Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Learning To Swim

Title:  Learning To Swim
Author:  Sarah J. Henry
Publication Information: Broadway Paperbacks, Crown Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 2011. 350 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book because the description sounded interesting as I was browsing through our library's online catalog.

Favorite Quote:  "You can't create emotions. You can fake them or pretend they don't matter. But I've tried both, and it never works."

Learning To Swim is a mystery. It is the story of Troy Chance. On a ferry in Lake Champlain, she sees a child fall into the lake. She jumps in and saves him. His name is Paul, and he won't say how and why he ended up there. Troy brings him home, and waits to see if someone comes looking for him. No one does. Thus starts the mystery that Troy attempts to unravel - Who is this child? How did he end up on a ferry by himself? How did he fall in? Why isn't anyone looking for him?

The start of the book is enjoyable if you willingly suspend the disbelief that someone would discover a child and not immediately report it. Unfortunately, for me, it deteriorates from there. The sequence of events and characters seems implausible. Some things seem to come together too conveniently, and some like the ending seem to arrive out of nowhere.

Threaded throughout the book are hints about Troy's past. This mystery leads Troy on a journey of self-discovery as well. Where she is in life and where she is going. Learning to Swim becomes a metaphor for learning to live. However, it never becomes clear what exactly in her past has led to her current life and the choices she makes when she finds Paul. That aspect is never fully explored and hence feels incomplete.

So, unfortunately, the book does not live up to the interest generated by its description.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Things I Learned From Knitting

Title:  Things I Learned From Knitting
Author:  Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Publication Information:  Storey Publishing. 2008. 160 pages

Book Source:  I enjoy reading Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's blog and have read some of her other books. I was interested to see what lessons knitting had for her. The book came through PaperbackSwap.

Favorite Quote:  "It turns out that knitting is a luxury, and buying yarn (even cheap yarn) or having time to knit (even five minutes) or simply sitting in my house (even my very small house) with that warm, soft yarn in my hands is a sign that I am extraordinarily rich and fortunate."

Things I Learned From Knitting is another collection of essays by blogger Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. As a knitter, I found myself laughing and nodding my head in agreement over a lot of the material. Anyone passionate about a craft will recognize that we all start to see our philosophy of life reflected in elements of our craft. Our crafts teach us, keep us busy, and enable us to show ourselves to the world. And they teach us along the way.

This book is a pocket size volume - perhaps to easily fit into a knitting bag? The lessons in this book are about patience, love, generosity, perfection, and about getting to know our own selves better. The tone is a humorous one as life lessons are put into a knitting context. Lessons like "Don't worry. Be happy" and "Practice makes perfect" and "Everything is relative."

This is the third or fourth book I have read by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. While each one is individually interesting, by the second or third, they start to sound the same. The material and the tone seem the same from book to book. So, I think if this was the first one I had read, I would have really enjoyed it. I still thought it was okay, but nothing new. I enjoy reading her blog and love her amazing yarn creations though!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Skinny Rules

Title:  The Skinny Rules
Author:  Bob Harper
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books, Random House Inc. 2012. 278 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book because it is a genre I am interested in.

Favorite Quote:  "If you want to lose weight and stay thin, you've got to change your life, and that means changing some basic behaviors. I call them defaults - the behaviors that you have instinctively fallen back on when pressured."

The Skinny Rules as the name implies is a diet book. A diet book by a big name celebrity of the diet industry. Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser. The book presents a set of twenty rules to change eating habits and lead to a healthier lifestyle. The rest of the book is a set of menus and recipes to support the eating rules.

My reaction to the book is based partially on my reaction to the rules presented. Some are basic common sense - water, vegetables. portion size. Those you can find across any such book. Some I don't agree with. For example, the idea of a splurge meal to me promotes a diet mentality rather than a lifestyle change.

My reaction to the book is also based on what is not in the book. The book provides these rules but not much guidance on how to implement them. Also, the rules focus on food and do not address physical activity which to me is an equally important part of this journey.

Finally, I did find some inconsistencies in the book. For example, one rule says to avoid sweeteners. Yet, recipes in the book call for agave nectar, which is a sweetener.

So, overall, a set of rules is a straightforward approach. I like some of the rules as they are common sense. My advice would be to take what you find of value, question the science of what seems not based on common sense, and most of all, take responsibility for your own health lifestyle. The rules can help you along the way, but only if you make the change.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Newlyweds

Title:  The Newlyweds
Author:  Nell Freudenberger
Publication Information:  Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Inc. 2012. 337 pages.

Book Source:  I picked this book based on a friend's recommendation.

Favorite Quote:  "You thought that you were the permanent part of your own experience, the net that held it all together - until you discovered that there were many selves, dissolving into one another so quickly over time that the buildings and the trees and even the pavement turned out to have more substance than you did."

The Newlyweds is the story of Amina. Amina is a young woman who grows up in Bangladesh in a poor family without many opportunities. Her way out is a marriage. George lives in Rochester, New York - a world away. George and Amina forge a relationship online and get married. Amina moves to America and then continues to straddle her two worlds in America and in Bangladesh.

Added to this are Amina's family and George's family and people from both their pasts. Also, added to this are the challenges of an immigrant life and of adaptation to a world so different from one you have known.

The story is written from Amina's perspective. The other characters - George, Kim, Nasir - are not well developed. I wish I knew more of their stories. We get glimpses, but that is it. Yet Amina's story over the course of the book pulls me in. I feel her struggles and care what happens to her even when I don't agree with some of the choices she makes.

I also find the challenges of straddling two cultures well expressed in this book. The challenges that George and Amina face in getting to know each other over a wide cultural gap. The challenges both families face in accepting George and Amina's choice. The challenges that Amina faces in adapting to life in Rochester and her insecurities about fitting in. The challenges that Amina faces when she returns to Bangladesh having different views based on her time away. As Amina says, "It's hard for people to remember that you belong to one place when you look like you're from another."

Ultimately, there is also a sadness to this book because it is also about the paths not taken for both George and Amina.

The book is long. It has a slow pace. Many of the characters are not well developed. Yet, I liked the book. I am not sure why, but I did. Amina says in the book, "I don't see what's wrong with living quietly ... We should be grateful for it. Why do we need to be part of history - what makes us so special?" This book is a quiet book, but it quietly makes it way into your heart.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Uninvited Guests

Title: The Uninvited Guests
Author:  Sadie Jones
Publication Information:  HarperCollins Publishers. 2012. 262 pages.

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

Favorite Quote:  "There was a mist between her and her childhood self, made up of grief and multiple small denials, and she did not care to try to look through it."

The Uninvited Guests on its surface is the story of one day during the early 1900s at Sterne, the home of Emerald Torrington and her family. It is Emerald's twentieth birthday, and there is to be a fancy dinner party in her honor. The attendees include her mother, her brother Clovis, her younger sister Imogen ("Smudge"), a neighbor, and two out of town guests - Ernest and his sister Patience. Of course, there is also the household staff attempting to complete the preparations for the dinner party.

Then, the "uninvited guests" arrive. Apparently, there has been a train crash nearby, and passengers need accommodations until the railway can figure out a way to transport them to their destination. A horde of passengers arrive, and the household is turned upside down trying to accommodate them while still maintaining a separation for the invited guests and the dinner party. One of the "uninvited guests" turns out to have a connection to the past.

And, so, the story continues through the night in a most unusual manner.

This is one of the oddest books I have read in a long time. My first reaction was that the book is a little bit like Jane Austen meets Upstairs Downstairs meets The Addams Family. The book has some very interesting (odd/strange/bizarre/unexpected - take your pick of adjectives) twists and turns. Very unexpected.

In the end, however, it was a very quick and a very easy read. It was an engaging read because it kept me guessing where it was going to go. Finally, it kept me reading to see where this imaginative tale was going to end up. What on its surface appears to be like an Edwardian novel ends up being a complete flight of fancy - sometimes dark, sometimes amusing, and entertaining throughout.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

Title: Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
Author:  Anna Quindlen
Publication Information:  Random House. 2012. 182 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on other books I have read by Anna Quindlen.

Favorite Quote:  "That's what makes life so hard for women, that instead of thinking that this is the way things are, we always think it's the way we are."

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is billed as a memoir. To me, it is more a discussion on a philosophy of life told through stories from Anna Quindlen's life. It talks about her thoughts on so many different topics including marriage, possessions, aging, friendship, faith, parenting, and others in between.

Throughout this book, I found myself nodding my head in agreement as Anna Quindlen expresses many thoughts and feelings I agree with. The book also had an element of "if I knew then what I know now..." These are ideas that have probably been expressed in her other books but are good ideas to remember and re-read nevertheless.

What I had difficulty with was the writing style. I found myself getting very easily distracted as I was reading this book. I found myself losing the train of thought. I don't know why. I cannot pinpoint the reason because I was enjoying the ideas of the book. So, after a point, I found myself skimming to get the ideas without getting lost.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Friends Forever

Title: Friends Forever
Author:  Danielle Steel
Publication Information:  Delacorte Press. 2012. 320 pages.

Book Source:  I read Danielle Steel books when they come out. It's just what I do.

Favorite Quote:  "It had all happened so fast when nobody was looking. The children of yesterday were all grown-ups now."

I feel like I should begin with a disclaimer. I read Danielle Steel books. I went through a phase of my life when I read through pretty much everything she had written. Then, for a while, I felt that the reality of life went so far beyond these books that they seemed contrived and unreal. Yet, I continued to read them. Recently, I have not particularly liked the books. Yet, when one comes out, I read it. That being said, I am glad I read this one.

Friends Forever is the story of Andy, Billy, Gabby, Izzie, and Sean who meet on the first day of kindergarten and become an inseparable group of friends. The story follows the "Big Five" as they grow up and grapple with the issues of growing up. In particular, a central focus of the book becomes the challenges of changing family ties, and the use of alcohol and drugs in teens and young adults.

I enjoyed this book much more than I have recent Danielle Steel books. The characters in this book seemed more real as did the situations. As a parent, I feel that the message of this book is an emphatic one and a necessary one. The book still has the dramatic elements that will appeal to Danielle Steel fans, but this books offers a little bit more.

I am glad I have persevered in reading her books. Wonder what the next one will bring?

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Light Between Oceans

Title:  The Light Between Oceans
Author:  M L Stedman
Publication Information:  Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2012. 345 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 hardcover edition.

Favorite Quote:  "You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things .... We always have a choice. All of us."

The Light Between Oceans is the story of one decision and its ramifications through so many lives. Tom is a soldier returning from the war. He brings with him all the memories and horrors of the war. Isabel is the young vivacious girl who manages to reach his heart.

Janus Rock is a small island off the coast of Australia. The only thing on the island is the lighthouse. The only people living there are the light keeper and his family. Their only contact with the outside world is a supply boat every six months and a shore leave every few years. This is the isolated life to which Tom brings his new bride. Their content life is marred, however, by the inability to have children. Their hopes are built up and then destroyed as they suffer through miscarriages and a stillbirth.

One day, a boat comes ashore with a dead man and a crying baby. Now comes the decision. Instead of reporting the incident, Tom and Isabel keep the baby as a gift from God. Now, their life really is content. However, when returning to the mainland, they discover the impact that decision has had on so many lives. What happens next....well, that would be a spoiler.

The book is beautifully written. The characters are well developed, and the writing makes you care. It is one of those stories that you wish could have a happy ending for everyone, but you know it really can't.  Without giving a spoiler, I can say that I loved the fact that the author did not wrap the story up in a neat package at the end. It was a much more realistic approach. Again, I wished for the happily ever after, but I think I really would have liked the book much less if it had gone that way.

A beautiful debut novel.