelie Nothomb
PUBLISHER: Europa Editions
PUB. YEAR: 2018
SETTING:  France (small town)
FORMAT:  - library
RATING: 5/5 stars

"Strike Your Heart" - that's where genius lies -- Alfred de Musset

Diana is the firstborn, one of 3 children born to Marie and her pharmacist husband.  Marie was used to being the pretty girl everyone envied, but when she became pregnant at 20 with Diana, she wasn't expecting how much her life would change.  After Diana was born, she becomes the center of attention and, Marie's jealousy causes her to shun her infant daughter and become a cold, distant mother.  This behavior by Marie was even more evident after the birth of the other two children: Nicholas and Celia. On the contrary, she begins a new pattern of obsessive love over Celia, the youngest child.

I loved this quote --

"Before long Nicholas, too, realized something was wrong. His mother went on loving him but there would be no comparison with the transports of love she experienced with Celia.  When he saw Diana was seeking grandmotherly asylum, he told his older sister that he would stay at home to stop Maman from eating Celia as if she were some coconut cake."

But, this story is really about Diana, who grew up with grandparents and later when they are killed in a car crash, living in with her friend Elisabeth's family. Later as Diane pursues med school in the hopes of becoming a cardiologist, she meets an assistant professor, Olivia Aubusson who in many ways reminds her of her own mother in the way Olivia treats her own daughter Mariel.

I love stories about complex mother-daughter relationships. It's difficult to say too much for about this slim, gem of a novel (just 135 pages). It packs a punch.  Easily read in one sitting, this story is one that will surely stick with me; it's brilliant. Try it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In Pieces; Sally Field

TITLE: In Pieces
AUTHOR: Sally Field
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing
PUB. YEAR: 2018
FORMAT:  - hardcover/personal copy
RATING: 4/5 stars

I always liked Sally Field and can recall looking forward to watching Gidget and later the Flying Nun in my room on my black and white portable television in the late 60's. Her memoir, In Pieces, was enjoyable. 

 (My review contains some SPOILERS so please skip if you plan to read this one).

Sally was born in 1946, her parents separated when she was just 3 years old. She and her brother were raised by women in the early years: mother, grandmother, great aunt and great grandmother. Her mother, Margaret Morlan was also an actress. I thought her mother came across as accessible but, emotionally absent from her life.  

Sally was sexually abused by her stepfather, Jack Mahoney, an actor and stuntman, but, she never told her mother when it was happening. She talks about her relationship with Burt Reynolds, personal and professional, her (2) failed marriages - although not much is said about her second husband, Alan Greisman.

The memoir pretty much covers the first 30 years of her life with lots of details about her acting career and the self-doubt that seemed to haunt her thought her life, which seemed to be best attributed to the complex relationship she had with her mother, who passed away when Sally was 65. I thought the ending was a bit rushed and although I really liked this book, I do wish there was a bit more detail about the second 30 years of her life as well.

Where the Crawdads Sing; Delia Owens

G.P Putnam - 2018

AUTHOR: Delia Owens
PUB. YEAR: 2018
SETTING:  North Carolina
FORMAT:  - library
RATING: 5/5 stars

Catherine Clark (Kya)  as the youngest child of 5 who grew up in a dysfunctional home in a rural area of North Carolina. When "Ma" took off one day, one by one Kya's older siblings followed suit. At the age of 10, Kya finds herself alone with her alcoholic and abusive father.   Kay is smart and fearless but, illiterate and lonely as well.  She is shunned by many as she is wild looking and dirty and her time in the classroom is short-lived. She soon becomes known as the "Marsh Girl", spending long days there exploring. Her father leaves for long periods of time and when one day he fails to return home, Kya finds herself on her own without any money. For her, the marsh lands soon becomes her home.

In 1969 when the body of Chase Andrews, a well-known, star quarterback is found along the marsh, Kya becomes a suspect in his death.

The story is told in two timelines; 1952 and 1969. An addictive, coming of age story,  love story and mystery.  The writing is beautifully descriptive. The Kya character is both heartbreaking and resilient to read about. I loved the way that the suspense built, ending in a way that I wasn't expecting. This is truly a wonderful debut novel, worthy of all the positive buzz it's received.  The author is a wildlife scientist and her love of nature shows in this well-written novel. This would be a terrific book for book club discussions.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - What We Owe; Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde

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.

What We Owe; Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde
Mariner Books - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - 2018

"I'VE ALWAYS CARRIED MY DEATH WITH ME. Perhaps saying so is trite, an observation the dying always make.  But I'm not like other people, in this as in everything else, or so I like to believe.  And, I do believe it, truly. I said as much when Masood died.  Our time was always borrowed. We weren't suppose to be alive.  We should have died in the revolution.  In its aftermath. In the war. But I was given thirty more years.  More than half my life.  It's a considerable length of time, something to be grateful for.  The same length of time, something to be grateful for.  The same length as my daughter's life. Yes, that's one way to see it.  I was allowed to create her.  But she didn't need me this long.  No one did. You think because you are a parent, you're needed.  It's not true.  People find a way to get by.  Who says I was worth more than the trouble I caused?  I don't believe it.  I'm not the type who gives more than I take.  I should be.  I'm a mother, after all.  It's my job to bear the weight, bear it for others. But I never have, not for anyone."

What do you think?  It's a translated work but, I decided to try this one after reading several favorable reviews. I'll be starting it this week.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

R.I.P. Buddy (2002 - 2018)

The day we very much dreaded came yesterday - Tuesday, November 6th.  We made the difficult decision to let our sweet boy pass on. His breathing had become labored and needed oxygen. We learned that he was in congestive heart failure with fluid accumulating in his lungs.

Once we were a family of (5) cats, all but one acquired as kittens. Now we have none (for me, a first in 36 years.)

How lucky we were to have a cat that made letting him go so hard

Buddy came into our lives in September of 2002, adopted from a shelter in Rhode Island.  He was about 3 months old and joined our household with (3) other cats at the time. He spent the first 6 years of his life as an indoor/outdoor cat but, when we moved to a new home in 2008, all of our cats became indoor only.

Buddy was alway a bit insecure and never fond of strangers.  As he got older, he became more of a lap cat than ever and a silent reading companion I could always count on. After losing one cat in 2/2017 and another in 10/2017,  he became the only cat left and very needy, always wanting to be near us and protesting a bit when we went out, he learned to make us feel guilty. He counted on me to share my cheerios & milk and oatmeal with him. He was a cat that always looked at me with such loving, soulful eyes, summoning me to bed around the same time each night. A cat who left a huge void in now my aching heart. Buddy, you were loved and will not be forgotten. Thank you for 16.5 years of happiness.

 Run free my special boy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Strike Your Heart; Amelie Nothomb

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.

Strike Your Heart; Amelie Nothomb
Europa Edition- 2018

"Marie liked her name. It wasn't as ordinary as one might think; it gave her everything she wanted.  When she told people her name was Marie, it had a certain effect. 'Marie,' people would echo, charmed.

The name alone was not enough to explain her success. She knew she was pretty, Tall, with a good figure, her face lit with blond radiance: she did not leave people indifferent.  In Paris she might have gone unnoticed, but she lived in a town that was far enough away from the capital not to be considered a suburb.  She had always lived there, and everyone knew her."

This intro might not WOW you, but, this short novel was incredible. I picked it up yesterday and read it in one sitting. Beautiful writing and haunting story about the lasting impact of mother-daughter bond, or in this case, the lack of that bond.