Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Children Act; Ian McEwan

The Children Act; Ian McEwan
Nan Talese - Recorded Books - 2014

Fiona Maye is a 59 year old High Court family law judge in London.  She’s been married to Jack for 35 years and as the novel opens, he tells his wife that at his age he needs to have, “one last passionate affair.”  He further reports that the two of them have not have sex for seven weeks and one day.  Her response to him is that if he chooses to follow through with the passionate affair, their marriage will be over.
With her marriage in trouble, and her emotions and anger running on high, work wise Fiona must deal with yet another hot issue. There is a petition presented to the court by a hospital to give a blood transfusion to a seventeen year old boy who has leukemia. The blood transfusion is needed to save his life.  The parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and are refusing him the life-saving blood he needs.  Before deciding the case one way or the other Fiona visits the teen in the hospital.  Despite his grave illness, he is upbeat , creative and a young man with so much to live for, and Fiona, as a childless woman, finds herself deeply moved by the potential and talent of this young man.
This story raises a lot of questions regarding morals, religion and the legal system.  It's a relatively short audio book, and one that held my interest. The final pages were very moving. I think that this would make a great book for book club discussion.  The audio book was read by Lindsay Duncan who did a very good job narrating the story. The novel's title comes from the British law, The Children Act,  in which the court will determine cases where the upbringing or overall child's welfare is at issue. 
4/5 stars 
(audio book)

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Boy Who Drew Monsters; Keith Donohue

Picador - 2014

In a wintery, seacoast town in Maine, for 10 year-old Jack Peter Keenan, life is anything but normal. Three years earlier Jack and his friend nearly drowned in the ocean there, and now Jack protests if he is forced outdoors for any reason. To complicate his life even more, Jack suffers from some form of autism, but his friend Nick is patient and loyal.

Lately Jack has taken to drawing monsters, and at the same time strange things seem to be happening in and or around the Keenan house. Jack's father, Tim, runs around outdoors chasing strange sightings, and quite honestly, at times I thought of Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining". The mother Holly fears her son is losing control and at times has even been violent, hitting her when she frightens him. Oddly, she turns to a local priest and a Japanese gardener for input when she and her husband do not seem to see things the same way when it comes to Jack.

For the most part the story kept me engaged and left me wondering as I read, what was real and what was imagined. The bleak winter setting on the cold, desolate Maine coast was a perfect for this story, and there were many elements of strange happenings throughout the book.  One thing I didn't care for, and felt it only served to distract from the core story, were tales of shipwrecks and ghosts which was told secondhand by the priest and gardener.  Overall a good story; readers who like creepy stories should give this one a try, especially in the cold, dead of winter.
4/5 stars
(library book)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Coming Soon to A Book Store Near You - A Spool of Blue Thread; Ann Tyler

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today.  What do you think?

Knopf - February 2015

“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . .” This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.

Brimming with all the insight, humor, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Collector; Nora Roberts and The Christmas Light; Donna VanLiere

The Collector - Nora Roberts
 (Putnam) and Brilliance Audio

Lila Emerson makes a decent living as professional house sitter, and she enjoys her work.  She's a bit of a voyeur especially when her house sitting assignments involve the high rise buildings set so close together in NYC.  One day while viewing unsuspecting people through her binoculars in one of the buildings across the way, she witnesses something she wished she hadn't.  A women is struck by a man, and then pushed through the window, plunging fourteen floors below to her death.

She notifies the police and while at the police station meets a man named Ash, whose half brother, Oliver is believed to be the man who pushed the woman to her death.  The problem is Oliver is now dead from a suspected drug overdose in what police believe is a murder-suicide.  Brother Ash is not so sure, and believes that there is more to this case than meets the eye. Lila on the other hand has gotten herself in much deeper than she would have liked, and her life at this point may even be in danger.

In true Nora Roberts style, this book has a bit a everything, mystery, intrigue and even romance.  The audio book was read by Julia Whelan who did a great job.  This was a good book to listen to during this hectic time of year.
4/5 stars
(library audiobook)

The Christmas Light; Donna VanLiere 
St. Martin's Press

Christmas time in the small town of Grandon brings together local people for the performance of the Christmas Eve Nativity. Five very different people are brought together to share and discover the real meaning of Christmas, the season of hope.

A pregnant teen, lost and confused by her situation, a young widow and her six year old daughter who have not gotten over the death of a spouse and a dad, and a divorced contractor who comes to town to visit his aunt along with his six year old daughter (can you tell where this might be going?)

Although each of the characters is facing some sort of struggle, I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters.  The message of the book is about having hope and believing and opening up yourself to new possibilities.  Although the story seemed contrived in parts the author did a nice job of pulling it all together.  It's a very short read that many readers might enjoy this holiday season.

3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ The Mountain Story; Lori Lansens

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.

The Mountain Story; Lori Lansens
Gallery Books - 2015


"My boyhood home on Old Dewey Road stood among similar clapboard bungalows in the older, grimier section of Mercury, upwind of Michigan's largest rendering plant, with the train tracks near enough that I could distinguish passenger from freight by the way the house shook.  A year and a half after my mother's accident -- that's what we called it--my father briefly got sober and painted the entire house, inside and out, a dark, flat blue.  Drowning Man Blue.  Frankie said it was a tribute to Glory.  She loved the color blue

Frankie said I was too young, only four year's old when she passed away, to have an honest recollection of my mother, but I do.  Glory Elizabeth Truly.  In my favorite memory she wears a silky white dress with bat wing sleeves--one I've never seen in photographs.  She's standing in front of a dressing room mirror, smiling at our reflection, and behind us is another mirror where I discover our infinity. "Always", I say.  My beautiful mother laughs and tells me I'm clever before covering my face with soft kisses and spinning me in her embrace. I glimpse us with each turn.  Glory looks like an angel in that white dress"

What do you think, would you keep reading? Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking below.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Blatherings

 I thought I'd share a cookie recipe that I tried this week. They are not too sweet and the texture is more like a scone). So good with a cup of coffee or tea.
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1/4 c. milk
1 egg
2 tbsp. orange juice
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. soda
1 c. chopped nuts
2 1/2 c. coarsely chopped cranberries

Cream the butter and sugar then add milk, orange juice and egg. Sift dry ingredients. Blend with creamed mixture. Stir in chopped nuts and berries. Drop by spoon on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 8-10 dozen.
(to me)

Today we are celebrating my birthday with the family at a wonderful restaurant brunch ---Mr & Mrs Santa Claus will be there as well for the little ones. Should be fun, and although this birthday has made me a bit weepy, it's good to know I can finally retire early if I want.  It's a tough decision sometimes as my job is easy and we get lots of time off. 
My last day of work is Friday, 12/19 and I'm off with pay until January 5th. Not as good as Congress but hey, I'm not complaining.  Looking forward to seeing Unbroken, which releases Christmas Day -- the book was awesome, and relaxing with a few good books.
It's such a busy time of year for everyone it seems.  I have all of my shopping done, even though I may pick up a few small things (if I don't that's okay too though). I did manage to send out the holiday cards and put up our small tree and menorah yesterday. I'm one of those people who hates wrapping presents, whereas my SIL loves it, so she has once again volunteered to do my package wrapping....lucky me.

Last week we had a staff holiday party, a college-wide party and a departmental celebration -- all kinds of food as well.  (not getting on the scale until Jan 1st, but trying to make wise selections).  We also brought in therapy dogs to help de-stress the students preparing for finals -- huge success.

Books ---Finished a few books, but haven't had a chance to review them. (2) were outside of my normal genres, but they were light and fun and good of this time of year where I'm finding it tougher to focus. 
New Books
 Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You - A Pleasure and a Calling; Phil Hogan

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today.  What do you think?

Picador - 2015


Mr. Heming loves the leafy English village where he lives. As a local real estate agent, he knows every square inch of the town and sees himself as its protector, diligent in enforcing its quaint charm. Most people don't pay much attention to Mr. Heming; he is someone who fades easily into the background. But Mr. Heming pays attention to them. You see, he has the keys to their homes. In fact, he has the keys to every home he's ever sold in town. Over the years, he has kept them all so that he can observe his neighbors, not just on the street, but behind locked doors.

Mr. Heming considers himself a connoisseur of the private lives of others. He is witness to the minutiae of their daily lives, the objects they care about, the secrets they keep. As details emerge about a troubled childhood, Mr. Heming's disturbing hobby begins to form a clear pattern, and the reasons behind it come into focus. But when the quiet routine of the village is disrupted by strange occurrences, including a dead body found in the backyard of a client's home, Mr. Heming realizes it may only be a matter of time before his secrets are found out.
A brilliant portrait of one man's obsession, A Pleasure and a Calling is a darkly funny and utterly transfixing tale that will hold you under its spell.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - House Broken; Sonja Yoerg

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.

House Broken; Sonja Yoerg
NAL/ Penguin - January - 2015

Chapter 1 - Geneva

"Dr. Geneva Novak stared at the X-ray clipped to the light box on the wall.  She tilted her head sideways and squinted at the contents of the dog's stomach.  The iPod was obvious--it faced her--but the object protruding from the large blurry mass stumped her.  Rectangular, with two bright white bars.  Only metal lit up like that.

She clenched her jaw.  That would be the third time she would have to operate on Zeke to remove things he'd swallowed, things his owner shouldn't have left lying around.  After the second incident, she had talked to the owner at length about how to protect his dog.  She recommended he walk Zeke daily, so the dog wouldn't turn to mischief out of boredom, and suggested he either keep his apartment orderly or confine the dog when he left the house.  Nearly all dogs come to love their crates, she reassured him.  Geneva had written down the instructions and told him he could call her anytime for help.  But when Zeke's owner brought him this morning, he confessed he hadn't followed through on anything.  And the outcome was illuminated in black and white on the wall."
What do you think, would you keep reading? Feel free to join in and post the Intro from one of your reads by linking below.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Revival; Stephen King

 Revival; Stephen King
Scribner - 2014

I couldn't wait to read Revival, Stephen King's latest novel, especially after having enjoyed the last (3) King novels I tried: 11/22/63, Doctor Sleep and Mr. Mercedes.

In this story there are pretty much (2) characters, Jamie Morton, who we meet as a six year old child and Reverend Charles Jacobs, a preacher who comes to Jamie's local Methodist church when he was a young boy in Maine.

Unlike parents today, in the 1960's many parents thought nothing of sending a young child off to spend some time with an adult neighbor, friend or parish priest. Reverend Jacobs first arrives in town alone, his wife and son arrive later, and Jamie begins spending time with Rev. Jacobs who is somewhat of a mad scientist.  He shows him some secret experiments with electricity and later demonstrates their power to heal.

When tragedy strikes the reverend and his family, he gives a sermon which has him quickly removed from his congregation and the community.  Many are shocked by what was said by the preacher and yet devastated by his departure.

Fast forward to 1992, Jamie is a heroin addict and rock band member. His band members have pretty much abandoned him. At a state fair, Jamie crosses paths with the former Reverend Jacobs who now goes by a different name and new vocation. Can a fallen preacher, mad scientist, be just what Jamie needs to set him on the right track? At what price?

The novel covers a period of about 50 years, and while the first half of the book held my interest, the second half was slow going. It is, however, the last section that packs a wallop and stuck with me, it is here that the writing reminded me of the Stephen King style of writing I like best. Not a perfect story, but it did make me happy that I stuck with this novel. The audio version was read by David Morse who did a decent job.

3.5/5 stars
(Audio book and Kindle eBook)

The Jaguar's Children; John Vaillant

The Jaguar's Children; John Vaillant
Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt

In The Jaguar's Children, Hector Gonzalez is convinced by his friend, Cesar Santiago to join him in an illegal attempt to cross the border to the US from Oaxaca in Mexico. The two along with 13 others are hidden in an empty water truck, and at least Hector, we know, has paid 30,000 pesos for his chance at freedom.
As the group makes their journey, it soon becomes evident that Lupo, the driver has abandoned the truck, leaving the immigrants who are confined in the tank with little food or water. Hoping to be rescued, Hector uses a hidden cellphone of his unconscious friend Cesar, in an attempt to send a signal for help.
The story is told solely by Hector through a series of texts and sound files. It’s a very different way to read a novel for sure. The story is compelling, but gets a bit confusing as a there is almost a secret subplot involving Cesar who is trying to smuggle a separate story of his own across the border as well.  This part disappointed me, as I was expecting to learn more about the other illegals and their personal stories as I read and that never happened.  
The tension and desperation is felt throughout the story and that really drew me in. What causes individuals to that causes them to try such dangerous stunts? I was anxious to find out whether those involved would be rescued before it was too late.
The Jaguar’s Children is a good story especially given all the current controversy surrounding illegal immigrants. The story wasn’t perfect, but it did hold my interest pretty well.
4/5 stars (eGalley)