Saturday, October 24, 2015

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

image from LibrayThing
Serafina hides and scurries and watches from the dark recesses of Biltmore house.  As the C.R.C (Chief Rat Catcher) of the estate she she stalks and destroys the mangy beasts from the deepest corners of the basement that she calls home.

It was on one of those evening rat chases that she comes across something completely different -something evil lurking in her domain.  A man wearing a black cloak attacking a young girl in a yellow dress. Serafina tries to save this girl, fighting desperately to help her escape - when the girl simply disappears in the folds of the cloak and the dark, putrid smelling cloaked man turns his attentions on Serafina.  She narrowly escapes with her life.

This encounter changes Serafina and her connections to her Pa and to the only home she has known.  She begins to question her Pa's wisdom of staying hidden in the darkness.  She longs to figure things out and that draws her upstairs into the edges and shadows of the rooms where the beautiful people live.  Here a chance encounter with Braeden Vanderbilt changes her entire future.

This book follows a girl's self-discovery journey.  There were things I really liked about this book and things I didn't.  I thought Serafina's inner dialogue was a bit stilted - not really the words of a young frightened girl.  And there were moments bogged down with description of the behind the scenes workings of a huge estate.  I felt at times that this Disney published book was trying to jump on the Downton Abby craze with American's own aristocracy.  But - it's an interesting story with twists that I didn't quite expect.  That makes it fun to read. I did care about Serafina and her quest to figure out who or what she is and what is happening to the disappearing children.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

image from LibraryThing
This is the story of 4 friends, 4 weddings, one divorce, one shooting and one carefully guarded secret.

Friendships - are the centerpiece of this book.
Male friendships in a small midwestern town.
Male friendships that span decades - and that fray and tatter and rebuild.

I liked this book.

I liked Henry and Beth - the down-to-earth, live on the farm, stalwart couple with their own secrets - Henry paints landscapes and burns them before anyone can see and Beth was not always the mild-mannered house wife!

I liked Lee the rock star who made it big - yet carried a part of Little Wing with him in his lonesome songs.

I liked Kip the stock broker who came home to show the town how important he was by trying to restore the long defunct feed mill. Kip who was all 'bluster and strut' to hide his real longing to just watch the sun come up over the mill each day and belong.

And I really liked Ronny the washed up rodeo rider.  Ronny with a heart of gold and a brain sloshed around too often from booze and bulls.  Ronny who loves deeply and openly and isn't afraid to share that. Ronny who is sort of the butt of all jokes - but the real glue.

This is a melancholy look at what happens when you have to grow up - and leave behind what you thought you knew for what really is.

I liked this book!

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

image from LibraryThing
This was my book club's October book. I am not sure I would have read it on my own. I really loved To Kill a Mockingbird and after hearing the reviews and uproar about this book I probably would have passed it up.

After reading it - I don't know. It wasn't my favorite book - but not for the reason's I would have expected.  I usually like books where very little happens and much of the story is interior dialogue.  That pretty much describes this book - Scout telling the story all inside her head.  But - it just didn't work for me.  Scout reminded me of a an old movie with a young Katherine Hepburn talking so fast that none of the other characters could keep up with her and it felt like she was talking only to hear herself.  Scout is mad at the world of her home town and yet drawn home in a deep way.  And when home isn't what she had maintained in her mind she doesn't know what to do.

And what an awful world she comes back to - Calpurnia wants nothing to do with the family and her beloved father is hosting a racist town meeting and thinks all is well.  That is awful! And I want to be outraged and I am. But, I am also put off by Scout.

It is one of those books that I am glad I read.  But, I can't really recommend.  It is one that you want to discuss though.  I want to hash it over with others and see what I missed or misunderstood!

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

image by LibraryThing
Now this one I liked - a lot!

This builds on The Winter Sea and moves the story along. This is the story of Anna, Sophia's daughter.  Anna's life could have been a tragedy - given up at birth by her mother and raised by a neighbor and later sent to live with nuns and finally landing with a new family in Russia.  But it isn't a tragedy - instead it is the story of strength and poise and love.  Anna accepts each stage of her life for what it is and what she can learn from it. That sounds a little ridiculous, I know. But, I really liked her plucky attitude and stamina for a 1720 girl!

This story is told in pieces by Nikola - an English girl with a gift for 'seeing.'  Her connection to Anna is not through written words like Carrie's was - but by touching an object and 'seeing' the history and the events that the object was involved with.  Nikola is a Russian art dealer who was asked to appraise a small carved bird - the firebird. She sees the Tsarina of Russia handing this bird to Anna - but doesn't know who Anna is or how she can prove the object was actually important.

Nikola enlists her friend Rob to help with the process - Rob has a stronger inner eye and together they embark to Russia to discover Anna's story. In the same way that Winter Sea told a double story  - so does The Firebird. As the story of Anna is being told - Nikola and Rob's story is also unfolding.

I liked this book much more. I was very vested in the characters!  There were a couple twists that I didn't quite anticipate that made the end very engaging.  The history was important - but somehow it was easier for me to follow along without really knowing all the details.  Maybe that happened because I cared for Anna more.

I would recommend this one!  It was a fun and quick read.

Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

image from LibraryThing
I had high hopes for this book. I wanted something to remind me of Jamie and Claire in the Outlander Series.  But this didn't quite make it.  Had I read this first - I think it would have been fine. But my hopes were set a bit too high!!

This is the story of a writer (Carrie) researching the Slains Castle in Scotland for a book on the reinstatement of King James. She is mysteriously drawn to the castle as she works on the book - and discovers that her attention is taken by a young girl named Sophia.  A girl she 'sees' at the castle. No - not as a ghost.

Instead, Carrie is somehow channeling Sophia and watching the story unfold in front of her as the words flow from her fingers in her writing. That is interesting and all - but becomes a bit more unsettling when further research shows her that Sophia was a real person and actually was at the castle in the time frame she was writing about. It seems that Carrie has discovered a window into the past.  Add to that a love story unfolding both in the past at Slains and in Carrie's current life and this makes a pretty good story!

The book is a strong piece of history.  The people are real as are the events.  It does assume the reader has a rough understanding of Scottish history in the 1700s that I did not have. That made it a bit tricky to really appreciate the history.

Kearsley does a great job of creating scenes that draw the reader in and invite us to understand history through the characters' eyes.  But, I was just looking for a bit more I guess.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

image from LibraryThing
A mystery first spun in the mind of an alcoholic divorcee and then spilling into her reality.  Rachel imagines and wonders and stews and buries her loneliness and despair in a bottle.  She just can't let go of Tom, her ex, or the fantasy of the couple she glimpses through the flickering windows of her train car.  This story comes out in flicks and sputters just like those images. 

As a reader it took me a while to get into the book - the chapters alternate between voices and dates. And the story is mostly told by Rachel in various states of drunkenness - which adds to the confusion, and adds to the story, to the unreality, to the despair and regret.  

The story is also told by Anna and Megan. Anna is the current wife of Tom, Rachel's ex and Megan is the mystery woman Rachel sees from her train window.  

Very early in the book Megan disappears - completely and totally.  And Rachel decides that she may know what has happened - because she was in town the night of her disappearance.  The problem is that she can't remember anything, really, because she was black out drunk.  How do you make others believe that you know something that you can't really figure out yourself.  How do you face the demons that are there and everywhere?

Our most recent book club book.

Friday, July 3, 2015

STiLL ALiCE by Lisa Genova

I have read many books, some that are forgettable, some that I can't put down, and some that I know I will haunt me.  This is one that will stay with me for a long time, a very long time.

Alice, a brilliant professor, loses her place on a jog- suddenly the streets surrounding her home shift to an unknown terrain.  And when they shift back to the familiar she realizes that her life has also shifted.  This book walks with Alice to the first doctorĘ»s visit, to the first neurological test and to get the moment that her terror is named- Alzheimer's. At each of these moments Alice is both her old self and this unknown new apparition that Alzheimer's is creating.  

This isn't a melodrama or a feels-good-happy-ending kind of story where the family lines up and cheers for this poor mom.  Instead, John, her husband, is sort of an ass - avoiding conversations and pretending that HIS life needs to not change.  Lydia, the youngest daughter, on the other hand, connects with her mom in a way she never could with the old Alice.  I liked the reality of the mixed reactions and emotions- because it allowed me to confront my own avoidance and patronizing habits.

Although this is a deeply sad story it is more than that.  Walking hand and hand with the loss of her memory Alice speaks out for those with Alzheimer's in a refreshing way.  She advocates for herself and others even speaking at a conference.  This is not the story of a battle but of a rugged path that absolutely no one would choose!

Through it all Alice is herself with an Alzheimer's coat wrapping her more and more tightly.  

Read it!