Friday, January 29, 2016

The Winter Girl; Matt Marinovich

The Winter Girl; Matt Marinovich
Doubleday - 2016

I enjoy a creepy read from time to time so when I saw this book compared to Gone Girl, I was anxious to try it. The story hooked me early on but, was far from perfect.

Scott and Elise are a married couple and after just four years of marriage, theirs is in a rut.  It's winter and the couple is staying at Elise's father's house in the Hamptons - Victor's a loathsome man, dying of cancer, but not fast enough for the couple.  Elise, a speech therapist, is on LOA and Scott, isn't doing much of anything these days, except helping himself to some Victor's alcohol.

As weeks turn into months, Scott becomes overly curious about the house across the street whose lights go out at precisely 11:00pm each evening.  One day when Elise is at the hospital visiting her father, he breaks in and before long he gets her to snoop along.

It's a delicious premise which quickly drew me in but, what happens with the rest of the story was just too far out there to be believable. None of the characters have any redeeming qualities and they make one bad decision after another. Things soon get violent, gruesome and sexually graphic. I felt that the writing seemed more designed to shock rather than surprise, and, the only similarity to Gone Girl, IMO, seemed to be that both couples were equally unlikable.  Perhaps some psych thriller lovers will enjoy this more than me but, this one just wasn't my thing.

2/5 stars

Surf's Up; Kwame Alexander

Surf's Up; Kwame Alexander
(Illustrated by Daniel Miyares)
NorthSouth - 2016

Bro and Dude are two frogs who have different ideas about how to have a fun day at the beach.  Dude wants to surf while Bro wants to read his book (Moby Dick). Dude thinks reading is boring until Bro tells him that the book is about a man trying to find a whale and then Dude wants to know more.

Moby Dick begins to come alive on the pages through skillful illustrations. It's a book with very few words and probably not one that will be begged to be read again and again.  I think it's kind of hard to explain Moby Dick to the preschool set.  I did like that the book reinforces the message that "reading can be fun."

3.5/5 stars
(Amazon Vine)

Remarkable Creatures; Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures; Tracy Chevalier
2009 - Penguin

As I read this book for my book group it sounded like a story I heard before or a movie I had seen. I read the book and finished the review today, and when I went to post the review of Amazon, I saw that I read and reviewed this one in January of 2010 (6 years ago) duh! In 2010, I rated this 4.5/5 stars and today without reading my old review I gave it 4/5 stars.

2016 review

Remarkable Creatures is a fictionalized story, set in the early 1800s, about two British women whose friendship and passion for fossils played a key role in furthering the science of paleontology.

As an infant Mary Anning, who was born to poor working class parents, was struck by lightening. Although three others near her were killed Mary survived, leaving her with a unique of spotting fossils that no one else could see.

Elizabeth Philpot, some 20 years older than Mary and considered a spinster, moved to Lyme Regis on the coast of England along with her sisters from London. She develops a newfound passion of trolling the beaches for fossils.  It is pursing this passion that she meets Mary Anning, also a fossil hunter who was making a name for herself. Her finds helped to lay the groundwork for Darwin's theories on evolution.  Some of her fossil treasures can be found in British museums and one in Paris.

I found the story interesting but, certainly not action packed but, the way the author made me feel transported to another place and time more than made up for the slower pace.  I was not surprised to read how hard it was for these women to be taken seriously in scientific circles dominated by men.  I loved that we got to hear each woman's story from there POV. I also enjoyed the imagery created and how easy it was to imagine how each felt and understand what each was thinking.

This book was chosen as a book group read.  At first glance I thought it probably was not a "me book", but overall, I was glad I read this one.  Girl With the Pearl Earring was another book by this author that was well done as well.

4/5 stars -- 2016 review
(library book)

(Here is my 2010 review in case you are interested)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - 3 March Releases

(3) March releases that I though sounded great.

Crown - March 2016

(Amazon Description)

From Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

The Best Place on EarthEyelet Tsabari
Random House - March 2016

(Amazon Description)

Reminiscent of the early work of Jhumpa Lahiri, Ayelet Tsabari’s award-winning debut collection of stories is global in scope yet intimate in feel, beautifully written, and emotionally powerful. From Israel to India to Canada, Tsabari’s indelible characters grapple with love, violence, faith, the slipperiness of identity, and the challenges of balancing old traditions with modern times. 

These eleven spellbinding stories often focus on Israel’s Mizrahi Jews, featuring mothers and children, soldiers and bohemians, lovers and best friends, all searching for their place in the world. In “Tikkun,” a man crosses paths with his free-spirited ex-girlfriend—now a married Orthodox Jew—and minutes later barely escapes tragedy. In “Brit Milah,” a mother travels from Israel to visit her daughter in Canada and is stunned by her grandson’s upbringing. A young medic in the Israeli army bends the rules to potentially dangerous consequence in “Casualties.” After her mom passes away, a teenage girl comes to live with her aunt outside Tel Aviv and has her first experience with unrequited love in “Say It Again, Say Something Else.” And in the moving title story, two estranged sisters—one whose marriage is ending, the other whose relationship is just beginning—try to recapture the close bond they had as kids.

Absorbing, tender, and sharply observed, The Best Place on Earth infuses moments of sorrow with small moments of grace: a boy composes poetry in a bomb shelter, an old photo helps a girl make sense of her mother’s rootless past. Tsabari’s voice is gentle yet wise, illuminating the burdens of history, the strength of the heart, and our universal desire to belong.

Knopf - March-2016

(Amazon Description)

“It begins with a child . . .” So opens Jane Mendelsohn’s powerful, riveting new novel. A classic family tale colliding with the twenty-first century, Burning Down the House tells the story of two girls. Neva, from the mountains of Russia, was sold into the sex trade at the age of ten; Poppy is the adopted daughter of Steve, the patriarch of a successful New York real estate clan, the Zanes. She is his sister’s orphaned child. One of these young women will unwittingly help bring down this grand household with the inexorability of Greek tragedy, and the other will summon everything she’s learned and all her strength to try to save its members from themselves.  

In cinematic, dazzlingly described scenes, we enter the lavish universe of the Zane family, from a wedding in an English manor house to the trans-global world of luxury hotels and restaurants—from New York to Rome, Istanbul to Laos. As we meet them all—Steve’s second wife, his children from his first marriage, the twins from the second, their friends and household staff—we enter with visceral immediacy an emotional world filled with a dynamic family’s loves, jealousies, and yearnings. In lush, exact prose, Mendelsohn transforms their private stories into a panoramic drama about a family’s struggles to face the challenges of internal rivalry, a tragic love, and a shifting empire. Set against the backdrop of financial crisis, globalization, and human trafficking, the novel finds inextricable connections between the personal and the political.

Dramatic, compassionate, and psychologically complex, Burning Down the House is both wrenching and unputdownable, an unforgettable portrayal of a single family caught up in the earthquake that is our contemporary world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Banquet of Consequences; Elizabeth George

A Banquet of Consequences; Elizabeth George
Viking - 2015

A Banquet of Consequences is book #19 in the Inspector Lynley series but, it's the first Elizabeth George book that I've read.

The story plays out over a period of 39 months. At the heart of the mystery is the suicide of William Goldacre who jumped off a cliff in Dorset, and the death of Claire Abbott, an outspoken feminist author, from Cambridge, who appeared to have a heart attack but, may have been poisoned.

There is plenty everything in this nearly 600+ mystery,  plenty of family dysfunction and plenty of  characters, and, all is not what it appears at first glance.  The author develops her characters over time and many turn out to be much more complex than they first appear. The dialogue between characters is interesting and even funny at times.  I thought the story was longer than it needed to be and it took a while to get going. As an Elizabeth George newbie, I felt disadvantaged by not knowing the backstory of several of the series characters and, in addition, there were several sub stories and lots of characters to keep track of, making this somewhat of a frustrating read for me. I did like the way the author writes but, I'd definitely recommend reading this series in order.

3/5 stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Madwoman Upstairs; Catherine Lowell

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where I share the first paragraph sometimes two from a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. 

The Madwoman Upstairs; Catherine Lowell
Touchstone - March 2016

Chapter 1

"The night I arrived at Oxford, I learned that my dorm room was built in 1361 and had originally been used to quarantine victims of the plague.  The college porter seemed genuinely apologetic as he led me up the five flights of stairs to my tower.  He was a nervous man--short and mouthy, with teeth like a nurse shark--who admitted through a brittle accent that Old College was over-enrolled this year, and that deans had been forced to find space for students wherever they could.  This tower was an annex to Old College.  Many tragic and old people have lived here before me, apparently: did I know Timothy the Terrible? Sir Michael the Madman Morehouse?  I shook my head and said that I was sorry--I was American."

What do you think -- keep reading or pass? 
(Feel free to join in this week by posting your intro below?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Week in Review and New Books

(my Instagram pic of the week)

Hello readers, I must say I'm feeling very thankful this Sunday. That horrible snowstorm that hit the East coast missed us for the most part (just a dusting) although we did have 40 mph winds.  I guess we paid our dues last year when we got buried several times.  I do hope that all of you affected by the storm are now safe and sound.

This week at the movies we saw a very enjoyable movie (highly recommended)

The film based on the book by Michael Lewis which details the fall of Wall Street in 2008 and the circumstances that led up to it. Fantastic cast including Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt. Christian Bale’s character and 3 others find out that bundled mortgages loaded with bad debt/sub prime mortgages - no income verification mortgages etc., are being sold by Wall Street firms to their investors. Many of these mortgages were interest only and other low interest loans for the first few years and then scheduled to soar to much higher rates between 2007-2008 which would cause many monthly mortgage payments to jump 200-300%. 

Told from the perspectives of different investors who were able to take advantage of the situation by figuring out what was going on beforehand and by short selling the loans that the huge investment banks were re-bundling along with a few good loans. The movie is presented in a way that makes the disastrous housing market crash so much easier to understand. Be sure to SEE IT!

Books Reviewed This Week

New Books

I was pleasantly surprised when I took a break from coloring (yes coloring) to get the mail yesterday and there was a beautiful new coloring book from Watson Guptill called Cats in Paris. This book is beautiful and just how did they know I loved cats? LOL

I also received

Have a nice upcoming week everyone.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Perfect Days; Raphael Montes

Perfect Days; Raphael Montes
Penguin Press - 2016

Teo Avelar is an emotionless loner and the twisted protagonist of Perfect Days. He's a medical student whose idea of a good time is working with cadavers.  He lives in Rio de Janeiro with his wheelchair bound mother and her dog.  In the first few pages of this novel the reader gets a glimpse of just how creepy and disturbed Teo is -

"He could have arranged for her to take a bath in formaldehyde--just to see the look of desperation in her eyes as she felt her skin drying out.  But what he really wanted to do was kill her.  And then paint her pale little nails red.

Of course he wasn't going to do anything of that sort.  He wasn't a murder.  He wasn't a monster.  As a child, he had spent many a sleepless night staring at his shaking hands, trying to decipher his own thoughts.  He felt like a monster.  He didn't like anyone, labor affection for anyone, or miss anyone: he just lived.  People would come along, and he would be forced to live alongside them.  Worse: he was supposed to like them, to demonstrate affection.  He learned that if his playacting seemed real, it was all a lot easier."

One day Teo's mother urges him to go to a party where he meets Clarice Lispector. Clarice is Teo's polar opposite -- outgoing and confident. She's an art history student but her real interest is writing screenplays.  She's working on one called, "Perfect Days" which is about friends traveling across Brazil in search of romance.  Before the party is over Teo is already obsessed with Clarice, and is determined to find out all he can about her.  However, when Clarice runs into Teo again soon after the party, she tells him to "f-off" and to stop stalking her.  She pulls no punches telling him she knows he's been calling and checking up on her. Teo, however, is not deterred, he knows that Clarice just needs sometime to get to know him and then she will fall in love with him.  He hatches a plan to drug her, kidnap her, and to travel with her through Brazil just like in her screenplay. In his mind, it's a plan that can't fail, but in reality it's a journey that just grows darker and more disturbed as it plays out.

This was a deliciously creepy nail biter of a novel that starts out with a bang.  It had me quickly turning the pages and thinking about the Norman Bates, Psycho character and the Kathy Bates character in Misery.  I really enjoyed this psycho-thriller but, it wasn't perfect. Midway through the story it began to feel unrealistic and lost a little steam.  Despite this, I would still recommend this one to readers who enjoy detailed character studies of "nut-jobs", because Teo definitely fits the bill. The ending made me smile.

Perfect Days was a translated work, the author is Brazilian. The translation was very well done.

4/5 stars
(review copy)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Under the Influence; Joyce Maynard

Under the Influence; Joyce Maynard
William Morrow-2016

Under the Influence is a hard book to review without giving away too much info, but I'll try my best. 

Sometimes when your life begins to spiral out of control,  the sympathetic ear of a new friend may seem like the bright spot in those otherwise dark days.  This was the case for Helen, a 30-something mom of Ollie whose husband has left her for another woman. 

Helen's self-esteem is low, so to feel less anxious she begins to cap off each evening with a glass or two of wine (occasionally a bottle) once Ollie goes to sleep. One evening after polishing off an entire bottle something happens which causes her life to become even sadder and darker.  It is during these dark days that she meets the Havillands, a charismatic couple who seems to love coming to the aid of the underdog.  The couple rescues stray dogs and has even started a foundation for strays as well. 

Ava and Swift Haviland are a wealthy couple with a beautiful home.  Ava, who is in a wheelchair, meets Helen at an art show and quickly draws her into their lives. The Havillands shower Helen with gifts and include her in their circle, even hiring her to do various jobs for them. At times they overstep their bounds and give advice that isn't always in Helens best interest but, with her confidence  so low she often finds herself listening to them and following their lead.  The couple makes Helen feel safe and they have a way of making her feel dependent on them, but what is their motivation, if any?

"Just having a man like Swift speak my name made me feel important. For the first time in my life possibly"

As I quickly turned the pages of this novel, I felt this sense of dread. It felt as if something terrible would soon happen to one of the characters.  I was not expecting the story to play out as it did and, for the most part I was pleased by the way it ended.

Helen is a sympathetic character but, at times she made me mad. She blew off one of her friends and then another one once she fell under the spell of Ava and Swift. The Havillands came across as an off-putting, manipulative couple.  The author, as always, has created situations which felt realistic.  She easily drew me into the story and the world of the characters.  Be sure to try this one.

4.5/5 stars

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - 3 NEW Thrillers

 Winter is always a great time to cozy with an exciting thriller. Here are some new ones coming out next month from some favorite author.

Find Her; Lisa Gardner
Dutton - February - 2016

(Description from Amazon)

Flora Dane is a victim. 

Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure.

Flora Dane is a survivor.
Miraculously alive after her ordeal, Flora has spent the past five years reacquainting herself with the rhythms of normal life, working with her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. She has a mother who’s never stopped loving her, a brother who is scared of the person she’s become, and a bedroom wall covered with photos of other girls who’ve never made it home.

Flora Dane is reckless. 

. . . or is she? When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape. And now it is all up to D. D. Warren to find her.

She's Not There; Joy Fielding
Ballantine - February 2016
(Description from Amazon)

A vanished child, a family in turmoil, and a fateful phone call that brings the torments of the past into the harrowing present . . . the New York Times bestselling author of Someone Is Watchingweaves these spellbinding elements into a gripping novel of psychological suspense—a must-read for fans of Laura Lippman and Mary Higgins Clark.
“I think my real name is Samantha. I think I’m your daughter.”
Caroline Shipley’s heart nearly stops when she hears those words from the voice on the other end of the phone. Instantly, she’s thrust fifteen years into the past, to a posh resort in Baja, Mexico—and the fateful night her world collapsed.
The trip is supposed to be a celebration. Caroline’s husband, Hunter, convinces her to leave their two young daughters, Michelle and Samantha, alone in their hotel suite while the couple enjoys an anniversary dinner in the restaurant downstairs. But returning afterward, Caroline and Hunter make a horrifying discovery: Two-year-old Samantha has vanished without a trace.
What follows are days, weeks, and years of anguish for Caroline. She’s tormented by media attention that has branded her a cold, incompetent mother, while she struggles to save her marriage. Caroline also has to deal with the demands of her needy elder daughter, Michelle, who is driven to cope in dangerous ways. Through it all, Caroline desperately clings to the hope that Samantha will someday be found—only to be stung again and again by cruel reality.
Plunged back into the still-raw heartbreak of her daughter’s disappearance, and the suspicions and inconsistencies surrounding a case long gone cold, Caroline doesn’t know whom or what to believe. The only thing she can be sure of is that someone is fiercely determined to hide the truth of what happened to Samantha.

He Will Be My Ruin; K.A. Tucker
Atria - February - 2016

(Description from Amazon)

“A nail-biting thriller...clever twists and turns will keep readers in suspense, and just when they think they have figured out what happened to Celine, the story veers in another direction.”—Publishers Weekly

The USA TODAY bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water series makes her suspense debut with this sexy, heartpounding story of a young woman determined to find justice after her best friend’s death, a story pulsing with the “intense, hot, emotional” (Colleen Hoover) writing that exhilarates her legions of fans.

A woman who almost had it all . . .

On the surface, Celine Gonzalez had everything a twenty-eight-year-old woman could want: a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a job that (mostly) paid the bills, and an acceptance letter to the prestigious Hollingsworth Institute of Art, where she would finally live out her dream of becoming an antiques appraiser for a major auction house. All she had worked so hard to achieve was finally within her reach. So why would she kill herself?

A man who was supposed to be her salvation . . .

Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a lethal cocktail of pills and vodka, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers a scandalous photograph in a lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man Celine believed would change her life.

Until he became her ruin. 

On the hunt for evidence that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer. A killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Remarkable Creatures; Tracy Chevalier

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where I share the first paragraph sometimes two from a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. (This one is my book group pick)

Remarkable Creatures; Tracy Chevalier
Dutton - 2010

"Lightning as struck me all my life. Just once was it real. I shouldn't remember it, for I was more than a baby.  But I do remember.  I was in a field, where there were horses and riders performing tricks.  Then a storm blew in, and a woman--not Mam--picked me up and brought me under a tree.  As she held me tight I looked up and saw the pattern of black leaves against the white sky.

Then there was a big noise, like all trees falling down round me, and a bright, bright light, which was like looking at the sun.  A buzz run right through me.  It was as if I'd touched a hot coal, and I could smell singed flesh and sense there was pain, yet it weren't painful.  I felt like a stocking turned inside out."

What do you think -- keep reading or pass? 
(Feel free to join in this week by posting your intro below?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Week in Review and New Books

The week flew by once again and the weather was all over the place. We had lots of rain, then sun and freezing 40mph winds. Of course, we used it as an excuse not to get any physical activity last week (head hung in shame).  Hopefully, this week will be better and we'll get back to the Y and burn off the extra calories consumed last week.

We did get out to see a movie - I let the hub pick (big mistake). We went to see -----

Don't get me wrong it was a very good movie (p for all kinds of awards) but, there is a bear attack early on and it's so stomach turning BLOODY.  There weren't many lines for the cast to remember either - seemed like very little talking.  In case you are not familiar with this one, here's what it's about --

Inspired by true events, THE REVENANT is an immersive and visceral cinematic experience capturing one man's epic adventure of survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit. In an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness, legendary explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. In a quest to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption. 

The Week in Books (finished)
(In Progress)
(New Books - arrived by Mail)

Hope everyone has a great week.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories; Stephen King

Scribbler - 2015

For a number of years I tended to avoid short story collections but, something changed after reading  listening to, Just After Sunset and Full Dark, No Stars -- two of my favorite short story collections by King.  It's nice to be pulled in by a story and get to finish it in a short amount of time. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams allowed me that pleasure once again, and what I really enjoyed was that King provided a brief intro to each story often telling where he got the idea to write it.  

This book is a collection of (20) short stories, a few of them  ere family to me having surfaced previously as singles: UR, and Mile 81 .

A few of the other ones I really enjoyed were:
  • Mile 81,  a closed down rest stop off I-95 that proves deadly for those who stop and dare to check out a mud-splattered old wagon parked there.  The Little Green God of Agony, inspired by King's 1999 accident where he was hit by a car while walking and required 2-3 years of physical therapy recover.  In this story the victim is Andrew Newsmen, the 6th richest man in the world, who will do just about anything to have his pain taken away.  
  • After Life,   is there one or not?  William Andrews is a Goldman Sachs investment banker who dies an unexpected death.  He doesn't believe in the "after life", but gets a big surprise.
  • Obits,  a recent URI graduate with a degree in Journalism finds a job writing snarky "obits" for someone who is still living, but each dies an unexpected death once the "obit" has been written.
  • Batman and Robin Have an Altercation,  a father with Alzheimer's and his son go out for lunch each Sunday and on the way home a road rage incident changes things up a bit for the duo.

Some of the stories were just okay but, for the most part I enjoyed this collection. King's enthusiasm for the his craft shows through in many of these stories.  I also enjoyed that some of these stories were inspired by things that happened to him in some form.  The Maine setting and the creepiness and weird elements infused into each story came across as signature King.  I thought it was interesting that many of the stories were about aging, death and even the afterlife. I guess even Stephen King, now in his late 60's, clearly wonders about these things.

Enjoyable collection, I'm guessing the audio version would be awesome as well.

4/5 stars

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton; Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton; Elizabeth Strout
Random House - 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton was a quiet but haunting story about sad childhoods and imperfect love.

As a child Lucy and her two siblings grew up in Amgash, Illinois, a small rural town.  For a while the family lived in an uncle's unheated garage with no running water and not much food. Lucy's mother was cold and distant and her father's mental state was deeply affected by what he experienced serving in WWII. The violent outburst that Lucy and her siblings witnessed and how the children were treated affected each of them in different ways.  While Lucy was able to leave her home on a college scholarship, her mother and siblings weren't as lucky.

We learn about Lucy's story years later when she is married with two daughters of her own, and is writing her own life story.  Lucy recalls an earlier time when she was hospitalized in NYC for nine weeks for a mysterious infection following an appendectomy.  A lonely time, her husband who disliked hospitals rarely visited, instead he called Lucy's mother and asks her to come to NY to visit.  Even though Lucy had been estranged from her family, her mother makes the trip to NYC and spends five days in her daughter's room.  It is through these mother-daughter conversations and the triggering of Lucy's memories that the readers learns about the secrets of the past.

  • "I have said before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people.  It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it's the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down."
  • "How do you even know what you look like if the only mirror in the house is a tiny one high above the kitchen sink, or if you never heard a living soul say that you are pretty, but rather, as your breasts develop, you are told by your mother that you are starting to look like one of the cows in the Pedersons' barn?"
  • "I have no idea if she kissed me goodbye, but I cannot think she would have.  I have no memory of my mother ever kissing me.  She may have kissed me though; I may be wrong.
  • "Do I understand the hurt my children feel?  I think I do, though they might claim otherwise.  But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can't even weep.  We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine."

I loved this quiet, thought-provoking novel; the writing is beautiful.  It made me want to go out and hug my adult children and let them know, once again,  just how much they are loved.  Be sure to read it.

5/5 stars
(audio & eGalley)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You

I get so excited overwhelmed really, reading about all the new releases coming out the first few months of 2016. Here are (3) that sound like ones I'd enjoy. What do you think?

Forty Rooms; Olga Grushin
Marion Wood Books - Putnam - February 2016

(Description from Amazon)

The internationally acclaimed author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov now returns to gift us with Forty Rooms, which outshines even that prizewinning novel.

Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, Forty Rooms is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women’s identity, of women’s choices, that no modern novel has explored so deeply. 

“Forty rooms” is a conceit: it proposes that a modern woman will inhabit forty rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family’s Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life, and he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They drift into an affair and marriage. What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts—until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her. 

Compelling and complex, Forty Rooms is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.

 Black Rabbit Hall; Eve Chase
G.P. Putnam - February - 2016
(Description from Amazon)

For fans of Kate Morton and Sarah Waters, here’s a magnetic debut novel of wrenching family secrets, forbidden love, and heartbreaking loss housed within the grand gothic manor of Black Rabbit Hall.

Ghosts are everywhere, not just the ghost of Momma in the woods, but ghosts of us too, what we used to be like in those long summers . . .
Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, of course, it does. 

More than three decades later, Lorna is determined to be married within the grand, ivy-covered walls of Pencraw Hall, known as Black Rabbit Hall among the locals. But as she’s drawn deeper into the overgrown grounds, half-buried memories of her mother begin to surface and Lorna soon finds herself ensnared within the manor’s labyrinthine history, overcome with an insatiable need for answers about her own past and that of the once-happy family whose memory still haunts the estate.

Stunning and atmospheric, this debut novel is a thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by the dark and tangled secrets of Black Rabbit Hall.

The Blue Hour; Douglas Kennedy
Atria - February 2016

(Description from Amazon)

From the #1 internationally bestselling author of The Momentand Five Days comes “the best book about Morocco since The Sheltering Sky. Completely absorbing and atmospheric” (Philip Kerr).

Robin knew Paul wasn’t perfect. But he said they were so lucky to have found each other, and she believed it was true.

She is a meticulous accountant, almost forty. He is an artist and university professor, twenty years older. When Paul suggests a month in Morocco, where he once lived and worked, a place where the modern meets the medieval, Robin reluctantly agrees.

Once immersed into the swirling, white hot exotica of a walled city on the North African Atlantic coast, Robin finds herself acclimatizing to its wonderful strangeness. Paul is everything she wants him to be—passionate, talented, knowledgeable. She is convinced that it is here she will finally become pregnant.

But then Paul suddenly disappears, and Robin finds herself the prime suspect in the police inquiry. As her understanding of the truth starts to unravel, Robin lurches from the crumbling art deco of Casablanca to the daunting Sahara, caught in an increasingly terrifying spiral from which there is no easy escape.

With his acclaimed ability to write thought-provoking page-turners, Douglas Kennedy takes readers into a world where only Patricia Highsmith has ever dared. The Blue Hour is a roller-coaster journey into a heart of darkness that asks the question: What would you do if your life depended on it?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Under the Influence; Joyce Maynard

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros where I share the first paragraph sometimes two from a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. (I just started this one and was hooked immediately - a favorite author too).

Under the Influence; Joyce Maynard
William Morrow - February 2016


"It was late November, and for a week solid the rain hadn't let up.  My son and I had moved out of our old apartment back before school started, but I had left it until now to clear the last of our belongings out of the storage area I'd been renting.  With two days left before the end of the month, I decided not to wait any longer for dry weather.  Worse things could happen to a person than getting a few boxes wet. As I well knew."

What do you think -- keep reading or pass? 
(Feel free to join in this week by posting your intro below?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Week in Review and New Books

The first full week of 2016 just flew by. I did something foolish and hurt my back between Christmas and New Years so I spent a lot of time home just reading and using the heating pad.  I was good to be back to normal this week as cabin fever was setting in.

We went to see Spotlight - based on a true story about a Boston Globe team who in 2001uncovered just how deep the Catholic priest scandal really went. It just may win the Oscar for Best Picture. FANTASTIC!

I finished (4) books for 2016 - 2 were started in 2015.
  1. Like Family; Paulo Giordano - 5/5 (arc) (Jan)
  2. The Guest Room; Chris Bohjalian - 4.5/5 (eGalley) (Jan)
  3. Between the World and Me; Coates - 4.5/5 (library) (Jan)
  4. The Opposite of Everyone; Joshilyn Jackson - 3/5 (arc) (Jan)
Now Reading
  1. My Name is Lucy Barton; Elizabeth Strout (very good)
  2. Banquet of Consequences; Elizabeth George (very good)
  3. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams; Stephen King (short stories - enjoyable)
New Books

Enjoy your day!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Opposite of Everyone; Joshilyn Jackson

The Opposite of Everyone; Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow - 2016
(Intro - Chapter 1)

"I was born blue.

If my mother hadn't pushed me out quick as a cat, I would have been born dead and even bluer; her cord wrapped tight around my neck.  She looked at my little blue lips, my blue toes and baby fingers, and named me after Kali. Kali Jai.

My mother was in the middle of a six-month stint in juvie for shoplifting and possession when I was born.  She had thirty-six hours with me in the hospital before the state took her to finish out her sentence.  My grandparents--stiff, unhappy couple that they were --got temporary custody."

Paula (Kali) Vauss is a tough, Atlanta, divorce attorney with a childhood that was anything but normal. Born to a free-spirited, irresponsible mother, Paula's younger years were spent traveling from place to place when her mom jumped from one quick relationship to another, until she eventually ends up in jail and Paula in foster care.  Although she hasn't seen her mother in years, out of guilt, she sends her mother monthly checks. One day the check is returned along with a mysterious note from her mother, forcing Paula to confront her past and act on what she has learned.

I've been a fan of this author for a number of years.  Her characters are generally quirky and her families dysfunctional.  She knows just when to infuse humor so that the stories never feel too dark or painful.  For some reason I struggled with this novel.  The story is narrated by Paula, and, the chapters are mostly about things that happened in the past but, are written as if it's in the present.  This felt somewhat off putting for me.  I also had a had time sympathizing with the main character.  (Paula is a character that appeared in an earlier Jackson novel - Someone Elses Love Story), but you can certainly read this book without reading the earlier story, and I got the impression there will not be a followup novel featuring Paula. Overall this was just an okay read for me but, I will still look forward to other books by this author.

3/5 stars
(review copy)