Saturday, November 1, 2014

Havana Storm by Clive Cussler

image from LibraryThing
When I get a hankering for a fast page turner - I am always pleased when there is a new Dirk Pitt novel to read.

So I was really excited to see this new title in Target when I was shopping this week!  Cussler gave me a page turner - but...I have read enough of these to be able to anticipate most of the twists and turns!

Just a little background...Dirk Pitt has done to Marine Biologists what Indiana Jones did to Archeologists!  Picture Dirk as a mixture of Indie + McGyver and with the looks of Matthew Mcconaughey!  He is smart and honest and witty and strong and and get the picture!!

I knew before I started reading that in this book there would be a looming oceanographic disaster that only Dirk and colleagues notice, it will include a shady figure from a foreign land and some sort of diving exploration that will go bad.  There will be explosions and gun fire and close scrapes with death.  And in the end - against all odds - Dirk will save the world with a self-deprecating flair!

And as I began reading - I was not disappointed.  There is something comforting in a formula that works!  The villians were current and rather cold-blooded.  And everything was tied up in a neat bow before the rest of us mere mortals even knew there was a problem!  Just the way heroes are supposed to work!

A fast and enjoyable read!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Mulberry Tree by Jude Deveraux

image from LibraryThing
Lillian Manville was nothing until James Manville found her.
And she continued to be nothing unless he was with her.  She was plump and shy and unhappy and unfazed by the glitter of the billionaire life.  And that was just the way James liked it. Lillian knew that.  And she was ok with that.

And then he died.

And she became the scapegoat and the butt of all jokes. The dumpy woman behind the genius. The pitiful wife who was left out of his will. The lump in the corner that everyone loved to ignore who now was truly a nobody.

But, did James really turn his back on her?
He left her a note in the will asking her to find the answers.
And he left her a house.  A horrible tumbledown ghastly house in the mountains of Virginia outside the town of Calburn.
A hideous house...with the most incredible garden hiding in the weeds under a magnificent mulberry tree.

And that is where Lillian finds her true self as Bailey James.

She finds her voice
and her will
and the truth behind James Manville.

This was a book that I thought I had figured out a couple of times.
It is a love story - the hunky contractor who swoops in to save the newly widowed. newly beautiful stranger in town. And yes that does happen - but it's more than that.

It is a story of empowering women to be more than just the spouse.
It is about the lengths of pain one decision can inflict on others.
It is about the stories that are hidden in small towns.
It is about how hard it is to find truth when most people want life to just be.

I enjoyed this!
And I would recommend this!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Magician's King and The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

I am a sucker for a trilogy. So I knew I would read these all as soon as I started the first.  But - it was hard work to get through the The Magician King - the second one.  

I felt off kilter all the time.  They didn't behave the way I wanted a magical world to behave. I wanted happy magic. I know that Harry Potter was dark - but I always knew the good would win.  Here - I wasn't so sure.  It never felt like a done deal - it was always an option that the dark would just be.

On top of that I really didn't like Quentin - the main character.  He was a pompous ass and magic just made him a magical ass.  But the Magician King wasn't really his story. It was much more about Julia - Quentin's high school pre-magic love interest in the first book.  And although her story was intriguing - it was an even darker kind of magic.  It was tied up in extreme teen-age angst and I am just tired of that.

But - I am a sucker for a trilogy. So I kept going.

And then I read the last book - the Magician's Land.
And this one I liked.
Quentin was dethroned and humanized. He couldn't toss magic around as easily instead he had to really work!  And as he worked he became so much more likeable!  And he sacrificed himself for others - always a great and heroic thing to do!  And magic changed.  I like that!

So at the end of these three - I can say I am happy I read them.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

image from LibraryThing
I am still not completely sure how I liked this book.  It was hailed as a great alternative to Harry Potter.  I am not so sure I would agree with that description.  I think it is more a bored teenagers' bored view of magic and the disillusionment that can come when you get what you wished for.  Now - that doesn't sound very Harry Potterish.

Plus I feel truly sorry for any book compared with Harry - it just isn't going to measure up in my reading world.  Harry was for all ages - The Magicians seems mostly for out of sorts teens.

Even though I was not in love with the book I could not stop reading it. I wanted to know what happened in Fillory, what happened at Brakebills, what happened to Quentin.

So the basic story is a hidden magical school in upstate NY.  Quentin, a very anti-social, anti-excitement, anti-everything sort of teen gets in to his shock and hidden awe.

The book chronicles his life in Brakebills, his love for Alice and his ongoing escape into the fictional world of Fillory.  So - Fillory is a book that he loved as a kid and keeps returning to as if that is the seat of all magic. Every magical moment seems to be compared and found lacking to Fillory.

So I thought his schooling would build to a big ah ha moment - but it built to a creepy secret graduation ceremony that included personalized demons and secret codes from the head of the school.  And the book continued.

So - what does a graduated magician do in the real world - absolutely anything they want and you can imagine the problems that causes.

Then there is a quest - sort of  - and a horrible battle - way gruesome - there are deaths and there are survivors.

But - this book lacked the undertone of good vs. evil.  This was just magic for magic sake and the questions that Quentin and his friends bantied around were the meaninglessness of magic in a world where there was no need.  I found it all rather depressing and anti fun.  That is what magic brought in other stories - fun.  I know there is often a down side - but there was joy and positive energy.  That does not exist for the Magicians.

The end was a bit of a shock to my system.  Not what I expected.  But - it did make me want to pick of the next book and start reading.  So even though this was not my favorite - I have hope for Quentin!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

We have no idea what it was like to be a headstrong young woman in the 30s or 40s. We can look backwards at our grandparents and believe that they grew up with the same sensibilities and realities that we do.  But - we would be incredibly wrong!

This is one of those books that force me to understand that life has CHANGED!!

Iris receives a cryptic phone call from a hospital that is closing.  It seems her great-aunt is a patient there and she has to pick her up. There is a huge problem with this phone call- she doesn't have a great-aunt.  Her grandmother spoke at length about being an only child.  Oh yeah and her grandmother has Alzheimer's and her father has died.

But - Iris feels an odd pull to this woman and agrees to speak to the doctor and eventually take Esme and help her find the next place where she will live.

This story is told in snippets between the reality of time between Iris and her step-brother Alex - interspersed with passages of Esme's memories and semi-fractured reality and disjointed bits of Kitty's mind (Iris' grandmother.)

And oh my!

Esme lived a life a bit out of step with sensible society - questioning the wearing of leather gloves and layers of petticoats.  But her deep connection with her sister Kitty kept her grounded. When that connection began to fray Esme broke loose in a heart-wrenching way.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book!
This is a haunting story of desperate decisions and retribution.
The end caught me completely by surprise!!!  Whew!!

Really interesting book!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

This is the story of life in Hong Kong during and after WWII.
A story of an English wife and a culture that gives her options.
Claire comes to Hong Kong as a lily white, sheltered, rich little girl.  She falls into a job as a piano teacher for an equally spoiled little girl in a very wealthy Hong Kong family - a family with a checkered war past.  Out of boredom she begins pocketing trinkets from the family - including a bottle of perfume.

It is that scent that eventually connects her to Will Truesdale - a man of an unknown past but who holds the story of life during the war and a connection to famed Trudy - the woman who first used the perfume Claire found.

This story tells the horrible truth of living in a war torn country and trying to continue with life.  People stoop to unexpected lows and climb to incredible heights to continue.

Interesting read

Monday, July 28, 2014

Return to the Beach House by Georgia Bockoven

image by LibraryThing
I am going to start out by saying I was disappointed with this book.  I wanted the story of the characters in the Beach House to continue. I wanted to know what happened to Peter and Katherine and Chris.  But, that wasn't the way this book worked.  You do find out about Julia - she still owns the house.  But she isn't really a character in this story.

The format is the same with different tenants each month of summer.  The continuing characters are the girls who live next door and help care for the house instead of Julia.

Again, I cared about the characters.  But, not as much.
I felt a little cheated.
I am a series gal - I like stories that continue through volumes like Harry Potter and Gabladon's Outlander series.
I am not so interested in vignettes.

So - although the book was fun to read.  It was also ok to end.

My 4th vacation book!! Yippee!!

The Beach House by Georgia Bockoven

image from LibraryThing
This seemed an appropriate book for a beach read.

This is the story of a house, a beach cottage nestled on the coast of California, battered by sea and wind and lovingly cared for.  A house that welcomes families to the freedom of summer each year. But this summer is a year of lasts for the house and the people who love it.

This house has a variety of caretakers - there is Julia, it's owner, a woman drowning in the sorrow of her husband's unexpected death.  Julia has come to the house as she did every summer  - but this year will be her last. Owning the house that was filled with such love is just too difficult for her. - so she has come to get it ready to sell.

The house used to be owned by Maggie and Joe.  And part of the agreement when they sold it to Julia's husband was that they would still spend a month there each summer.  As they arrive this year - they know it will be their last, Maggie is dying of cancer.  So they have decided to fill their last summer with all their favorite things.  But, neighbor children make them reconsider a summer filled with doing.  Instead, they become surrogate grandparents and spend their summer just being.  But, as their month comes to a close, Maggie and Joe make a decision that changes everything.

August brings a new family to the house.  But, this year it isn't a family.  Instead it is only Katherine, the wife of a preacher and mom to two growing boys who is hiding a secret.

I liked the easy read with hints of depth. The story about Maggie and Joe was hard to read - but gave me lots to think about.  I cared about the summer visitors and wanted to see joy in their lives - they each seemed so full of pain.

This was another great beach read - and vacation book #4.

The Hit by David Baldacci

image from LibraryThing
This was my second vacation read.

Will Robie is back - this book occurs immediately after The Innocent.  The characters are all there - Julie Getty, Nicole Vance (FBI agent) and the Blue Man (Robie's connection inside the CIA).

And there has to be a bad guy - right.  This time the bad guy is a collegue - the second best shooter at the CIA - Jessica Reel.  Reel has decided that it is time for justice and begins killing off a secret group of collaborators.  It just happens that the group includes her handler and the second in command at the CIA.

Robie is put on her trail.  And because he has been slowly growing a brain again, he doesn't blindly follow his orders - he thinks a bit.

This was another great and fast read. It was more predictable and more far-fetched. But, that makes for an interesting story.  Robie and Reel are frenemies.  You see it coming and it doesn't disappoint.  The government machine is the big, bad ogre that they are really both against.  That also is not a surprise. But there is comfort in that formula.

 I enjoyed this one as well!

The Innocent by David Baldacci

image from LibraryThing
Baldacci is the perfect beachside read!  Short, staccato chapters filled with action that moves quickly and holds your attention!  This was the perfect book to kick off my oceanside reading!! If you look between the pages - you might even find a bit of sand! :)

Will Robie is an assassin and a very good one!  He works for the secret side of the CIA and does his job completely and carefully!  And then he stops.  He is in the midst of a hit - and things don't feel right - for the first time he asks questions of himself before he pulls the trigger (flash to Jason Bourne on the boat in the dark!!)  That hesitation puts in action a series of events that takes Robie out of automatic and into actually feeling!  A place he has not visited for a long time.

Robie, being a thorough hitman, always has a backup plan and even a backup for the backup. This night he escapes to a bus that travels between Washington DC and NYC every night - the Outa There bus.  While waiting for the bus to take him away to a safe spot he sees a young girl get on followed by an older man - someone clearly following her.  In an attempt to save this girl from her attacker - Robie is surprised to see Julie (the girl) able to fight him off for a bit, and then they flee off the bus together - moments before the bus explodes into thousands of pieces.  

So, against all of his training and preferences, Robie attempts to take care of Julie - yes this hardened, loner assassin begins to allow a tiny piece of his heart to feel again.  It isn't a sweet sappy moment - but rather a shock to both Robie and the reader's system.  But, it feels right!

This is a story of cold-blooded, ruthless people and the incredible lengths they will take to get what they want.  It is also an intertwined mystery of conspiracy on an unbelievable level.  

I greatly enjoyed the twists and turns and unexpected kindness of human beings!!
Read it!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

fathermothergod: My Journey out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse

image from LibraryThing
I really didn't know much about Christian Science when I started reading this book.   What I did know was a vague understanding of no birthdays, no doctors and a some sort of cult that Tom Cruise was a part of.  I was partially right - but not about the Tom Cruise part.

This is a deeply personal story of a daughter coming to grips with choices her parents made and the consequences that the children must pay.  This is a story of a family - a close knit family that is pulled apart by religious differences.  This is a story of pain and more pain and in the end mostly pain.

Lucia is the middle child of three.  When she was little her parents joined the Mother Church - the Church of Christian Science.  Their belief is that physical pain is not real, so illness is not real.  It can be prayed away - they called it working on a problem.  I find it very interesting that science is in the name - yet the deepest tenet of the faith is a complete denunciation of medical science. That was not really explained.

Lucia's father, Heff, believed that Christian Science cured his stuttering.  And that was only the beginning.  As children, Lucia and her siblings they went to church and went to their large family gatherings. All in this uppercrust extended family were allowed to follow their own path - but no one really addressed it.  The problems in Lucia's family came as the children were growing up. When Lucia realized that her headaches were caused by poor eyesight she had a horrible fight with her father just to go to the eye doctor.  And when she and her brother had chicken pox she remembered her mom taking her to grandma's for funny tasting applesauce while dad was at work.  Those memories piled up and Lucia became very confused!

Even these spats were nothing compared to the all-out, family destroying brawl that was to come.

There are parts of this story that are difficult to read with out hitting someone over the head.  I just couldn't understand the blind focus on anything but medicine.  It just seems so obvious!!

But, I could understand the dedication they felt to their faith. Heff and Joanne, Lucia's parents, completely and totally believed and couldn't understand their children's lack of faith.  It was crystal clear to each side how ridiculous the other was.  That understanding was difficult for me  - especially when it was the children trying to convince the parents.

Lucia is a great storyteller - her tale winds sometimes - but stays true to the focal point - Christian Science killed her parents.  That isn't quite the same as the subtitle on the cover - but I think it's more the true title.

Interesting read.
I would recommend this if you are interested in faith traditions and family dynamics.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

image from LibraryThing
When I was first teaching I used to spend quite a bit of time helping my 4th graders learn to listen.  We would put our heads down on the desk and I would set a timer and they would remain perfectly (as perfectly as a 4th grader can) still and simply listen.  When the timer went off we would talk about what they heard - making a list on the board.  At first it was really hard for them to hear more than the hallway noise and feet shuffling - but they did get better.

That was a long time ago. As I read this book I kept remembering that practice - pausing and listening.

This is a love story and a societal critique carefully woven together in an engaging, fictional tale.

Julia is searching for her father in a land of unknowns.
Her father simply disappeared one day from his successful New York City job and his settled family.

Simply vanished.

Julia has decided to try to track him down.  She has only a name - Mi Mi and Burma - his homeland.

So - that sounds as fantastical as it could possibly be.
Traveling completely around the world to a dingy tea room in an bustling town to hear the story of her father.

How! How? How?!

And that is this story.

Built on impossible odds in improbable situations a love that knew no ends was created. And Julia alone was there to hear the story.

Her father, Tin Win was blind as a child - what?  - and fell deeply and completely in love with Mi Mi - wh0? - a beautiful girl with deformed feet.

As a pair they explored the town and countryside where they lived - Tin Win carrying Mi Mi on his back and Mi Mi navigating through the Burmese terrain.  How???  Partly because Tin Win had learned to listen at a depth unheard of.  He had learned to simply be and hear the whosh of a bird's heartbeat inside an egg, the slish of a snake under a log and Mi Mi became his eyes to prove he truly heard.

Then all changed when Tin Win was moved to the city for surgery and eventually to the States to work. His hearing became unnecessary,  he could see.  

And his life moved on into the western world.

But -  he was always listening for Mi Mi's heartbeat.

I know that because...well I don't want to say anything.  But he was listening!

This is an engaging tale, interesting and easy to read.

But, to really 'get' it takes some quiet and some focus.

I think that would have made Tin Win happy!

Friday, June 27, 2014

City of Lost Souls and City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

image from LibraryThing
I love a good series almost as much as I love a
Image from Library Thing
big fat novel.  Cassandra Clare has met both of my requirements!  These are the last two books in the Mortal Instruments series.  In the midst of these books she also wrote the Infernal Devices series that is a prequel to these, and in an absolutely wonderful way is not completely a prequel!

These books tell the story of Clary Fray and Jace Herondale - both Shadowhunters. In this earth the world is defended from demons by Shadowhunters descended from angels.  And the world is threatened by Clary's evil brother Sebastian - I am not talking run of the mill evil - but demon spawn, everything is turned on it's head and life as we know it will end when he gets control evil!

As usually happens in YA lit - the teens save the day.  And there is a bit of romance - between a werewolf and a shadowhunter, between a shadowhunter and a warlock and between Clary and Jace! Sometimes that can be annoying - but in these I was ok with it.  It's mostly longing and wondering and hoping.  The cover art makes it look much hotter than it actually is!!!

This is a complicated story - one that takes hundreds of pages and multiple books to roll out...and I loved every minute of it! Watching these awkward mundanes (non-magical or not yet magical) teens grow up on the pages of the book. In that way it reminded me of Harry and Ron and Hermoine.  The hope of every teen to be something amazing and the horror of every teen to be something amazing all rolled up together.

I highly recommend these books!  and in typical series fashion - at the end of this one is a small tidbit of the next series.  The twist Clare makes is each series is intertwined and foreshadowed!  I LOVE THAT!! I would love to see her planning notes.  How does she keep it all straight??  I stand in awe of writers who are able to craft a story in the way she does!  Bravo!!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

image from LibraryThing
Joe's life is about to end on a sunny, spring, Sunday afternoon as he quietly pulls sprouts out of the foundation of his family's home.  He is helping his judge father while him mother does a little work at the reservation office.  But, she doesn't come home.  And when she does nothing will ever be the same again.

His mother has been attacked and escaped with her life.  But, she slips into a deep, dark depression as Joe and his father struggle to figure out what happened, who the attacker could be and how to be a 13 year old boy whose very normal life has disappeared.

Erdrich weaves stories of reservation life and loyalties into this narrative - some through the nightime talk of Joe's very ancient grandfather or his reformed stripper aunt.  But mostly we learn the ins and outs of life from Joe and his three friends.  Riding bike, smoking stolen cigarettes, sharing stories and histories all come together to create a world where justice is not expected and history means more than current day.

This story spins and pulls the reader deeply inside the reservation world - deeply inside the psyche of a 13 year old in the summer of 1988.  Another one that I would recommend!

This is our book club book for June.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

image from LibraryThing
This is one of the books that hooks you early and won't let go.  Moriarty creates a story woven between three families - each holding part of a life shattering event.

The story opens with Cecilia finding a letter from her husband asking her to open in the event of his death. What would you do?? Cecilia's life is neatly and tidily organized - she is a mega-multi-tasker - a tupperware phenom and the mother of daughters.  Every part of her life is carefully orchestrated.  And then she finds this letter.

Tess has a great job, a great marriage, a great child and a wonderful best friend. And then it all explodes via tearing betrayal.  She takes her son and escapes to her mom's house to get her bearings and help her mom recover from a broken leg.

And finally there is Rachel, the still grieving mother.  Her daughter was murdered 30 years ago and she has been frozen in time and grief ever since.

These women cross paths in a most unexpected way.  All that you think you know when you begin reading evaporates.  I cried and I laughed and I couldn't put it down!

This is a wonderful story of the strength and pain in a woman's life.
Read it!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

image from LibraryThing
I am clearly in a nostalgic mood - this is another old favorite author!  Maeve Binchy is one of my very favorite!!! Her books are filled with the day to day life of everyday people. Her writing elevates their lives to simple poetry.  I know - that sounds a little ridiculously flowery - but she brings it out in me!

This book did not disappoint!  Chicky Starr is content to live her life out in the small Irish community of Stonybridge until a smiling yank sweeps her off her feet and carries her across the ocean to New York City. When that romance fades she can not tell her family what has happened - so she remains in New York creating a story of her life.  Over the years she settles in a boarding house and learns the trade and perfects her story - returning home now and again but maintaining the facade. When her favorite niece is ready to come to NY to see the glamorous life her aunt is leading Chicky makes a fateful decision - her husband is suddenly killed in a car accident and she decides to return home.  But - what will she do?  Refurbish an old genteel house on the coast and turn it in to a small hotel.

And that is where the story begins. Sort of. Binchy has a great way of layering different perspectives on top on one another.  As Chicky's story ends it is time to tell Rigger's story - the wayward son of Chicky's best friend.  And this story takes us a bit closer to the week in winter when Stone House will open.  Then it is Orla, Chicky's favorite niece's story.  And finally it is the stories of the guests who arrive that very first week in winter. Each arriving with their own lives of passion and boredom and intrigue and quiet.  Each a bit apprehensive, a bit concerned, a bit frazzled, and a bit overwhelmed at the healing sounds the ocean waves create.

Not all the stories end happily - or even end. Rather this feels like we have all been invited on a memorable week vacation - and it is time for us to pick up our own lives again.

I LOVE Binchy!!! Read this one!!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

image from LibraryThing
A Fannie Flagg book is guaranteed to be a quick and interesting read and this one didn't let me down.  This story spans the years and the continent.

Sookie is the mother of 4 - a well settled southern woman with a mother who just won't quit!  I mean - really won't quit!!! We call her a battle ax around here! :)  She knows everything and everybody and he word and idea rule!  And poor Sookie she is at her mom's beck and call ALWAYS!

So - that is Sookie's life - complicated enough.  But, then it goes up another level.  There is a weird registered letter with a secret. . . Sookie was adopted. All her mom's pressure to be something, to follow the family way, to be more than she is.   

Sookie is blindsided!  Her entire life history is shuffled and twisted. She takes advice from some of her friends - some of the advice is better than others.  One of her friends, Malveern, suggests she join her naked drum circle to connect with her primal rage. That isn't really Sookie.  Instead, Sookie begins meeting with the town psychiatrist  - but not in his office right beside her mother's favorite beauty salon - instead they meet at the local waffle house for her counseling session.  

As Sookie's story slowly unfolds - another story is also unfolding.  Sookie's real mother according to the birth certificate is Fritzi, one of the bravest women alive!  She started her life as a wing-walker during barnstorming days and from there became a WASP - a group of women who transported planes during WWII across the country.  They were never really acknowledged but were amazing none the less.

As Sookie finds out more about her mother she slowly begins to understand herself.  This was a book about beginning again - no matter what the age or the past. It was just the story I needed. Fannie Flagg did it again!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

image from LibraryThing
Handful, a slave, and Sarah, a woman, tell the story of slavery, Charleston and early abolitionists.  Both women know they are stuck in their spot. Handful has grown up as the skilled seamstress daughter of a slave who sees there is more to the world than being stuck inside the walls of a vindictive missus.  Sarah is frozen in a world where she doesn't fit in - a world where women are meant to be seen and not heard and her love of learning doesn't fit.

When Sarah is 11 - Handful was given to her as her personal slave.  As a defiant act she frees Handful using the law books in her father's library.  But, her father tears up the decree and it is the first time she begins to understand that she too is a slave in a different way.

Kidd follows the lives of these two women alternating chapters between their voices. Handful weaves the history of her mauma and the slave uprising in Charleston.  Sarah weaves her way through the social seasons with only one marriage possibility and he mother breathing down her neck.

And then Sarah accompanies her father to the north for his health. It is there that she first hears about Quakers and begins the path to becoming one of the most renowned Abolitionists.  And while on this path - she is able to help Handful on her own path. 

This is an amazing book.  A book built on the real Sarah Grimke's life.  Monk does a tremendous job of weaving reality and fiction together to build a story that makes me want to know more about the real Sarah Grimke'.  That is a gift!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffery Archer

image from LibraryThing
This is the first Archer book I have read and it won't be the last! I was hooked on the character of Danny Cartwright as soon as he was willing to go down on one knee in a posh restaurant to ask his sweetheart Beth to marry him.  Clearly he has wonderful taste from the beginning to ask someone named "Beth" to be his wife!! :)

But soon after this exciting moment both of their lives begin to unravel - as Danny is accused and charged with murdering Beth's brother during a bar fight -her brother who was Danny's best friend.

There are four witnesses to this infamous fight - a lawyer, a real estate tycoon, a famous TV actor and a drug addict.  And the story they tell in court doesn't match Danny or Beth's.  But, they are from the upperclass side of London and Beth and Danny aren't. The court won't believe their side of events.  And Danny ends up in prison.

At the moment that his life belongs to the prison - it also takes a drastic turn that is the first step in owning his life for good.  Danny is put into a cell shared by 2 other men - Nick Moncrieff and Big Al. Nick takes Danny under his wing and begins to teach him how to leave the East End of London and speak and act as a person with more potential.

The book is about the opportunity to change, about the potential you are born with and about prison your birth can create.

It was a great and quick read - a 2:00 in the morning finish!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Elske (The Kingdom Series #4) by Cynthia Voigt

image from LibraryThing
The last book in the series.  And like the last one - this starts completely differently.  This book begins with Elske, a child of the Wolfers.  She has been raised by her grandmother, a woman stolen by the Wolfers, and freed by the sacrifice of her grandmother to the big unknown world.

Elske has a worldview that matches no one. She is without most of the angst and neurosis of main characters. Instead, she simply lives her life as it unfolds - without guile and remorse.  And because of that she finds herself in unexpected situations.

As she wanders from her grandma she is taken in by a father and two sons as they make their way to the large northern city of Tradstad.  They find her a place as a maid and she eventually becomes the maidservant for a headstrong out-of-control princess from a far away land.  And her life changes again.

Elske is caught up in the politically intrigue of the Kingdom - and her unique past become very important.

I liked this book. Elske is an interesting main character.  Her attitude and her presence change those around her without her even knowing.  In the world of YA main characters - that is something unusual!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The WIng's of a Falcon (The Kingdom Series #3) by Cynthia Voigt

image from LibraryThing
This time it starts with a boy, a no-name boy on a no-name island run by a horrible man.  This boy has a friend, sort of, named Griff.  And the two of them figure out how to escape in a boat with some of the leaders gold and jewels.  And as they flee they end up on a rocky island over night. And on this island the boy finds names carved in to the rock - ORIEL and BIRLE and so a new Oriel continues this story.

Oriel and Griff know nothing of the world outside of their island - they don't know about the people or the Kingdom. They only know pain and loss and suffering.  They are captured by Wolfers - a primitive tribe of warriors who kill for treasure to please their king.  They experience the horrors of a new kind of slavery.

And then they are freed by an avalanche and stumble through a pass into an amazing world of the Kingdom.  They are saved by a young girl - Beryl, the puppeteer's granddaughter (the original Oriel) who teaches them the ways of the people.  But there is a contest - a fight to the death for those who want to become an Earl - and that is Oriel.

After all the pain and anguish of this path - they aren't finished yet.

This was my least favorite of the 4 books.  The characters were clearly drawn and I was invested in each of them...but I just didn't like the story path.  It was so full of pain and so full of the dark side of the Kingdom, all the things that the romantic in my doesn't really want to focus on.

So - I was happy this wasn't the last of the series.

On Fortune's Wheel (The Kingdom Series #2) by Cynthia Voigt

image from LibraryThing
Let me say how much I HATE the title of this book!  It doesn't do justice to the story!

Ok - that's off my chest so I can tell you about the book.

The Kingdom series continues. This an intriguing twist on a series - because this doesn't follow regular idea of a series.  Instead of following Gwynn in this story - it skips ahead to her granddaughter, Birle.  There are definite parallels between the books - at least at the beginning.  It's about an Innkeeper's daughter who is supposed to be ready to be married - and has chosen very wrongly!! And then there is a twist.

Her path crosses with a strange young lord who is running away from something or other.  And that is the start.  There is love at first site for Birle - but is it the excitement of the journey or the cornflower blue eyes or the chance for something different or a little of all three?  Whatever the draw - they (Birle and Orion) travel together to the edges of the known world and the end of all they know - including their freedom.  Along the way they share their stories and their dreams and their hopes and eventually their love.

And then they make their way back home - to Orion's home where he is an Earl and Birle is only one of the people.  So then what?

I really liked this story!  I think it was my favorite of the series.  I loved Birle - her steadfast love for Orion was just what the romantic in me loves!  And yes - this book completely demonstrates the wheel of fortune turning.  But that title makes sense for me reading this as an adult...not so sure it would for YA readers.

Jackaroo (The Kingdom Series) by Cynthia Voigt

image from LibraryThing
Cynthia Voigt wrote a series of books about a kingdom in a far off land, in a far off time, in a far off place.  And I have never even heard of them!! I'ver read many of her other books, Izzy Willy Nilly, Dicey's Song, A Solitary Blue and I have really enjoyed them.  So  - how did I miss these??

Jackaroo is the March book for our new family book club and I was excited to read a well-loved author in a completely different way!

Jackaroo is a fable - a made up character who swoops in and saves the downtrodden just like Robin Hood. He wears a mask - appears and disappears in a moment.  And he is the savior of the people.  That is what they are called - the people.  There are also Lords and Earls and a King.  But they are far off - and rarely seen. The Kingdom is carried along by the people who toil in the Inns, and the fields and barely make it. Because the Lords and Ladies take their money for taxes.  The people are not allowed to learn to read.  They work and they live and then they die - young!

Gwynn is an Innkeeper's daughter who has refused to marry and knows she will spend her days working for her brother when he runs the Inn - women are not allowed to run a business.  And then there is a mysterious Lord and his son who show up at the Inn and ask for Gwynn and her servant to take them on a mapping trip.  And then there is a snowstorm!

Gwynn is stranded in a cottage - snowed in - with a moody young Lord who is not to speak to her.  And then she makes an unexpected discovery.

I really liked Gwynn. She is the girl that I wanted to be - sure of herself and willing to take the consequences of changing the world she lives in for what she needs.  And with her courage she is able to see the world make a little change!

Great start to the series

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

image by LibraryThing
I want to start out by saying this is one of my favorite books!  I LOVED it!

Now - you can decide if you want to continue to read this to see why, or if you just want to go out and find the book to experience it on your own.  Your choice - but I would recommend one or the other!!

This is the story of a journey by a rumpled, stoic, retired, non-starter named Harold Fry.  In the first pages he receives a letter from a woman - Queenie Hennessy to thank him for his friendship and to tell him she is dying.

Harold rushes to write a reply and tells his wife he is going to the mailbox to send it.  But, he isn't ready to stop walking at the mailbox - so he continues across town passing postbox after postbox and at each one he feels the need to continue moving.  And that is how his 500+ mile journey to deliver his letter to Queenie in person begins.

His pilgrimage begins in a flurry of self-righteous stupidity - sounds like too many of my self-help journeys! :)  He relishes the simplicity and the ease and all the new truths surrounding him.  Then it gets hard and he must depend on the help of strangers.  Then the help of strangers becomes his new focus - he is saving them by allowing them to help him.  Then things become a bit commercialized and he looses himself in the process.  Then everything falls apart and he is left bare and old and withered and the journey is still in front of him.

And when he arrives at the end of his journey...then what...

This is a story of a man and his marriage and his son and his mother and father and the life that he has so carefully created in a very English way.  This is the story of what happens when you dare to step aside and really feel what is around you.

I dearly loved Harold - but honestly I loved Maureen, his wife, every bit as much.  Maureen must watch and wait and remember and choose to live.  Her pilgrimage takes place in her small cottage while she cleans and disinfects and eventually takes down the net curtains and lets the sun into the 'best room.'

Please read this!!!

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

image by LibraryThing
I haven't read an Anne Tyler for a while, so I anticipated this vacation read and it didn't let me down!

When I read Tyler I am struck by the ordinariness of the world she creates.  It makes me want to open my eyes wider and look around at my own life and see what is happening!

The irony is that Liam, the main character in this story, is utterly unable to notice the world around him. He has recently been let go at the school where he was teaching 5th grade, he should have complained that he had seniority, but why bother.  Because of his shrinking salary he moved to a much smaller and less desirable apartment, and the first night he spends in this new apartment he is attacked by a thief and wakes in the hospital.

When he awakes, he remembers nothing of the attack.  Because he can't remember the events that brought him to the hospital he is utterly fixated on his memory loss.  Fixated in a way that he has not experienced before.  The reader finds that out as his ex-wife and three daughters enter his hospital room and his apartment and his life.  Liam was clearly not a part of their lives - at least not on purpose!

And so this story follows Liam as he 'wakes' up to mess he has created by not being present even when he was.

I loved this book.

I love the way Tyler creates her characters. I have a feeling I would not really like Liam if I were to meet him in my work.  But on the pages, it is completely different!

Instead,  I loved the way Liam relished in his aloneness until he was really alone and in that moment he understood what he had missed. I loved the relationship that he created with Eunice Dunstead, a professional rememberer.  And I loved his relationships with his daughters - each one completely different and yet quite the same.

This is a quiet book about a huge event.  And I loved it!!

Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey

image by LibraryThing
Racism in the south is like another character in this story of love and two women- one white and the other black.  But calling it a story of love makes it sound sappy and predictable - and that is to short change it.  This is a story of worlds crashing and reshaping in the midst of deep heart break!  A story of strength and frailty.

Betty Jewel is a washed up jazz singer who burned brightly with Saint a famous trumpeter. But drugs and fame soured everything and Betty Jewel fled from her marriage to Shakerag, Mississippi to be with her mama and raise her daughter. In a last ditch effort to save that daughter, she takes out an ad in the local paper looking for someone to adopt her girl after she passes from cancer.

Cassie is the lily white widow of a much beloved local coach. Since his death she has floundered her way through life barely living and depending on her job at the local newspaper to keep her going. She notices the ad and decides it would make a wonderful human interest story.

And thus the worlds crash.

But - this is not a touchy feely feel good story.

At the heart of this story is a 10 year old girl who will soon be without a mama.  Billie, who sneaks around listening at keyholes, can not imagine a life without her mama - unless she is able to find her papa - Saint - and life with him.

Laid across the top of this story is the busted history of Jim Crow laws and lynchings in the south.

There were times this felt like a different version of The Help.  But, Betty Jewel and Cassie are not merely telling a story  - they are living it.  Their lives are interwoven in a way that the south can not rip apart.

I really liked this book.  I especially liked Billie. After teaching 10 year olds all those years - I felt like I knew her innocent and bare face.  Her bravado and her depth of pain were real to me!  The fantasies that she creates and believes in even while she knowing they can't be real - rang true!

I would recommend this!!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Image by LibraryThing
This story wheels us back to the 1950s and the East End of London.  Through a memoir of her time as a midwife, Worth introduces us to the perils and joys of life in a nunnery helping deliver babies in the poor parts of London - a London still rebuilding after WWII.  The homes are teaming with children and laundry and mothers and the docks are swarming with hard working men. Worth is not a nun - but rather a nurse focusing on midwifery. And Nonnus house is the perfect place to learn.

The chapters tell the stories of a wide variety of families  - including one where mom only speaks Spanish and dad English. They have clearly figured out how to make it work - they have 25 children.  The youngest is a baby born so premature he only weighed 1 and 1/2 pounds - at home - and he survived!

I am not always a fan of memoirs - they sometimes meander across the years backward and forward more like a conversation than a story. This one behaved itself!  I felt like I had a front row seat at a time of life that I am rather happy not to have lived through!

I want to be sure to watch the PBS adaptation!