Another one bites the dust!

Another month has gone by, and for me, another year! September 1 is my birthday and therefor marks one year since I started my blog. It’s been great fun, and except for slacking off this summer, I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up with the project. I’ve read a lot of great books and and few not so great… I’ll give you the final flash review before and a total wrap up before I reset the book counter!

Book# 35- The Collector, Nora Roberts

collectorRating: 3- it was a good book

Synopsis: Lila is a professional house-sitter with a habit of observing her surroundings through binoculars as she settles in to a new place. One job gives her full view of the soap-opera going on in the building across the street; and she is the sole eye-witness when a young woman falls to her death. Lila believes there is foul play involved, especially when the woman’s boyfriend is also found dead. Ashton is a New York artist and the brother of the young man who was found dead. He doesn’t believe his brother is capable of murder and he wants to get a better understanding of the situation, so he tries to question Lila. When the two begin talking, they realize there must be more to the story that the police are putting together. Ash has unlimited resources and great connections, but he wants to keep Lila involved and more than anything, he wants her to pose for him to paint. The two are thrust into a hunt for answers and lost art. And find unique connections all along the way.

My Impressions: I’ve been a Nora Roberts fan for many years, starting with her Chesapeake Bay saga for its home town appeal. When I want to get lost in a suspenseful love story, I know she will deliver. This story, while romantically predictable, had a great element of mystery incorporating the art world. A fast paced story to get swept up in!

Read if you liked: Sweet Liar (Jude Deveraux), The Violets of March (Sarah Jio), Carolina Moon (Nora Roberts)

 

 

Book # 36 A Tale For the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

A-Tale-for-the-Time-Being Rating: 2- Not my fav!

Synopsis: Nao is a sixteen year-old girl writing in her diary to describe the life of a girl in Tokyo after moving from America. She is bullied, trafficked into prostitution, and constantly on the lookout for her father to commit suicide. Ruth is a middle-aged novelist living on the Pacific coast of Canada, struggling to adapt to life on a small whaling island and failing to write her next book. Ruth finds Nao’s diary washed up on a beach after the 2011 tsunami, along with a few other items that may lead to the identity of the intriguing young author of the diary.

Nao begins her diary intending to recount the life of her grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, and has taught now how to survive her life and appreciate what you don’t see. Ruth becomes obsessed with reading the story and trying to locate Nao and her family despite faulty internet and frequent island storms that limit her connections to the outside world. The two seem somehow connected through the diary which Nao wrote to no one and Ruth came to own randomly.

My impressions: Well, not my favorite… because this could have been a much shorter book if the story were the central focus. There was a lot of deviation to explain, in detail, many things that didn’t really need such thorough telling. For example, WWII Japanese suicide bombers were a big part of the story, however the personal aspect was lost (and not added to) by the detailed history of the troops that was given. Also the concept of Schrodinger’s cat was discussed. And while there was a (very literal) tie-in to the story, I’m not sure that I needed the entire philosophical principle discussed in the text.  The story itself was very interesting. Very cross-generational, with comparisons to be made from post-war to modern lifestyles. But not enough to balance the drawn explanations and slow moving story.

 Read if you liked: The Briefcase (Hiromi Kawakami), Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Eleanor Coerr)

 

 

Book# #37 Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen

still life Rating: 2- Not my fav!

Synopsis: Rebecca Winter found fame as a photographer in her younger days, first by capturing the detritus of a dinner party, then the intimate angles of her infant son. But her star is no longer rising and she is out of favor and out of money! She sublets her New York apartment and moves to the middle of nowhere to save some money. Her little cabin is small and already inhabited by a creature. SHe meets Jim when he comes to free her of a raccoon and fix her roof. She settles into small town life while trying to find a new muse and sell a few photos. Her new view of life leads her to discover that her perspective has been off for years.

My Impressions: I kept waiting for something to happen! I liked the characters okay, I thought they could have been interesting if they were actually doing something in the story. There was just no story progression for me. It moved slowly and there were not really any connecting events to help string it together. Just kind of a snap-shot of a life that mosies along.

Read if you liked: Promises to Keep (Jane Green), Love the One You’re With (Emily Giffin)

 

“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” ― Neil Gaiman

Summer days, drifting away

Why does summer always go by so quickly? I used to think it was just because I didn’t want to go back to school as a kid, but even as an adult I just seem to lose track of the time. July was a busy, whirlwind month for me and while I made a little time for reading, I didn’t make time for blogging, so I’m going to get caught up with some flash reviews. So here are a couple of the books I’ve been up to.

Book #32 The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty

chaperoneRating-3, It was a good book.

Synopsis: Cora volunteers to chaperone a young Louise Brooks for the summer in New York City in the 1920s. Louise is there to become famous; Cora is there to dig into her past. Cora’s earliest memories are of her life at the New York Home for Friendless Girls, before she was put on an orphan train and adopted in the midwest. Cora is trying to set a good example of decorum for Louise, but in the late 20’s Louise is intent on breaking all the rules while she joins a modern dance troupe on her way to becoming a silent film star. At the end of the summer, Cora goes back to her life, but she and Louise will cross paths again.

My Impressions: While the first part of the story was as advertised, and the character back stories were strong, the years following the initial “chaperone” summer didn’t have a lot to do with the original story line. The book started out strong, but the storyline deviated a lot for me to stay interested.

Read if you liked: The Paris Wife (Paula McLain), Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline), A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Betty Smith)

 

Book# 33 The Home For Wayward Ladies, Jeremy Scott Blaustein

ladies Rating- 4, Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Nick, Hunter and Eli have been friends since college and now they are roommates in New York City. Each trying to make their way in the NY theater scene, each searching for something, each with their own vices in their way. When Nick meets Mr Right, he gets a chance to do a one-man show tour and his producer boyfriend gets Eli and Hunter a gig as the director and choreographer of a summer stock production in the Poconos. Since nothing can go smoothly, the Ladies have to pull together for each other to make through the summer.

My Impressions: For starters, this book is not PG for anyone scanning for a book to read. There is a lot of sexual reference and humor. But there is a lot of humor! This was a really funny book with great character relationships and truly shows the heart of life-long friendships. And gay men making vagina jokes is a good time! Full disclosure: the author is a high school friend of mine… But I’d still recommend his book even if I’d never driven him home after school play rehearsal.

Read if you liked: Sex and the City (Candace Bushnell); Someday, Someday Maybe (Lauren Graham)

Book #34 Lost Lake, Sarah Addision Allen

lost lake Rating- 3, It was a good book

Synopsis: Kate opens er eyes on moving day, one year after her husband was killed in an accident. Her mother-in-law is in charge of the move and waiting to settle-in Kate and her daughter, Devin, in her home across town. But instead of driving to the house, Kate keeps driving and ends up at Lost Lake, where she spent the summer as a child. Her estranged aunt, Eby, owned the lake-side retreat with her husband and she is struggling to stay afloat. This will be the last summer at Lost Lake. Eby welcomes Kate and Devin with open arms, but knows there is more to the story of why they’ve come.

My Impressions: While this was a sweet story with a whimsical side, it was fairly predictable. There was a twist in the back story that kept it interesting and it’s a quick read. This is great light-reading vacation book.

Read if you liked: Garden Spells (Sarah Addison Allen), The Last Camellia (Sarah Jio)

 

Books 32-34 in the bag!

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” ― Mortimer J Adler

GOAL!

Let me tell you this… I don’t know the first thing about soccer. This whole World Cup business just goes right over my head! But I know A LOT about goals. My profession requires that I write short term and long term goals for every patient upon each encounter, and document their progress. And for myself, I’ve learned the value of setting personal goals, and the satisfaction in meeting them. Most of my goals have been financial; I wanted to pay off all credit card debt before I turned 30, I wanted to pay off my car a year early, I wanted to buy a house before I was 32. I have accomplished all of those goals! And now, I have reached another goal, my 31st book review of the year! That was the goal when starting my blog last September. 31 reviews after turning 31. And I’m a few months ahead of my deadline, which means plenty of time for more reading!

Book #31- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, By Gabrielle Zevin 

AJ Fikry Rating: 4– Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: A.J. Fikry is the owner of Island Books. He is  a particular man with particular tastes in literature. He is not great with the customers in his store; his wife was always better at that, but she died in an accident and A.J. can’t seem to move on from her memory. His sister-in-law, Ismay, is a big help when it comes to keeping his head above water. She is married to Daniel, an author with a wandering eye. This is A.J.’s worlds until a series of strange events occurs, leading to a toddler abandoned in the bookstore. A.J. sees this as a sign to turn his life around and adopts the girl. Maya becomes a staple in the store and changes A.J.’s life in every way.

My Impressions: The perfect way to reach my goal was a book about books! The style of story telling that carries the plot along is for each part to begin with a book description. It is as if A.J. is telling the story of his life and his memories through the books that he has read. He is sharing his literary legacy with his daughter, Maya. I found it a little hard to connect with A.J. as a character in the first few chapters. His voice is stiff, but I think that is an intentional trait. As Maya becomes a bigger part of his life and he opens up to the community more, he becomes a much more relatable, likable character.

The character of Maya is delightful from the start. The inner thoughts expressed for her are perfect at every age and her charm comes through every word. It’s very easy to see how she was able to soften A.J. and basically wrap the town around her finger. The other secondary characters are well written, but poorly described early on, so the way I imagined them was negated later as more details were revealed.

Why you should read it: It was a sweet story with a different set a twists that were unexpected and intriguing. It was a quick read and would be a great way to kick off your summer reading list!

Read if you liked: Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan), Matilda (Roald Dahl), Inkheart (Cornelia Funke)

Book #31 in the bag! Goal= Met!

“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn’t carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.” ― Stephen King

Only You

I’m nearing my goal of 31 book reviews. It’s been a very interesting project to get my blog up and running, generate interest and traffic and learn the ins and outs of publishing my opinions on the internet. I’ve had a ton of fun doing it! And as a personal challenge, it’s been great to step outside of my normal book choices and really enjoy some stories I may not have tried otherwise. I appreciate all of the comments and suggestions- here and on Twitter. And while I won’t be reading any zombie-versus-alien-apocalypse series any time soon (despite unrelenting suggestions from my friend Martin), I have gotten to know many new authors with other titles that I can’t wait to read. So while I’m working on book #31 (and 32 on audiobook), I’m also working on my next goal for the blog. In the meantime, check out this weeks title.

Book #30 The One and Only, Emily Giffin

one and only Rating: 3- It was a good book.

Synopsis: Shea and Lucy are lifelong BFFs. Shea’s mom and Lucy’s mom and also BFF. Lucy’s dad is the football coach for Walker University, and Shea is possibly Walker’s biggest football fan. When Lucy’s mom dies from a long battle with cancer, their little family is rocked. Lucy turns her grief on Shea, criticizing her life choices from dead end job to pot head boyfriend. Coach gets in on the action, with a little more subtlety, buy giving Shea a pep talk and a contact for a job interview. He also advises her to stop wasting her time with the lame boyfriend. She has always looked up to Coach, so she readily takes his advice. She also follows Lucy’s instructions to keep an eye on Coach and help him in his grieving, since the two have a special bond over football.

Shea takes all of their advice; getting a job as a sports reporter covering Walker, stepping up her dating game in a relationship with a pro football quarterback, and spending more time with Coach. But as they spend more time together, Shea realizes that all her years of hero-worship have turned into a bit of a crush! And she begins to feel as if the feelings may be reciprocated… But how could they? And how would she tell her best friend that she is in love with her father?

My Impressions: I most definitely think that the author has written a very real female character here. Shea is both strong and vulnerable, self-aware and insecure and we meet her at place in her life where she searching for her grown-up identity.  The life struggles she faces are terribly relatable, and the moral challenges she encounters present choices that could change her life entirely. Her friendship with Lucy, as close as sisters, plays out just that way; no matter what is said or done, it’s forgiven and/or appreciated for it’s good intentions. I also liked the development of her relationships with her mother and father, separately, and the alteration of what she believes to be true about them. I think most adults have that happen in their lives at some point, and it either strengthens or separates a bond with parents. But then the story gets a little weird for me… I guess age doesn’t really play a huge part in relationships anymore, much like it didn’t in the era of Jane Austen. But Shea’s relationship with Coach is the one that I don’t find realistic and honest throughout the book. And it’s all a little George Michael- Father Figure for me!

Why you should read it: If you are a fan of Emily Giffin from her past books, you may find this book a bit of a departure from her usual stories, but consistent with her style. It’s still chick-lit, but not the traditional story line.

Read if you liked: Love the One You’re With (Emily Giffin), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Friday Night Lights (H.G. Bissinger)

Book # 30 in the bag

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” ― Jane Austen

It’s something unpredictable

Life definitely offers lots of twists, turns and unpredictable surprises. There are plenty of cliche things that can be said to that end, but ultimately, your days are what you make them. I can safely say that I find myself at a period in my life that I would not have predicted, and certainly didn’t plan for, but I’m trying to make lemonade.  They say when it rains, it pours, and I’m just waiting for my rainbow at the end. I’ve been told that everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Nothing tragic is going on here, there is just a lot going on! I can’t seem to catch my breath before something else comes up. So all things considered, and all cliches aside, I’m just looking forward to a little quiet time to kick back, relax and read a little more.

Book # 29, The Time of My Life, Cecelia Ahern

download Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: When the mail starts piling up, you can’t ignore it forever! Especially when the letters are an invitation from your life, requesting a meeting face-to-face. Lucy Silchester would avoid the notes forever, except that her family has signed off on the meeting and has also been receiving letters from her life on her behalf. Lucy would hide forever, in her tiny studio apartment with her hermaphroditic cat and grungy carpets eating microwave pot-pies, if she could.  She wasn’t always this way, but since her boyfriend Blake ended their 5 year relationship and agree to tell people that it was Lucy who left him, she has been caught in a downward spiral of lies that she pulls over herself like a down comforter to shut everyone out.

When Lucy does finally take a meeting with her life, she finds him repulsive and annoying. Maybe because he is so brutally honest with her. He calls her out on all of her lies, makes her feel uncomfortable in her hideaway of a home and forces her to face her behavior of the last few years that has been holding her back from happiness. Life’s little interferences send Lucy down a path of revelation, first for herself and then of all of the lies she’s told. When she finally get down to the whole truth and nothing but the truth, she finds that nothing is different. That is, no one who loves her treats her any differently, and she had no cause to lie to them in the first place. All of the pieces of her life fall into place thanks to all of her Life’s coaching.

My Impressions: This was a cute story with an interesting concept. What if your life was an actual physical being that you were responsible for making happy and keeping healthy. In return, your life would intervene at extremes to save you from yourself. As a philosophical concept, I liked the premise. As a story, I found it entertaining, if not a little slow, and maybe a little sad. Of course like all good chick-lit, there is a predictable happy ending, leaving you feeling good about Lucy’s life, and maybe your own. And I think maybe I would like someone with my best interests and a little insight to step in and take over for me every now and then!

Why you should read it:  It was a good, light read! Perfect for sitting outside with a glass of wine and enjoying the sunshine. I know I say this a lot, but it could easily be a chick flick with a good bit of reality suspension.

Read if you liked: Bridget Jones’ Diary (Helen Fielding), The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)

Book #29 in the bag!

“The best candy shop a child can be left alone in, is the library” ― Maya Angelou

 

I’ll Fly Away

Well, I’m certainly delinquent in my posting and my reading as of late. It would be safe to say I’ve had a lot going on in the last 2 weeks and not a lot of free time or concentration remaining. I usually escape to reading as a stress relief, but that is assuming that I have a book that I am eager to read and that I have a bit of time to sit down and read it! I had neither. Also I’m usually good about reading before bed; at least until I’m startled awake by the book hitting the floor after falling out of my sleeping hand! But I read the same page of the same book about 5 nights in a row before I gave up on it and decided I would come back to that book another time (The Daughters of Mars, Thomas Keneally). I always have an audiobook going in the car too, but I picked one that was read by a reader that I didn’t like in the past, and I immediately recognized her voice as annoying me before and my objectivity for the story suffered because of it. (See, no concentration at all!) What’s going on? Well for starters, I’m buying a house… Exciting and scary all at once! I’m buying on my own, so there is a lot to do, all resting on my shoulders. But I found the house, got the loan and now I’m just moving forward with the process until settlement. In the mean time, my little dog got sick, requiring a night in the hospital, followed by 3 days at home of not eating. That sent us back to the hospital and he had to have surgery to remove a foreign object from his stomach. I don’t know what he ate, but they were kind enough to save it for me so I could guess what it was after it spent a week in his gut… Gross! We are only just recovering from that (I mean WE. He may have had surgery, but he wasn’t the only one with an upset stomach after all that worry!) as he snores on the sofa next to me. But before my world went insane, I read a great book and I can finally share it with you!

Book # 28- The Invention Of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

suemonkkidd Rating: 5- I’d read it again

Synopsis: In 19th century Charleston, SC, slavery is in full force as a way of life. Sarah Grimke, at age 11,  is gifted a slave named Hette to be her handmaid. Sarah is appalled by the idea and by slavery in general and tries to give her back, but her father won’t have it. Sarah is trapped in a world where she can do little but accept her place in society, learn to hold her tongue,  and try to make a good match of a husband. But she feels she is meant for more. Hette is 10 when she is given to Sarah. She is forced to leave her mother’s side and live in the house, sleeping outside of Sarah’s door at night in case she rings her bell to call. Hette is what she is called by the Grimkes. Her mother called her Handful. And she, like Sarah, isn’t content to accept her place. As she grows up in the household, she takes over for her mother as seamstress, and is granted privileges to leave the house and go into town. Once she gets a taste of the world, she has to have  more. Sarah leaves Charleston to join the Quaker church in their abolitionist movement; and she and her fearless little sister Angelina make a name for themselves, as well as a few waves as they go. Handful remains under the close watch of Sarah’s mother and her gold-tipped cane, yearning for the freedom that is so often promised but never bestowed.

My Impressions: I could write pages and pages and never truly describe how beautiful this story really is. There is so much depth and detail in every page. The characters of Sarah and Handful are so strong, that their convictions conflict. Handful, takes her freedom from Sarah’s shyness and Sarah gains strength from indignation. The girls both cross boundaries that society sets for them, despite the ridicule that Sarah edures, and the physical consequences that Handful endures. And as they find their courage, their place, their purpose, they find more meaning in each other.

Another thing I loved about this story, is how well researched it is! The Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, are historical figures, who were very involved in the Quaker abolitionist movement, and Sarah went on to advocate for women’s rights. Their sister, Mary remained pro-slavery throughout her life. And Sarah was in fact gifted a slave named Hette to be her handmaid on her 11th birthday. All of these details are so intricately woven into this beautiful story to add to the depth and create powerful imagery.

Why you should read it: In a few years, I can see this book on a list of high school required reading. Add it to the list of fictional works that paint the picture of American history through literature; To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Raisin in the Sun, The Jungle. This is a book not to be missed, but I personally recommend the incredible vocal performance of the audiobook.

Read if you liked: The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), The Help (Katheryn Stockett), Beloved (Toni Morrison)

Book #28 in the bag!

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” ― Malcolm X

Everything’s coming up Rosie

I can’t say enough about books from a character perspective that ventures outside the social norms. Of course I want to read a story told by a dog, or an imaginary friend, or even a child who spent the first years of his life in one tiny room. But it’s also fun to read about a character that may not be aware of their own strangeness (think Screech from Saved by the Bell!) This book was recommended by a friend, so thanks Lauren!

Book #27- The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

ROsie Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Don Tillman is a genius in the world on genetics and a bit of a imbecile when it comes to social interaction. He is rigid with his routine and abhors lateness by even 2 minutes. It’s just a waste of time!  And he really knows how not to waste time. He jogs to the market to combine exercise and errands. He prepares the same meal every on the same day every week to simplify the shopping and prep time. He books face-to-face conversations with friends to ensure their availability. So when Don decides he want a mate, he develops the Wife Project. He creates a questionnaire to be filled out by his dates and weed out unsuitable candidates. His best friend Gene, a bit of a cad, commandeers the forms and suddenly Rosie shows up at Don’s office door. She is beautiful and smart, but totally unsuitable. She smokes!

Rosie and Don develop an unconventional friendship and flirtation as Don helps Rosie to learn the identity of her father. And as they become closer, Don teaches Rosie to button up, while Rosie teaches Don to deviate.

My Impressions: What a sweet story. Don is, to quote a 90’s teen flick, so adorably clueless. He has some idea that he does not behave within social norms, and he plays the role to be laughed with instead of laughed at. For Rosie’s part, she is rough around the edges and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. Don’s failure to take social cues helps to break down her tough shell, and Rosie’s emotions seep through Don’s general attitude of apathy. By the end of the book, they both make each other better people.

Why you should read it: This is a quick and quirky little book. It’s perfect for traveling, since you’ll finish by the end of your trip. But it’s also a different spin on romance and told from the gentleman’s perspective.

Read if you liked: Look Me In The Eye (John Elder Robison), House Rules (Jodi Picoult), Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks)

Book #27 in the bag!

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.” ― Christopher Morley, Pipefuls