Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Luster of Lost Things

Title:  The Luster of Lost Things
Author:  Sophie Chen Keller
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0735210780 / 978-0735210783

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Somewhere in the Fourteenth Street subway station there is a statue of a little bronze man who waits for a train that never comes."

Favorite Quote:  "Out there might be dark places to be afraid of and lonely islands to escape from and terrifying heights to fall down, but what also awaits are more places to see and people to know and friends to make and experiences to share, and what could be more worth the pain than to open up and let yourself be a part of a sweeping story."

Walter Lavender Jr is an unusual young man. His father, a pilot, has been lost. His mother has build a life for Walter. She runs a bakery, but not just any bakery. This bakery is sprinkled with its own magic, created by a magical book that Walter Lavender Sr. left behind. The legend of the book is a magical story all its own. In the midst of this, Walter Lavender Jr. is loved and cared for by his mother, the workers in the bakery, his giant dog Milton, and his neighborhood.

Walter has a knack for finding things - lost things. Sadly, a speech impediment leaves him unable to articulate his thoughts in ordinary conversations. He finds his voice in his quests for lost things, but his inability to communicate in day-to-day interactions leaves him the subject of ridicule and bullying.

The book has this perfectly charming beginning setup. A caring neighborhood where people seem to know each other and care for each other. A magical book and a magical bakery. A precocious young main character.

Of course, drama comes to town in the shape of a new landlord who threatens the bakery and the neighborhood. On top of that, the Lavender's magical book goes missing. Therein lies the plot of the book. Walter can find things; he now just needs to do it for himself. This sets him on a quest around the city and through the paths of a wide assortment of characters. The book winds its way to a predictable ending.

Walter is a likable character, and as a adult, I want to make this child's path easier. The idea of a caring neighborhood and a magical bakery, of course, holds appeal. However, the book slows downs and begins to drag as Walter winds him way around the city in his search. Too many characters and too much of the same thing lead away from the charming, cozy beginning.

The publicity for the book calls to the readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night and A Man Called Ove. This book reminds me more of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Both books are about young boys dealing with the loss of their fathers. Both books are set in New York City. Both are about a quest to find something literal - a lock that fits a key and a lost magical book. In the quest to find the missing item, both stories are about a cast of characters who meet the young boys and who leave them with a lesson and a step forward. In both stories, the adult characters clearly take a back seat to the boys. Both stories are ultimately about these boys finding a way through their grief with the innocence of childhood.

One main difference is the use of magic realism in this book; the magical book is the missing item which serves only to accentuate a child's imagination. The fact that it is magical is not essential to the story. This book for me creates a more lasting impression because of the charm and warmth of the beginning, and maybe things are just better with a belief in a little magic.


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Everything We Left Behind

Title:  Everything We Left Behind
Author:  Kerry Lonsdale
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2017. 348 pages.
ISBN:  1477823972 / 978-1477823972

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "He dreamed about her again."

Favorite Quote:  "I urge you to come to terms with past mistakes, to forgive those who have wronged you, and find peace within yourself. You might discover that despite the losses, you've gained so much more."

The question of this book is can you go home again? When time has passed, can you return to a life and expect to pick up the pieces and step right back in? The even bigger question is do you really truly even want to?

Everything We Left Behind is the follow up Kerry Lonsdale's debut book Everything We Keep. The first book is about Aimee Tierney as she deals with the disappearance of her childhood sweetheart and husband to be, James Donato. By the end, the book reveals how and why James disappeared and how Aimee moves forward.

This book picks up six years later when James returns to California. The story is now about James remembering and moving forward. Aimee has started life anew. She is running a business, is married, and has a child. James is a widower with two boys, wondering how he got to where he is. He is rediscovering himself. In some ways, his life has been wonderful in the last six years. In other ways, it has not been his life at all, at least not the one he thinks he knows.

James' medical condition, which carries forward from the first book is dissociative fugue. This is a psychiatric disorder in which an individual can have two completely different personas - memories included. The individual is either one or the other, and can remain in one states for days, months, or even years as with James. Within each state, the individual is completely immersed in that life, emotions, actions, memories and all. Unless the individual has been told, there is no recognition or acknowledgement of another life. However, when a transition occurs from one persona to the other, the individual has no memory of the other.

James Donato is also Jaime Carlos Dominguez, widower and father of two. He has been happily so for six years. The discontent and sadness arrives when Carlos  awakes one day as James. Now, back as James, he struggles between his two identities and the love he has in both. His journey is further complicated by family and business intrigue that forced James to becomes Carlos now finds him again. So, his struggle to rediscover also turns into a struggle to survive, escape, and protect his family.

This book is more challenging than the first to follow. James story is more difficult to follow than Aimee's. The timeline is not linear. Past and present collide more in this book. Aimee's stories of the past were clearly nostalgic memories of the past. James's memories are that but also introduce decisions, actions, and incidents that are now coming forward into his present and threatening the life he has built. As such, past and present sometimes become blurred.

Perhaps, the nonlinear timeline creates a disconnect. Perhaps, James is a less interesting character than Aimee. Perhaps, the styles of the books and the story they tell is too similar. Perhaps, I read the two books one after the other. Perhaps, the mystery is lacking, and the ending is predictable. For all these reasons, this book is still an entertaining read but a less engaging one than the first.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Everything We Keep

Title:  Everything We Keep
Author:  Kerry Lonsdale
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1503935310 / 1503935310

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "On our wedding day, my fiancĂ©, James arrived at the church in a casket."

Favorite Quote:  "... I learned not to let go too easily of the people I want in my life. Friends, people I care about a lot."

As a reader, everything we have to leave behind in in this book is disbelief. Just go along for the ride.  Mystery, mysticism, medicine, business, criminal activity, family, and love all play a part in this debut novel. Keep in mind, this book is the beginning of a series (or has at least one sequel). So, don't expect everything to be all wrapped up by the end.

Overall, though, this book is about endings and beginnings. Aimee Tierney is a pastry chef working in her parent's restaurant and getting ready for her wedding to the love of her life, her childhood sweetheart, James Donato. Sadly, the book opens with a funeral instead of a wedding. The church, the guests, and even the flowers planned for the wedding become the backdrop for James Donato's funeral. It's an ending to everything Aimee has ever dreamt of. It's an ending of life as she knows it.

From the beginning though are signs that all is not as it appears. A stranger approaches Aimee at the funeral suggesting James may not be dead. So begins Aimee's story. Hers is a story of beginning again and moving into the future and of reflecting on the memories of the past as it ends. Aimee works at her parents' restaurant which is set to change hands. Aimee mourns this ending, but it leads to a new beginning and new dreams. She mourns for James and the life they shared and the life they still had yet to share. His death, however, forces life in a new direction.

The book also becomes the story of a search for closure. What happened to James? Is he or is he not dead? That is the mystery of the book. The answer to that question is no real surprise, but the "how" is the point of interest. The "how" involves a lot of moving parts fitting together just so. Not the most believable story but a fun journey.

The one point that is of concern in this book is that a rape occurs, and it is covered up by both the victim and someone who loves her. That is not okay. I understand that it happens in real life, but in a fiction book, I disagree with the message being sent particularly when the main story is not the terrible impact of those actions. Rape and a cover up are not okay. That is never okay. Also, the incident seems to be compartmentalized in the victim's life. Other than an abiding dislike and distrust of the perpetrator, it seems to not have had a lingering effect. That to me undermines the seriousness of that crime and its devastating effects in real life. Again, that is not okay.

Suspend disbelief is my recommendation for this book. Coincidences and leaps abound. The love story is sweet and sappy. However, with a relatively sympathetic character at the heart of it, it makes for a quick enjoyable read. In that, the book becomes a perfect beach or rainy afternoon read.


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Monday, October 9, 2017

The Great Quake

Title:  The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet
Author:  Henry Fountain
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1101904062 / 978-1101904060

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Riding shotgun beneath the clouds in a rattling De Havilland Otter, George Placer gazed down upon an Alaska he's never seen before."

Favorite Quote:  "Of the thousands upon thousands of earthquakes that happen around the world every year - from imperceptible tremors to powerful shakes like the one that hit Lituya Bay - roughly one in sixteen occur in Alaska. That makes the state one of the most quake-intensive places on the planet."

One in sixteen earthquakes in the world occur in Alaska. Just think about that. One in sixteen. The strongest earthquake ever measured occurred in Alaska in March 1964. The earthquake measured 9.2 on the Richter scale; that is before the scale broke because the earthquake was too strong to be measured. According to the US geologic survey, an earthquake of that magnitude causes almost total destruction at its epicenter with damage extending to far distances and changes in the land's topography that are permanent.

The Great Quake is the story of this natural disaster and how it changed science and how it impacted those who lived through it. Two things about this earthquake made it unique. The most obvious, of course, is its strength. The second is that, at that time, scientists did not know what caused the earthquake. It sent the Geological Survey on a scientific quest to determine the cause. What they found gave credence and credibility to the theory of plate tectonics. The science describes the structure of our planet and provide an explanation for natural events. The research done as a result of the Great Quake has forever changed this study.

Mind you, I find science fascinating but do not really look to read dry, scientific tomes. I find history fascinating, but, again, I look for the story of history more than a rote description of facts, figures, and timelines. This book satisfies on both counts. It contains science and history, but it is indeed a story.

The story of the people is front and center in this book rather than the science of the earthquake itself. Geology is explained, but this is not a book about geology. Again, it is a story of those whose lives changed because of this earthquake - Alaskan residents whose lives were literally upended by the earthquake, citizens who became heroes, and the scientists who rushed to study the events.

As a story, the book develops the "characters" if you with background information on their lives before and after the earthquake. In other words, this book goes beyond the quake both before and after. It anchors around George Plafker, the US Geological Survey scientist who was instrumental in the study of this earthquake. This past May, Geoge Plafker was awarded the 2017 Harry Fielding Reid Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Seismological Society of America (SSA). This award honors his lifetime contribution to the study of seismology, which stems in large part to the work he and the US Geological Survey team did in Alaska in the aftermath of the 1964 story.

In its style and approach, this book reminds me of Erik Larson's work. With eyewitness accounts, interviews, scientific information, and a narrative story-telling approach, this book makes for an engrossing and entertaining scientific history.

A note: The e-galley I received includes no images. I do not know if the print version does, but I hope it does for the images I have now looked up online give a whole new meaning to what the author manages to describe in words.


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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Reincarnation Blues

Title:  Reincarnation Blues
Author:  Michael Poore
Publication Information:  Del Rey. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0399178481 / 978-0399178481

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "This is a story about a wise man named Milo."

Favorite Quote:  "'Love' ... and 'in love' aren't always the same thing. 'In love' is a human thing. Chemicals. 'Love' is cosmic."

Reincarnation Blues is a most unusual love story. A man, Milo, lives almost ten thousand lives, reincarnated over and over again in a quest to achieve perfection. A cricket. A worm. A cow. A fish. A man. Another man. A woman. Another man. And so on. Life after life. Milo is not entirely sure what perfection is or if perfection is what he want. Actually, up until life number 9,996, he is unaware that perfection is the goal. He is just having a good time living.

He enjoys living, at least most of his lives. More than that, he enjoys his one true love in between lives. His love is Suzie aka Death. She is not human but rather an eternal being but not a god, perhaps something undefined. Suzie loves Milo but is not sure she wants to be Death anymore. She is tired of her "job" and would rather open a store in the afterlife, making and selling candles. (After all, she's only thought about this since the time candles were invented.

The premise goes that a human has ten thousands tries at life to get it right and achieve perfection. If the individual does, then he/she becomes part of the eternal perfection. If he/she does not and the ten thousand tries expire, then the individual disappears into nothingness.

Out of ten thousand lives, Milo has about four left. His reason for wanting to try to achieve perfection is not perfection but to get a shot at being with his beloved forever.

The telling of this story circles around and through and over and under multiple lives in a nonlinear fashion. The story of the different lives range from sweet to humorous to tragic as you would suspect life would in a span of 10,000 lives. In between are precious moments that Milo & Suzie are together.

This book is in turn a bit of science fiction, a bit of dry humor, and a bit of philosophical reflection on life. The individual reincarnations seem like somewhat jumbled, individual stories strung together. The love story of Milo and Suzie is the underlying thread that holds the book together.

The book is an interesting premise and an interesting execution. I like the characters, but the jumping time lines and the disjointed lives make the book a little difficult to settle into. I find myself reading a bit and then putting it down and then picking it up again only to then spend time figuring out where in time and place the book was. In addition, after a while, I start to look for something more than another of life. The connection and the "something more" does eventually come, but only towards the very end of the book. It takes perseverance to get there.

Suzie's character to me is actually the more intriguing one. After all, she is Death, but Death as a beautiful woman capable of empathy and love and other perfectly relatable human emotions. This book is very much Milo's story, but I would love to see more of Suzie's perspective.

The book is a unique play on a love story, and for that reason, will be memorable on my list.


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Monday, October 2, 2017

The Unquiet Grave

Title:  The Unquiet Grave
Author:  Sharyn McCrumb
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1476772878 / 978-1476772875

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The place was as quiet as it every got in the hours around midnight, with only occasional screams or sobs from the cells down the corridor to disturb hi contemplation."

Favorite Quote:  "I reckon he could'a done worse, and I could'a done better, but we soldiered on and made a family, which is all there is, when you come right down to it."

The testimony of a ghost helps convict a murderer in the 1890s in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. In reality or so the story goes. Zona Heaster Shue died young, a new bride in her home away from her  parents. Initially, it was thought she fell and died of the injuries before she was discovered. Later, it was said that she was murdered. The story goes that Zona's own words to her mother helped to discover the truth of what happened.

This is the story of the Greenbrier Ghost and as the book description claims, a story "based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history."

Zona Heaster's short life was full of misadventure, anguish, and heartbreak for her parents, and that was before she died at such a young age. At some point, her father urged her mother to let Zona go. That meant marriage to Edward "Trout" Shue. He was a drifter new to town, and Zona fell in love.

Mary Jane Heaster allowed the marriage to happen although she had her doubts. She allowed Zona to make her choices, but she would not let go as Zona's father suggested. A mother's love kept leading her back. Upon Zona's death, she pursued the case, claiming that Zona's spirit appeared to her and told her that she was murdered.

The book builds a fictional story around this unique history. It builds a background for Zona's life, depicts the events leading to her death, and the case after.

The book alternates between two completely different perspectives. The first is Mary Jane Heaster, who had the courage to see her daughter for who she was and, at the same time, love her unconditionally. Her love and strength is a focal point of the book. The other perspective is that of an attorney, who is now in an insane asylum. He encounters a young physician who wishes to try a new idea - a "talking" cure for mental illness. (Remember, this is the 1800s.) James P D Gardner was an attorney, who found himself defending Edward Shue. Although the reason for his insanity does not stem from the case, he finds himself narrating the case to the doctor. One perspective is that of love, emotion, and involvement; the other is that of detachment and analysis. Both are tales of reaching for and finally finding closure.

Through these two perspectives and descriptive language, the author creates an atmospheric ghost story. Through one or the other, gradually, the other players in the story are introduced. The connection of the characters to the story is sometimes not apparent at the time of their introduction. Knowing the history of Zona Heaster Shue's case prior to reading the book would be helpful because then each newly introduced character could be placed in context. The book needs almost a cast of characters, with names and roles, much like a play to accomplish the same purpose.

The atmosphere and the unique history are the memorable aspects of this book. Once again, I find myself marveling at the ability of fiction to introduce me to a history I may never otherwise have learned.


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Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Heirs

Title:  The Heirs
Author:  Susan Rieger
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1101904712 / 978-1101904718

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "When he was dying, Rupert Falkes had the best care money could buy."

Favorite Quote:  "We're package deals. All or nothing."

The Heirs is a portrait of the Falkes family - Rupert, Eleanor, and their fives boys Harry, Sam, Will, Jack and Tom - particularly in the aftermath of Rupert's death. The way in which each person deals with Rupert's death, however, reaches far back into the past to provide a glimpse of how the family got to this point.

The Falkes are a rich family with Eleanor bringing the pedigree and Rupert bringing the rags to riches story. On the face of it, the story begins with Rupert's death and a declaration from a Vera Wolinski that she had a relationship with Rupert and that Rupert fathered her two children, who are now entitled to part of Rupert's estate. The news unsettles the Falkes brothers, not just for what the future may bring but even more because it calls into question everything they thought they knew about their parents and their lives. They each deal with it differently, and they each bring it to their mother differently. Eleanor is the lynch pin that holds this family together.

Below the surface though, this book is more than a family portrait; it is an examination of relationships. Rupert and Eleanor. Rupert and Vera. Eleanor and Jim. Jim and Anne. Sam and Andrew. Sam and Susanna. The Falkes brothers. The Wolinski brothers. Within those relationships, this is a story of love, loyalty, and ultimately fidelity. The questions of fidelity and what it means in every context is the underlying current throughout this book.

The chapter titles - all names except the one titled The Heirs - tells you how this completely character-driven book is. All their stories circle around Rupert's death, but truly each chapter become a vignette and one portrait in a gallery. Eleanor's is a story of strength and of knowing what to see and what to ignore. It is a story of when to follow the "rules" and how, carefully and quietly, to break them. Sam's story is one of the struggle between a love based on desire and one based on friendship. Anne's is the story of constantly living with the fact that you were a second choice and making a life anyways. And so on, through the Falkes family and those who surround the.

Of all the characters, Eleanor is my favorite for her quiet strength and her ability to hold secrets close and her outward demeanor of constant composure. Or, maybe, the mother in me just relates to her love of and her understanding of her children

Eventually, the books winds around to Rupert's own story. This is perhaps my least favorite part of the book for it gets graphic and visual about his relationships with two very different women. Although the entire book is about relationships, most of it is subtle. The descriptions of Rupert's relationship are a jarring note in this otherwise quiet book.

As with Susan Rieger's first book, The Divorce Papers, this book takes me a while to get into. However, the characters do pull me and I find myself engaged in their struggles and caring what happens to them. Given these first two books, I look forward to seeing what Susan Rieger writes next.


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