Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Title:  The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Author:  Ayana Mathis
Publication Information: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Inc. 2012. 243 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on its publicity as the Oprah Book Club pick. The book came as a hardcover edition from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "It seemed to him that every time he made one choice in his life, he said no to another. All of those things he could not do or be were huddled inside of him; they might spring up at any moment, and he would be hobbled with regret."

Hattie Shepard is a child of the South. At age fifteen in 1923, Hattie leaves Georgia to seek a better life in Pennsylvania. She marries a man named August with hopes for a bright future. Unfortunately, that does not come to pass. In addition, her firstborn twins pass away because of a lack of medicine. Hattie goes on to have nine more children and works hard to instill in them the discipline and strength she feels are necessary to survive in a challenging world.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, as the title suggests, follows the stories of Hattie and, turn by turn, her children. To some extent, reading each section is like reading an independent story. The characters carry over from one to the other. However, the focus of each is so definitely one character that the commonality between them seems less relevant.

Unfortunately, because of this structure, I found myself not being able to really vest in any of the characters or develop that sense of emotional connection. By the time I started to feel a connection, the section ended and I felt like I moved on to a brand new story.

Each of the individual stories in and of itself is sad and depressing. So, at the end, I am left with a set of depressing stories -  not really something I want to spend time with. I am glad to be done and ready to move on.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Title:  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author:  Rachel Joyce
Publication Information: Random House, Inc. 2012. 265 pages

Book Source:  I read this book based on the description. The book came as a ebook edition from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "Harold thought of the people he had already met on his journey. All of them were different, but none struck him as strange. He considered his own life and how ordinary it might look from the outside, when really it held such darkness and trouble."

Harold Fry is old retired English gentlemen. He and his wife Maureen have spent most of their lives in the same house in a small village. Harold worked in one place until he retired. Now, he seems to do nothing much. Maureen keeps house. Their routine continues as it has for many years.

One day, Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend. The letter informs that Queenie is dying and wishes Harold to know what his friendship meant. This seems to spur Harold out of himself. He starts off writing Queenie a letter and sets off to post it. Yet, somehow, that turns into his belief that if he walks to Queenie, he will somehow save her.

So, he sets off to walk over 500 miles. The book tells the story of this walk - the people he meets along the way, the people he leaves behind, and layer by layer, the story of Harold's own life. We see moments of joy and moments of such great sorrow.

Harold and Maureen are an "ordinary" couple leading an "ordinary" life in an "ordinary" small English village. Yet, as we learn in this book, no life is ordinary as it might appear from the surface. In every life comes joys and sorrows  and love and moments that make it extraordinary.

This story of ordinary people turns out surprisingly be an extraordinary tale that made me laugh and cry and care about the characters. This is Rachel Joyce's debut novel. I can't wait to see what she writes next.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Love Anthony

Title:  Love Anthony
Author:  Lisa Genova
Publication Information:  Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster. 2012. 309 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on the description. The book came as a hardcover edition from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "I loved your love because it kept me safe and happy and wanted, and it existed beyond words and hugs and eyes."

Lisa Genova holds PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University. Her fiction novels are inspired by neuroscience and its impact on our lives. Her first book, Still Alice, dealt with Alzheimers. Her second book, Left Neglected, dealt with the effects of a brain injury due to an accident. Love Anthony deals with autism.

It brings to life the story of a little boy - Anthony. Anthony is an autistic boy or a boy with autism. He was nonverbal. He refused to make eye contact. He did not like to be touched. However, at the end of it all, he is a little boy deeply loved and cherished by his family.

Olivia Donatelli is Anthony's mother. After Anthony's death, she moves to Nantucket seeking peace and understanding of Anthony's life and his death. Beth Ellis is a long time Nantucket resident and a wife and a mother. She is going through struggles of her own and beginning to rediscover and understand her life. The stories of these two women comes together through Anthony in a most unexpected way.

The manner in which the story comes together is completely implausible to me. Yet, it does not matter at all. The way in which the story is told and the emotions and thoughts depicted completely pulled me in and made me forget the implausibility of it all.

Through Olivia's story, we learn of the anguish of a parent unable to help their child and the anguish of losing a child. Beth is a writer and gives voice to the child who had no voice. It pulls you into the Olivia and Anthony's world and hopefully helps you understand. As the author says about the book, "The spectrum is long and wide, and we're all on it. Once you believe this, it becomes easy to see how we're all connected."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Title:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author:  Ransom Riggs
Publication Information:  Quirk Books. 2011. 352 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because it is story built around a set of photographs - photography is another love of mine. The book came as a hardcover from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "When someone won't let you in, eventually you stop knocking."

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a fanciful tale built around a set of actual vintage images found in the private collections of ten individuals. The photographs present fascinating images - some beautiful and peculiar and some a little disturbing and peculiar.

Jacob is a sixteen year old who witnesses a terrible family tragedy. His parents feel he is traumatized to an extent that it has had an effect on his mental health. In an effort to heal, Jacob and his father travel to a remote island in Wales where his grandfather once lived. The premise for his parents is that if he can see the reality of of the place that has mythical characteristics in his grandfather's stories, it will help alleviate his angst. What Jacob finds is entirely different. His journey leads him to a whole other world and an adventure he never would have believed possible.

"Peculiar" is an appropriate word for the title and the story. The author's imagination in building this story is impressive. The story has many different elements and a lot going on. I loved the fact that a series of odd, unrelated photographs come together in a cohesive tale. Built into the story are also historical references that ground the book in reality. Even though you know the story is a flight of fancy, those bits of reality make you stop and wonder.

The book builds with the pace picking up as you get deeper into the story. The ending comes filled with action, and then you are left with the idea that another story is yet to come. Perhaps a sequel.

Overall, a fun read with a lot going on if you are willing to suspend disbelief and follow along.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sins of the Mother

Title:  Sins of the Mother
Author:  Danielle Steel
Publication Information:  Delacorte Press, Random House Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2012. 354 pages.

Book Source:  I just read Danielle Steel books - that's my reason. The book came as a hardcover from our library.

Favorite Quote:  "Someone once said that being grown up is being able to accept your parents as they are. The trouble is that most of us don't grow up in that sense. We want our parents to be perfect and live up to our ideals. Our children want us to forgive them unconditionally for their mistakes, but they don't want to forgive us anything. At some point that no longer works."

Sins of the Mother is the latest of Danielle Steel books, and it brings what fans have come to expect in a  Danielle Steel novel - beautiful people, beautiful places, and emotional drama. In this case, the mother is Olivia Grayson. She has spent her life building a worldwide business empire. She has provided for her four children in every way except that she was rarely present during their childhood. Now that they are all adults, that fact and their emotions surrounding it still continue to impact their relationships both with their mother and with others in their lives.

To look at this book, I have to separate it into two parts. The Grayson family is enormously wealthy. The book begins as Olivia Grayson charters a private luxury yacht to sail the Italian Riviera for two weeks with her children, their spouses, and grandchildren. That kind of a lifestyle is so completely beyond the realm of my reality - and most people's reality - that it becomes removed. I almost found myself ignoring that part because I cannot relate to it.

On the other hand, the family dynamics, relationships, and emotions are what I do relate to. As a parent, I understand the desire of wanting to do the best for my children and the choices never being easy. Family relationships and drama transcend economic boundaries - people are people regardless of their economic circumstances. It is those aspects of Danielle Steel's books that keep me reading.

Overall, if you are a Danielle Steel fan, you will enjoy this latest addition to her impressively long list of books. If you are not, this one will not turn you into one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

Title:  The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society
Author:  Darien Gee
Publication Information:  Ballatine Books, Random House Publishing Group. 2013. 426 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a paperback advance uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "Her job also reminds her that things are not always as they seem, that her life is her own, always has been and always will be."

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society is a follow up to Darien Gee's first book Friendship Bread. However, both books stand independently and do not have to be read together. This book brings to life the small town of Avalon through the eyes and stories of some of the women in town.

Bettie is an older, long time Avalon resident who is the head of the scrapbooking society. Isabelle is recovering from her husband's betrayal and death. Yvonne Tate is the town plumber attempting to live live on her terms. Ava is a single parent who had an affair with Isabel's husband. Frances is the young mother. Madeline runs a local cafe. Connie is a young woman who is still figuring out where she belongs. All these women are connected by bonds of family, friendship, and small town life.

I am a photographer but not a scrapbooker. However, an interest in scrapbooking is not necessary for enjoying this story. The concept of memories is an underlying theme to the entire book - memories that we cherish, memories that trouble us, memories we try and leave behind, and the memories we create every single day.

A quick read. A simple story about women and their laughter and their tears. A cozy book to read with a cup of tea.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Whoever You Are

Title:  Whoever You Are
Author:  Donna Marie Lanheady
Publication Information:  Donna Marie Lanheady. 2012. 185 pages

Book Source:  I received this book from the author for review. The book arrived as an ebook edition.

Favorite Quote:  "We focused on our family and what we wanted in our life together. We stopped looking back and moved forward. It was the only way out of it."

What defines who you are as a person? Is it family? Is it race? Is it sexual orientation? Is it your career? And what if one element changes? What if you learn that you don't come from where you thought? Does that change who you are? These are the questions that this book deals with.

Emily McGinn is secure in her life, her relationships, and where she belongs. Then, she receives a large inheritance from someone she does not know. Questions about the inheritance lead to discoveries that make Emily question those who love her and her own view of herself.

The question the author poses is a significant one. The potential for a great story exists. However, this book falls a little short. The story addresses the question on many different levels - some unnecessary -  and does so in a relatively short span. As such, the book seems rushed.

I loved the Donna Marie Lanheady's first book, Where Secrets Lie, (reviewed November 2011, Where Secrets Lie). In this one, I see the potential if not the implementation. I do look forward to reading more.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Gift of Hope

Title:  A Gift of Hope
Author:  Danielle Steel
Publication Information:  Delacorte Press, Random House Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2012. 128 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because I have a long standing habit of reading new Danielle Steel books as they come out. The book came as a hardcover from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "Homelessness is not one of the 'sexy' or appealing causes that make people rush forward to help ... They [the homeless] frighten us, not just in their appearance or behavior, but because if we look at them more closely, we cannot help but fear that something similar could happen to us or someone we love ... We have to help."

A Gift of Hope sounds like it would be the title of a Danielle Steel novel. Her books are often about characters in difficult situations finding hope and finding a future. This book, however, is not a novel. It is about real people in extremely difficult situations who don't always find a way to the future. This book is nonfiction, and it is about the homeless.

A Gift of Hope is about the "Yo! Angel" homeless outreach team that Danielle Steel started, funded, and worked with for eleven years. The project grew out of a need to cope with her son's suicide. It started with Danielle Steel going out into the San Francisco streets at night bringing care packages - jackets, hats, gloves - to the homeless. It grew somewhat more organized, but not much bigger because to protect her privacy, the project operated through her private funding and independently of any outside support. It ended for the same reason - it became unfeasible to fund. Perhaps, that is the reason for this book?

I find this book difficult to assess. It draws attention to a critical area for our society - how to most effectively help the homeless - from prevention to support. As such, it is an important book. As a book, however, it got repetitive, and the tone was a little removed. She does say repeatedly throughout the book that Yo! Angel gave to the homeless without asking for anything in return. Without asking even for their story. However, this book needed stories to develop that personal connection.

I do hope that the book draws greater attention to the plight of the homeless and that more help can be given. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club

Title:  The End of Your Life Book Club
Author:  Will Schwalbe
Publication Information:  Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, Inc. 2012. 336 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on its description - mother, son, and books - three topics that had me hooked. The book came as a hardcover from the library.

Favorite Quote:  "Of course, we are all dying and none of us knows the hour, which could be decades away or tomorrow, and we know that we need to live our lives to the fullest every day. But I mean really - who can play that mental game or live like that? And there's a world of difference between knowing you could die in the next two years, and knowing that you almost certainly will."

The End of Your Life Book Club is a story of two years - from the time Will Schwalbe's mother Mary Ann is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to her death. It is a journey towards an end that the family knows is coming. It is also a celebration of their life. Finally, under the umbrella of their book club of two people, the book seeks to become a discussion of so many emotions, topics and lessons learned. Perhaps, it becomes a means to coping with the loss.

The idea of finding things we need to talk about and doing it in the context of a book, of course, appeals to me. I loved all the books references - becoming part of the conversation for those I have read and making a mental list of the ones I have not read. At the end of this book, the author does provide a list of all the referenced books. The books they read are not discussed in detail unfortunately, but merely become the vehicle to present the rest of the story.

As far as the family story, I found myself relating to parts and not to others. I could not relate to their lifestyle of big projects and world travel. I did completely relate to the their love of books, their love for each other, and the emotions of loss.

At one point in the book the author thinks, "I often forget that other people's stories aren't simply introductions to my own more engaging, more dramatic, more relevant, and better-told tales, but rather ends in themselves, tales I can learn from or repeat or dissect or savor." I am glad he had the chance to "repeat, dissect, and savor" stories with his mother, and I am glad he chose to share his story with us.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Secret Keeper

Title:  The Secret Keeper
Author:  Kate Morton
Publication Information: Atria Books, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2012. 484 pages

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I have enjoyed the author's other books.

Favorite Quote:  "Children don’t require of their parents a past and they find something faintly unbelievable, almost embarrassing, in parental claims to a prior existence."

The Secret Keeper is the story of Dorothy or Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy. Laurel is Dorothy's daughter. As a teenager, she witnesses a tragic incident that influences her greatly as she grows up. As an adult and as her mother nears death, Laurel delves into that secret and her mother's past. What emerges is the mystery of Dorothy's life.

The book alternates between present day and the war and Blitz in London when Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy are all young. Through the limited clues that Laurel discovers and the story of the past as it is told, we learn of the relationship between these three people and how that eventually leads to the tragedy that Laurel witnesses.

Kate Morton is a masterful storyteller. I have loved all the book the books I have read by her. This one is no different. The book completely draws you into the past and lives of Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy. Even though the book goes back and forth between that past and Laurel's search, the story remains immersed in the past. The interludes to the present allow the reader to catch their breath before delving back in.

Interestingly, about half way through the book, I guessed where it was going and what the secret truly was. However, it did not matter and did not detract from the book. I kept reading because I wanted to see how the story was going to get there.

A beautifully told story even though the secret ends up not being that surprising. I can't wait to see what Kate Morton writes next.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Title:  The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving
Author:  Jonathan Evison
Publication Information:  Highbridge Audio. 2012. 278 pages (paper copy)

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

Favorite Quote:  "I know that no matter how safe one plays it, no matter how one tries to minimize the risk, to shelter oneself or one's charge from the big bad world outside, accidents will happen."

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a story about living life in spite of its challenges and difficulties. Trevor is a nineteen year old who suffers from a form of muscular dystrophy. He is very limited in his physical abilities. Ben is living with the aftermath of tragedy in his life. He has lost his family and his job. The tragic event that led to this overwhelms every aspect of his life.

Ben takes a night class in the "fundamentals of caregiving". He learns how to provide at home care for patients in a removed, professional manner. Trevor is his first client. As their relationship progresses, the professional boundaries are blurred. Ben and Trevor embark on a grand adventure and learn that peace and joy in life are possible despite the challenges it presents.

I wanted to like this book. I felt sorry for both Ben and Trevor. Unfortunately, I found myself not getting involved with the characters or their story. The sadness I felt for them was a removed, distanced one. The characters did not come to life for me and did not pull me into the story.

Some of the incidents that take place are amusing. The message about overcoming adversity is a positive one. However, the characters evoke sadness but not caring. That finally was what made the book not successful for me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Culinary Intelligence

Title:  Culinary Intelligence
Author:  Peter Kaminsky
Publication Information: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2012. 208 pages

Book Source:  I picked this book based on the description while browsing the library catalog.

Favorite Quote:  "Looking at nutrients in isolation - which is what so many studies and diets do - is like removing all the notes from a musical score, putting them in a box, shaking the box, pouring the notes on a table, and hoping that they land in exactly the same order as Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major."

The subtitle to Culinary Intelligence - the art of eating healthy and really well - describes its purpose. Peter Kaminsky is a long time food writer. Over time, his career in food led to unhealthy eating habits and health concerns. This book culls his experience and lessons learned in his journey back to health. In that sense, it is another diet book.

As far as diet books go, this one mirrors the ideas of many that have come before. Eat for quality not quantity. Buy the best ingredients and then cook them well. When you eat flavorful, satisfying food, you are satisfied with smaller portions.

The author coins the concept of "flavor per calorie" or FPC. The goal of his diet becomes to maximize FPC. Some of the ways in which he does this stem from his worldwide experiences in the food industry. As such, I did not find some of the ideas or examples applicable to my life.

My favorite part of this book was the focus on the idea summarized in the quote above. These days, so much of the food literature focuses on nutrients - calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, macronutrients, antioxidants and so on. I liked that this book highlights that food is not simply the sum total of its parts, but it can be something more. While focus on nutrition is key to a healthy body, we need to keep in mind more than that to evolve an overall healthy lifestyle.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Child Out of Alcatraz

Title:  A Child Out of Alcatraz
Author:  Tara Ison
Publication Information:  Foreverland Press. 1997. 132 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as an pdf attachment to an email.

Favorite Quote:  "So if I don't feed her, she doesn't eat; if I don't change her, she gets a rash - why do you act like these things are unimportant, then tell me motherhood is the most important job in the world?"

A Child Out of Alcatraz is the story of Olivia and her family and a story of Alcatraz, the place and the prison. Olivia's father is a prison guard at Alcatraz. Her mother Vivien seems to be caught in a life that she feels captive in. Through flashbacks, we learn that she idealistically stepped into a marriage that did not lead to a life she envisioned. The promises and dreams differ greatly from the reality. The reality becomes a demanding husband, children, and an isolated life on Alcatraz. Told through Olivia's eyes, the story is one of Vivien's descent further and further into the despair of her life and the effects it has on Olivia.

This book tells two stories - one the fictional account of Olivia and one the true history of Alcatraz. The author provide many accounts of historical events seamlessly incorporating the characters through the story. It almost gives the book the tone and voice of a memoir.

Olivia's story is a heart wrenching one. A young child is forced to grow up too fast both because of where she lives and because her mother cannot "mother" her. My heart reaches out to her, wanting to protect and shelter her from the reality of her life. The character of Vivien is at times a sympathetic one because of the situation she finds herself in. However, because of some of her choices particularly towards her children, the sympathy wears thin after a while.

Overall, a beautiful debut novel which makes you care about the characters and what happens to them. I look forward to reading more from Tara Ison.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Descendants

Title:  The Descendants
Author:  Kaui Hart Hemmings
Publication Information:  Random House. 2011. 320 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on the publicity for the movie.

Favorite Quote:  "That's how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can't experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too."

The Descendants is the story of Matt King and his family. His wife, Jonie,  is in a coma following a boating accidents.  His daughters, ten year old Scottie and seventeen year old Alex, face the struggles of life and of their mother's illness. Matt is thrust into the role of being an active father without his wife to rely on. The situation is made worse by his discovery that his wife was having an affair. Added into the mix is his struggle over property he inherited through the lineage of Hawaiian royalty.

The book covers the span of only a few days. Matt is attempting to gather family and friends to say their final goodbyes to Joanie. He decides that this group of people needs to include his wife's lover. He takes his daughters on a journey to find him. The journey becomes one of self-discovery and of reconnection with his daughters and his heritage.

I really liked this book because the characters elicited an emotional connection and reaction. I felt sorry for Matt, who is trying to do the best he can in a really bad situation. I wanted to protect and shelter Alex and Scottie as they struggled through. Joanie is in a coma; yet I wanted to ask her why. Even the other characters like Alex's friend Sid and Joanie's lover had interesting stories.

The tone of the book also came across as honest and real. I am not sure many people would go looking for their dying wife's lover, but regardless the book came across as real. Perhaps because people in extreme circumstances sometimes make extreme choices. The characters were believable as was the story itself. Maybe I should see the movie. Wonder if it would ruin the book for me or improve on it?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls

Title:  The Sandcastle Girls
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Knoph Doubleday, Random House. 2012. 334 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on enjoying some of the author's other books.

Favorite Quote:  "There are times when exotic is good and times when it isn't."

The Sandcastle Girls is a story blending the present and the past. The present is   the story of Laura Petrosian. She is a writer living with her family in New York. She is of Armenian descent, and a photograph in the newspaper sets her off on a journey through her family's past. The past is Elizabeth Endicott, a young woman who travels to Syria on a mission of mercy and falls in love with Armen, an Armenian man who has lost his family. The setting and background is the history of the Armenian genocide in the early 1900s.

I really wanted to like this book. The history it presents is not one often written about or talked about. Yet, it should be remembered.

Unfortunately, the book is difficult to get involved with. The story weaves back and forth across time, place, and point of view. The differences in the times, places, and points of view are so great that it makes it difficult to maintain the continuity of the story and especially the continuity of the building emotions.

Also, without giving a spoiler, I will say this. The ending was disappointing. It seemed somewhat related to the history being presented in that without these events, this story would not happened. However, it seemed more to be about timing and an individual decision. It made me sad, but it detracted from what the emotions of the book were all about.

I am glad for this book for the history it brings to light. I wish it had been in a more engaging way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Time Keeper

Title:  The Time Keeper
Author:  Mitch Albom
Publication Information:  Hyperion. 2012. 224 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed some of Mitch Albom's other books.

Favorite Quote:  "Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out."

The Time Keeper is the fictionalized story of Father Time - who he was, how he came to be Father Time, and what he would change if he could. In the context of the story, of course, is the lesson for all of us. A lesson that can be summarized in the following quote from the book:  "You marked the minutes .... But did you use them wisely? To be still? To cherish? To be grateful? To lift and be lifted?"

Essentially, the story goes that in a time long long ago, no one measured time. Then, one man figured out how and became obsessed with his measurements. The consequence of his obsession turned him into Father Time. However, now he has a chance to redeem himself if he can teach two individuals the lesson he learned too late.

The two individuals come from opposite ends of the spectrum - one feeling like he has no time and needs more and the other feeling like even one more moment of life is too much. They both take steps - drastic steps - to remedy their problem of too little or too much time. Do they learn in time? That is the crux of the book.

The lesson of the book is a useful one, but unfortunately the story seems so contrived and the lesson is too obvious. I could see where the story was going and was not at all surprised when it got there. The characters (Father Time, the old man, the young woman) are not compelling enough to draw me into the story.

So, while I love some of Mitch Albom's other books, I am disappointed by this one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happier at Home

Title:  Happier at Home
Author:  Gretchen Rubin
Publication Information:  Crown Archetype, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2012. 273 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project.

Favorite Quote:  "Again and again, I realized that to be happy, I must 'Be Gretchen' ... I had to follow what was true for me ... I had to know myself and face myself ... to 'Be Gretchen' was the way to happiness, but there was also a sadness to this resolution - the sadness that comes from admitting my limitations, my indifferences, all the things that I wish I were that I will never been. To cram my days full of the things I loved, I had to acknowledge the things that played no part in my happiness."

Happier at  Home is a follow up to Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. The Happiness Project works on the premise that although Gretchen is content in her life, the prospect for being happier exists if she makes a conscious effort. This seems necessary because she feels her focus is not on the things in her life that make her happy.

Happier at Home applies the same principle to her home and home life including the people in it. Taking a school year as her time span, she focuses on a topic month by month - possessions, marriage
parenthood, interior design, time, body, family, neighborhood, and now.

I agree with a lot of ideas presented in this book. Most are not new, but we need reminding to focus on them. The idea of making time for those important to us. The idea of community. The idea of self care. The idea of living in the moment.

My biggest concern with this book is the references to her first happiness project. I have read the first book and really liked it. However, I read it a while ago. I remember the general themes of the book but not the specifics. In reading this one, I feel like I should re-read the first book to really get the most out of this one. It makes me wonder if I should have just read the original again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blackberry Winter

Title:  Blackberry Winter
Author:  Sarah Jio
Publication Information:  Penguin Group. 2012. 290 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a softcover advance uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "That's the thing about secrets - they always do find their way. Even if it takes a lifetime."

A blackberry winter is an expression used to describe a cold spell in late spring when the blackberry bushes are blooming. In this case, it refers to two snow storms in May about 80 years apart.

Claire Aldridge is a newspaper reporter assigned to write a human interest story about a storm in 2010. She discovers that a similar storm occurred in 1933. While researching to find an "angle" for her story, she reads about the disappearance of a child during the 1933 storm. Vera Bradley was single mother who came home from work on the morning of that storm and found her three year old son Daniel missing. The mystery of the disappearance was never solved.

The books weaves back and forth between Claire's story and research and Vera's story. Slowly, similarities and connections emerge. The connections continue to build coming to a shared conclusion to both stories.

Claire's story - of her marriage, of the loss of her child - is an interesting one. Vera's story - of love and of single parenthood - is also interesting. The connections between the two, however, create too neat a package. Everything seems to come together piece by piece very conveniently. Unfortunately, that removes some of the "genuineness" of the two individual stories and makes it seem somewhat contrived. It is an okay book, but not great for that reason. Fun to read while it lasts, but not memorable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Title:  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author:  Rebecca Skloot
Publication Information:  Broadway Paperbacks, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2010. 381 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "Everybody in Lacks Town kin to Henrietta, but she been gone so long, even her memory pretty much dead now ... Everything about Henrietta dead except them cells."

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating story of a woman who died in 1951. Until this book was written, she was virtually unknown, but her life and death have had an incalculable effect on the field of medicine.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor woman trying to survive. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and treated as a charity patient at Johns Hopkins. Without her permission or even her knowledge, doctors who treated her took and cultured her cells. Her cells showed such properties and such ability to thrive and multiply that they became an important tool in medical science. They were reproduced, bought, and sold by the millions and were critical in medical advances such as the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and other applications.

Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to suffer and struggle. On top of that, her children had to deal with the fact that a part of their mother was somehow alive out in the world. Others reaped professional and financial benefits while Henrietta's family did not.

This books alternates between telling the story of the HeLa cells and the story of Henrietta and her family. It takes a story of science and makes it about the people involved.

The topic is a fascinating one, and the book includes a lot of research. Sometimes, it is difficult to read because it contains so much information. I enjoyed the the story of Henrietta's life and family. I also enjoyed learning more about the scientific development that resulted.  However, for most of the book I found myself skimming through a lot of the details. It was interesting, but it was just a bit too much.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

In Loving Memoria: Nasim Tariq

Title:  In Loving Memoria: Nasim Tariq
Author:  Tariq Hussain, editor
Publication Information:  RB Printers. 2012.

Book Source:  I received this book as a gift from a dear friend of my parents - a gift I asked for and one that I will always cherish.

Favorite Quote:  "I undertook to write our story to lessen my pain as well as to record what she was for her children and grandchildren ... I hope that this collection will enable them to know their exceptional grandmother better."

This book is not one you can buy in a store or find online. It will not win awards or be on the bestseller list. Yet, it will always be one of my most treasured books. Let me tell you the story of this book and the amazing person that it is about.

Tariq Hussain ("Uncle") and Nasim Tariq ("Aunty") were friends of my parents. I met them for the first time when we moved to their town. I was nine. From then on, they were part of our lives. Our parents hung out together. The kids all grew up together. We took care of each and watched out for each other. We were part of each other's joys and sorrows.

As the kids turned into adults, we all moved in different directions - away to school, away for jobs, busy with starting families of our own. We saw each other less.

Then, I learned that Aunty was suffering from Alzheimer's. She suffered from this disease for a decade before she passed away last year. Aunty was one of the most vibrant and committed people I have ever met. She was dedicated to her family, her friends, and the children of community - all of us have our stories of Aunty keeping watch over us, and for many of us, teaching us how to drive. She was also tireless in her devotion to community service. To see her suffering in this way from Alzheimer's was heartbreaking.

Upon her death, Uncle compiled this book. It is a collection of photographs and memories from some of the people whose lives Aunty touched - her children, her grandchildren, other relatives, teachers, friends, and others. It is a beautiful tribute to a life well lived.

It makes me cry to know that she is gone. It makes me smile to know that the legacy she left behind will always be. It makes me hope and pray that at the end of my life, I may leave a memory of such love.

I am honored to have known her, and honored to be entrusted with this tribute to her.

Gone Girl

Title:  Gone Girl
Author:  Gillian Flynn
Publication Information:  Crown Publishers, Random House Inc. 2012. 429 pages (based on font and size selected)

Book Source:  I read this book based on the publicity for it and based on the recommendation of a friend.

Favorite Quote:  "I didn't say this out loud, though; I often don't say things out loud, even when I should. I contain and compartmentalize to a disturbing degree:  In my belly-basement are hundreds of bottles of rage, despair, feat, but you'd never guess from looking at me."

Gone Girl is the story of Nick and Amy. Husband and wife. Married five years. On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy goes missing. The book is told in three sections. The book is narrated in alternating points of view - a chapter from Nick and a chapter from Amy.

It's tough to describe this book without spoilers, but I going to attempt to because I don't do spoilers. Amy has disappeared, and as in many cases such as this, Nick becomes a key suspect. The trail and the evidence appears to all lead to him. They are having marital problems. They are in financial difficulty. The individual family priorities of both are in conflict. At times, their very lifestyles are in conflict. Yet, they try or at least give the outward appearance of trying. All things point in one direction, but things are not as they seem. Gradually, what is real begins to separate from the lies and the deceptions.

I have to say that I completely did not see where this book was going. It kept me guessing and surprised me. I did not really like the characters. Yet, I could not stop reading because I wanted to find out what happened to them.  I did not much like how the story went, but the book would have been less powerful had it ended differently. So, does that make it a good book or not? You decide. I know it was certainly a memorable book.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Title:  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 
Author:  Deborah Moggach
Publication Information:  Random House. 2012. 262 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on the publicity for the movie.

Favorite Quote:  "She had expected the aches and pains, the failing vision, the reliance on others ... but she hadn't predicted the loneliness."

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the story of a set of elderly British who all end up together in a retirement home in India. The book description focuses on Dr. Ravi Kapoor, who is originally from India but lives in England. He and his cousin come up with this scheme for a retirement home. The story though really is about the individuals who become the residents.

The cast of characters includes Ravi's father-in-law, Norman, a man in search of female company. Then, there is Evelyn, whose current home is closed down, and her children are busy leading their lives. Muriel Donnelly arrives because of a family crisis. The Ainslies arrive on a new adventure. Dorothy Miller arrives on a mysterious search. Added to this mix are other residents and the cast of "locals."

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the characters or the book. It seems a sad book about a sad cast of characters. The focus seems to be on regrets and unhappiness with very few glimpses of the more positive aspects of life. In addition, the statements about India and Indians range from stereotypical to seemingly patronizing and insulting.

These features of the book may be understandable because of the ages and backgrounds of the characters and the time period. Unfortunately, the characters are not really developed and have no dimension or depth to them. Therefore, they elicit no emotional understanding or empathy. As such, the negatives just stand out all the more.

I read the book, and based on that, don't think I will be watching the movie.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In The Shadow of the Banyan

Title:  In The Shadow of the Banyan
Author:  Vaddey Ratner
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2012. 322 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on reading the publicity for it.

Favorite Quote:  "Love hides in all sorts of places, in the most sorrowful corner of your heart, in the darkest and most hopeless situation."

In the Shadow of the Banyan is the story of seven-year old Raami, who is caught up in the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the 1970s. The regime of the Khmer Rouge has the history of genocide, famine, disease, and destruction. This book tells a very personal story of that time. Though a fictionalized account, the book is autobiographical in its basis.

Raami is part of the royal family of Cambodia, and through this time period, suffers with her family. She suffers hardships beyond our imagination - separation from family, death of family members, starvation, and forced labor. Yet, she also finds moments of beauty and love. Throughout, she fights for survival.

It is somewhat disconcerting to read this book. The book describes such horrors, yet the imagery is at the same time heart-breakingly beautiful. The book is narrated through Raami's eyes - the innocent eyes of a seven year old. Yet, the insights and the poetic descriptions cannot be attributed to a child so young.

This seems to be a disconnect in the book. Yet, for the most part, it ceases to matter. I am so captured by the imagery and the emotions that I willingly put that aside. Periodically, there are moments of innocence that bring me back to the point that the narrator is seven. Yet, mostly, I remain entrenched in the story feeling the emotions and fighting for Raami's survival.

These words from the book itself describe it well..."Words, you see, allow us to make permanent what is essentially transient. Turn a world filled with injustice and hurt into a place that is beautiful and lyrical. Even if only on paper."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Sisters Montclair

Title:  The Sisters Montclair
Author:  Cathy Holton
Publication Information:  Branwell Books. 2012. 357 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book arrived as a softcover uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "Perhaps that was how immortality was gained after all; by sharing our stories, by living on in each other's hearts and imaginations."

The Sisters Montclair is the story of the unlikely friendship between ninety-four year old Alice Montclair and her twenty-one year old caregiver Stella Nightingale.

On the surface, the two couldn't be more different. Alice Montclair is a wealthy dame of society and the matriarch of the family. She suffers periods of forgetfulness, dreams of the past, and has run off many caregivers. Stella is a runaway who is barely scraping by. She is attempting to turn her life around and takes this job somewhat unwillingly.

As their days together progress, both their stories emerge. The book goes back and forth in time, slowly revealing Alice's story. Stella's story comes more grudgingly in her interactions with Alice and with others. As the stories emerge, they both learn that they are more similar than they would think. Both have had huge turning points in their lives, and both are seeking closure and forgiveness for events in the past.

The book is beautifully written, and the story is not one I was expecting. The description on the back of the book implies more of a tale of mystery. The mystery is there, but the story is really more of emotions, relationships, and friendships. The book has an ending; it is a complete story. Yet, I was sad when the book ended because I was not ready to let go of the characters. The book made me care!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The MacLosers

Title:  The MacLosers
Author:  Paul Moxham
Publication Information:  Smashwords. 2012. 120 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered through Smashwords.

Favorite Quote:  " 'What's gotten into all them then?' ..... 'Lil bit o'pride, I guess.' "

The MacLosers is the story of the Diobair family - Roger and Samantha and their children Alex and Jess. Roger is an out-of-work architect who can't seem to escape the disasters of his last job. The financial and emotional troubles of being out of work are piling up. Then, out of the blue, they receive an inheritance - a village in Scotland.

Being out of options, the family moves to a dilapidated castle with an interesting cast of village characters. Some friendly, and some definitely not. People expect Roger to quit; yet he does not. Along the way is a feud with a neighboring village, some long forgotten history, and a winner take all wager. All the makings of a fun tale.

Overall, the book was a very quick, very easy read. It was a fun story. Throughout, my thought was that with some revisions and editing to make the language and content more kid-friendly, this would make a fun children's movie - the tried and true plot family in trouble to a family taking on a new adventure to a family coming together.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Undiscovered Novelist, A Novella

Title:  The Undiscovered Novelist, A Novella
Author:  Sarah Bridgeton
Publication Information:  Sarah Bridgeton. 2012. 135 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered as an epub attachment to an email.

Favorite Quote:  "I do what every smart girl does. I surround myself with believers."

The Undiscovered Novelist is a novella about a young woman named Jordyn. Jordyn is happily married with one child. This book is about her dream to publish her book and about her relationship with her mother. Both are fraught with struggles, perceived and real rejections, and days when she wants to give up. Both story lines come together into the ending of the novella.

As a short novella, this book is a very quick read. Jordyn is a likable character, and her struggles are things I could relate to. Debra, her mother, is also a likable character with struggles I could relate to. For this reason, the story engaged me and kept me reading.

Some of the plot elements seem to work out rather conveniently, but the relationships and emotions in the book seemed real. So, the likability of the characters and the genuineness of their emotions compensated for the convenient plot turns. Overall, a fun quick story. I look forward to reading more by the author.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The History of the World According to Facebook

Title:  The History of the World According to Facebook
Author:  Wylie Overstreet
Publication Information:  HarperCollins Publishers. 2011. 153 pages.

Book Source:  I got this book because it seemed like the type of book you could pick up and put down easily and read in short bursts. It also seemed like it would be funny. I got the book through PaperbackSwap.

Favorite Quote:  "I sincerely hope you enjoy this book. You may find it educational, you may find it amusing, or you may find it on the back of a toilet while pooping, in which case you're not going anywhere for a while. Might as well flip through."

The History of the World According to Facebook requires both an understanding of history and an irreverent sense of humor. As the title suggests, the book presents history from the beginning of time to present day (or present day a couple of years ago) in status updates and comments. What a record of history might have been if Facebook had always existed, and if everyone and everything posted on Facebook.

As a reader, you have to have some knowledge of history. The status updates and comments are funny if you understand what they refer to. For example:
  • The update is "The Sun is now friends with Earth and 7 other planets." Pluto's comment, "Not cool."
  • The update is "Helen of Troy changed her current city to Troy." Menelaus's comment, "Did your acct. get hacked babe?"
  • The update is "Princess Peach is at Another Castle with King Koopa." Mario's response, "You've got to be kidding me."
I found myself looking up references when I did not quite get something, and then going, "Now I get it!"

As a reader, you also have to have a sense of humor and the ability to not be easily offended. The books tackles history - political, religious, ethnic, economic, and cultural. Many of the issues are very serious, but are presented in a humorous, irreverent fashion. If that is likely to offend your sensibilities, this is not the book for you.

I found the book amusing, and easy to pick up and put down. And as someone who has books in every room of the house, this one did find a home somewhere where the writer suggested.