Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

Title:  The Twelve Lives of Samuel  Hawley
Author:  Hannah Tinti
Publication Information:  The Dial Press. 2017. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0812989880 / 978-0812989885

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

Opening Sentence:  "When Loo was twelve years old her father taught her to shoot a gun."

Favorite Quote:  "Their hearts were all cycling through the same madness - the discovery, the bliss, the loss, the despair - like planets taking turns in orbit around the sun. Each containing their own unique gravity. Their own force of attractions. Drawing near and holding fast to whatever entered their own atmosphere ... they would find love and lost love and recover from love and love again."

Samuel Hawley is a criminal. Loo Hawley is his twelve year old daughter. Despite everything, Samuel Hawley has good in him, and he loves his daughter. Loo's mother is only a memory kept alive by the box of mementos that Samuel Hawley carries from home to home. For Loo, life has always been her father and her. For Samuel Hawley, life is a string of scars on his body, each of which signify a place, a set of people, and a memory.

The beginning of the book finds Samuel returning with Loo to Olympus, Massachusetts. This was the home town of Loo's mothers. He hopes to stop watching his back and to allow Loo some chance at a normal life. Samuel struggles to outrun his past and his memories. Loo struggles to grow up and to fit in.

In alternating chapter, the book tells the story of Samuel's past and of Loo's coming of age. The book traverses many years of Samuel's life, with each chapter talking about one scar. Each represents a turning point in Samuel's life until it ultimately culminates in his return to Olympus. For Loo, the book works its way through her teenage years, with all the angst and heartache and joy that entails. Each chapter alludes to a lesson Lou learns as part of growing up. Of course, the past and the present meet with Loo attempting to untangle the mystery of her father's past and her mother.

For several reasons, I am not the right reader for this book. First, the violence and the guns. I except it in the story of Samuel's life for he bears the scars. However, I do not expect the violence in and from Loo's story. Guns are a part of every day life. A response to bullying turns into breaking someone's finger. After a while, it is just too much, too much violence and too much of a cavalier attitude towards violence.

Second, the characters remain hidden behind the violence, particularly Samuel. He remains somewhat of an enigma almost all the way through the book. Unfortunately, instead of being intrigued, I lose interest. Each of the chapters of his life seem like they begin with the idea of a crime and end with a wound. It doesn't feel like it gets beyond that until far into the book, and by then, it is too late. On the other hand, Loo is a young women who has lost her mother early in life and who is muddling her way through her teenage years. Her character would be more sympathetic except again for the violence.

Third, until well into the book, Samuel's story and Loo's story seem to travel separate paths. Loo does not appear in Samuel's story until far into the book, and Loo's chapters are more about her teenage life rather than her father's past. They interrelate, of course, but I could read Samuel's chapters sequentially or Loo's chapters sequentially and get a sense of their story. The merging of past and present comes too far in to the book.

All that being said, the writing and phrasing of the book is beautiful at times. However, overall, I am still not the reader for this book.

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon

Title:  Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murder and the Birth of the FBI
Author:  David Grann
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2017. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0385534248 / 978-0385534246

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

Opening Sentence:  "In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma."

Favorite Quote:  "An Indian Affairs agent said, 'The question will suggest itself, which of these people are the savages?'"

The history is disturbing and chilling, made even more so because it is an actual history not fiction. The theme is ages old, forever present in this world. People kill for money. The extent to which such greed can reach is scary in the history of the Osage murders. The book is intense and compelling.

Let's set the stage. The Osage nation lives and prospers. The settlers come and want the land. Gradually, the Osage are pushed in land allotments with the settlers getting the pick of the fertile farm land. Even worse, the Osage are deemed incapable of managing their own financial affairs; the finances of many are placed in the hands of guardians who are not of the tribe. Many guardians use this as a opportunity to line their own pockets.

The Osage own their land under the Allotment Act, and they own the rights to deposits of oil, gas, coal, or other minerals found in the land. Land could be bought or sold; mineral rights had to be inherited through the tribal rolls.

In the early twentieth century, the tribe leases out its land for exploration. Oil is discovered and discovered in such abundance that the Osage are wealthy beyond anyone's imagination. As the book jacket describes, "In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma."

"Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off." Some were outright shot. Some disappered. Some appeared to have died of no cause; it was later clear they were poisoned. Some of those who came to investigate also met a similar end. Then, the newly created FBI under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover got involved and exposed the diabolical plan underlying these deaths.

This book recounts this history in three main sections. Chronicle One:  The Marked Woman anchors the story and makes these murders about individuals and a family. Mollie Burkhart survived this systematic extermination but lost most of her family. This section of the book walks through the lives of specific individuals who were killed and the impact of the deaths on their families and communities. It depicts those who came to help, those who appeared to help, and lays the groundwork for the shock of discovery as to who is actually the mastermind of this plot. This section is also the emotional anchor of the book because it takes the history and makes it intensely personal. This is not reading about a case; it is the story of Mollie and her family.

Chronicle Two:  The Evidence Man is about the involvement of the newly created FBI, the investigation, and the prosecution of those deemed to be guilty. This section appears to bring to closure the story of Mollie Burkhart family as those responsible are brought to justice. This is the story of an investigation and a court trial. Sadly still relevant today are the discussions that the level of prosecution, accountability, and punishment depended both on the race of the victim and the race of the perpetrator. Justice was sadly not, and still is sadly not, color blind.

Chronicle Three:  The Reporter is the surprise in the book. The case of the murders of Mollie Burkhart's family was resolved. What more was going to occupy a third of this book? That is when the history becomes even more disturbing and chilling. This reporter delves into the fact that the scope of the murders did not end with the case of Mollie Burkhart's family. Many more cases went unsuspected, unreported, and unresolved. Justice was not done. The book leaves the reader with a reference to the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. "The blood cries out from the ground."

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Child

Title:  The Child
Author:  Fiona Barton
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1101990481 / 978-1101990483

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

Opening Sentence:  "My computer is winking at me knowingly when I sit down at my desk."

Favorite Quote:  "People say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. They say that when you been through something terrible ... But it doesn't. It breaks your bones, leaving everything splintered and held together with grubby bandages and yellowing sticky tape. Creaking along the fault lines, Fragile and exhausting to hold together. Sometimes  you wish it had killed you."

A gruesome discovery opens this story. On a construction site, a body is discovered. a skeleton of an infant lies buried in the foundations of a house being torn down. Who is the building site baby? Who would commit such an act?

Like Fiona Barton's first book The Widow, this book tells its story through different perspectives.

Angela is a distraught mother. Years ago, her newborn daughter Alice disappeared from her hospital room. Angela's life has ranged from being accused of harming her daughter to following up on false leads on Alice's whereabouts. The underpinning of a her life is a never ending grief and the void of not knowing. Is Alice dead? Is she living a life Angela knows nothing about? What happened to Alice?

Jude is a mother to now-adult Emma. She has been and continues to be self-centered to the point that her life seems to have no room for Emma. A big marking point of their relationship is the fact that at one point, Jude threw Emma out of the house. Tough love and understandable or something else and completely selfish?

Emma is a young woman with secrets and fears of her own. She is now married with a spouse who clearly cares for her. Yet, the point is made that something is amiss in that relationship because she married a father figure. Her relationship with her mother is fraught with pain and regret; yet, she is drawn back to her. Emma has love, caring, and stability; yet, her life is overridden by anxiety. The reason why slowly emerges through the book.

Of the three, Angela is the most sympathetic character - a mother who loses a child. Her highs and lows of hope and despair bring the reader along with her feelings. Jude is unlikable one because of her self-centered, boyfriend focused outlook. Emma is the enigma for her story is the unknown that slowly comes to light. Be warned, some of the backstories delve into rather sordid circumstances.

Surrounding these main characters are supporting characters that repeat from The Widow. Detective Sparkes is on the investigation, both of Alice's disappearance and now of this mystery building site baby. Kate is a reporter, who catches the glimmer of a story when she hears of the found skeleton. Gradually following her leads, she is pulled further and further into the story of these women. Kate becomes the thread through which the stories of Angela, Jude, and Emma are stitched together. Kate provides the commentary, evaluates the facts, and draws the conclusions for the reader.

Alternating chapters depict the perspective of each woman with their charged emotions and anxieties. Those feelings permeate the book and create a tension that keeps me reading. Mind you, this structure and the emotions make this book a psychological mystery much more so than a thriller. Action is not the heart of this book; thoughts and feelings are. Given the number of characters and the relationships, the ending is not really a surprise, but getting there is an entertaining reading journey.

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Title:  The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Author:  Amanda Quick
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0399174478 / 978-0399174476

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

Opening Sentence:  "The abstract painting on the bedroom wall was new."

Favorite Quote:  "Both of them had been damaged when they arrived ... Each of them had made a fresh start in a town that encouraged reinvention. Each had done a good job of concealing the damage, but neither of them tried to pretend to the other that the damage didn't exist. Maybe that was the real reason for their friendship."

What a fun book, perfect for a summer beach read. A gusty independent heroine on the run. An handsome, injured, brooding hero. A mysterious book that many people are after. A glitzy 1930s Hollywood setting. Three women, all dead by accidental drowning. A mob connection. Some magic. A little romance. This book has so many fun elements, perfect for a summer read.

Anna Harris aka Irene Glasson is the girl who knows too much. The book begins on a bloody murder scene as Anna discovers the body of her boss and a message written in blood. Run. Anna heeds the warning and runs, going from the east coast to the place where so many reinvent themselves - Hollywood. Anna becomes Irene, a novice reporter for a small Hollywood scandal sheet.

This job brings her to the small town of Burning Cove, home to an exclusive resort where the rich and the famous come to play and to hide in privacy. The same job and the same resort unfortunately land Irene into the middle of another mystery. The woman Irene is supposed to meet ends up dead in the resort pool. Now, Irene has a mystery to solve and a story to scoop.

This predicament brings Irene to Oliver Ward, mysterious ex-magician of the Oliver Ward Show and now owner and operator of the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel. Oliver has an investment to protect; a murder at the hotel with other guests as suspects is not a good combination for business.

Irene and Oliver meet, and sparks fly.

Of course, Irene's aka Anna's past is not done with her yet either. Two mysteries intermingle, and her past comes back to haunt her.

Both mysteries of course come together in a dramatic conclusion. Along the way, the book throws out a lot of red herrings to keep you guessing as to the identity of the murderer. The murderer is in plain sight throughout the book, but I did not guess that ending, making it all the more fun. When I finally connect the dots, my reaction is, "Of course!" That is the best kind of mystery - one in which the ending is a surprise but at the same time not so far out of reach that there was no way a reader could have seen it coming. Too easy to guess leads to the reaction what's the point. Too hard to guess makes it frustrating. This book finds that perfect balance.

The book does end in a neat package with all the mysteries solved, all the "bad guys" in a bad state, and all the "good guys" with a happy ending. However, the ending in its own way is a beginning. Perhaps, another book with these characters is to come?

This is my first book by Amanda Quick who was born Jayne Castle and also writes under the name Jayne Ann Krentz. So, I cannot compare it to other books. I just know I am adding this author under all her names to my list for when I need a quick, light escape into a fictional world.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

There Your Heart Lies

Title:  Their Your Heart Lies
Author:  Mary Gordon
Publication Information:  Pantheon. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0307907945 / 978-0307907943

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

Opening Sentence:  "He offers her a coat."

Favorite Quote:  "I learned a very long time ago that if you wait for the perfect action, you'll never act. In a situation like this, all you can do is the least bad thing. And be truthful about the cost of what you've done, of what's been brought about, or allowed to come about, for which, you must also understand, you are responsible."

Here is another book that takes what is by now a very familiar approach - two time periods, two women, a granddaughter trying to uncover all that she does not know about her grandmother's life. The broader context of the past is a history of Spanish civil war. It is a history about which I know very little, hence my interest in the book. This is one of the things I love about historical fiction; it introduces me to history I might not otherwise read. Fiction prompts me to research and learn the actual history that underlies the book.

The Spanish Civil War took place between 1936 and 1939, right before the start of World War II. This is the war that brought the conservative General Francisco Franco to power. Franco then ruled Spain for over thirty-five years until his death in 1975. The idealism of this war drew volunteers from around the world; the international brigades came with the idealistic notion of joining a fight against fascism to protect the world. Sadly, what they found was that the atrocities of war were perpetrated on all sides, and that war became about self-interest not idealism.

The fictional story of this book is of one such volunteer from the United States. Marian is born into a wealthy, privileged, conservative American family. This life of privilege has embedded in it all kinds of prejudice - race, religion, gender, sexual orientation - that Marian wants no part of. Her beliefs and ideal lead far away from most of her family except for her brother Johnny. Johnny's untimely and tragic death pushes Marian further away and on a path that leads to the war in Spain. Her life in Spain shatters her idealism and leads in directions she could never have imagined.

Fast forward many decades later, Marian leads a quiet life in Rhode Island. Her granddaughter Amelia is a source of joy, and finally, Marian decides to talk about the past and tell Amelia the story of her life, from her brother's death to her life in Spain and then back in the United States.

The two time period structure is not quite successful in this book for a couple of reasons. First, Amelia is not really developed as a character and does not really have a story of her own. This book is Marion's story and only hers. The book starts off strongly as it begins with Marian in the 1930s, and the reader lives Marian's life with her. Once the present day story kicks in, the book switches to Marian now telling the story of her life. The history of the war is fascinating, and everything Marian endures is dramatic. However, the story seems removed because at this point the reader is being told a story rather than living that story. Later in the book, the book switches to Amelia's perspective, removing the story even further from Marian's story.

I wish the book had stayed with Marian's story from the 1930s such that as a reader, I lived it through her. That would make for a much more compelling book set against this turbulent history.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

After the Bloom

Title:  After the Bloom
Author:  Leslie Shimotakahara
Publication Information:  Dundum. 2017. 328 pages.
ISBN:  1459737431 / 978-1459737433

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

Opening Sentence:  "Their house had always been a wreck."

Favorite Quote:  "For so long no one talked about anything - it was like those memories of the internment years never even existed. Massive blackouts, collective amnesia. Just put it all behind you, block it all out, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, move the **** on. The first step in rebuilding community is allowing those memories to surface."

After the Bloom is a story structured in a commonly used framework - two time periods, two women, a daughter trying to untangle the puzzle of her mother. The broader context of the past is a sad part of United States history - the internment of the Japanese in the United States during World War. The reprecussions of this history are felt today in the community who suffered through it and in others who fear that history may one day repeat itself.

Many books have taken this approach to this history - The Japanese Lover by Isabelle Allende, When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, and perhaps my favorite, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. The history is a sad and shameful one as citizens of the country were stripped of rights and freedom and treated as potential criminals because of their ethnic heritage. This book takes a different approach to the camps in that it does not just show the conditions and privations forced from the outside. It also shows the strife within as different people struggle to deal with this reality. There is talk of peace and acceptance, and there is talk of rebellion.

The personal story in this book is that of Lily Takemitsu, who is a young adult when her family is forced into interment. Hers is a story of the camp but also a story of a young woman who seems to have no healthy male relationships ever in her life. She talks about neither, such that her daughter Rita has no idea what her mother has gone through. Rita's life is 1980s Toronto with a mother who disappears. Rita is not surprise as this has happened before, but this time, Lily does not return and cannot be found. In her search, Rita discovers the truth of her mother's past and of her own heritage.

What I find intriguing is the theme of shame and something not to be talked about that is evident throughout the book. Lily feels the shame of her background and never talked about it to her daughter or her husband. Those in the internment camps are wrongly made to feel ashamed of their heritage. The country is ashamed of this history such that kids grow up not ever learning about it. The glimmer of a bigger message is there in the book; it just never makes its way forcefully out.

The key to a historical fiction for me is the balance between history and fiction. The fiction should bring the history to life and bring emotion to historical facts; the characters become anchors for the history. By the same token, the history should become the central drama and conflict of the fictional story.

In this book, the fiction and the history take two different paths. While Lily's story is set in the World War II internment camps, it is much more of a story of a young woman with troubling relationships - her father, her daughter's father, and others she meets at the camp. The same story could be set in a completely different context and still be essential the same personal story.

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Hidden Thread

Title:  The Hidden Thread
Author:  Liz Trenow
Publication Information:  Sourcebooks. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1492637513 / 978-1492637516

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

Opening Sentence:  "Anna rests her head on the cushion and traces her finger along the stems of daisies and the nodding heads of bluebells embroidered onto its calico cover."

Favorite Quote:  "You have your whole life before you, and all you need to do is observe until you feel you know every detail of every leaf, every petal, every stalk. And then you must record, and look, and look again, and look yet again."

The Hidden Thread, like Liz Ternow's other book The Forgotten Seamstress, has a beautiful silk fabric at its core. Set in late 1700s London, the book brings to life the silk industry - the London aristocracy who are the customers, the British mercers who are the sellers, and the weavers who are often French refugees.

Anna Butterfield is a country girl from a poor but respectable family. She is sent to London to visit her wealthier aunt and uncle. The hope is that Anna may make a good match, which will provide for her and her sister. Anna, however, is an independent spirit and an artist. Her interest lies in capturing the shapes and colors of the natural world.

A chance meeting introduces her to Henri Vendome, a French weaver. He is a journeyman looking to qualify as a master weaver. His ultimate goal is to have his own workshop and make a better life for himself and his mother. Another chance introduces Anna to Miss Charlotte, a dressmaker to the aristocracy including Anna's aunt.

Anna's aunt and uncle do not approve of these associations, but Anna pursues her friendships and their shared love for fabric, shape and color. Anna wants to draw inspiration from nature. Henri wants to weaver it into his masterpiece. Charlotte may one day create a beautiful gown out of it.

Their story takes place in the world of the silk trade in England. The fashions of the aristocracy are fickle, moving from big bold colors and patterns to more subtle lines and shades. The mercers want to to control the supply of silk and purchase at the lowest prices domestically or internationally for the biggest profits. The weavers fight for what they consider a fair price and a living wage. This history creates the bigger drama into which Anna and Henri's story is set.

What I find fascinating about the book is the description of the silks and work that goes into designing and weaving each one. Most of the clothes we wear are made to a uniform standards with the use of a lot of technology in weaving the cloth itself. It is fascinating to read about the labor intensive process of loom weaving and the constraints put on the design because of the limitations of the loom itself. How wonderful to imagine that no two pieces of fabric are alike and that there may indeed be hidden threads, unseen by the wearer but necessary to the creation of the fabric and its design.

What I love about the writing is how seamlessly the history and the fiction story is blended together. Each enhances the other. Mind you, Anna and Henri's love story is not an unusual story -  a young woman and a young man from opposite sides of track drawn together against family wishes and societal concerns. However, Anna and Henri themselves along with the others in the book are engaging characters. The characters and fiction provide the human anchor and emotions for the history, and the history adds the drama to the fiction.

The Hidden Thread Blog Tour
Title: The Hidden Thread
Author: Liz Trenow
Publication Date: May 1st, 2017
Publication Date: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781492637516

Summary: The Hidden Thread is a breathtaking novel about the intricate craft of silk and the heartbreak of forbidden love.

When Anna Butterfield’s mother dies, she’s sent to live with her uncle, a silk merchant in London, to make a good match and provide for her father and sister. There, she meets Henri, a French immigrant and apprentice hoping to become a master weaver. But Henri, born into a lower class, becomes embroiled in the silk riots that break out as weavers protest for a fair wage.

Goodreads Link: http://bit.ly/2oD9jdX

Buy Links: 
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2oDa5rC
Book Depositoryhttp://bit.ly/2oK9i4W
IndieBound: http://bit.ly/2nc4tE4

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wherever You Go, There They Are

Title:  Wherever You Go, There They Are
Author:  Annabelle Gurwitch
Publication Information:  Blue Rider Press. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0399574883 / 978-0399574887

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

Opening Sentence:  "Moo Goo Gai Pan was a swashbuckling adventurer who sailed the seven seas carousing and plundering and generally yo-ho-ho-ing it up."

Favorite Quote:  "The bosom of your family can be comforting but it can also be smothering."

The story of Wherever You Go, There They Are is really more like wherever you go and whatever you do, they may or may not be there, but their impact on your life and the legacy of them that you carry within you will always be. You will think of them. You will hear their voice in your head. They, of course, are your family. Call it baggage. Call it family love. Call it whatever you want, it will be with you wherever you go.

The subtitle of this book reads, "Stories About My Family You Might Relate To." In other words, this book is a collection of stories, really essays, that relate or include reference to the author's family. Some, like those about her aging parents and her mother's illness, are really personal. Some are less personal and more social commentary. Some, in fact, have little if anything to do with her family at all.

The publicity for the book states, "A hysterically funny and slyly insightful new collection ... about her own family of scam artists and hucksters, as well as the sisterhoods, temporary tribes, communities, and cults who have become surrogates along the way." The book blurb sets really high expectations. The book does not live up to that expectation in either being funny or being about family.

 The overall tone of the book is very conversational. Reading the book is almost like listening to someone tell this story. This makes the book a very easy and quick read. As is the case in all collections, some essays appeal to me more than others. The first and last are my favorites because they are the ones centered on family. These are the stories that give a glimpse at emotions and feelings. The others seems more concept centered and as such more essay than story. Some I relate to, but I end my reading without a real connection to or feelings towards the characters. It's interesting, but it does not elicit an emotional reaction.

That being said, parts of the book are definitely funny. However, a lot of the tongue in cheek commentary is presented as footnotes in the book. I have no idea why that format is chosen other than to draw attention. After a while, it is just annoying. I would much rather see it incorporated into the text and not have the flow of thought interrupted to look for the footnote at the end of the page. At some points, I find myself reading the footnote on the page first and then looking to the text to see what the joke is. Note that on a Kindle, this issue is made worse by the fact that often a footnote continues on to the next page. I am unsure if that is by intent, or an issue with format.

This forced break in reading is perhaps one reason the book fails to connect emotionally. In addition, the collection does not have the continuity of a timeline or another organization really pulling it together. It is simply a collection, with each essay going from topic to topic rather than a composite, emotional story of a family.

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Little Sister

Title:  Little Sister
Author:  Barbara Gowdy
Publication Information:  Tin House Books. 2017. 300 pages.
ISBN:  1941040608 / 978-1941040607

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

Opening Sentence:  "From her office above the Regal Repertory Theater, Rose Bowan watched a Coke can roll down the sidewalk across the street."

Favorite Quote:  "Life is all doing and undoing."

Rose Bowan has a pretty great life in some ways. She owns and runs a family business - a historic theater. She is in a stable, long-term relationship. She is independent. She has the love of family and friends.

On the other hand, Rose has tragedies in her life. Her father passed away. Her mother is descending into dementia. Her sister Ava died in childhood, and Rose feels responsible. Something seems missing in her relationship with her boyfriend. On top of all that, Rose thinks she may be losing her mind.

Every time a storm comes, Rose finds herself transported to another woman's life. She becomes Harriet, living her life and her relationships. The episodes last a short time, and then Rose is pulled back to her own life. At first, she thinks it's an anomaly and just moves on. Then, she thinks there might be something wrong with her. Then, she find herself more and more drawn to this other life. To her surprise, she discovers that Harriet is not only a real person but living in the same time and the same city as Rose herself. Gradually, Rose finds herself seeking out storms for Harriet's life seems so much more intriguing and beguiling than her own.

In her real life, Rose is caring for her mother, trying to run her business, and trying to decide is her relationship with her boyfriend is worth salvaging. Harriet is involved in an affair with a married man and facing a pregnancy. The decision as to what may happen to this unborn child weighs heavily on Rose. She feels a sense of responsibility for a life that is not her own.

Within this surreal story, the book gradually reveals the secret of Rose's childhood, and the collection of eccentric characters that inhabit that childhood. What happened to Ava? What was Rose's role in Ava's death? How has that trauma of her childhood impacted Rose's entire life?

The book is based on the premise that an ordinary person living an every day life all of a sudden finds herself entering another woman's body and life. This happens with regularity. Rose becomes another woman. Yet, her reaction displays an equanimity that belies her unusual circumstances. She seems very matter-of-fact - too much so - about everything. Her moment of surprise does come at the very end of the book, but, at that moment, the book ends. It would be intriguing to see more of that emotional reaction throughout.

What strikes more a chord with me is the character of Fiona, Rose's mother. Fiona's struggle with her worsening dementia and Rose's role as caregiver are touching and sad, but they are is side story line not the main story.

I appreciate the premise of the book and the touch of magic realism. However, ultimately I am not the reader for this book. The physical descriptions that occur frequently in this book are just not for me. In addition, the entire book and especially the ending seems anticlimactic. Overall, though, I leave this book thinking that somewhere along the way I missed the point.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings

Title:  The Garden of Small Beginnings
Author:  Abbi Waxman
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0399583580 / 978-0399583582

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

Opening Sentence:  "It's been more than three years since my husband died, yet in may ways he's more useful than ever."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm generally a grumpy, reclusive person on the inside, but sometimes on the outside I surprise myself with my friendliness."

This book starts off in a tragedy that happened about three years previously. Lilian's husband died in a car accident, leaving her in shock, heartbroken, and single parent to their two daughters. Lil has managed to keep her job and life together for her kids, but in many ways, life is frozen in that instant. Her younger daughter has very little if any memory of her father while, for her older daughter, no one will ever take her Daddy's place.

Lil finds herself unable to move forward either. She has the support of her family, her husband's family, and her friends. They supported her at the time of Dan's death, through her breakdown and hospitalization after, and ever since. Yet, ultimately, the grief seems hers alone. How to go on - at that moment, three years later, or ever?

As part of a work assignment, she is asked to attend a gardening class, taught by master gardner Edward Bloum, who is, as you might, guess eligible and handsome. The class also brings a new set of friends to Lil's life; each one has his or her own story. The story unfolds over the course of the six week class.

In between each chapter of the story are gardening tips, which are fun and sometimes funny to read but don't really flow with the rest of the book other than the fact that the book is set around a gardening class. Sections like "How to Grow Garlic" or "How to Grow Zucchini" are actual garden advice but not really relevant to the story going on in the book.

The story is sweet. Even with its sad premise, it has an uplifting message about finding the strength to move forward and about new beginnings. The planting of a garden is literal but also becomes, of course, a metaphor for new beginnings. You plant, you nurture, and then you watch it flourish.

Two reasons keep this book from a higher rating. First is the main character. It took a while, but then a character - Lil's sister Rachel - in the book articulates my thoughts. "... what about your martyr complex ... Poor Lilian, lost her husband, love of her life. Well, what about me I lost one of my best friends. What about the kids? They lost their dad. what about Maggie, eh? She ... lost her only brother. It's not all about you, and it's about time you realized that." Grief is never comparative, but grief is never one person's alone. The fact that this book is a first person narrative adds to that feeling of everything being Lil-centered, if you will.

The other reason is that the book is predictable. A sad beginning and a sad main character. An incorrigible sister who tells it like it is. A handsome new man. A small cast of characters, each with their own eccentricities. A common bond - in this case, a gardening class - that draws them together. New friends. New love. A gradual new beginning. Sweet but expected. I keep waiting for more and for something unexpected. Without that, it is ultimately forgettable but a sweet story for an afternoon.

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

In Other Words

Title:  In Other Words
Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri (Author). Ann Goldstein (Translator).
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2016. 256 pages.
ISBN:  1101875550 / 978-1101875551

Book Source:  I read this book based on the author's previous work.

Opening Sentence:  "I want to cross a small lake."

Favorite Quote:  "I write in order to break down the wall, to express myself in a pure way. When I write, my appearance, my name have nothing to do with it. I am heard without being seen, without prejudices, without a filter. I am invisible. I become my words, and the words become me."

What an odd little book, and I mean that in the best way possible. In Other Words is a slim little book. It's a little over 200 pages even in a small hardcover edition. The actual length of the writing is about half that length for the text appears twice through the 200 pages. One side is the original Italian in which Jhumpa Lahiri writes it, and the other is the English translation which was not done by the author but by someone else.

Wait. Italian. Jhumpa Lahiri. That is an unexpected combination. Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London. Her parents are from West Bengal. When she was two, the family moved to the United States. She grew up in Rhode Island. She has won the Pulitzer Prize and been nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award. Her original language is Bengali, and her published works are written in English.

That is, up until this book. This book, she chooses to write in Italian, her third language. Then, she chooses not to translate the book herself so as to avoid the temptation to correct the writing with her comfort level in English. Instead, the translator is Ann Goldstein, who also translated Elena's Ferrante's work into English.

This book is also her first foray into nonfiction for this book is a personal memoir. This book is self-reflective look at her own immigrant experience and her own experience with language. Although she studied Italian for years, she and her family also moved to Italy for a while for a completely immersive experience. This book comes from a perspective at the end of that experience, but it truly covers her experience with displacement and language throughout her life. She writes from the perspective of her craft, and her ability to work in a different medium (i.e., a different language) than the one she typically uses for her craft. It all presents unique challenges but also unique opportunities.

What comes through the strongest is the idea of being always a foreigner: "Those who don't belong to any specific place can't, in fact, return anywhere. The concepts of exile and return imply a point of origin, a homeland. Without a homeland and without a true mother tongue, I wander the world, even at my desk. In the end I realize that it wasn't a true exile:  far from it. I am exiled even from the definition of exile." Those who have lived the immigrant experience will recognize it and find something of their own experience in it. "Because of my physical appearance, I'm seen as a foreigner ... No one, anywhere, assumes that I speak the languages that are a part of me ... the wall keeps me at a distance, separates me. The wall is inevitable. It surrounds me wherever I go, so that I wonder if perhaps the wall is me."

With no knowledge of Italian, I cannot comment on the original. The philosophical musings in translations, however, speak to me. It is a completely different experience than reading her fiction, but beautiful nevertheless.

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Title:  Beartown
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1501160761 / 978-1501160769

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

Opening Sentence:  "Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead, and pulled the trigger."

Favorite Quote:  "Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe - comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy."

This is the third Fredrik Backman book I have read. I loved the first two - Britt-Marie Was Here and And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. The two books couldn't have been more different. Britt-Marie is about the title character - an elderly woman who finds the courage and support to start her life anew. The other book deals with the issue of Alzheimer's and dementia. What the book have in common is the emotion they convey and the fact that they made me both laugh and cry.

So, I knew I wanted to read Beartown because of the two books. Nevertheless, I was hesitant. This book is set in around ice hockey, a sport about which I know nothing and a sport in which I have very little interest. However, the opening sentence of the book clearly says that there is more to the story. Because of this and the author's other books, I went ahead. I am so glad I did!

Beartown is a small town, that is slowly fading like so many other small towns. It is overshadowed by the more prosperous communities around it. Jobs and, therefore, people are leaving Beartown. The one thing that still ignites Beartown's passion is ice hockey. The town has an active program ranging from seven year old boys to seniors. Some players historically have made it big and played in the major leagues. Certain players, particularly some on the junior team, now exhibit a talent that could take them all the way. They are the hope and pride of the town.

The beginning of the book is all about hockey and putting the club first, above all else. The beginning also introduces a lot of characters and their perspectives on both Beartown and ice hockey. I read on with hesitation, unsure whether the focus on hockey and the seemingly large number of characters is going to work. Again, because of that opening sentence and the author's other books, I keep going.

Quickly, somewhere along the way, the characters and the background fade, and people emerge. Peter, the general manager of the club, is pulled between the demands of his job and his personal choices. He and his wife Kira are also haunted by ghosts of the past. Sune, the coach of the senior team, knows that his time is ending, and the torch is soon to be passed. David, the coach of the junior team is part coach and part father to these players but always keeps his lesson focused on winning. Kevin is the star athlete. Benji is Kevin's best friend but keeps secrets that not even his best friend knows. Amat is an immigrant, who dreams of playing hockey and making life easier for his single mother. Maya and Ana are teenagers and best friends, seeing each other through everything.

The story remains about ice hockey, but not in the way you might imagine. The story becomes about the question about how far a person, a set of people, or a town will go to put club above all. What will be the price for putting club first? Will that be a price that everyone is willing to pay or will someone stand up for what is right? As with Fredrik Backman's other books, the people and the emotions take over, and I read furiously until the end to find out the answer.

The ending, too, is not a neat package, and because of that, feels as real as the rest of the book. I continue to be a Fredrick Backman fan!

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