Sunday, January 30, 2022

Book Review - The Lincoln Highway; Amor Towles

                                                      The Lincoln Highway; Amor Towles 

                                           (Combo read/listen) - Viking - 2021 & Penguin Audio

I spent the better part of last week reading and listening to The Lincoln Highway. This is my third book by Amor Towles and IMO, another winner.  I loved the characters, even most of the minor ones were a joy to hear from.

Set in 1954 the story takes place over the course of ten days.  The story begins with 18 year old Emmett Watson being released early from a one year sentence to a work farm in Kansas for an involuntary manslaughter charge.  It was an unfortunate incident that landed Emmett this sentence. Now back in Nebraska, his father has died so it's just Emmett and his eight year old brother Billy. The boy's mother had abandoned Emmett and Billy years earlier.   With their house foreclosed and a few thousand dollars set aside Emmett and Billy plan to start fresh and head along the Lincoln Highway in Emmett's prized Studebaker. Billy has dreams of finding their mother who always looked forward to 4th of July fireworks in Lincoln Park in CA.

Things don't go exactly as they planned when two of Emmett's work farm inmate buddies: Dutchess and Wooly escape and show up to derail those plans.  I thought the road trip alone was time well spent.

All of the major characters here are looking for new start: Emmett and Billy hope to build a new life together, Dutchess would like to have his own restaurant and Wooly would just like to find peace and happiness.  There are several minor characters who left an impression as well (both good and bad) : Sally, a spunky next door neighbor, Ulysses a WWII veteran, the unsavory Pastor John and Professor Abernathe.  The story is told in multiple POVs which really helped to shed light on the past of each character.  I was especially fond of Emmett and Billy.  I admired Emmetts fierce concern and devotion to his smart, intense eight year old brother Billy; Billy won my heart as well. I found the ending both heartbreaking yet hopeful.  Highly recommended.

The audio book production was excellent with a full cast:  Edoardo Ballerini, Dion Graham and Marin Ireland. Although in general I like Marin Ireland as a narrator, I found her slightly annoying in the role of Sally.  This was a combo read/listen - about a 50/50 split.

Here are a few quotes I noted:.

Quotes -

 "Wouldn't it been wonderful if everybody's life was a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Then no one person's life would be an inconvenience to anyone else's.  It would just fit snugly in its very own, specially designed spot, and then in so doing, would enable the whole intricate picture to become complete."

"Because young children do not know how things are supposed to be done, they will come to imagine the habits of their household are the habits of the world.  If a child grows up in a family where angry words are exchanged over supper he will assume that angry words are exchanged at every kitchen table; while if a child grows up in a family where no words are exchanged over supper at all, he will assume that all families eat in silence....."

Rating 4.5/5 stars

Note: I purchased the print edition of this book and the audio version was provided to me at no cost by the publisher.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

(2) Book Reviews - The School for Good Mothers; Jessamine Chan and In Five Years; Rebecca Serle


Simon & Schuster Audio - 2022 (11 hours 56 min.)
(audio download provided at no cost in exchange for my review)

Frida Liu is a 39 year old Chinese American with an Ivy League degree who has a lot on her plate besides working full time.  Her husband Gust left her for a much younger, wealthy woman just three months after their daughter Harriet was born.  The couple has joint custody and as the story opens Harriet is 18 months old.

One day Frida uses bad judgement and leaves Harriet alone as she runs to the office for a file.  Distacted and suffering from insomnia, she also grabs a coffee and then distracted by email,  leaving Harriet alone longer than planned. When her neighbor reports a crying child to the authorities the government intervenes and Frida is sent to a one-year residential program with some 200 others who were deemed unfit or in need of mothering skills.  She must successfully complete this program in hopes of regaining shared custody of Harriet.

The residential program uses robot-like dolls resembling a child and things do not get off to a good start for Frida who is seen as too detached and too passive for starters.  Also, in this residential program, white when are given preferential treatment over other races.  Some of the infractions seemed ridiculous but this, after all,  is a cautionary tale.

This debut novel took a bit to get going and some of the language and imagery felt a bit over the top but, it was though provoking story for sure. What constitutes a "good mother?" Just when should the government and social services intervene?  Should needing anti-depressants be held against a mother in distress? I thought Frida came across as a somewhat flat and rather whiny character who lacked empathy and emotion. I never felt like a champion for her. Although this book wasn't a huge hit with me, I do think it would make a great discussion book. The audio book is narrated by Catherine Ho who did a good job.

Rating - 3.5/5 stars

In Five Years; Rebecca Serle
Atria Books - 2020
(library loan) (book group pick)

Dannie Kohan is a 28 year old over achiever and obsessive planner in terms of career and life plan.  The story opens with a big job interview and she anticipates that tonight will be the night that her live-in David will propose to her at the fancy Rainbow Room, a NYC restaurant.  Things do not go exactly as planned for Dannie as when she returns to the apartment she passes out for one hour and she sees herself five years in the future. She is with a handsome man named Aaron and in a different apartment.  When she wakes up she is back with David. She can't stop thinking about this and who was this strange man - was it a dream or premonition?

There is a whole separate storyline with Bella, Dannie's best friend and polar opposite since childhood that propels this story along.  I had no idea where the story was headed and was a bit surprised by the darker turn Bella's story took.

I did think this was a clever story but, it wasn't my kind of book. Although I was pretty sure my book group of older woman would not care for this one,  I was wrong, most of them enjoyed the book and, we all agreed it was a quick read and made for a good discussion.  I thought Dannie was rather shallow - can you really have it all in life without making some sacrifices and disappointing some people along the way?

Rating - 3/5 stars

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Book Review - Ladder of the Years; Anne Tyler


1995 - Vintage
(eBook downloaded from the library)

I love the stories Anne Tyler creates with everyday people and towns and places that are so easy to envision.  It recently came to my attention that I missed several of her earliest books - note to self to remedy that in 2022. Ladder of the Years was one of those books.

Cordelia (Delia) Grinstead is a Baltimore housewife and mother to three almost adult children.  Married 20+ years, her husband, Sam is a doctor and, at least to outsiders and friends it appears the couple has a good life. Sometimes she feels invisible -- or as she describes it --QUOTE--sometimes she felt like a tiny gnat around her family's edges.

On an annual family beach vacation a couple things happen that makes her do something on the spur of the moment - dressed in her swimsuit, beach coverup and carrying a beach bag containing $500 of vacation money, she hitches a ride from a repairman to Bay Borough where, without saying a word to her family, she rents a room, buys a few essentials and gets a job in a law office.

Eventually, things happen and of course, Delia must make a decision whether to continue with her new life or return to the life she left behind.

QUOTE---"The thing of it is, you ask yourself enough questions--was it this I did wrong, was it that? --and you get to believe you did it ALL wrong. Your whole damn life. But now that I'm nearing the end of it, I seem to be going too fast to stop and change.  I'm just SKIDDING to the end of it."

QUOTE--"The thing that attracts you to someone can end up putting you off."

My Thoughts - There was much to love about this novel for me: marriage, motherhood, expectations and even (2) cats and, bonus - the dream of starting a new life just for you (yes, have had that dream.)  I loved the people she met and the new life she created in her small town whether it was her landlady who became a friend, the folks at the diner where she would stop to eat, the border at the rooming house where she lived, her almost daily library visits and so much more.  This would have been an almost perfect read for me but, I felt the ending was too rushed.  Still, I highly recommend this one.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - One Step Too Far; Lisa Gardner

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.  I started this book and it's quite addictive. It's Book #2 of the Frankie Elkin series which began last year with: Before She Disappeared (loved that one.)

One Step Too Far; Lisa Gardner
Dutton - January 2022

THE FIRST THREE MEN CAME stumbling into town shortly after ten A.M., babbling of dark shapes and eerie screams and their missing buddy Scott and their other buddy Tim, who set out from their campsite before dawn to get help.

"Bear, bear, bear," the first guy moaned.

"Mountain lion!" the second guy insisted.

Third guy vomited.

What do you think - read more or pass?  (Lots of details about hiking, camping and rescue and recovery.)

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Book Review - Mouth to Mouth; Antoine Wilson

Mouth to Mouth; Antoine Wilson
Simon & Schuster Audio - 2022 and Avid Reader Press
(audio download and eGalley provided by publisher in exchange for my unbiased review)
(Edoardo Ballerini - Narrator - very good - just under 5 hours)

Every once in a while I am drawn to a book that is somewhat unusual.  Initially, it was the cover art and title. The story proved to be different and rather addictive as well - it's a story within a story.

Our unnamed narrator is a struggling cult author who is at JFK airport as the story begins. His flight bound for Berlin is delayed. When he hears a page for a Jeff Cook and then notices the handsome face of a 40-something man with fancy luggage, he's pretty sure it is the same Jeff Cook he knew at UCLA some 20 years earlier.  After a quick conversation, Jeff invites the narrator, who is flying coach, into the First Class lounge with him.  Jeff proceeds to tell the narrator a story that he has never told anyone else. It seems that he saved a drowning man some 20 years earlier. He claims he became obsessed with finding and learning what happened to the victim, Francis Arsenault.  It seems Arsenault became a somewhat devious but successful art dealer in Beverly Hills. Cook continues to tell how when he meets Francis he wasn't recognized by him yet, despite this Francis sees something in Jeff and takes him under his wing, introducing him to the world of art. 

Why did Jeff supposedly keep this story to himself this long and, why reveal it at this time to someone he hasn't been in touch with since college?  To say more would lead to spoilers. 

This is one of those novels that is hard to stop reading once you begin and because it is just under 200 pages in print and under (5) hours on audio, it is entirely possible to finish it in one day.   This character driven story has a slow build up and a truly unexpected ending as well. The story isn't perfect but, is a doozy. I'm glad I had a chance to read/listen to it.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Friday, January 21, 2022

Book Review - Mala's Cat; A Memoir of Survival in World War II; Mala Kacenberg


Dreamscape Audio and Pegasus Books - 2022
(audio download provided at no cost by publisher and NetGalley)

Mala Szorer, a Jewish girl, grew up in quaint forested village in Poland.  Her family had a good life until WWII began and the German invasion changed everything.  She wasn't even 14 when she witnessed the killing of her older brother and her family by SS men.  

 Knowing she had to flee the area if she had any chance of surviving, Mala and her cat, Malach, who she truly believed was her guardian angel, fled to find safety. Mala was a strong, smart, blond blue-eyed girl and, the fact that she did not look Jewish worked to her advantage.  With the help of some kind-hearted people along the way she was provided with occasional food and clothing and, eventually she able to pose as a Christian, fake her identity and even find work and shelter. 

I loved listening to Mala's story and her nearly (6) year fight to survive.  This book, originally published in 1995 as, Alone in the Forest, was a wonderful and important story.  Unlike many other WWII, Holocaust stories, I did not find this one too dark and depressing despite the subject manner. Mala was a wonderful character, she was so determined with a nothing to lose kind of attitude that worked to her advantage. A beautiful story of survival despite the odds. The audio, narrated by Kristin Atherton, is highly recommended.

Rating - 5/5 stars

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros; Ladder of the Years; Anne Tyler

 Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.  

I love Anne Tyler and recently realized that I don't think I've ever read her 1995 book, Ladder of the Years so, in anticipation of her coming March (2022) release French Braid, I want to remedy that.

Recorded Books (Library loan)


Baltimore Woman Disappears During Family Vacation

Delaware State Police announced early today that Cordelia F. Grinstead, 40, wife of a Roland Park, physician, has been reported missing while on holiday with her family in Bethany Beach.

Mrs. Grinstead was last seen around noon this past Monday, walking south along the stretch of sand between Bethany and Sea Colony.

Witnesses of her departure--her husband Dr. Samuel Grinstead, 55, her three children, Susan 21, Ramsay, 19, and Carroll, 15--were unable to recall any suspicious characters in the vicinity.  They reported to the best of their recollection, she simply strolled away. Her failure to return was not remarked until late afternoon.

A slender, small-boned woman with curly fair or light-brown hair, Mrs. Grinstead stands 5'2" or possibly 5'5" and weighs either 90 or 110 pounds. Her eyes are blue or gray or possibly green, and her nose is mildly sunburned in addition to being freckled.

I don't know about you but this intro about Mrs Grinstead made me smile - how very little attention her family seemed to pay her.  Have you read it---would you read more?  Can't wait to begin it.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Book Review - Joan is Okay; Weike Wang


Joan is Okay; Weike Wang
Penguin Random House Audio - 2022
Narrator: Catherine Ho - very good

Joan is a 36 year old Chinese American, her parents who came to American in search of a better life.  Joan works as an attending physician in a busy ICU unit of a New York City hospital.  She works long hours, sometimes 7-days a week and doesn't have a life outside of work.  In fact, when her father dies unexpectedly back in Shanghai, Joan goes to China taking only the weekend off to be with her family.
By contrast, Joan's brother Fang is living his version of the American dream in an upscale Connecticut neighborhood. He's married, into material possessions and lots of vacations for the family. His wife can't understand why Joan does not like jewelry, shopping or vacations.

When Joan is forced by the HR Department at the hospital to take a proper bereavement leave, she is forced to reflect on the past and her present situation.  

This story takes place around the early pandemic and has both a serious side and some fun scenes as well.  Joan's neighbor for example, is a compulsive shopper who wants to be a minimalist like Joan, giving away his possessions and then repurchasing things he gave away once again.  In many ways Joan is Okay is a quiet kind of story yet it gives the reader much to think about and, I think it would make a good discussion book as well.  Joan is a great character study as were her family members. She reminded my of Keiko in the Convenience Store Woman, another book which I loved as, at least on audio, Joan appears to be somewhere on the spectrum.  I enjoyed this book, it was a quick, interesting listen (the audio book was just over six hours.) I do wish that the ending was not quite as rushed. Recommended.

Rating - 4/5 stars

(Thanks go to PRH Audio for providing me this book at no cost in exchange for my unbiased review. The book releases in the US tomorrow.)

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Book Review - After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond; Bruce Greyson, M.D.

Bruce Greyson, M.D. - St. Martin Essentials - 2021 
 (library loan - hardcover)

I decided to try this book after a woman in my book group was talking about how much she liked it. It is written by an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia and covers nearly 50 years of research.

Greyson, a self-proclaimed skeptic and not a religious man began to study Near-Death experiences as a medical student.  One day while in medical school and eating lunch in the hospital cafeteria he was called to the ER to see an unconscious woman who attempted suicide.  Something she said the following day after she regained consciousness perplexed him and made him want to pursue NDE's further.  

This book shares a good amount of other ND experiences and what the individual reports having experienced. The ages and sexes of the individuals varied (from as young as age 8years of age.) The religious beliefs of the individuals and what they experienced all varied - white light,  welcoming presence and seeing others that passed earlier.  One 17 year old, non-believer, a college student from NJ had reported during a scuba diving incident where he was drowning described it as a peaceful, floating experience , very peaceful with flowery meadows - no heaven, hell or limbo rather a peaceful surrender. Another 49 year old non believer described it as a peaceful, pleasant transition to another state. 

Greyson also mentions that many others keep ND experiences to themselves because of a fear or stigma associated with the experience - fearing that others would think were mentally ill or that they would face ridiculed The doctor doesn't provide all the answers people may be looking for but , he does provides food for thought. I do wish there was more research on what comes after.  Overall - a different kind of read for me - taken with a grain of salt.

SIDE NOTE - When my own brother was dying of cancer in 2009, his wife and I asked him in his final weeks to provide us with a sign that he was okay after he died. (I also asked him not to call any family reunions any time soon - as I would be the last of my birth family still living.)  Well, it's (2022) and I'm still here but in the (12 ) months after he died, his wife had to replace nearly (30) light bulbs that would randomly burn out in her (6) room condo - is this freaky or what?  Once a year had passed, this too had stopped.

Do you believe in an afterlife? (I do not but, if I'm wrong, I'd like to come back as someones well-loved, well-fed house cat who lives an additional (9) lives.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Book Review - The Maid; Nita Prose


The Maid; Nita Prose
Ballantine Books and Penguin Random House Audio - 2022
Narrator - Lauren Ambrose - very good
(eGalley and audio sent to me by publisher)

Molly Gray is a 25 year old "maid" at the Regency Grand Hotel. It is a job Molly loves and one she takes great pride in.  Raised by her grandmother after her mother had abandoned her, Gram was also a maid.  It is clear that Molly and Gram, who has recently passed away, had a special relationship. which helped Molly to thrive.  It is also clear listening to Molly narrate this story that she has difficulties understanding facial expressions and trouble with social skills and that she loves her life of routines.  

Charles Black is is businessman who, with his wife Giselle, stays at the Regency Grand almost weekly. Molly is always happy to service their suite and, grateful for their generous tips as well.  One day upon entering the suite Molly finds Charles, fully dressed, but dead in bed and, his younger wife Giselle is not around.  Following proper protocol Molly reports the incident but, she soon finds herself interrogated as murder is suspected in the death of Charles Black.

This was a delightful, light mystery. Molly is a terrific character, I loved how content she was with her simple life of routine and order. She made a wonderful narrator with her quirky, matter-of-fact style and honesty.  The Maid has a good cast of characters and turned out to be a real feel good mystery that will kept me guessing; the audio was very good.  This story has already been optioned for a movie.  Read it!

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Book Review - Winter Solstice; Rosamunde Pilcher


Winter Solstice; Rosamunde Pilcher
St. Martins - (2015 edition)

Why did I wait 20 years to read this wonderful, comforting, gem of a book?  This will definitely be one of those books that will come out each December, if not to reread cover to cover, at least to look back at certain passages and quotes.

Winter Solstice follows the lives of (5) individuals who seem to have very little in common except for the fact that each is dealing with some recent turmoil in their lives.  There is Elfrida Phipps, a 62 year old who has suffered a loss and is leaving London to start a new life in a small country village. Oscar Blundell, his wife Gloria and young daughter Francesca are first to befriend Elfrida in the new village but, when something tragic happens the story moves to an old stately manor in Creagan.  Sam Howard, after a separation from his wife in NYC, leaves New York for Scotland for an executive position there.  Thirty-something Carrie and her 14 year old niece are both in need of a change of scenery for the holidays after dealing with their own issues.  None of these individuals has any idea that this December will begin to change their lives but, when their paths do cross a transformation and inner peace begins to take place.

There is everything to love about this story - people who care about other people (and don't we need more of this?) wonderfully detailed descriptions that were easy to visualize: the winter shore, newly fallen snow, roaring fires, good food and conversation, specialty shops and much much more.  There is a bit of sadness in the story yet, more often than not this was a comforting story that ends on a positive note.  I loved how easily I was drawn into the lives of these good people.  Sit back with a hot cup of tea or hot chocolate and savor this book. It's not a story to rush through (500+ pp), best read and savored.

I originally started the audiobook in December but, I wasn't enjoying the narrator so I purchased the trade print edition and was very happy I did.

Rating - 5/5 stars

Here are some of the quotes that seemed worth mentioning.
  • “You never really got to know people properly until you had seen them within the ambiance of their own home. Seen their furniture and their books and the manner of their lifestyle.”
  • “She had been impulsive all her life, made decisions without thought for the future, and regretted none of them, however dotty. Looking back, all she regretted were the opportunities missed, either because they had come along at the wrong time or because she had been too timid to grasp them.”
  • “The windows of the church were tall, arched in gothic style. But from the outside, the colours and patterns of the stained-glass were dimmed. He knew that to appreciate their jewel-like beauty one had to view them from within, the light of day streaming through the colours and throwing lozenges of ruby and sapphire and emerald onto worn flagstones.

  • "Perhaps this was symbolic. Perhaps, isolated from the church, there were other delights, pleasures, comforts, that, because of his present state of mind, he deliberately denied himself.”
  • “As for God, I frankly admit that I find it easier to live with the age old questions about suffering than with many of the easy or pious explanations offered from time to time. Some of which seem to verge on blasphemy.”
  • “To cheer herself up, Elfrida looked ahead, in positive fashion, which she had always found a reliable method of dealing with a sense of loss.”
  • “Life is sweet. . . Beyond the pain, life continues to be sweet. The basics are still there. Beauty, food and friendship, reservoirs of love and understanding. Later, possibly not yet, you are going to need others who will encourage you to make new beginnings. Welcome them. They will help you move on, to cherish happy memories and confront the painful ones with more than bitterness and anger.”

Joan is Okay; Weike Wang - First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

 Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon. This week's pick is a new book which releases on the 18th of January. I hope to start this one over the weekend after I finish (2) other books.

Joan is Okay; Weike Wang
Random House - January - 2022

When I think about people, I think about space, how much space a person takes up and how much use that person provides.  I am just under five feet tall and just under a hundred pounds.  Briefly I thought I would exceed five feet, and while that would've been fine, I also didn't need the extra height.  To stay just under under something gives me a sense of comfort, as when it rains and I can open an umbrella over my head.

Today someone said that I looked like a mouse. Five six and 290 pounds, he, in a backless gown with nonslip tube socks, said that my looking like a mouse made him wary.  He asked how old I was. What schools had I gone to, and where were my degrees from these prestigious schools?

What do you think - read more or pass?

Sunday, January 9, 2022

My Week and some 2022 Book Reviews - Honor; Thrity Umrigar; Abide with Me; Elizabeth Strout and Amy and Isabelle; Elizabeth Strout


This was a week where I rarely left the house.  I did go to yoga Monday but felt uncomfortable with the raging virus even if we are fully vaccinated. One of our yoga ladies passed away (virus complications) just before New Years (she was older and hadn't been to yoga class since September but, sad to hear about this.) Tuesday (2) of our granddaughters were off from school and mom had meetings so we spent the day playing Boggle, The Game of Life, cards and drawing - very fun. Wednesday was freezing rain - so another good reason to skip yoga and stay home and read. Thursday my husband had a doctor's appointment and I needed to pick up some new eyeglasses and Friday we woke up to 3" of snow.  I  was happy to spend more time at home reading.  I even went so far as to place a large grocery delivery.  I'm still debating whether I will return to yoga tomorrow.

READING - My first week of 2022 was a rewarding one for  books. I was able to finish (3) books - all written by favorite authors.  All of these books were worth spending time with as well. I'm so happy I created a January game plan of (12) books that I really wanted to read or listen to in January.  Given my list isn't set in stone - I seem to do better following some sort of list/plan.  Here is what I read:

Honor; Thrity Umrigar
Algonquin Books - 2022
(arc and eGalley - sent to me by publisher)

Smita Agarwal was born in India but moved to the US with her family when she was a teen. Something happened to her in India and, she never planned on returning to the place of her birth.  Living in NYC and working as a foreign correspondent she is asked by a good friend, also a correspondent, who is hospitalized to come to her aid in India.  It isn't until later that she learns that she won't be helping her friend to heal but, rather covering an important story about a Hindu woman named Meena who was attacked and disfigured by members of her own village after she married  Abdul, a Muslim man.  Abdul was burned to death by Meenas own brothers just four months into their marriage in what was considered to be an "honor killing."

I didn't know much about this story going into it and, although it is very well written and tells an important story, there was a bit too much shocking detail revealed IMO. I realize it is important not to bury the atrocities that happen around the world, I just don't think I was prepared for such a heavy read for my first book of 2022.  Don't get me wrong, there are some lighter moments in the novel but readers should be prepared for some dark plot lines.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Abide with Me; Elizabeth Strout
Random House Audio - 2006
narrator - Bernadette Dunne - very good
(library download)

One of my 2022 goals was to read any Elizabeth Strout novels I may have missed - there were (2) - Abide with Me and Amy and Isabelle - both were very good stories.

The story takes place in 1959 in the small town of West Annett, Maine where Tyler Caskey is a minister.  West Annett is the kind of town where rumor and speculation sometimes bring out the worst in people and secrets don't stay secrets for long.  As the story begins Tyler is living with his 5-year old daughter Katherine, a troubled girl who rarely speaks except maybe to utter the words that she hates God. Katherine is cared for by his housekeeper Connie. He also has an infant daughter, Jeannie, who lives with Tyler's mother.  What happened to Tyler's wife Lauren, the mother of his children?  Bit by bit the story is revealed.

I loved this quiet, reflective noel. The author does not spell everything out for the reader but yet she does a wonderful job of painting a clear picture for the reader of the good, the bad and the ugliness of the characters.  The reader is left with a reminder of how all of us go through rough times at some point in our lives and just how important it is to help and support those who are struggling.  I liked the flashback to just how different childrearing was in 1959 than the present.  Abide with Me is a quiet, yet deeply affecting read. The audio version was excellent.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Amy and Isabelle; Elizabeth Strout
Random House Audio - 2013
narrator - Stephanie Roberts - very good
(library download)

The small New England town of Shirley Falls is the setting for Amy and Isabelle - a mother/daughter story.  Isabelle Goodrow and teenage daughter Amy are a twosome. When anyone asks Isabelle about her situation she tells them that both her husband and parents have passed away.  Isabelle works in a small office and keeps to herself, she isn't a part of the office circle and she doesn't date.  Amy is a shy 16 year old protected by her mother to a certain extent. One day Amy's crush on a high school teacher and some sexual experimentation which follows threatens to shatter the mother-daughter bond.

Although primarily a story about Amy & Isabelle, the author has created several memorable secondary characters and has even woven a story about a missing 12-year old girl into the novel to create a mystery feel.  The mother-daughter love/hate relationship was well-written and realistic (those years can sure be trying for mothers and daughters). Amy is a beautiful young woman and Isabelle's resentment over the sacrifices she has made seemed to ring true. I liked when Isabelle finally becomes part of the office circle - those women were fun and their comments resulted in some laughable moments which took away from the mother/daughter tension.  There were some pretty specific sexual visuals but I thought all were tastefully done. I enjoyed this story of mothers/daughters, female friendship and missed opportunities. Another audio book that was very well done.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Coming Week Reading Plans
  1. Winter Solstice; Rosamunde Pilcher  (almost done and loving this one. I started it in December on audio but, had to wait for print copy to arrive as audio wasn't working well for me.)
  2. The Maid; Nita Prose
  3. In Five Years; Rebecca Serle (book group pick for January)
  4. After: A Doctor Explore What Near Death Experiences Reveal About Life & Beyond;Bruce Greyson M.D.
How was your week? Read any good books?

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Top 10 Tuesday My Most Anticipated Books for the First Half of 2022

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at The Artsy Reader Girl.

I've never joined this weekly feature but, I've always been intrigued by the interesting questions. This week's feature question really appealed to me so I decided to share my Top 10 Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2022.

The Maid; Nita  Prose - Ballantine - January 4, 2022

GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • “A twist-and-turn whodunit, set in a five-star hotel, from the perspective of the maid who finds the body. Think Clue. Think page-turner.”—Glamour

MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS—The New York Times, Glamour, W magazine, PopSugar, The Rumpus

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

To Paradise
; Hanya Yanagihara - Doubleday - January 11,  2022

From the author of the classic A Little Life—a bold, brilliant novel spanning three centuries and three different versions of the American experiment, about lovers, family, loss and the elusive promise of utopia.

In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him—and solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearances.
These three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony, as recurring notes and themes deepen and enrich one another: A townhouse in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village; illness, and treatments that come at a terrible cost; wealth and squalor; the weak and the strong; race; the definition of family, and of nationhood; the dangerous righteousness of the powerful, and of revolutionaries; the longing to find a place in an earthly paradise, and the gradual realization that it can’t exist. What unites not just the characters, but these Americas, are their reckonings with the qualities that make us human: Fear. Love. Shame. Need. Loneliness.
To Paradise is a fin de siecle novel of marvelous literary effect, but above all it is a work of emotional genius.  The great power of this remarkable novel is driven by Yanagihara’s understanding of the aching desire to protect those we love—partners, lovers, children, friends, family and even our fellow citizens—and the pain that ensues when we cannot.

Very Cold People; Sarah Manguso - Hogarth - February 8, 2022

The eagerly anticipated debut novel from “one of the most original and exciting writers working in English today” (Jhumpa Lahiri): a masterwork on growing up in—and out of—the suffocating constraints of small-town America.
“My parents didn’t belong in Waitsfield, but they moved there anyway.”

For Ruthie, the frozen town of Waitsfield, Massachusetts, is all she has ever known.

Once home to the country’s oldest and most illustrious families—the Cabots, the Lowells: the “first, best people”—by the tail end of the twentieth century, it is an unforgiving place awash with secrets.
Forged in this frigid landscape Ruthie has been dogged by feelings of inadequacy her whole life. Hers is no picturesque New England childhood but one of swap meets and factory seconds and powdered milk. Shame blankets her like the thick snow that regularly buries nearly everything in Waitsfield.
As she grows older, Ruthie slowly learns how the town’s prim facade conceals a deeper, darker history, and how silence often masks a legacy of harm—from the violence that runs down the family line to the horrors endured by her high school friends, each suffering a fate worse than the last. For Ruthie, Waitsfield is a place to be survived, and a girl like her would be lucky to get out alive.

In her eagerly anticipated debut novel, Sarah Manguso has written, with characteristic precision, a masterwork on growing up in—and out of—the suffocating constraints of a very old, and very cold, small town. At once an ungilded portrait of girlhood at the crossroads of history and social class as well as a vital confrontation with an all-American whiteness where the ice of emotional restraint meets the embers of smoldering rage, Very Cold People is a haunted jewel of a novel from one of our most virtuosic literary writers.

Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life With 600 Rescue Animals; Laurie Zaleski - St. Martin's Press -February 22, 2022

An inspiring and moving memoir of the author's turbulent life with 600 rescue animals.

Laurie Zaleski never aspired to run an animal rescue; that was her mother Annie’s dream. But from girlhood, Laurie was determined to make the dream come true. Thirty years later as a successful businesswoman, she did it, buying a 15-acre farm deep in the Pinelands of South Jersey. She was planning to relocate Annie and her caravan of ragtag rescues―horses and goats, dogs and cats, chickens and pigs―when Annie died, just two weeks before moving day. In her heartbreak, Laurie resolved to make her mother's dream her own. In 2001, she established the Funny Farm Animal Rescue outside Mays Landing, New Jersey. Today, she carries on Annie’s mission to save abused and neglected animals.

Funny Farm is Laurie’s story: of promises kept, dreams fulfilled, and animals lost and found. It’s the story of Annie McNulty, who fled a nightmarish marriage with few skills, no money and no resources, dragging three kids behind her, and accumulating hundreds of cast-off animals on the way. And lastly, it's the story of the brave, incredible, and adorable animals that were rescued.

The Paris Apartment; Lucy Foley - William Morrow, February 22, 2022

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest List comes a new locked room mystery, set in a Paris apartment building in which every resident has something to hide… 

Jess needs a fresh start. She’s broke and alone, and she’s just left her job under less than ideal circumstances. Her half-brother Ben didn’t sound thrilled when she asked if she could crash with him for a bit, but he didn’t say no, and surely everything will look better from Paris. Only when she shows up – to find a very nice apartment, could Ben really have afforded this? – he’s not there.

The longer Ben stays missing, the more Jess starts to dig into her brother’s situation, and the more questions she has. Ben’s neighbors are an eclectic bunch, and not particularly friendly. Jess may have come to Paris to escape her past, but it’s starting to look like it’s Ben’s future that’s in question.

The socialite – The nice guy – The alcoholic – The girl on the verge – The concierge

Everyone's a neighbor. Everyone's a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.

The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka, Knopf - February 22, 2022

From the best-selling, award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine comes a novel about what happens to a group of obsessed recreational swimmers when a crack appears at the bottom of their local pool—a tour de force of economy, precision, and emotional power.

The swimmers are unknown to one another except through their private routines (slow lane, medium lane, fast lane) and the solace each takes in their morning or afternoon laps. But when a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, they are cast out into an unforgiving world without comfort or relief.
One of these swimmers is Alice, who is slowly losing her memory. For Alice, the pool was a final stand against the darkness of her encroaching dementia. Without the fellowship of other swimmers and the routine of her daily laps she is plunged into dislocation and chaos, swept into memories of her childhood and the Japanese American incarceration camp in which she spent the war. Alice's estranged daughter, reentering her mother's life too late, witnesses her stark and devastating decline. Written in spellbinding, incantatory prose, The Swimmers is a searing, intimate story of mothers and daughters, and the sorrows of implacable loss: the most commanding and unforgettable work yet from a modern master.

The French Braid; Anne Tyler - Knopf - March 22, 2022

From the beloved best-selling, Pulitzer Prize–winning author—a funny, joyful, brilliantly perceptive journey deep into one Baltimore family’s foibles, from a boyfriend with a red Chevy in the 1950s up to a longed-for reunion with a grandchild in our pandemic present.

The Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959. They hardly ever leave home, but in some ways they have never been farther apart. Mercy has trouble resisting the siren call of her aspirations to be a painter, which means less time keeping house for her husband, Robin. Their teenage daughters, steady Alice and boy-crazy Lily, could not have less in common. Their youngest, David, is already intent on escaping his family's orbit, for reasons none of them understand. Yet, as these lives advance across decades, the Garretts' influences on one another ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation.
Full of heartbreak and hilarity, French Braid is classic Anne Tyler: a stirring, uncannily insightful novel of tremendous warmth and humor that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close—yet how unknowable—every family is to itself.

Nine Lives; Peter Swanson - William Morrow - March 15, 2022

If you’re on the list, someone wants you dead.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Eight Perfect Murders comes the heart-pounding story of nine strangers who receive a cryptic list with their names on it—and then begin to die in highly unusual circumstances.

Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke—until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list.

First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor, and they’re located all over the country. So why are they all on the list, and who sent it?

FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next…

Ocean State; Stewart O'Nan - Grove Press - March 8, 2022

Set in a working-class town on the Rhode Island coast, O’Nan’s latest is a crushing, beautifully written, and profoundly compelling novel about sisters, mothers, and daughters, and the terrible things love makes us do. 

In the first line of Ocean State, we learn that a high school student was murdered, and we find out who did it. The story that unfolds from there with incredible momentum is thus one of the build-up to and fall-out from the murder, told through the alternating perspectives of the four women at its heart. Angel, the murderer, Carol, her mother, and Birdy, the victim, all come alive on the page as they converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel’s younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight.

Angel and Birdy love the same teenage boy, frantically and single mindedly, and are compelled by the intensity of their feelings to extremes neither could have anticipated. O’Nan’s expert hand paints a fully realized portrait of these women, but also weaves a compelling and heartbreaking story of working-class life in Ashaway, Rhode Island. Propulsive, moving, and deeply rendered, Ocean State is a masterful novel by one of our greatest storytellers.

The Golden Couple; Hendricks and Pekkanen - St, Martin's Press - March 8, 2022

The Golden Couple is the next electrifying novel from Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, the number one New York Times best-selling author duo behind You Are Not Alone, An Anonymous Girl, and The Wife Between Us.

If Avery Chambers can’t fix you in 10 sessions, she won’t take you on as a client. Her successes are phenomenal; she helps people overcome everything from domineering parents to assault - and almost absorb the emptiness she sometimes feels since her husband’s death.

Marissa and Mathew Bishop seem like the golden couple - until Marissa cheats. She wants to repair things, both because she loves her husband and for the sake of their eight-year-old son. After a friend forwards an article about Avery, Marissa takes a chance on this maverick therapist, who lost her license due to controversial methods.

When the Bishops glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger.

What 2022 upcoming releases are on your must-read list?