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.