Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Bees: A Novel

Title:  The Bees: A Novel
Author:  Laline Paull
Publication Information:  Ecco. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0062331159 / 978-0062331151

Book Source:  I read the book because I was intrigued by the premise and the fact that this is a debut novel.

Favorite Quote:  "Then kindly recall that variation is not the same as deformity."

Surprise #1:  This book is actually, truly, really about bees. I know it's right there in the title, but I still did not expect it to be so completely about bees. The main characters are bees with some wasps in villainous supporting roles.

Surprise #2:  I loved the book! (and, yes, I have gotten a lot of weird looks when I tell my friends that.)

You could read this book in two completely different ways.

A reader could look at it as about bees and a vividly imagined rendition of bee life. The actions and reactions in the book could be deemed instinctual. As such, you could read it with academic interest in getting a better understanding of bee society. Apparently, the book is a reasonably accurate description of the life cycle of a hive and of the roles various "types" of bees play in that hive. I don't have the knowledge to assess that, but I found it a learning experience.


A reader could ascribe human characteristics to the bees and look at this book as a story of a dystopian society. Only one is the queen - the spiritual leader of the hive. Groups have specific characteristics and specific roles. One group is considered superior to the others. Independent thought and action are considered a threat to the society. An aberration from this rigid structure is considered dangerous and must be destroyed.

Either way, the story grabs your attention and doesn't let go. The movie in my head that went with this book is the one where I see bees but with human emotional and intellectual attributes.

The book begins as Flora 717 hatches. She is of the lowest category of bees - the ones whose responsibility is cleaning and serving. That is the job of all her kind. The Sage are the wise advisers to the queen. The drones are the princes of society; the entire hive caters to their well-being. The foragers are those who fly out and gather nectar and pollen to feed the hive. The Teasel care for the young.

Yet, Flora 717 is different. She has abilities unlike those of her type. That gets her away from the sanitation detail to the nursery to care for the babies, to fly out of the hive and forage, and even to serve the Queen. Even more so, it leads her to think and question the ways of the hive. It leads her wants and actions that could be considered treason.

Her life occurs in the midst of the life of the hive. The health and well being of the Queen drive the well being of the hive. The outside attacks from the wasps threaten their very home and lives. Weather threatens the food supply. The machinations of those within the hive provide an undercurrent of intrigue.

Throughout all of this, Flora 717 fights for her life and her independence. She seeks to serve the hive, but on her terms. She pursues her own dreams and desires even as they are completely and utterly against the hive rules.

I did guess the end of the book before getting to it, but read along to see exactly how the book would get there. The book has action and adventure, intrigue, and emotion. A wildly imaginative debut!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Alchemist, 25th Anniversary Edition: A Fable about Following Your Dreams

Title:  The Alchemist, 25th Anniversary Edition:  A Fable about Following Your Dreams
Author:  Paulo Coelho
Publication Information:  HarperOne, HarperCollins Publishers. 1988. 179 pages.
ISBN:  0062315005 / 978-0062315007

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. This book also became this month's selection for my local book club as none of us had read it.

Favorite Quote:  "Any given thing on the face of the earth could reveal the history of all things. One could open a book to any page, or look at a person's hand; one could turn a card, or watch the flight of the birds ... whatever the thing observed, one could find a connection with his experience at the moment. Actually, it wasn't that those things, in themselves, revealed anything at all; it was just that people, looking at what was occurring around them, could find a means of penetration to the Soul of the World."

The Alchemist was originally written over twenty five years ago in Portuguese. In a 2009 interview, Paulo Coelho said he wrote the book in only two weeks because "the book was already written in my soul". The original publication run through a small Brazilian publisher was for 900 copies. It did not sell well, and the publisher declined to do a reprint. Subsequently, Paulo Coelho found a larger publishing house, and The Alchemist was reprinted with the issuance of his next book Brida. The book did much better, becoming a Brazilian bestseller.

Since that time, the book has sold over 65 million copies and been translated into over 50 languages. In fact, it holds the Guinness World Record for being the most translated book by a living author. As of this week, it has hit 308 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list!

An impressive resume for a book! So, what is this book actually about? On its surface, it is the story of the shepherd boy Santiago, who hungers for travel and goes on a quest to seek treasure. Its symbolic meaning is a lesson of spirituality and of the pursuit of your dreams. 

This book refers to itself as a fable. The dictionary defines a fable as a short tale to teach a moral lesson, often with animals or inanimate objects as characters. Related forms of literature include an allegory (a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one) and a parable (a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, often used in a religious context). This book does convey one central lesson; however, it does so with human characteristics and in the form of a almost 200 page book.

Santiago begins his journey with a dream. Based upon that dream, he sells his flock of sheep and sets off on a journey to seek his treasure at the Pyramids of Egypt. Along the way, he encounters obstacles- theft, delays, and war. He perseveres. Along the way, he also receives help and guidance - sometimes directly and sometimes disguised as tasks. He learns to listen, observe, and be present in every experience. He also meets many people who bring something to his journey:

  • The merchant's daughter who is memory for Santiago - showing that we all hold on varied dreams until we identify our true destiny.
  • The gypsy woman who helps interpret Santiago's dream and asks for future payment should he find his treasure - testing Santiago's integrity and his wisdom in relying on advice freely given.
  • The king who demands immediate payment for showing Santiago the way - questioning whether Santiago's commitment to his goal is strong enough for him to part with immediate wealth in search of greater treasure.
  • The crystal merchant who convinces himself that having a dream is more important than achieving it - making Santiago question his own desire to purse his dreams.
  • The Englishman who is so focused on the end result that he loses sight of the process - teaching Santiago to remain observant and present in the journey not just the goal.
  • The young woman Fatima who professes her love for Santiago - forcing Santiago to make a choice to continue his journey even as a possibly wonderful life beckons if a different choice is made.
  • The alchemist who listens to the "Language of the World" and possesses the power of the Elixir of Life and the Philosophers Stone - serving as a mentor to Santiago.
"When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true." This refrains repeats consistently throughout the book. That "something" is the true pursuit of what the book calls the "personal legend" or your destiny. Santiago's leads him from his life as a shepherd across the desert to the pyramids of Egypt.


That question is at the heart of what this book will mean to a reader. Critics over the years have said that the story is too simplistic. It is too contrived. It is quasi-religious ramblings. It is a self-help book disguised as fiction.

All of that may be true, but the book touches my heart. I knew going in that it was a fable before I read it, but that was all I knew. So, I expected the simple nature of the story. I sat down with the book and finished it a day later. I am now re-reading it more slowly to look even further behind the words at the ideas and the lessons.

Why does the book appeal to me? It has been on my reading list for years, but I have never gotten to it. I am so glad that I finally did. Perhaps, now the time is right for me to appreciate this book.

It could be that I am in pursuit of my own dream and appreciate the reinforcement and the encouragement. It could be that I am a parent teaching children to believe that anything is possible and that dreams are achievable. It could be that I am learning to practice the idea of being present in any given moment without regrets of the past or worries about the future; that lesson is central to Santiago's success. It could be that I appreciate the focus on the spirituality that unites us rather than any given religious tradition. It could be I treasure the close connection of the events and characters to the natural world. "You don't have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation."

For all those reasons and probably more, I am so glad that I finally read this book and look forward to re-reading it many times in the years to come.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Title:  Outlander
Author:  Diana Gabaldon
Publication Information:  Dell, Random House Publishing Group, Random House Inc. 1991. 850 pages.
ISBN:  0440212561 / 978-0440212560

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

Favorite Quote:  "It's as though everyone has a small place inside themselves, maybe, a private bit that they keep themselves. It's like a little fortress, where the most private part of you lives - maybe it's your soul, maybe just that bit that makes you yourself and not anyone else ... you don't show that bit of yourself to anyone, usually, unless sometimes to someone ye love greatly."

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series began with this book almost 25 years ago. Currently, the main series consists of seven novels, with the eighth one due out this summer. The series also includes a descriptive companion book and a graphic novel. It has given rise to the Lord John Grey series. These feature a main character from the Outlander series and currently include nine novels and novellas. Finally, this summer, STARZ will begin a TV series based on the Outlander books.

Outlander is a difficult book to categorize. It is historical fiction with its setting of 18th century Scotland. It includes an element of fantasy and science fiction because its basis lies in time travel. It features action and adventure as the Scottish clans fight amongst themselves and against the British. It centers on the romance between Claire, a 20h century nurse, and Jamie Fraser, an eighteenth century Scotsman.

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall, aka Claire, is in Scotland on a second honeymoon to reconnect with her husband Frank. They have been separated due to World War II with Claire serving as a nurse and Frank serving as an officer. They choose Frank for their holiday so Frank can continue his research on his family tree.

During a walk alone to collect medicinal plants, Claire faints upon hearing noise from a set of stones. She wakes up to find herself in the middle of a battle. It is not a re-enactment or a movie as she initially thinks. Rather, she has come through a time portal to the past. She has a rather unpleasant encounter with a man who greatly resembles her husband and who she thinks may be his ancestor.

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, aka Jamie, rescues her. So begins their relationship. As she is alone in an unknown situation, Claire joins Jamie's community with the goal of finding her way back home to the 20th century. She also gets caught up in the Scottish - British fighting, with each side believing her to be a spy for the other.

Claire attempts to prove herself by her work as a nurse at the castle and by her knowledge without revealing that she is indeed from the future. Through numerous adventures, her relationship with Jamie flourishes. They develop a deep bond, a love. It calls into question Claire's desire to return home to the 20th century; it may be that the relationships of the 18th century make it more of a home.

Given that this is the book is the first in a long series, the book itself has no resolution or "ending" but rather a stopping point to be picked up in the next book.

The one aspect of the book that I really do not enjoy is the graphic descriptions - of intimacy, of attacks, of battles, and even of torture. I do not find them necessary to the story, and overall, that type of description is just something I do not enjoy. Without those descriptions, my rating of the book would be considerably higher, and I would be much more likely to read the entire series.

Other than that, I did enjoy parts of this book for many reasons. The historical aspect appeals to me. The action and adventures make this a fast-paced and easy to read book even for its length. Most importantly, I appreciate Claire as a strong female character. She is strong in her opinions, able to stand up for herself, and able to stand up and defend others. She does not wait to be rescued; she does the rescuing too. 

I do not know if I will read the rest of the books. I just don't know if I can continue on with the physical nature of the book. However, I want to know the story; I want to know what happens. 

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison

Title:  Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
Author:  Piper Kerman
Publication Information:  Spiegel & Grau. 2010. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0385523386 / 978-0385523387

Book Source:  I read the book based on publicity for the Netflix show. I have not watched the TV show, however.

Favorite Quote:  "A little voice in my head reminded me that I might never see anything quite like this again, and that immersing myself in my current situation, experiencing it, and learning everything there was to know might be the way to live life, now and always."

Piper Kerman committed a crime; she got involved in drug trafficking. More than a decade after the fact, she was convicted of that crime. She went to prison for a little over a year. This memoir is her story of that year.

The book provides a little background on her crime and the trial. Primarily, it describes her time at the  minimum security federal correctional institution in Danbury, Connecticut. It describes the institution, the prison system, and the people she found there. It follows her journey until her release thirteen months later.

This book is an entertaining and often funny read. I did not expect that. It is a story about a crime and prison. I did not expect the mostly positive tone of the book. Everyone in Piper's life appears to be supportive. Most of the women she meets in prison appear to be friendly and forthcoming.

The negative thread running throughout the book is the description of the prison system - the conditions, the guards, the delays. Other than that, the description of her life there and the interactions between the prisoners almost sound like a girl's camp story - arrivals, friendships, cliques, yoga, and goodbyes. The TV show based on the book, in fact, is marketed as  "comedy-drama."

I suppose, for me, the story also does not end with Piper's release. What happened to her after? Did she walk back into her life and leave this entire experience behind except for the book and TV deal? What happened to the other women? What happened to the relationships she established during that year? Did they last or did she do what she needed to do to survive that year?

The only hint is that the dedication of the book includes "Pop," one of the other inmates. I was expecting an epilogue to provide some details of what happened after Piper left prison - to her and to the other inmates - but none exists. I have tried doing some searches, but cannot find any further information about the other inmates.

As a result, for me, the book leaves me looking for more. The book is entertaining, but I am left with wanting to know the more serious story behind the comedy.  After all, this was prison.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

Title:  Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
Author:  Dan Fagin
Publication Information:  Bantam. 2013. 560 pages.
ISBN:  055380653X / 978-0553806533

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

Favorite Quote:  "So, what was it, really? Was the Toms River childhood cancer cluster a mirage, an aberration, or a warning? Was it a consequence of nothing but a stunningly bad run of luck, like rolling snake eyes six times in a row? Or was it the product of pollution so horrendous and government neglect so extreme that the combination has never been replicated anywhere but Woburn?"

Toms Rivers is a lovely town on the New Jersey shore on the east coast of the United States. The town has been in existence since 1768. It has been featured in many TV shows and  movies.

Yet in the 1990s, it made the news for an entirely different reason. It was cited in studies by environmental agencies as having an unusually high incidence of childhood cancers - a cancer cluster. Investigations identified the possible cause as contamination from the chemical plant that had existed there since the 1950s. At that point, the plant was run by Ciba-Geigy. The area had been a Environmental Protection Agency clean up site since the 1980s.

This pollution and its devastating results led to a long, protracted battle for justice for those families impacted. The led to a multi-million dollar settlement for some of the families. Some others continue to pursue a class action suit. However, as one family member states, "The numbers do not reflect, in any way, what the families and the children went through."

This book tells the story of this cancer cluster - from the history of the plant and its chemical processes, to descriptions of the scientific studies to investigate the cancer cluster; from the personal stories of the families impacted to the corporate structures of the companies involved. Interestingly, the book ends with a question because the study of cancer is one of uncertainty and conjecture.

The book is very detailed and very technical. At almost 600 pages, it is not an easy read. It is not meant to be. It is meant to be a record of research and investigation. The target audience is not the casual reader. It is, however, of considerable interest to those with an interest in New Jersey and the surrounding areas and to those with an interest in cancer cluster research and to those with an interest in corporate and government responsibility.

It took a while for me to get through this book. I found myself supplementing the book by looking up the numerous articles printed on the issues throughout the years. It was interesting to read the book as a perspective looking back as compared to articles written at the time. It was not easy, but I am glad I did get through it.

The narrative asks, "Could it happen in my town, too?" A scary thought. I hope not, not ever and not anywhere.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Quick: A Novel

Title:  The Quick: A Novel
Author:  Lauren Owen
Publication Information:  Random House. 2014. 544 pages.
ISBN:  0812993276 / 978-0812993271

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

Favorite Quote:  "And how odd, how interestingly perverse, to be frightened by happiness. It was the dread of getting things wrong, fear of losing this friend he had (by sheer luck) managed to find."

James and Charlotte are brother sister growing up in a remote home with no mother and a father who returns home only as he is dying. After their father's death, they are in the care of a relative. Essentially, each one are all the other has.

Charlotte remains in that environment, while James leaves to pursue studies at Oxford and then a literary life in London. Then, one day, James disappears. Charlotte leaves her sheltered home to try and discover what happened to her brother. Where that leads is a direction I completely did not expect.

The dilemma with this book is how to review it without revealing more the story. If you plan on reading this book, do not read any reviews that speak of the direction this story goes in. That will completely change the experience of the book.

Based on the back description of the book, it should be a historical mystery, somewhat Gothic in nature. That is all. This book is that somewhat, but then story line goes in a surprising direction, even more so for the 1800s London setting. It's not a story line I particularly enjoy. Had I known, I probably would not have read the book.

That being said, the book is Lauren Owen's debut novel. The book is well written, with a writing style that moves quickly and is easy to read. For its story line, the book would get a lower rating from me, but the writing helps improve it. The story line of the book was not for me, but I do look forward to seeing what Lauren Owen writes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The House on Mango Street

Title:  The House on Mango Street
Author:  Sandra Cisneros
Publication Information:  Vintage Contemporaries, Vintage Books, Random House, Inc. 1984. 110 pages.
ISBN:  0780743229 / 978-0780743229

Book Source:  I read this book because the title and cover appealed to me.

Favorite Quote:  "You can never have too much sky."

The House on Mango Street is semi-autobiographical fiction. It is the tale of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl coming of age in an urban Chicago neighborhood. The neighborhood is fairly self-contained, consisting mostly of Hispanic immigrants like Esperanza and her family. She is growing up poor and dreams of leaving the world she knows in search of a better life. She is surrounded by difficulty but also with love.

This book is not written as a traditional novel.  At about 100 pages, it is very short and a very quick read. Also, it is written in a series of vignettes, each a page or two long.

The dictionary defines a vignette as "a brief evocative description, account, or episode" and "a small illustration that fades into the background without a definite border."

This book meets both definitions. Each vignette describes an episode or a memory in Esperanza's life. The subject matter is often difficult including poverty, accidents, rape, and death. The writing is beautiful, almost poetic in nature. Each vignette is a point. Yet, when you take a step back, each fades into the other. The points connect, and you see a picture of Esperanza's life.

Esperanza's story seems symbolic of the story of many first generation immigrants, regardless of culture and of young people growing up to define their own place in the world:

"When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Mango Street. You can't erase what you know. You can't forget who you are."

The lesson appears to be that every step, every moment in your life makes you the person you are. Your heritage, each home you live in, each person you meet remain a part of you. Own that past, and then create your own future.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel

Title:  The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel
Author:  Tom Rachman
Publication Information:  The Dial Press. 2014. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0679643656 / 978-0679643654

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

Favorite Quote:  "Friends required a life story. Your past mattered only if others sought to know it - it was they who demanded that one possessed a history. Alone, you could do without."

In the first three chapters of this book, we meet Tooly Zylberberg at three points in her life.

In 2011, Tooly is thirty-something and living a quiet life. She owns a small bookstore in the Welsh countryside. Her bookstore does not generate an income to sustain itself; yet, Tooly seems to have an independent source of income. She seems to have no ties to anyone except for Fogg, who works in the bookstore. Yet, she spends considerable time searching the people of her past on the Internet.

In 1999, Tooly is a young-adult living in New York City, somewhat adrift but finding herself a place among the students of the city.

In 1988, Tooly is a young girl moving from place to place with Paul, who may or may not be her father. Paul is somewhat absent-minded and has a reason that he cannot go home. So, he takes on a job that requires him to move every year to two years. Tooly moves along with him and then beyond him.

The story shifts between the three time periods consistently throughout the book. The characters start to overlap between the time periods. Each section tells a little bit more about Tooly's life that helps create more sense out of either the past or the future.

The book is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle - you have bits and pieces that don't seem to belong. Yet, as you fit more and more pieces in, a picture emerges. To some extent, that seems to be Tooly's journey as an adult - to try and make sense of her disheveled life.

What I love about the book is the character of Tooly, particularly as a child. I want to reach out and protect her from some of the adults in her life and from the life she led as a child. I find myself cheering for the adults who do reach out and provide a stability in her life.

What I also love is the writing. The changing time periods and the overlapping characters make the book difficult to follow at times. I find myself flipping often to the chapter titles, which identify the time period. Yet, at the same time, the writing weaves it all together like a tapestry, and Tooly's character throughout is the binding force of the book.

What I do not enjoy about the story is the fact that the book implies a great mystery about Tooly's life as a child. The book description even says, "Tooly ... believes she will never understand the true story of her own life." Yet, her life story - one of adults who don't behave in the best interest of a child - is not that extreme and not that unusual. As a result, I find the mystery and its resolution at the end disappointing.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, June 6, 2014

On the Island

Title:  On the Island
Author:  Tracey Garvis Graves
Publication Information:  Penguin Group. 2011. 328 pages.
ISBN:  014219672X / 978-0142196724

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

Favorite Quote:  "Some of the things you wanted me to experience already passed me by, and I can't go back."

The premise of this book is that a relationship that would probably never even have started in the "read world" can exist and thrive under extreme circumstances, perhaps because of the extreme circumstances. The question is can that relationship survive when the circumstances change, and people re-emerge into the everyday world?

TJ is a young man in remission from cancer. His family is headed to a vacation in the Maldives in an effort to put the illness behind them. However, since TJ has missed so much school due to his illness, he needs the summer to catch up. Anna is a teacher, who takes on the job of tutoring TJ over the summer.

The book begins as TJ and Anna take a flight to join his family in the Maldives. The plane crashes, ad the two of them end up stranded on a deserted island. They are stranded for years. A large part of the book is about how they survive and about the relationship that develops between the two of them during this time.

A relationship certainly does develop. TJ's mother asks him "What kind of relationship did you and Anna have?" TJ responds, "Exactly the kind you think we did."

The latter part of the book is about whether that relationship can survive outside of the island.

I would call On the Island a summer beach read except for the fact that it begins with a plane crash on the way to a summer vacation in a beautiful tropical location. Anna and TJ's start on the beach is not such a positive one.

I would have liked this book if everything had not ended in a neat package - on the island and off the island. The characters were a little too perfect in their actions, reactions, and understanding. Even though the book started with a life-threatening illness and the extreme disaster of a plane crash, everything else about the story has a very rose-colored tone. Everyone understands each other's motivations and emotions. Everyone puts the other person ahead of their own needs. It's all a bit too perfect. That fact was the surprising and disappointing note in the book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

China Dolls

Title:  China Dolls
Author:  Lisa See
Publication Information:  Random House. 2014. 335 pages.
ISBN:  081299289X / 978-0812992892

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

Favorite Quote:  "Age is a number, and I have an unlisted one ... A female performer is a lot like a camellia, which doesn't fade, wilt drop petal by petal, brown on the stem. At the height of its beauty, a camellia drops whole from the bush. You can't escape aging no matter how talented you are."

China Dolls is the story of Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women who meet in the San Francisco Chinatown in the 1930s. Two are of Chinese heritage; one is of Japanese heritage; and all are Americans. It charts their lives through World War II, and what it meant to be of Oriental heritage in the United States at that time.

The book vividly brings to life San Francisco in the 1930s and the 1940s. The book also brings to life the three young women. Grace has escaped her childhood home in the Midwest and seeks to make a life based on her dance ability. She has grown up used to being the only Oriental in the community, and the ridicule and pressure that often entailed. Helen is from an affluent and influential Chinatown community. She finds herself bound by tradition and expectations. Ruby too comes from a past and a heritage that she would rather not reveal. She looks to reinvent herself into the "China doll."

Their friendship forms in the Forbidden City nightclub of San Francisco. It ebbs and flows throughout their lives. It has its highs and lows as their individual goals and needs take precedence over the friendship. They bring each other joy and heartache. "I loved those two, but together and separately, they caused me some of the worst pain of my life."

This story is told through the alternating perspectives of the three women. The book is very slow to start. It does eventually pick up some speed, you have to persevere well into the book. The second half is the more interesting one.

The three main characters and their relationship seem somewhat juvenile. They go from meeting to instant friendship. They fight over things and over young men. They are quick to love and quick to betray. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. China Dolls lacks the depth in both character and story that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan had.

My favorite part of the book is the history it brings to life. I learned a lot about San Francisco and the Chinese community in the city. The book also brings to life the prejudices that existed at the time, and the impact of Pearl Harbor and World War. It is a better history than a story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Art of Arranging Flowers

Title:  The Art of Arranging Flowers
Author:  Lynne Branard
Publication Information:  Berkeley Trade. 2014. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0425272710 / 978-0425272718

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

Favorite Quote:  "Sometimes we think there is supposed to be this great spiritual awakening that happens before we make a change in our lives. We expect some 'aha' moment, some beautiful enlightening experience to shape us into the people we want to be, but sometimes it just happens from the circumstances in our lives that present themselves. We become who we are meant to be because of the things along our edges that pull us into existence."

Ruby Jewels has been a florist in a small town for over twenty years. She understands flowers and the language of flowers. She also understands her customers and their needs, sometimes even before they themselves do.

Ruby has created this sheltered world for herself, surrounding herself with her friends and with her dog Clementine. Yet, as she quietly addresses the needs of those around her, her own emotions and needs go unaddressed. In bits and pieces, we learn that Ruby's sister died many years ago and that Ruby has never recovered from that loss. In fact, that loss and the facts of her childhood have defined her life since.

Will Ruby break free of the past? Will someone find their way past the walls she has built? Will friendship and love persevere?

Surrounding Ruby is an equally sweet cast of characters. Two recovering alcoholics who provide support for each other. A young boy who has lost his mother. A gentleman fighting the last battle of his life. Young lovers. Shy lovers. Weddings. Funerals. Someone new to town.

"Sweet" is the best way to describe this story. Anyone interested in flowers and flower arranging will find all the descriptions inviting. The story itself is predictable but warm and inviting. No major drama. No major highs. No major lows. Just people living life in a small town and coming to terms with their own pasts and futures.

Enjoy it with an afternoon cup of tea or under the umbrella at the beach.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Vacationers: A Novel

Title:  The Vacationers:  A Novel
Author:  Emma Straub
Publication Information:  Riverhead Hardcover. 2014. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1594631573 / 978-1594631573

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

Favorite Quote:  "Everything was fine, except the things that weren't."

The Vacationers is the story of one family and one two week vacation. Through the day by day account of the two weeks, it tells the story of the cracks in the family and the issues they are collectively and individually dealing with.

The vacationers are the Post family. Jim and Franny Post are married 35 years and facing a crisis. Their son Bobby is a real estate agent turned yoga aficionado. He comes to vacation with his girlfriend Carmen. The Posts' daughter Sylvia has just graduated from high school and will work on her language skill with a tutor over the summer although she has more on her mind than languages. Also along for the vacation is Franny's best friend Charles and his partner Lawrence and their quest to adopt a child.

The setting is the beautiful island of Mallorca because as Franny says, "Mallorca was less cliché than the South of France, and less overrun by Americans than Tuscany." The Posts have rented a house on the island for two weeks.

Throughout the book, we learn about the cracks in the family. An affair. A loss of a job. A career that is not going anywhere. A relationship that may not be grounded for long term love. A tension between a friendship and a marriage. An adoption process fraught with heartbreak. The tensions emerge throughout the two weeks, coming to different resolutions by the end of the book.

This book is a summer beach read. My biggest issue with it is that I do not like any of the characters. The book follows an expected plot line. As such, I end up not caring about the characters, their problems or the resolutions. The best thing about the book for me is the beautiful setting.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.