Thursday, April 17, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - The Arsonist; Sue Miller

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today. I thought this one sounded like a good one. Do you like the sound of it?

The Arsonist; Sue Miller
Knopf / Doubleday - June 2014

Overview

From the best-selling author of While I Was Gone and The Senator's Wife, a superb new novel about a family and a community tested when an arsonist begins setting fires to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town. 
 
After decades of summering in Pomeroy, New Hampshire, Sylvia Rowley has decided to retire to the house she loves with her brilliant but increasingly scattered husband, Alfie, until now a professor at the local college. Her son, Clark, is renovating a small house on their property. Her daughter Frankie, who lives and works in Africa, returns home for her first extended visit in years and begins an unexpected romance with the editor of the local newspaper, himself newly arrived and hoping to save it. Over the course of two summer months, class and social fault lines are exposed, and the simmering question of who owns the land and the town is brought to a boil as fires continue to rage through Pomeroy's homes and the arsonist remains at large.   

Suspenseful, sophisticated, rich in psychological nuance and emotional insight, The Arsonist is vintage Sue Miller—a finely wrought novel about belonging and community, possibility and finitude, and the question of how and where to live, what it means to lead a fulfilling life. One of our most elegant and engrossing novelists at her inimitable best.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where'd You Go Bernadette; Maria Semple

Little, Brown Co / Hachette- 2013

After so many readers raved about this book I had to give the audio version a try.

If you haven't read this one "Bernadette" is not your average mom. She's an Ivy league graduate, former award-winning architect and now a stay-at-home-mom after numerous miscarriages.  She lives with her husband Elgin, who is a big mucky muck at Microsoft. Her daughter Bee, her real name is Balakrishina because she was born blue with heart issues,  is  their miracle child. Bee is in the eight grade, and like her parents is super smart, having been awarded a place at the elite Choate boarding school. She'll be leaving home the next school year, but she is not the only one leaving home.

Bernadette is a mess. She has social anxiety, hates Seattle, doesn't get along with her neighbors or the other kid's moms. She even stays away from her daughter's school events, but Bee seems well adjusted and spunky despite this. However, just two days before Christmas Bee's mom disappears. Fifteen year old Bee is desperate to find her. Her father is concerned, but there seems to be less of a sense of urgency to for him to find Bernadette and bring her home.

The story is all over the place beginning with Bee's perfect report card which means that she gets her wish of a family cruise to Antarctica. Then there are emails from her mother's personal assistant in India, a woman who deals with the daily issues that Bernadette can no longer cope with. As the story progresses we learn more about Bernadette, by way of letters, newspaper stories and blog posts.  
 
I had a hard time sympathizing with any of the characters. Bernadette seemed like a complicated individual, but she also seemed like her her own worst enemy. The writing style while comical at times, had some touching moments, but overall, this was just not my thing. I enjoyed some of the humor, yet at other times it bugged me. I'm wondering whether I might have enjoyed this one more in print because of the structure or lack or structure it seemed.
 
The story was narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite, who did well with multiple voices, but the voice of young Bee, at times began to irk me.
 
3/5 stars
(library audiobook)

The Deepest Secret; Carla Buckley

The Deepest Secret; Carla Buckley
Bantam / Random House - 2014
 
On a stormy night Eve Lattimore is driving to the airport to pick up her husband when she receives a text message and takes she eyes off the road for a second to look at it. In that split second she hits what she thinks is a deer. She stops her car and to her horror she finds Amy, the 11 years old daughter of her neighbor and good friend, Charlotte. Amy is dead, killed instantly. What should she do and what will she do is her moral dilemma.

Eve's 14 year old son Tyler, suffers from a rare and fatal medical condition called, Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP). UV rays will burn his skin, and he must stay in a darkened house by day and only go out at night . Eve is a dedicated mother who has done everything possible to protect Tyler. Since Eve's husband David works in Washington, DC and they live in Ohio, she has the entire burden of childcare. Tyler's older sister Melissa needs seem to take a backseat given Tyler's medical situation.

When Charlotte realizes Amy is missing, an all out search begins. An anonymous phone call eventually leads to the discovery of Amy's body. Everyone in the neighborhood seems to be a suspect except Eve. She is desperate to do what it takes to make sure she doesn't risk being sent away for her role in Amy's death. However, in this suburban neighborhood, Eve isn't the only one hiding a secret. An interesting story about family dynamics, dysfunction, secrets, and suburban life.

I liked this audio book a lot. The author has created a compelling story, making the reader think about what they would do to protect their own children. I loved how all the families in their little neighborhood seemed to all have secrets of their own, and that there were several flawed characters in the mix. The story wasn't perfect, and at time I felt that the story moved way too slow and some parts felt repetitive, but overall I was still happy I gave this one a try. The audio book was read by Kirsten Potter, who did a great job. This seems like a good choice for book group discussion.

4/5 stars
(eGalley and audiobook)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph ~ Tuesday Intros ~ The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh


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? Today's pick---
The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh
Spiegel and Grau - 2014

CHAPTER 1 - LUCY

"That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body.  One Saturday in March, fog crept through the river valley and froze overnight.  The morning sun crackled over a ghostly landscape across the road from my uncle's general store, the burr oaks that leaned out over the banks of the North Fork River crystallized with a thick crust of hoarfrost.  The tree nearest the road was dead, half-hollow, and it leaned farther than the rest, balanced at a precarious angel above the water.  A trio of vultures roosted in the branches, according to Buddy Snell, a photographer for the Ozark County Record.  Buddy snapped pictures of the tree, the stark of black birds on white branches, for lack of anything better to print on the front page of the paper.  It was eerie, he said. Haunting, almost.  He moved closer, kneeling at the water's edge to get a more interesting angle, and that was when he spied the long brown braid drifting in the shallows, barely visible among the stones.  Then he saw Cheri's head, snagged on a piece of driftwood: her freckled face, abbreviated nose, eyes spaced too wide to be pretty.  Stuffed into the hollow of the tree were the rest of Cheri's pieces, her skin etched with burns and amateur tattoos.  Her flesh was unmarked when she disappeared, and I wondered if those new scars could explain what had happened to her, if they formed a cryptic map of the time she'd spent missing."
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What do you think? Would you keep reading? Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below .


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mailbox Monday's New Books

Haven't participated in Mailbox Monday this months, so decided to share some new books which arrive by mail over the last 2 weeks. Have you read any of these?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah; Leslie Kimmelman (author) Paul Meisel (illustrator)


Leslie Kimmelman (author) Paul Meisel (illustrator)

Holiday House Inc. 2010

With Passover quickly approaching (Monday) this book seemed appropriate and cute as well.  The Little Red Hen is looking at her calendar and realizes she has a lot to do to prepare for Passover and her Seder dinner.  Before she can make "matzah" she needs to grow grains, harvest the grain and the make the "matzah".  She asks her friends, horse, dog and sheep to help her plant ---all have excuses and tell her "no".  So she plants it herself.  Harvest time means picking the grains -- once again no one will help her.  She ends up doing all the work herself each time, while her friends make up excuses and take naps.

When it's time for Seder dinner, her friends are knocking on her door ready to eat with her. She reminds them that no one wanted to help her prepare, but in the end -- she forgives and lets them celebrate with her.

This was a really fun read. It introduces young children to traditions which may be unfamiliar to them, including different foods that are typically part of the Seder meal. There are several Yiddish terms (and meanings) which added humor to the story. In addition there is a glossary with all of the terms, traditional Passover foods, and a recipe for making "matzah".

The illustrations were very well done -- bright and fun; they were the perfect compliment to a charming holiday story.

Recommended for ages 5-8

5/5 stars


Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Life, No Instructions; Gail Caldwell

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 New Life, No Instructions; Gail Caldwell
Random House - 2014

I loved Gail Caldwell’s previous memoir, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, which focused on her friendship with author Caroline Knapp, who passed away in her 40s after battling cancer. Her new memoir, New Life, No Instructions is about Gail and much of the book is a reflection on the sadder parts of her life. She writes about dealing with the bumps in the road of life and moving forward. Her story tells about losing loved ones and loyal canine family to death. She also writes about dealing with the demons of her past, about growing old and about facing physical challenges and limitations.

In a span of 10 years the author experienced devastating loss: her best friend, Caroline, her mother and her beloved dog, Clementine. In addition because Gail was stricken polio as a child in 1951, and it wasn't diagnosed right away, she dealt with a slight limp and related pain for years. She navigated from one specialist to another, but as she approached her sixties, she faced the fact that she needed to undergo hip replacement surgery to remain mobile in her later years. The surgery also included the slight lengthening of her shorter leg which resulted from the polio. 

This is Gail's story, and although I did not find myself tearing up as I did when I read her previous book, I really enjoyed reading this story as well.  The author writes with both wisdom and grace. She's had a lot of bumps in life, some self induced, but she strikes me as a wise woman is a better and now stronger person because of what she has had to endure. I  loved that she shared so much about her beloved pups who helped pull her out of tremendous grief. Her story makes you think about the people and things we hold nearest and dearest to us. 

4/5 stars
(eGalley)

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You ~ The Vacationers; Emma Straub


Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today. I thought this one sounded like a great vacation read. Do you like the sound of it?
The Vacationers; Emma Straub
May 29, 2014 - Penguin Riverhead
(Description)

An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

King and Maxwell; David Baldacci

King and Maxwell; David Baldacci
Hachette Audio - 2013

David Baldacci, returns with the private investigator team of, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. I’ve read a few, but not all of the previous novels featuring this team, and don’t feel like you need to read all of the earlier novels to enjoy this one. However, part of the magic in this series is the interaction between the duo --former  secret service agents.  Sean's expertise as a PI is strengthened by his DC connections.  Michelle is younger, and not afraid to take chances, often risky ones. She’s very energetic and there is definitely playful chemistry between the two.
The story begins on a rainy night when the couple nearly hit a teenage boy while driving in less than ideal weather conditions. The boy is Tyler Wingo, and as the couple questions him about what he is doing out in the road, they learn that he just heard that his father had been killed in Afghanistan. His father, Sam Wingo, was on a mission to drive and deliver a truck, its contents not initially disclosed, to a specific destination. When Sam arrives he is stopped by a group of men claiming to be CIA operatives who had other plans for Sam.
When King and Maxwell bring Tyler home to his step mom, his mother has died, the military who shared the news of his father’s death are still there.  Tyler is not satisfied with the little bit of information he was given and Maxwell senses something is off about the situation as well. She is anxious to help the young boy and try to find out more about his father’s death.  King doesn’t want to get involved as the death did not occur in the US, but King persists.  When an email arrives in Tyler’s inbox, from his dad, one day after the day he was to have died,  the boy begs  King and Maxwell to help him find out what is going on, and is the government trying to cover something up.King and Maxwell soon begin to unravel a situation much bigger and dangerous than they ever imagined.
King and Maxwell was an entertaining audiobook. The story held my interest and the readers, Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy, were terrific. The added sound effects heightened my sense of enjoyment.  King and Maxwell are a dynamic  team, and the flow of the story, suspense factor and resolution were very satisfying as well.
4.5/5 stars

Cell; Robin Cook

CELL, Robin Cook 
Penguin Audio - 2014 
 Read by George Guidall
iDoc is the basis for Robin Cook’s new novel Cell. Smartphone owners everywhere have a favorite app or two that has really proved useful, but what about an app that replaces your need to see your doctor?  Still in the testing phase, a new app called iDoc, is a personalized doctor capable of diagnosing and treating sick patients. Implant a tiny sensor and probe into the patient, test fluids on the screen of your smartphone (ugh) how simple is that?  It will even be able to send prescriptions to the pharmacy for the patient. 

The story begins with a presentation about iDoc by the company for prospective investors. The app is in its final testing phase and is touted as being loved by the test patients and sure to revolutionize medicine. For George Wilson, a fourth year radiology resident at a LA hospital, he sees both its merits and its risks.  It certainly would help bridge the gap in the number of primary care doctors throughout the country, but could this app become a future target of computer hackers and just how reliable is this product? 

When George’s fiance Kasey, unexpectedly in their bed he doesn’t understand how it could have happened. Yes, she was a diabetic, but thought she had that pretty well under control. She was also an iDoc test patient. George is devastated by Kasey's death and at least initially he doesn’t suspect any wrongdoing. However, when several more test patients die after undergoing radiology imaging procedures, the red flags go up and George decides to dig deeper into the deaths. Were their deaths a result of iDoc? If so, was it deliberate or faulty technology? George is determined to find out more about iDoc and what is going on.

This is a story which held my interest well enough, but it wasn’t perfect.  The characters seem a bit flat and there wasn’t any nail biting tension like there was in his novel, Coma. The iDoc concept was fascinating and grabbed me early on, making for an enjoyable listening experience. I do recommend trying this one if you tend to like medical thrillers.

4/5 stars (audiobook provided by publisher)