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!