Thursday, July 31, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - A Sudden Light; Garth Stein

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for this week.  What do you think about this novel -- would you try it? 
Description

A Sudden Light; Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster - August - 2014

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.


 But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

 A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Conditions of Love; Dale M. Kushner

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Care to join us? This week's pick seems like a good summer read to me.

Dale M. Kushner
Grand Central Publishing - 2013
Chapter 1
MERN

" My mother was dead set against me calling her Ma.  When the offending sound passed my lips, she pinched my chin and enunciated very slowly, the way she talked to her parakeet, Mr. Puccini-- 'Baby say Mern not Mama. Baby say Mern.' She was hoping, no doubt, that with time and a little encouragement, I might grow into an adaptable companion whose demands were minimal, someone with whom she could discuss Cary Grant's perfect profile, Shelly Winter's yen for men.

Mern was different and I was different too.  I was the only kid who didn't have a father.  Do you miss him? neighborhood kids would ask. 'He's gone,' I'd say, shrugging. Will you see him again? Why did he leave? 'Don't know,' I'd answer. And I didn't."

What do you think? Would you read more? I haven't started this one yet, but I think it's going to be a good one.

Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads and link below. 
 
 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing; Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob
Random House - 2014

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is quite an amazing debut novel. It's a family saga, spanning some 20 years. The Eapens are a dysfunctional family, originally from India and now living in the US. Each family member has their own demons they are dealing with.

As the story begins, daughter Amina, once was a successful photojournalist, is now doing mostly wedding photography, for reasons which we learn later. In her 30's, she is living in Seattle, and is called home to Albuquerque, NM by her over bearing and religious mother, Kamala. Her mother is concerned because Amina's father, Thomas, a brain surgeon, has begun to act somewhat strange. He awakens during the night and carries on conversations with his deceased mother and others who have died.

The story pulls the reader back into the family's history, the immigrant experience, Thomas's desire to come to America so that any children born to him and Kamala would have a chance for a better life. For Kamala, her heart remained in her home country, a place she would have preferred to stay.  From Albuquerque to Seattle to India, readers will learn of the tragic events experienced by family members, which include the loss of the couple's son Akhil.

I found Akhil and Amina's story to be very compelling. Fortunately, there is humor peppered here and there, so that for me this story never felt depressing, despite some of what occurs. Sleep and "sleepwalking" surface throughout the novel and I think the title of this book could not have been more appropriate.

The writing is very good, but I thought the beginning was a tad confusing. It took me about 40-50 pages to begin to feel like it was a book worth continuing. There is a lot that happens in this book, so I was happy I did feel fully engaged after the somewhat rocky start. I found the last 150 pages or to be the most engrossing.  It's a story that was very different from anything I've read in a long time. It is clear that this author is a newbie worth watching for moving forward.

Try it!

4/5 stars
(eGalley)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Blatherings and New Books

Can't believe how beautiful this weather has been so far this summer. With July almost over we've been thrilled that we've had very few hot hot humid days thus far. Perfect weather for the beach (Portland, ME - above photo), long walks, gardening, or relaxing on the deck with a good book. DH is anxious for fall and football season, but I'll take this weather and summer for as long as possible.

I've got a few books to review that were really good -
I just started Mr. Mercedes; Stephen King and am really enjoying it. As well as, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing; Mira Jacob/

Here are my new book arrivals over the last 2 weeks.

Enjoy your Day!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - When the World Was Young; Elizabeth Gaffney


When the World Was Young; Elizabeth Gaffney
Random House - August 2014

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for this week.  What do you think about this novel -- would you try it? 

Description

Wally Baker is no ordinary girl. Living in her grandparents’ Brooklyn Heights brownstone, she doesn’t like dresses, needlepoint, or manners. Her love of Wonder Woman comics and ants makes her feel like a misfit—especially in the shadow of her dazzling but unstable mother, Stella.

Acclaimed author Elizabeth Gaffney’s irresistible novel captures postwar Brooklyn through Wally’s eyes, opening on V-J day, as she grows up with the rest of America. Reeling from her own unexpected wartime tragedy and navigating an increasingly fraught landscape, Wally is forced to confront painful truths about the world—its sorrows, its prejudices, its conflicts, its limitations. But Wally also finds hope and strength in the unlikeliest places.

With an unforgettable cast of characters, including the increasingly distant and distracted Stella; Loretta, the family’s black maid and Wally’s second mother; Ham, Loretta’s son, who shares Wally’s enthusiasm for ants and exploration; Rudy, Wally’s father, a naval officer, away serving in the Pacific; and Mr. Niederman, the family’s boarder, who never seems to answer Wally’s questions—and who she suspects may have something to hide—Elizabeth Gaffney crafts an immersive, beautifully realized novel about the truths that divide and the love that keeps us together.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope; Ellie Laks

My Gentle Barn; Ellie Laks
Harmony Books - 2014

My Gentle Barn, a memoir, tells the story of Ellie Laks’ troubled childhood, feeling misunderstood and abandoned by her Jewish Orthodox parents and sexual abused by baby sitters. She relates that her early love of animals, to which she turned to for solace, helped to heal her emotional pain. From an early age Ellie had a dream to rescue neglected and abandoned animals. She wanted other troubled children to have a place to go where animals could help to heal their hurts.
According to the author, the Gentle Barn began one a small scale in an effort to rescue homeless and neglected dogs, right in her own backyard . Later she expanded her rescue to include pigs, goats and cows and quickly outgrowing her initial quarters. She was able to purchase a much large, more appropriate property, in part, thanks to a trust fund. This new property allowed her to continue her mission of helping more animals and healing more children. In 1999 the Gentle Barn animal sanctuary in Santa Clarita, California has open to the general public and has been helping animals and healing at-risk children. In a NY Times article, I read that according to Ellie’s husband, it takes about $50,000 a month to operate the Gentle Barn. The money has come from individual donations, through the Gentle Barn website, as well as from private family donations, corporate grants and foundations. Major donors have included Ellen DeGeneres, Toyota, CBS, William Morris Endeavor and Princess Cruises.
When asked early on why she does what she does, she replied, “You don’t understand. I’m not saving the animals; they’re saving me." Her stories about nursing the rescued animals back to health from deplorable conditions seemed genuine and heartfelt, and her love and concern for the animals welfare admirable. I loved her devotion to help troubled kids and how she was able to get some of them to trust through their interactions with the animals.
Although her memoir is inspiring and she is to be commended for her work, I never felt any sympathy for Ellie. Yes, she claimed her childhood was difficult, and the path to the Gentle Barn, involved lots of stumbling blocks. She also made a lot of bad decisions in her life. She spent 3-years as a crack addict, married, divorced, had unplanned pregnancies, remarried and ended up with significant financial issues.  Some of her recantations just did not ring true for me, making me wonder whether parts of the memoir might have been embellished or even fabricated.  
After finishing this memoir, a book which I am happy that I read, I started “googling" The Gentle Barn and Ellie Laks” and came across (2) interesting links which made wonder about the validity of what I read in this book. I think that while The Gentle Barn is and continues to do good work, there may be another side to the story which the reader has not been privy to.  One of these links of concern was posted by the author’s own brother in response to this memoir. View HERE.
The other link is from a blog post on another animal advocate’s website. View HERE.
I guess readers will be left to form their own opinions.  One thing I do know is that I’d love to visit The Gentle Barn. As a lover of all animals, I’m pretty sure I would love spending a day there.
4/5 stars (eGalley and audiobook)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Man Called Ove; Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove; Fredrik Backman
Atria - July 2014

First released in Sweden, A Man Called Ove is a delightful read.

Ove is an angry, grouchy, 59 year-old man whose wife has passed away. Sonia was his Ove's rock, seeing the bright side in everything and the good in everyone. Ove, on the other hand saw only black and white. A man of routine, he's not fond of his neighbors nor does he tolerate rule breakers. So when his new neighbors move in and destroy his mailbox by accident, Ove is beyond angry.

To make matters worst Ove's recently been let go from his job as an engineer to make room for younger folks into the workforce (isn't this illegal in Sweden?) With his routine gone and not much to live for in his mind, Ove decides he is ready to join his dear wife Sonia on the "other side".  As he plots his demise lots of funny things happen along the way, and there are some nice people who really do care about him. His Iranian neighbor, Parvaneh, a woman expecting her third child, just won't let Ove be Ove. She is bent on getting him involved in things he doesn't want to deal with, but her intentions are good and all in Ove's best interest. There's even a homeless cat trying to get find the gentler side of Ove. 

Ultimately a feel good story that will make you smile and laugh and maybe even leave a lump in your throat at times. It's a great read. If you like books with quirky yet sympathetic characters, you must meet Ove. Be sure to pick up a copy of this book - you'll be glad you did. 

5/5 stars
(review copy)

There were a few passages about death and living that made me stop and take notice. I thought I'd share them with you....

"Death is a strange thing. People live their who lives as if it did not exist, and yet it's often one of the great motivations for living.  Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury.  Some need its constant presence to even be aware of our antithesis.  Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival.  We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves.  For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone."

"And time is a curious thing.  Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us.  A few days, weeks, years.  One of the most painful moments in a person's life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.  And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps. Afternoons in the sun with someone's hand clutched in one's own, The fragrance of flowerbeds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a cafĂ©. Grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else's future....."

First Chapter First Paragraph ~ Tuesday Intros - The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar



Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Care to join us? This week's pick seems like a good summer read to me.

The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar
August - 2014 - Harper
I BEGINS

" Dear Shilpa --I writes.  Belief me when I say not single day pass in six years that I not thought of you.  How are you, my dearest?

Then I takes the paper, roll it like a ball of dough and throws it across the room. It land on top of the coffee table--why he call it a coffee table when in this house we only drink chai?--and I goes to pick it up to place in the dustbin. Shilpa never reading my note.  He will never posting to her. Some things even stupids like me know."

What do you think? Would you read more? For me the poor English was hard to read, but knowing this author's talent, I am pretty sure this will be a winner.

Care to join us this week? Feel free to post the Intro from one of your reads and link below. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The From-Aways; CJ Hauser


The From-Aways; CJ Hauser
William Morrow - 2014

Welcome to Menamon,  Maine, a place where newcomers, (even if you were born there, moved elsewhere and returned there), are referred to as, ”The From-Aways”. Henry, Leah and Quinn, the central characters are the Maine newbies in this novel.

Twenty-something Henry, was born in Maine, but moved away for college. He was always intrigued by the stories he heard from relatives about hard working lobstermen and the warm and friendly folks who resided there, and since his parents died has longed to return to his roots.  His new wife Leah is more than willing to leave her job as a journalist and their life in Brooklyn, NY to share Henry’s dreams and for a slower pace of life.

Quinn, is also a newbie to Menamon. After caring for her mother who had died from cancer, she feels compelled to honor her mother’s wishes to find her father in Maine, a man who had abandoned mother and daughter long before Quinn could get to know him.

Both women are hired at the local newspaper office where real news stories are few and far between. Until one day the women stumble upon a story that is sure to stir up the townspeople.

Told in alternating chapters from the POV of Leah and Quinn, the author does a very good job capturing small town life in Maine.  I loved the first several chapters of this novel, and was pretty sure, initially, that I had a winner on my hands. 
 (INTRO)
"I have two lobsters in my bathtub and I'm not sure I can kill them. 

I'm sitting on the rim of the tub.  It has curled, Brass feet.  Everything seems alive and haunted in this house;  that's my first problem.

My second problem is that I pet the lobsters.  I roll up a white-buttoned sleeve and run my pinched fingers along the length of Lobster Number One's antenna. It feels sensitive and unbreakable like coiled wire.  Lobster Number One knocks his crusher claw against my hand, but there's a thick, pink rubber band binding it up, so I'm in no real danger.  I stroke Lobster Number Two's antenna as well, so they're even." 
 
Unfortunately, what started out strong soon began to lose steam for me, and left me anxious to leave the characters of Memamon, none of which I grew to care about.

3/5 stars (review copy) 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Haruki Murakami - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Read-a-Long

 Murakami fans are invited to join a month long read-a-long ( August 12th to September 12th), being coordinated by the wonderful Dolce Bellezza.

 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel—a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan—from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami. Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.
  1. What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?

    2.   Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?

    3.   Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?

    4.   Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?

    5.   Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?

    6.   Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?

    7.   Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?

    8.   When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?

    9.   When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.

    10.   Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?

    11.   Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?

    12.   The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?

    13.   Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?

    14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?

    15.   While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?

    16.   Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?

    17.   Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?

    18.   Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?

    19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?
    Hope you can join the discussion!