Monday, May 20, 2019

Here and Now and Then

Title:  Here and Now and Then
Author:  Mike Chen
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2019. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0778369048 / 978-0778369042

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "No pulse beat beneath the skin."

Favorite Quote:  "Look, it's possible to start over. Completely over. You survive, you adapt. You can find love and be happy and live. You can do that while still honoring your past - even when your past is taken from you. The only thing you can do is run with it and turn it into something good."

What would you do to protect your child? For most parents, the answer requires no thought - anything and everything I possibly could. The question and, for the most part, the answer is universal. It provides the emotional connection to a story about a father and his daughter.

For Kin Stewart, the question becomes all the more complicated because his daughter was never supposed to have been born. Kin has lived for eighteen years in San Francisco. He is happily married and a father to a teenage daughter Miranda. He has health issues, including blackout and memory loss.

What he shares with no one is that he knows the reason why. He is actually from the year 2142. He was sent back in time on a mission and got stranded there. He has been stranded for all this time. His health issues are a time travel illness. Now, a team has arrived from 2142 to "rescue" him. In 2142, he has only been gone for a few weeks, but for him, it's as if a lifetime has passed.

The question is does Kin want to be rescued? He has a wife, a child, and a life now. He also has one in 2142, but he does not remember that life or that family. He wants to choose the one he knows and loves.

Kin, however, is not given a choice. "We're all different people all through our lives, but that's okay, as long as you remember all the people you used to be." Kin is asked to forget, his wife and daughter labeled an aberration that should never have been.

Now, the dilemma is how can Kin adapt to life "back home" in 2142. That life presents its own friendships, relationships, and love. However, how can he simply walk away from a wife and child he has loved and built a life with?  The dilemma deepens when his daughter is threatened. What to do? How to balance the pull of both of his lives and of the wonderful people in both of his lives? Can he save both?

Add to this premise the assumption that all moments in time exist simultaneously. Thus, it is possible to return to any moment in time. The cardinal rule in Kin's work has been to cause no disturbance and alter nothing such that the future remains unaltered. This, of course, is the rule he breaks by building a life in what, for him, are years stranded.

From this premise, Mike Chen builds a story that is part adventure and party emotional family story. Science fiction and family drama make for an interesting mix. I expect what Kin will want to do as a father. However, I completely do not expect where this book goes and how the ending brings it full circle.

"I'm asking you to take a leap of faith. Sometimes when nothing makes sense, it's the only thing you can trust." That's pretty much what I feel about this book. Take a leap of faith and enjoy the ride.

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

Talk to Me

Title:  Talk to Me
Author:  John Kenney
Publication Information:  GP Putnam's Sons. 2019. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0735214379 / 978-0735214378

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

Opening Sentence:  "Ted Grayson has been pushed out of an airplane."

Favorite Quote:  "Alone with their thoughts. The bravest thing. Today we would do anything to run from our own thoughts. The noise of our minds, the voices. So we check the phone, the text, the email, the alert. Why look inside for the answer when you can look outside?"

This book begins as if picked from the headlines these days. A news anchor - a man with a long, well respected, public career - makes an entirely inappropriate comment to a young woman. The moment is captured on camera. The video is posted online. It goes viral. The commentary comes from all sources, reviling the man.

Initially, I am not sure that I want to read fiction about today's headlines. I don't know that I want to follow along on a conversation between his defenders and his accusers. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who wins? Who loses? The reality of that is enough to not need the fiction right now.

Much to my surprise, the book turns in a different direction - a far more compelling fiction. The book turns into a story of a father and a daughter. "Why are we here? What's the point? After we are stripped bare, naked before the world, after everything is taken away, all we have is our children. And we have two basic, fundamental jobs as parents. To love them. To protect them." It also becomes a commentary on quickly changing public opinion especially as influenced by today's overabundance of "news" sources and open forums on which to state that opinion. "The history of the world is the history of miscommunication."

The personal story is that of Ted Grayson, an almost sixty-year old TV anchor. He has seen considerable professional success and is well respected in this field. His personal life, however, is a shambles. His time on the road as a reporter and his focus on his career leaves him estranged from his family. Claire, his wife of thirty years wants a divorce.  His daughter Franny harbors a lifetime of regrets and resentments. At the same time, Franny wants to somewhat follow in her father's footsteps. Her career is beginning; she writes for an online website. It purports to be "news" but is truly aiming for the sensationalist clicks. Her father's downfall offers Franny a chance to build her own career as her boss offers her the opportunity to write and publish a interview. Where the conversation between father and daughter goes, I leave to your imagination or reading. What a sensationalist website does with that conversation, I also leave to your imagination or reading. Bonds are broken and healed.

The broader social commentary of this book is all about social media and its "news". The basis of this book is a casually made video that is posted online and that goes viral. Ted Grayson's fate is decided in the court of popular opinion based on this video. A sensationalist website preys upon a private conversation to gain "clicks" and exacerbate the situation. What they do may be legal, but ethics is a whole other question. Public opinion, just as quickly, turns on another video.

We knows this happens. Unfortunately, we see it in the daily headlines these days. This book does a great job of laying it out as a story. It is really this process that is the story of this timely book. The book is entertaining but does leave me reflecting on this very serious reality.

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The East End

Title:  The East End
Author:  Jason Allen
Publication Information:  Park Row Books. 2019. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0778308391 / 978-0778308393

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "After sunset, Corey Halpern sat parked at a dead end in Southampton with his headlights off and the dome light on, killing time before the break-in."

Favorite Quote:  "If only he could write as he saw things, maybe this place wouldnt' be so bad, though each time he'd put pen to paper and tried to describe these solo hours at the ocean, or anything else, the words remained trapped behind locked doors deep inside his head."

The East End is not a mystery. You know in the first few pages who dies and how. The East End is not a thriller either although it is a very quick read. The East End is more a look at the difference between the economic ends of the Hamptons - those who can afford the lavish, expensive summer homes and those who spend their lives working in those homes. Beyond that, The East End is a story full of troubled, flawed characters making some terrible choices in efforts to make the right ones.

The plot is a fairly straight forward one covering a period of only about 3 days. Corey and his mother Gina work in the Sheffield's home. One night, he witnesses a death at the Sheffield home. It turns out the death leads to a bigger secret about Leo Sheffield. Corey is not the only witness. The question becomes what will Leo Sheffield do to keep his secret.

The characters all run fairly close to a stereotype. Corey is the handsome, brooding teenager from the working class side of the tracks. He has his flaws, but underneath has a good heart. Gina is a struggling single mother unable to break the cycle of poverty, alcoholism, drug use, and a violent ex. Leo Sheffield is the businessman, who believes he has to keep up appearances and thinks that money is the answer. Sheila, Leo's wife, is not a true participant in the events of this book but is a strong presence as the snobby, pretentious rich woman.

The characters do not develop beyond the stereotype.That also means that not much unexpected truly happens in the book. There are no sudden shifts in character and no huge twists in the story.  Perhaps if the intent of the book is to highlight the stereotypical differences of the Hamptons society, that is exactly the point.

The book is a very dark one - literally and figuratively. Even with the short period of time the book covers, much of what happens happens at night. Through the characters, the book highlight several serious issues - a suicide attempt, a struggle with alcohol and drugs, a near rape, a need to hide sexual identity, and a penchant for risk taking. These are the undercurrents to the story and create an even darker story.

With the darkness and the short time frame, the author manages to create an intensity that keeps me turning pages even though there is no real mystery to be solved. I keep reading to find out what happens to each of these characters. Each of them makes some horrible choices - breaking and entering, alcohol, drugs, violence, theft, and more - at some point. At the same time, I find myself feeling sorry for all of them (well, all of them except for Gina's ex).

What is interesting about the ending is that it does not seem to be exactly an ending. I turn the last page and think ... but what happens to them. What happens next? The fact that I invest enough into the characters and the story to want to know says to me:  good read perfect for the beach when summer arrives.

The East End Blog Tour
Author: Jason Allen
ISBN: 9780778308393
Publication Date: 5/7/19
Publisher: Park Row Books

Author Bio:
Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A MEDITATION ON FIRE. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing. THE EAST END is his first novel.

Book Tour:

Author Q&A:

Q: What inspired you to write THE EAST END?

A: Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.

Q: What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?

A: The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.

Q: What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?

A: Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.

Q: What was the hardest part about writing your debut book?

A: Maintaining relationships, maybe? It’s understandable that it might not be easy for most people to be in a relationship with someone who wants to spend days off from work in their pajama pants, shut away in a room for hours at a time. The work itself, I honestly love it—even when it feels like hard work. It’s incredible that after many years of writing, now I get to work on my next novels as others are reading The East End. I guess the hardest part is what happens after the writing is finished. I want everyone to like it… haha.

Buy Links:

Social Links:
Twitter: @EathanJason

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

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Witch of Willow Hall

Title:  The Witch of Willow Hall
Author:  Hester Fox
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2018. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1525833014 / 978-1525833014

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was the Bishop boy who started it all."

Favorite Quote:  "Fairy stories they might be, but every story starts from a seed of truth; if not, why would we be drawn to them as we do?"

Willow Hall has a tainted and tragic past. The Montrose family, who now calls Willow Hall home has a tainted and tragic past. The house and the family share that trait. The question is whether that past will reach out into the present and destroy this family and its future.

Father, Mother, and the three Montrose sisters - Catherine, Lydia, and Emeline - leave Boston permanently to take up residence at Willow Hall in New Oldbury. A scandal, which is gradually revealed thorughout the book, drives the Montrose family away from Boston and from society in general. A scandal also surrounds Willow Hall itself and the family of its former owner, John Barrett.

One aspect of the book I don't understand is the description and eventual reveal of the initial scandal that sends the Montrose family running from Boston. Of all the possible scandalous situations to put into a story, that seems an extreme choice. It is also never explained in the book, and nothing really comes of it. The points made are that it is scandalous beyond belief, that it is loathsome to society and to family, and that the extent of it must never become public. The reasons for it could probably be an entire book on its own. The back story of how and why is never explained in this book.  It remains an unresolved, jarring note - one that may perhaps be more memorable than the main story itself.

Interestingly, this scandal is not the main story of this book. It is the background that precipitates the events. The main story, however, is made clear by the book's title - witch. This book is about a young woman coming to terms with who and what she is and about taking control of it. In the center is Lydia. "It is one thing to know what to do, but another to find the strength and courage to do it." That is Lydia's journey. The first step is to acknowledge and accept. The second is to learn what to do. The third is to actually do it and to control it.

Embedded in the story are the emotions of family love and a romance. Surrounding it are ghost stories and the setting of an atmospheric old house, an abandoned mill, a pond, and a forest. At the heart of it is also a sibling rivalry to an extreme. "I don't know what it is about my sister, but she has the power to cut me down like no one else. My insecurities come rushing back, winding their way up my bones like ivy." There is even a duel thrown in for good measure.

Ultimately, this book is a romance and family drama much more so than about witches and ghosts. Either way, suspend disbelief, and the setup makes for a very quick, entertaining read. The Witch of Willow Hall is a debut novel. The fact that the back story of the scandal is not explained in this book and that the ending is the beginning of new relationships makes me wonder if other books are planned following the same characters. I suppose it remains to be seen.

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

Friday, May 10, 2019


Title:  Transcription
Author:  Kate Atkinson
Publication Information:  Little, Brown, and Company. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  031617663X / 978-0316176637

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Miss Armstrong?"

Favorite Quote:  "Choice, it seemed, was one of the first casualties of war."

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life was an intriguing take on a tale of reincarnation. It was a fascinating but long story. Just a bit too long for my taste. I found the book starting to drag and really slow down in the middle. I am glad I persevered to the end, but it was difficult at times.

This book is a completely different story. This is a story of World War II and espionage and of its ramifications years later. My reaction, however, is somewhat the same. It is a story with potential, but it goes on too long for my taste. In this case though, the book starts off really, really slow.

It introduces a main character, Juliet Armstrong, with her impending death. It is 1981, and she has been hit by a car. The book then goes back and wanders back and forth between 1950s and the 1940s. During the war, Juliet is recruited into the war effort and then pulled into espionage. After the war, she works for BBC and wonders if her past will stay in the past.

Unfortunately, Juliet Armstrong is a somewhat lackluster character. Perhaps, the nondescript setup is deliberate and part of the story. Perhaps, it's incidental. Either way, it becomes difficult to connect to the character which in turn makes it difficult to continue reading which in turns makes it a challenge to care about the ending. Her motivations are not revealed until the end, and sadly, by then, it is too late in the story to try and understand.

The book, from the beginning, introduces a lot of other characters, and I am not sure which ones will be important later and which ones I should remember. The book then also jumps in time and place, making it more difficult to keep the characters straight or invest in any of the side stories.

Unfortunately, I find myself without a connection to any of the characters or the story itself, making it a really challenging read. I persevere, but it is a challenge. This book theoretically builds to its twist and the big reveal.

For me, a twist in a book works if it finds a fine balance. On the one hand, it should be a surprise. On the other hand, once it arrives, I want that feeling that the clues were there all along. I should have seen it coming if I had read things the right way. If the twist is not a surprise, then it's not really a twist. If it is completely out of the blue, then it loses credibility and is not believable. It leaves me wondering where that came from. In this book, unfortunately, that is what happens. I am left wondering why I read a lengthy story only for it to go somewhere completed unexpected. What was the point of the build up?

Perhaps, after two books, I might say that the descriptions of Ms. Atkinson's books sound like stories I would enjoy. However, sadly, I don't think I am the reader for the works I have read.

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Sold on a Monday

Title:  Sold on a Monday
Publication Information:  Sourcebooks. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1492663999 / 978-1492663997
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Outside the guarded entrance, reporters circled like a pack of wolves."

Favorite Quote:  "Even when life's downright lousy, most kids are still so resilient because ... well, I guess 'cause they don't know any different. It's like they only realize how unfair their lives are if you tell them. And even then, all they need is the smallest amount of hope and they could do just about anything they set their minds to..."

On August 5, 1948, The Vidette-Messanger published a tragic image - four children on the front steps of a home with a sign that read, "4 children for sale. Inquire within." The image, as expected, created quite a stir at the time of publication, both for the dire straits of the family depicted and for suspicions that the image had been staged by the reporter.

Much research has been done, and many articles have been written about the family pictured and about the eventual outcomes for the children. It is a truly sad history, and one that I would likely never have known except for this fictional story.

Kristina McMorris has taken inspiration from this history and created a fiction about a similar image - this one picturing two young children and a similar sign. The book description sets up three main characters - the mother, the reporter Ellis Reed who takes the photograph, and Lilian Palmer, another employee at the newspaper. It asks the question of "how much [the reporters] are willing to risk to mend a fractured family."

In the telling, this book really becomes the story of Ellis Reed and Lilian Palmer. Both have circumstances in their lives that make the impact of this photograph intensely personal. Both are in the newspaper industry, hoping to get a break in their careers. Both also deal somewhat with the ethical implications of the decisions made regarding the photograph and the subsequent news story. A totally unnecessary romantic element to the story is also introduced.

The plot then turns to bring in the fate of the children photographed and of their mother. That introduces new characters and new back stories. This plot also adds elements of intrigue, more in line with a mystery or detective story. The story of what happens to the children could probably make an entire separate book. In this one, it overshadows both the historical context of the book and the ethical questions posed by Ellis Reed's decision.

For me, what is missing is the emotional and historical story behind such an image. What drives parents to that sense of desperation? This is briefly touched upon, but the character of the children's mother never fully develops. The economic and political history that led to the actual image is not explored in this book at all. In other words, this book uses a snippet of history but does not build on that. It is rather more a detective type story built on an old headline.

For me, what is also missing is a deeper look at the ethical and moral implications of Ellis Reed's decisions regarding the photograph. Yes, he tries to make things right, but does that undo the original decision? What are the consequences? What should be the consequences? In this day and age of attacks on press integrity and difficulty distinguishing real news and quasi-news sensationalist sources, that conversation is too important to not address. This story speaks to his guilty conscience but not the broader reaction to his choices. So, at the end, this book is an interesting story but one that leaves a lot of potential unexplored.

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019


Title:  Boomer1
Author:  Daniel Torday
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1250191793 / 978-1250191793

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Claire Stankowitcz changed her name to Cassie Black at the beginning of her first year of college."

Favorite Quote:  "You know, lately you really have been doing a lot of what someone who didn't know you as well as I know you, as your mother, might call ranting."

I am not the reader for books in which individuals insert curse words into every conversation. I am not the reader for books that begin with sexual encounters for a character. I am not the reader for books in which that beginning character is not even the primary, central character of the book. I am not the reader for books that seems to capture the worst stereotypes of two entire generations. I am not the reader for books in which I cannot quite figure out the point. Sadly, for all these reasons, I am not the reader for this book at all.

The book begins with a rather self-centered young woman. Claire Stankowitcz has reinvented herself as Cassie Black. She is a struggling musician. She is also unsure of her own sexual identity. Random circumstance introduces her to Mark. Mark is a bluegrass musician, former journalist, and a candidate for a PhD in English. Cassie and Mark get involved. Unfortunately, her vision of the relationship ends up being vastly different from his. She leaves him.

With all this focus on Cassie at the beginning, it is interesting to learn that this book is more Mark's story and that it seems to begin when Cassie rejects him. Why then the story of Cassie? I don't know. Anyways, Mark takes his "broken" heart home to his parent's basement in Baltimore. Enter Julia, Mark's mother who is a child of the sixties and has a story of her own to tell. Why is her story in this book? I don't really know.

Mark is unhappy, broke, and living in his parent's basement. He determines that the baby boomer generation is responsible for all that ails his life. "It was the baby boomers who had what he wanted, who in their geologic later years had petrified until they were protecting all the natural resources, who had what his friends and his colleagues and his fellow alumni and all those twenty-year-olds and thirty-year-olds and even some forty-year-olds in all the bars in Fort Green and Bushwik and Williamsburgh, in Oakland and Berkeley and Petaluma, in crown heights and Prospect Heights and Pacific Heights and Ditmas Park, wanted."

It is unclear quite how that leap happens, but it does. So begins his verbal war on an entire generation. So begin the "boomer missives." The book continues through these three different perspectives. The idea is essentially to present these different approaches to life and three different perspectives on the state of the world as the boomer missives begin in 2010. The plot is essentially that what starts as a verbal diatribe gets out of hand. In this day and age of things going viral, that seems an almost forgone conclusion. Of course, it gets out of hand. The question for me is do I really care?

The issue for me lies in a statement that Mark makes towards the beginning of this venture. "I want to tell you a story, and I want you to think about just where you fit in that story yourself." The issue for me is that I don't find myself fitting into this story at all.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Phantom Tree

Title:  The Phantom Tree
Author:  Nicola Cornick
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2018. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1525805991 / 978-1525805998

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She saw the portrait quite by chance, or so she thought."

Favorite Quote:  "It is entirely possible to bargain with an enemy if there is something that you both want and so it proved. Thus we were bound together through time."

The Phantom Tree has a little bit of a lot of things in it - England in the 1500s, time travel, the role of women in society, witches, history, adventure, romance, male privilege, and strong, sympathetic characters. What I enjoy most about the book is that the twists and turns manage to surprise me. A few I see coming, but several I don't. This keeps me turning the pages until the very last one. The twists - one in particular - also gets me emotionally. I wish things had turned out differently. That surprises me because I do not feel particularly attached to the character until that point.

Those are my cryptic summary thoughts on a book that has its shares of mysteries.

Alison Bannister sees a portrait claimed to be a previously undiscovered painting of Anne Boelyn. Alison knows better. She knows that the image is of Mary Seymour. Further, Alison knows that the image holds the key to her past. For, Alison is a time traveller stuck in a time that is not hers.

Alison and Mary meet as little girls when both are orphaned and thrown upon the mercies of family members during the 1500s in England. They are thrown together and forced to get along. They do not exactly become friends. Little do they know that their fates are forever entwined, and one will perhaps be the best friend to the other.

Circumstances and sometimes their own naivete and choices create a turbulent childhood. "People with happy families so often don't realize how lucky they are." As teenagers (which was a ripe old age for a girl at that time), things get worse. I leave you to imagine what worse may mean for a young woman without family and backing at that time.

From the very beginning, we know how Alison's story for this time period sort of ends. She finds herself in a different time period and begins a new life. How does she get there? What keeps her there? Why? What becomes of Mary? Having now seen the portrait, what choice will Alison make about the past, the present, and the future? What of her new life, where people don't know that she is from the past?

These are the questions that this book tumbles through as I keep turning pages to see where it goes and what becomes of these girls. Reader beware. Although the main characters are young women, this is an adult book with violence and adult themes and situations.

The mix of historical fiction with time travel works in this book. The time travel seems to go along with the belief in witches and curses prevalent at the time. The book at no time feels futuristic or science fiction like. The time travel simply requires the same suspension of disbelief as putting myself in England in the middle of the 1500s.

Contrasting this premise, the emotions of the book feel real. Alison's quest for the past seems entirely believable even when she has found and created a beautiful new life. Mary's innocence in the face of the connivers that surround her also seems credible. Maybe, all of this happens because I vest in the stories of these characters. Regardless of the reason, this book holds my attention all the way through to the end.

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Mortal Word

Title:  The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library Novel)
Author:  Genevieve Cogman
Publication Information:  Ace. 2018. 448 pages.
ISBN:  0399587446 / 978-0399587443

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 lord father, Please forgive the haste and informality of this letter:  you know my respect for you and my obedience to your will."

Favorite Quote:  "I want the truth ... I may need a cover-up. The two are different things."

The first book in this series, The Invisible Library, had me at the title. I love books about books. The idea of action, adventure, and mystery surrounding a Library pulled me right in. A Library that exists hidden in the midst of a myriad of parallel alternate worlds, and a Librarian's ability to traverse these different worlds added greater potential. A Library that provided infinite, immortal access to the knowledge of the world is a book lover's dream. A Library that acts as protection and haven to those who bind themselves to it reinforces the symbolism a library holds. The main character Irene is, of course, a Librarian. The premise of the series is awesome.

The Mortal Word is the fifth book in the series. While having read the prior books is not absolutely essential, it is definitely important in this series because the characters, the relationships, and even parts of the story line are a continuation from previous book. Having only read the first book, I felt able to establish enough connections to move forward with this book.

The first book was an action packed adventure with much of the look and feel of a children's or young adult fantasy series. This book, however, is definitely in the adult world as relationships have progressed into the adult world. The romance hinted at the in the first is now apparent; a relationship deemed inadvisable by many exists.

The mystery of this book is a political murder that threatens to tear a fragile peace and lead to war. On one side are the dragons, and on the other are the fae. The characters and multiple parallel worlds are pure fantasy. The setting is 1800s Paris. The emotions and the conflicts are all too human.

As with the first book, this story has a lot going on. Paris. London. The Librarians. Irene, Kai, and Vale. Dragons. Fae. A lot of characters and a lot of plot lines underlying the main mystery. This book also introduces political overtones as another layer of story.

As with the first one, the one thing I wish this book had more of is the Library itself. I find the idea of an invisible library and the power of language intriguing. However, the book takes place primarily outside of the Library and does not explain the use of Language or the workings of the Library. I want to know more; I want to explore the Library. Yet, after two books, it appears that the Library serves as the anchor for this series which are more episodic in nature. So, Irene is of the Library, but the story is not.

Like the first book, this one is a fun, light read. It stops short of being a compelling one and does not propel me to pick up others in the series. Am I likely to be drawn in once again by the idea of an all encompassing Library that transcends time and place? Probably. Am I likely to follow through on that pull? Maybe, maybe not.

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Title:  Hippie
Author:  Paulo Coelho
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2018. 304 pages.
ISBN:  9780525655619 / 978-0525655619

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

Opening Sentence:  "In September 1970, two sites squared off for the title of the center of the world:  Piccadilly Circus, in London, and Dam Square, in Amsterdam."

Favorite Quote:  "... our travels teach us everything we need to know fro the rest of our lives, as long as there's no need to explain this to our parents."

I had heard of Paul Coelho long before I ever read his work. My first introduction to his work was The Alchemist, which has had a lasting impact and has found a permanent home on my bookshelf. Perhaps because of the nature of that book and perhaps because of where I am in my life's journey, that book speaks to me and inspires me.

Admittedly, I had never read a Paul Coelho book before and have not read one since. So, my entire experience with his writing is based on that one. That means that my entire set of expectations for this book are based on the inspiration I find The Alchemist.

Hippie is a very different sort of book. More than anything, it is a snapshot of a time, a place, and perhaps even a generation. It is the story of a young man in search of himself and in search of meaning. His journey takes him from Brazil to Amsterdam to a journey of self-discovery to what I think is going to be Nepal. Along the way, he meets and befriends many. In particular, Karla is the one who suggests to him a bus journey to Nepal in search of enlightenment.

And not just any bus journey. It is the Magic Bus on what is now known as the Hippie Trail. This overland path from Europe travelled through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kashmir, and eventually ended in Nepal. The road became the destination with Westerners meeting up and down the trail. An industry proving food and lodging sprung up along the route. The travel route ended in the 1970s as political changes in the area made travel improbable.

I pick up this book, expecting to read the story of the road. That is not quite what the book is. The story begins in Dam Square in Amsterdam, a gathering place. It also winds back to Paulo's past in Brazil and to some traumatic experiences. More than half way into the book, Michael the driver of the Magic Bus is introduced; his history is perhaps the most intriguing of all but it comes very late in the book. The book then also ends rather abruptly and entirely not in the place where I expect it go.

For the most part, I don't quite know where the book is going. It is possible that it is not meant to be going anywhere but rather just immersing the reader in that time and place. Given my experience with The Alchemist, I expect to be inspired. Perhaps, I am not of the right generation to either relate to this experience or to be inspired by it. I expect a journey of self-discovery, but it seems to end too abruptly for me to find an epiphany.

All in all, I am entertained and intrigued by this snapshot image, but an image is what the book remains. I am left wanting more. On the other hand, I could see it making a great movie for it paints a vivid picture. I walk away with the thought that in this case, it is the journey that matters not the destination.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Title:  Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Author:  Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2018. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0385542720 / 978-0385542722

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

Opening Sentence:  "She sits in a plastic chair in front on a brick wall, slouching."

Favorite Quote:  "Papa had said that when people became old, they couldn't bring themselves to cry anymore, because they had cried continually, on and off, over a lifetime long with happiness and sorrow. He had said their bank of tears had gone dry."

First of all, the beautiful, vibrant cover gives no hint of the heartbreak and violence that lies under that cover. This book is the story of two little girls forced to grow up way too soon by a conflict that they do not understand. Set in the 1980s and 1990s in Bogota, Colombia, this book is based on an imagining of what did not but could absolutely have happened in the author's own life

Chula and Cassadras are the daughters of the house; they have comforts and a childhood. Petrona, on the other hand, is their mother's new maid. The book does begin at the end, for the beginning is an adult Chula remembering. The remainder of the book is alternating chapters of life from Chula's perspective and from Petrona's perspective.

The story is of the turbulent politics and violence in Colombia at the time, but through the eyes of these two girls, it is also about the divide between affluence and poverty:
  • Chula:  "... he would tell us that it was better to sleep alongside you own clean conscience than to be a parasite of the state or of the militarized groups who were just a different versions of a state."
  • Petrona:  'Imagine, a thirteen-year-old - the breadwinner of a house.' Mama said that when you had that kind of responsibility, it was difficult to be interested in abstract things like politics."
  • Chula:  "I thought about all the things I had to lose."
  • Petrona:  I knew that there was no gate surrounding the invasiones where Petrona lived, no iron locks on the doors, no iron bars on the windows. When I asked Petrona how she and her family stayed safe, she laughed. Then because I was embarrassed she shrugged her shoulders. She thought for a moment then said, 'There's nothing to lose.' 
To understand this book, you really have to understand the history of Colombia at the time. Violence and death was an everyday occurrence. Survival was not a given. Kidnappings and murders were commonplace.

Chula still has the protection of family and affluence. The impact is there for she is growing up in this environment, but at the same time, she is able to remain a child. Petrona, on the other hand, is a teenager with adult responsibilities to uphold and adult decisions to make. She is actually the "adult" to her younger siblings.

The story and the characters are heartbreaking. The book itself unfortunately is very slow reading. Since the book is the perspective of these two young girls, many of the bigger, historical events of the book happen outside of their lives and the impacts reverberates back to their lives. As such, the book seems to move from episode to episode but at the same time feels a bit removed. This is particularly true of the chapters from Chula's perspective because she is much more the child. I wish the book was more directly Petrona's story for that is the more compelling one. Much of Chula's time is spent contemplating Petrona's life and actions.

I am glad I read this perspective on a turbulent history. I just wish I had loved the book as much as I expected to and as much as the sad story of these two young girls deserved.

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

Monday, April 15, 2019

Mr. & Mrs. American Pie

Title:  Mr. & Mrs. American Pie
Author:  Juliet McDaniel
Publication Information:  Inkshares. 2018. 350 pages.
ISBN:  1942645864 / 978-1942645863

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "All I can think about is escape."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm the sort of girl who takes a basket of lemons and says, 'Thank you, God, for this opportunity to make some delicious lemonade."

The year is 1969. Maxine Hortence Simmons is a wealthy, Palm Spring socialite; she is constantly seeking to climb the next step on the social ladder. If she can skip a few and land even higher, all the better. Her days are about making the right connections, about wearing the right outfits, and about making the right social choices. Life is all about being seen and notices. She thinks she and her hus husband Douglas are in this together.

It turns out Douglas is not. The opening of the book ends Maxine's life as Douglas asks for a divorce. Out of the divorce, Maxine ends up relegated to a small condo in Scottsdale with some money and a car. She lives a good life as some would define it. She, however, does not think so. Her goal - to get back - back to Palm Springs and back at the society that has ostracized her.

Robert owns and operates a tavern in Scottsdale. He seemingly lives a simple life all alone. It turns out that there is a secret reason behind that life alone.

Charles "Chuck" Bronski is a little boy who lives in the same condo complex as Maxine. He has an even younger sister Dawn. He also has a mother who seems to have priorities other than her children. It turns out that Chuck and Dawn need taking care of.

This rag tag group becomes a "family." You might ask how and why? It turns out that it is all part of Maxine's plan to jumpstart her return to Palm Spring. It is all part of a context to appear as a "normal" family that may appeal to the judges of the Mrs. American Pie contest. "Our fake will at least be realistic."

Parts of this book are funny. The story proceeds from episode to episode of Maxine's decisions in her quest to return triumphant to the society from which she has been banished. The story is told in alternating chapters from three perspectives - Maxine, Robert, and Chuck. Alternating perspectives work in some stories; that technique does not work for me in this story. Robert and Chuck have their own back stories and quirkiness. Robert has a part of himself he wishes to keep secret. Chuck wants to be a spy, and he is the best at taking care of his sister. However, since Maxine's story is the central focus, their stories appear as filler but a bit too much filler.

More than half of the book also tells the story of the Mrs. American Pie contest - the decorating challenge, the ironing clothes challenge, the pretense at the perfect family, the neighborly meals challenge, the budgeting and shopping challenge, and so on. Sadly, there is also included a bathing suit challenge, which in theory should have no relevance to being the "best" wife and mother. The first half of the book is fast paced, from Maxine's meltdown in Palm Springs to her formation of her "family" in Arizona. The second half, focused on the pageant, slows down considerably.

The book ends as you might expect - or at least how I expect from the very beginning. The book is a sometimes funny, sometimes long story with a sweet, feel-good ending.

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Lost Carousel of Provence

Title:  The Lost Carousel of Provence
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2018. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0451490630 / 978-0451490636

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

Opening Sentence:  "No one has seen."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm every bit as stubborn as you are, and because I'm a lot older I'm a lot more experienced at it. So don't even try to out-obstinate me."

An heirloom object sends a young woman on a search. The history of the heirloom is revealed in parallel with stories of the past. In the first Juliet Blackwell book I read, Letters from Paris, the object was a shattered mask, and the journey led to Paris. In this book, the object is a wooden rabbit. The journey leads France again, but this time ultimately to a carousel at a private home in Avignon, France.

The unusual historical context of the book, as the title suggests, is carousels and in particular, the art of carving carousel animals. I have seen and admired many carousels but never really thought about what goes into their creation. This book presents vivid detail and imagery of this art form, which then sent me off to read the actual history. The history leads to the art of Gustave Bayol, who lived at the turn of the century and is reputed to be one of the most important fairground carvers in Europe. His pieces are still considered collector's items.

The animal that begins this story is a rabbit owned by Cady Drake. She does not know its provenance or its secrets, just that it has been passed down to her and that it's special. Losses in her life sent her searching for a different direction. She is a photographer, and a photography project becomes her salvation. She is off to France to photograph a book of antique carousels and perhaps discover the history of her own heirloom.

The book now begins to travel back and forth from present day, to the Chateua Clement in Avignon, The House of Bayol in Angers, to Califronia, to Paris, and then around again. Each time period adds a layer to the story and to the history of Cady's rabbit.

Ultimately, The Lost Carousel of Provence is a story of family. Cady is an orphan who grew up in the foster care system. She has never had a family but has found people who became family. Josephine is a young wife. Maelle is driven by her passion for carving over all other relationships. Fabrice is a recluse estranged from his family. Through these characters, this book is also a story of loneliness and of wanting to belong.

The book is a slow start, as it takes a while to get to know the different characters, distinguish between the time periods, and settle into the story of each time. The secrets of the book are also clear much before they are actually revealed in the story.

As is common in books set in different time periods, one story takes the lead. For me in this book, it is Cady's character and story. Most of all though, I enjoyed this book for the introducing me to the history of carousels and giving me a whole new appreciation for artistry that goes into them.

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