Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Wednesday Daughters

Title:  The Wednesday Daughters
Author:  Meg Waite Clayton
Publication Information:  Ballatine Books, Random House Publishing Group, Random House, Inc. 2013. 289 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:  "You Wednesday Children think all of life has to be lined up perfectly before it can be lived, but the Lord's good truth is that it doesn't ever line up the way you want it to. you just have to trust it to line up the way it ought, and plunge on ahead."

The Wednesday Daughters is a follow up to Meg Clayton's earlier book, The Wednesday Sisters, but it stands alone as a story. It is a story about characters rather than a plot. A lot of characters with a lot of stories.

Three of the main characters - Hope, Anna Paige, and Julie - are the Wednesday daughters. They are life long friends because of the friendship among their mothers. Hope's mother Ally recently passed away, and the friends come to England's lake district to clean out a cottage Ally owned there.

Hope is struggling to cope with her mother's death, still work out her relationship with her mother, and thinking about a struggling marriage. Julie is attempting to recover from the death of her twin and her own guilt about events in the past. Anna Paige, who had a very close bond with Ally, is grieving for her own loss and is dealing with relationship and commitment issues.

In the lake district, the women meet Graham and Robbie. Graham, a man living alone is struggling with his mixed heritage, a secret connection to the Wednesday daughters, and a lost love. Robbie is the island boatman but with a past and a story of his own. The stories of these two men intertwine with those of the Wednesday daughters.

Intermingled with these stories are excerpts from Ally's journals. These are written as Ally's musing and as conversations with Beatrix Potter (yes, the author). Mind you, the conversations and musing are imaginary of course.

Confused yet? Me too. This book had way too much going on. So many stories intertwined told in so many different voices. The individual thread became difficult to follow and did not hold my interest.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The History of Us

Title:  The History of Us
Author:  Leah Steward
Publication Information:  Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2013. 367 pages.

Book Source:  I picked up this book while browsing the new fiction section at my local library.

Favorite Quote:  "The house was a map of her memories...In truth she could barely remember what had happened in what room...She didn't know. There was no one she could ask such a question. She had only the house to help her remember. If she lost it she'd be exiled from her history."

The History of Us is the book about "the life you make in the path not taken." The book begins as Eloise Hempel is a young professor at Harvard - at the start of what promises to be a successful career. She has left her hometown of Cincinnati and carved out a life for herself in Boston.

Devastating news of her sister's death brings her right back to Cincinnati. Her sister and her husband perish in an accident, leaving behind three young children. Eloise's mother is incapable of dealing with the tragedy and leaves Eloise in charge of the children and her house. Eloise makes the very difficult decision walk away from her life in Boston and raise the three children - Theodora, Josh, and Claire.

Fast forward, 20 years. The children are grown. Eloise still lives in her mother's house and looks forward to reclaiming her life as the Theo, Josh, and Claire venture forward to determine their own lives. She hopes to sell the house and create a nest egg on which to restart her life. Unfortunately, her mother still owns the house, and because the children disagree on selling it, creates a competition to see who gets the house.

Theo, the oldest of the children, has built her life around the security of Cincinnati and the house. Josh, a musician, has left a promising music career and moved back home. Claire, the youngest, seems to be on her way to successful ballet career in New York City.

However, all is not as it seems. Old losses, expectations, forgotten dreams, resentments, destructive relationships, secrets, regrets, and ultimately, family love all play a part in how this story goes. Some parts of the story do get a little long and start to drag. However, overall a good read.

What I really like about this book was its ring of reality. I don't always agree with the choices the characters make, but I understand the motivations and the emotions. The emotions and decisions are mixed up, as is true in real life. Life is not a neat package. As Eloise thinks, "She could have made different choices, but all that mattered were the ones she'd made."

The ending too is not a neat package, which appeals to me. It goes along with the rest of the book that choices will be made, and different futures are possible based on those choices.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Lemon Orchard

Title:  The Lemon Orchard
Author:  Luanne Rice
Publication Information:  Viking, Penguin Group. 2013. 286 pages.

Book Source:  I picked up this book while browsing the new fiction section at my local library.

Favorite Quote:  "Love in any form is still love."

The Lemon Orchard is found at a home in Malibu. It is owned by a California couple and is managed by Roberto, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Julia, the owner's niece, is house-sitting while her uncle and aunt are in Europe.

A connection develops between Roberto and Julia - they find common ground in their losses. Both have a lost a child although in completely different ways. Julia's teenage daughter died, while Roberto's young daughter was lost never to be found. Julia comes to California looking for some peace and some healing. Roberto is trying to piece his life together and to sustain the hope of finding his daughter. Their shared grief brings Julia and Roberto together.

In this story come descriptions of the desperate path immigrants take to cross the border between the US and Mexico in their search for a better life. It speaks about the immigrants, the middlemen or "coyotes" who promise a crossing, the border patrols, and the harrowing crossing. The story brings us further into this world as Julia delves into the disappearance of Roberto's daughter.

Some aspects of this book are predictable and suitable for a summer beach read - two individuals brought together by circumstances and a unlikely relationship that flourishes. Certain events leading to the conclusion of the book come together too conveniently and in too neat a package. However, what gives the book greater substance is the questions it raises about the immigrant crossing and the immigrant experience.

This is the first book I read by Luanne Rice, and I can see why she has such a loyal following.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Family and Other Animals

Title:  My Family and Other Animals
Author:  Gerald Durrell
Publication Information:  Penguin Group. 2013. 272 pages.

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

Favorite Quote:  "I should like to pay a special tribute to my mother, to whom this book is dedicated. Like a gentle, enthusiastic, and understanding Noah, she has steered her vessel full of stranger progeny through the stormy seas of life with great skill .... That she survived the voyage is a miracle, but survive it she did, and, moreover, with her reason more or less intact. As my brother Larry rightly points out, we can be proud of the way we have brought her up; she is a credit to us."

My Family and Other Animals is a memoir of the time Gerald Durrell and his family lived in Corfu, Greece. The family - Mother of uncertain age, Larry at age 23, Leslie at age 19, Margo at age 18, and Gerald at age 10 - tire of the English climate and decide to relocate to the Greek isle of Corfu. The book is a condensed description of the five years they live in Greece before returning to England.

The books co-mingles two purposes. First is a fictionalized and humorous account of their family life in Corfu. Second is a description of the some of the flora and fauna of Corfu which goes along with Gerald Durrell's work as a naturalist.

The account of the Durrell family is a liberalized, fictionalized version of their stay. The characters are true but exaggerated. The events and chronology are mixed to make a good story, "in order to compress five years .... into something a little less lengthy than the Encyclopedia Britannica." The eccentric characters are fun though. Larry is the budding writer. Margo is a teenage girl concerned about her appearance and her social life. Spiro is the taxi-driver they meet upon first arriving and who becomes a friend. Dr. Stephanides is the scholar who tutors Gerald and perhaps triggers his work as a naturalist. Gerald discovers his love for animals and the natural world.

The descriptions of the flora and fauna come through some of the pets that join the family. Roger the dog, Quasimodo the pigeon, Alecko the gull along with spiders, tortoises, birds, and other creatures become a part of this family's life. The book spends considerable time on the descriptions surrounding these creatures.

My biggest issue with the book was that of writing style. The book is very descriptive in nature. As such, I had difficulty staying engaged in the story. After a while, I found myself skimming through the descriptions to the parts that move the story forward. The story itself is told with humor and fun.

This book has been made into a movie and theater production. This is one instance I think that watching the story may be more fun than reading it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sweet Salt Air

Title:  Sweet Salt Air
Author:  Barbara Delinsky
Publication Information:  Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press. 2013. 404 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because the title and description sounded interesting, and because I have enjoyed other books by this author.

Favorite Quote:  "Pain is pain. You have a right to feel it. You didn't ask for this."

Childhood friends grown apart over time because of betrayals and secrets. A marriage stressed by illness and more secrets. A brooding mysterious man with secrets of his own. A beautiful Maine setting.

Charlotte and Nicole grew up together, close as sisters. As adults, their lives have taken different roads. Charlotte is single, a writer who travels the worlds for her stories. Nicole has achieved success of her own as a food blogger. She is married to a rising star physician. They reunite at Nicole's family home on an island off the coast of Maine to collaborate on a cookbook on island food. The island, Quinnipeague, offers a beautiful setting and its own cast of quirky character including Leo, a secretive somewhat reclusive man. Secrets emerge, relationships change, and by the end things come together.

This book has all the makings of a fun, easy summer beach read. Unfortunately, for me, it was not. For one, I guessed the big life changing secret early on in the book, and from there, it becomes too predictable. Predictability in and of itself is not so bad, but I also find myself not engaged with the characters. The best part of the book for me is the beautiful Maine setting.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Year of Writing Dangerously

Title:  A Year of Writing Dangerously:  365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement
Author:  Barbara Abercrombie
Publication Information:  New World Library. 2012. 408 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because of a conversation with a friend about the book.

Favorite Quote:  "The wonderful thing about discipline is that, unlike inspiration and talent, it's always available to everyone."

A Year of Writing Dangerously is, as the title suggests, a book of inspiration for writers. The message of the book is in essence, "Just Do It." It's not really a  how to book on the craft of writing, but rather a book on pushing a writer to just write.

The entries are number 1-365 rather than a calendar format. So, you can pick it up at any time. Each day's entry are succinct and can be read in a few minutes. Each provides tips and motivation using examples from the writing habits of authors. Each entry also includes a related quote. The quotes and examples range from William Faulkner to Lady Gaga.

Interestingly, many of entries apply to situations and endeavors beyond writing. The skills of not giving up, making a commitment to a project, working through problems are life skills regardless of the endeavors you choose to pursue. So, the focus of the book is writing, but the lessons for writers transcend beyond that craft.

Being a reader and a writer and a lover of language, I really enjoyed this book. I read it straight through, but I could see keeping it on my shelf and picking it up to read different entries on different days.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tapestry of Fortunes

Title:  Tapestry of Fortunes
Author:  Elizabeth Berg
Publication Information:  Random House, Inc. 2013. 219 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because the title and description sounded interesting.

Favorite Quote:  "Our own individual life history is also shaped that way. In large part, when you factor out fate, what we are is because of what we believe about ourselves. Wherever we are in the world, we mostly live in the small space between our ears."

Tapestry of Fortunes is a story of middle-aged women at different crossroads in their lives. They are brought together by circumstance and then friendship. Cece is single and attempting to recover from the death of her best friend. She is rebuilding her life, which includes selling her house, moving into a shared house with other women, and reconnecting with an old love. Her housemates are all struggling with issues in their own lives - estranged children, rebellion, divorce, to name a few.

There is instant friendship. There is an instant telling of secrets. There is consulting of tarot cards and tea leaves to divine the future. There is a road trip. There is a vision of things all working out with little effort and little angst.

In other words, the book lacks reality. It deals with characters who are supposed to be mature adults. Yet, it does not read that way. The characters are not developed. The situations seem unrealistic. The emotions are forced.

The book has a lovely cover, and the description sounded promising for a light summer read. Unfortunately, I should have stopped at the lovely cover.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Title:  Inferno (The Da Vinci Code)
Author:  Dan Brown
Publication Information:  Doubleday, Random House, Inc. 2013. 461 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book because of how much I enjoyed the other books in the series.

Favorite Quote:  "Denial is a cricital part of the human coping mechanism. Without it, we would all wake up terrified every morning about all the ways we could die. Instead, our minds block out our existential fears by focusing on stresses we can hand - like getting to work on time or paying our taxes. If we have wider, existential fears, we jettison them very quickly, refocusing on simple tasks and daily trivialities."

Inferno is the fourth book in Dan Brown's series featuring Robert Langdon. Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol came before. Robert Langdon is a Harvard University professor specializing in historic and religious symbols. Each of the four books stands alone and centers around a set of such symbols and a current world situation.

Inferno takes on the issue of overpopulation and the symbols in Dante's Divine Comedy. Written in the 1300s, the Divine Comedy is an iconic literary piece with an allegorical look at the afterlife. It is divided into three parts - Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. It has been translated into numerous languages and depicted in many many art pieces. Scholars today continue to study the symbols and allegory in the poem.

Like the other Dan Brown books, the action in Inferno starts on the first page and continues through the end. At the start, Robert Langdon finds himself in a situation with no memory of how he got there. He finds himself caught up in an adventure without an understanding of what or who he is dealing with. The book proceeds with and adventurous chase through different parts of the world. Without a spoiler, I will say that the resolution of this book does not come the way I expected. The author makes a pretty strong statement with the ending of this book.

The critics are harsh in judging Dan Brown's literary style or his writing ability. All I know is his books are fun to read. I know what to expect - adventure, chases, a mystery, some beautiful iconic places. This book delivers on all those points.