Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Nantucket Christmas

A Nantucket Christmas
By Nancy Thayer

I received A Nantucket Christmas as a Goodreads win.  It was an enjoyable story and I usually like to read at least one Christmas story during the holidays.  This was my choice.

The story centers around an older couple retired and living in Nantucket.  It's Christmas time, the off season in island terms, when tourists are nowhere to be seen and the town belongs once again to the locals.

It's their first Christmas together and Nicole finds herself "competing" with her new husband's past brought about by his daughter's vision of her parent's once "perfect" marriage, "perfect" life, and her efforts to bring them back together.  I'm not entirely sure I wanted to buy into this premise as the daughter was an adult herself with a husband, child and another baby on the way.  Was it really plausible that she would want to break up her father and his new wife?

As in most romance novels, the story plays out with some drama and  touch & go moments but comes to an expected happy ending.  It was a satisfying holiday tale meeting my need for wintry romance.  I only hope all the trickery by the daughter was due to pregnancy hormones and she is more reasonable in "real life."

I give A Nantucket Christmas four of five shots.  A sweet story.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Me Before You

Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes

This novel is one my daughter insisted I read.  I am happy she did. I actually finished it back on December 8th, but you know how the holiday seasons are...

The story starts with an ordinary girl needing a new job when her steady job comes to an end with the closing of a cafe.  She takes a temporary job as a companion to a quadriplegic man.  A job that she finds distasteful, not because of his disability but because of his nasty attitude toward everything.

While I just referred to Louisa as "ordinary" I found her to be even "less" than ordinary.  She seemed to be a girl with no dreams, no ambition and existing as part of a relationship that seemed to have no foundation or affection.  I felt she wanted to just blend into the background and not be noticed.

Will, on the other hand, may be forgiven, or perhaps understood, for his nasty attitude because the accident that caused him to become a quadriplegic took so much from him.  Having grown up as a rich and privileged child he was used to living his life in the fast lane. Being confined to a mechanical chair was hardly how he viewed his future.

The mixture of Louisa and Will is difficult. Will has a male nurse who appears to be the only person he tolerates in his life, making his disdain for Louisa even more apparent. She reconsiders her position as his companion and she wants to quit. But she stays on, often against her better judgement, torn between avoiding Will or trying to engage him in his own life.

As the story develops so do the characters as we begin to peel away the layers they have wrapped protectively around themselves.  Louisa looks for ways to help Will enjoy life, while Will is determined that life is not worth living.  Louisa becomes desperate to prove Will wrong any way she can.

This was a well told story with some serious tissue alerts.  My daughter asked me about the title when I finished it.  I hadn't noticed until she asked that it could be read two ways.  Me Before You, as in 'who I was before I met you' or Me Before You as in 'putting myself first before you.'  It became an interesting question and one I still ponder a little.  There is still the question, who is the 'Me' and who is the 'You?'

I give Me Before You five shots of five.  I look forward to reading more by Jojo Moyes.
 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini

I really had no expectations of this book as I hadn't taken the time to learn what it was about.  I knew it was a best seller and it's been on my 'to-read' for about four years now.  I did purchase the movie not too long ago and sat down to watch it with my mother-in-law who was living with us at the time.  She had suffered a stroke and was unable to read the subtitles so we turned it off very early in.

That's what I knew about the story before I started.

Basically nothing.

I was drawn into the story almost immediately upon starting the book.  I tried to analyze why I was.  The story was about Amir, a privileged little boy in Afghanistan who was very insecure about his father's love.  His best friend was the uneducated son of his father's servant. As he was raised playing with Hassan, the servant's son, his father was also raised playing with Ali, his now faithful servant. Although Hassan is a servant himself, he adores Amir and would do anything for him. Indeed, Amir's cowardice presents many opportunities for Hassan to prove his loyalty.  Even so, Amir's insecurities cause him to bully Hassan almost mercilessly.

I asked myself again, what is so riveting about this tale that calls me back to the book each time I set it down?  Obviously, it's the author's voice and how well he tells the story before he even reveals the very meat of it. 

The story starts prior to the time of Russia invading Afghanistan and spans to the early 2000s. Sadly,  I'm not a student of history and therefore wasn't very well informed regarding all the changes of the Russians being thrown out by the Taliban and the quick end of the Afghanistan jubilation as they realized the Taliban was as bad or worse than the Russians. Amir and his father are smuggled out of Afghanistan after the Russians arrive and eventually migrate to America.  Their lives are very different in America, no longer of the privileged class, but his father was a well known man in Afghanistan and still very respected in his new American/Afghanistan community.

Early in the 2000s Amir returns to Afghanistan and finds a world very different from the one he left 25 years earlier.  No spoilers, but he at once finds himself face to face with the past he has tried hard to forget and finally must make amends with.

The Kite Runner is an amazing story full of unexpected twists and turns.  Heroes die and villains live, but there is always a feeling of hope.

I give The Kite Runner 5 of 5 shots.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Book Thief

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

Third on my 20 book challenge, this selection is exactly why I created my challenge.  I know I have added a lot of really fine books to my list and then proceeded to ignore them based on what I've come across or what's caught my eye since.  Who knows how long I may have continued to evade being captured by this book, or maybe miss it entirely. 

I love this book.  It should not be overlooked or missed.  If you also have it on your shelf, pull it out now and put where you can guarantee you will choose it to read next.  You won't be sorry. 

The Book Thief is a war story, centering around Liesel, who is the book thief, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The narrator of the story is Death, which sounds pretty morbid, but actually was done very well.  Death had just the right amount of sensitivity and disdain and never overshadowed the story.  The author discusses his decision to write from Death's perspective and the challenge.  I think he did it very well.

The story begins when Liesel is about eight.  Her mother is taking her and her brother to stay with foster parents.  Her brother dies on the train and Liesel begins life with her foster family on her own. Although one foster parent is more nurturing than the other, they both clearly love and care for her. Times are bad in Germany and they are a poor family.

When Liesel comes to the family she has in her possession a book that she found/stole when burying her brother.  She does not know how to read and enters her new school far behind the other children her age. Eventually, her foster father helps her learn to read and together they read her stolen book, The Gravediggers Guide.

The story progresses over a few years.  Liesel's reading and love of books enables her to help people in ways she is not even aware of. Life in Nazi Germany is not easy, even for the Germans. To avoid any spoilers, I will end my recap of the actual story with that. 

I appreciated this story in part for the struggles it portrays for the German population at this time.  One did not have to be a Jew to find life difficult and dangerous in Germany.  Starting with a little girl who has lost her parents for reasons she doesn't know or understand and her brother's death.  She lives with a family who is poor and struggling day to day. And the utmost care must be taken at all times to stay on the 'right' side of the Nazi party or pay a price.  Just being the 'person you are' can put one in great danger.

I give The Book Thief five shots of five - and a Tissue Alert.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson

This is the second selection on my 20 book challenge.  I have to say I am a tiny bit proud of myself for following through on this challenge, at least to have read 2 of the impending 20.  (Now "impending 18" - woot!)  To recall, my challenge is to read the 20 books that have been on my list the longest.  Correction, read or remove.  Let me tell you, removing books from my list is not an easy thing.  I'm pretty sure I'll read them before I'll remove them. 

I originally bought A Walk in the Woods for my mother.  She is the person who instilled in me a love for the outdoors.  She made sure we went hiking a few week ends every spring, summer and fall. And in the winter, too.  And she is the one responsible for me learning how to camp, cook over an open fire and back pack.  I owe her a great deal of appreciation for learning and loving those things. Not least of which, she also passed onto me her love of reading.  

Mom came to live with my family in her final years and I thought this book might be one she would enjoy.  I don't think she ever read it but it's been in my home for years now.  I'm pretty sure that's how it also made it's way to my list. 

I need to learn to have no expectations of books.  They are rarely what I am expecing of them, and usually that leaves me pleasantly surprised.  A Walk in the Woods was not what I was expcting to read.  However in this case, it fell short of the mark.  I feel a little sad writing that since so many friends told me how much they loved it and how laugh out loud funny it is.  I won't deny I had at least one laugh out loud moment, but not enough to say it set the tone of the book. 

Bill Bryson writes this book based on his experience walking the Appalachian Trail.  A hiking trail of over 2000 miles of east coast mountains.  I love the premise and often thought how cool it would be to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the west coast version of the AT.  Sounds like a book made for me!

Bryson accepts his friend's, Steve Katz, offer to hike the trail with him. If Bill Bryson is not prepared for what this folly will involved, his friend Steve must then be absolutely clueless.  Nevertheless, they start off on their "adventure."

It's not long before they realize that walking the entire trail just isn't in the stars for them.  They are miserable and broken and decide to take a break and walk only portions of it.  Bryson analyzes this decision and rationalizes that even though they don't set a foot on every single mile of the trail, they have indeed "hiked the Appalachian Trail."  I don't disagree, but I did find it disappointing.  (In his defense, he hiked nearly 900 miles of it!)

The book is full of history of the AT itself and of the politics, economies, ecologies, communities and resorts surrounding it.  I found it interesting, but unexpected. 

What I didn't find in this book was a lot of hiking and camping stories.  The hiking stories were more of the sort of, "How soon can we find the next town and get a shower and a meal?"  There were times of hardship and worry, but no bears.  We find early in the book that Bryson has a great concern of meeting bears.  Bless his heart, he never ran into one. 

I give the book a 3 of 5 shots. It simply wasn't the story I was expecting to read.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber

Twenty Wishes
by Debbie Macomber

I've always liked Debbie Macomber's books.  Perhaps because so many of them are set in Seattle or across Elliot Bay on the peninsula.  She writes romance with hardship and she's not an all steamy-have-to-take-a-cold-shower type of author.  Her romances usually bloom realistically the way most do in real life.  She doesn't do the he-slapped-her-and-she-fell-into-his-bulging-with-muscles-arms-in-hot-desire romance, if that can be called romance.

However, I think my desire to read romances has dwindled.

Twenty Wishes is a story about a small group of widows who decide to make a list of twenty wishes that will encourage them to move on with their lives and help them fulfill some dreams. They are careful not to call them goals, which must be obtainable and for which you could write an action plan.  They are simply wishes that one may or may not have control over making come true. As they share the idea of their wish list, more friends and family take to the idea of creating wish lists of their own.  Powerful things can happen when you put positive energy into this kind of a list.

Of course in the manner of any good romance, everyone realizes their most important wishes.  What kind of a feel good book would this be if that weren't true?  But sometimes we don't see our wishes fulfilled in the way we expect them to be, but a wish fulfilled is a wish fulfilled.  And sometimes when one wish is granted, it simultaneously grants another's wish.  Of course there is plenty of heartache and trouble on the way to reclaiming happiness. 

Twenty Wishes takes place back on Blossom Street.  This might be important for those that have read a Good Yarn and some of the associated books. Blossom Street is a fictional Seattle city neighborhood that I know I would love to visit. 

I give Twenty Wishes 3 of 5 shots.  Not because it's not a good book, it is.  It's just not my genre any longer. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

We Are Their Heaven

We Are Their Heaven
by Allison DuBois

If you are paying attention you probably realize by now that I lied.  This book was not on my next 20 books challenge.

Oops.

In my defense, most all of the books on my challenge are owned by me as paper, glue & ink books.  I was about to leave town for a whirlwind three day trip to Seattle last Friday and the book I was currently reading was on my bed stand as a hardbound, big and heavy book which I did not want to carry on the plane.  I also did not want to download a new Nook book with so many unread books right in front of me.  So I grabbed this one.

That's my story (true) and I'm stickin' to it!

This is the kind of book that you read if you believe in what Allison does. She is a medium and she doesn't try to convince anyone that she is what she is, but simply tells us about what she knows and sees. She does this through her own eyes as well as some of her clients' stories.

I read this at a particularly good time for me to read it, just after my mother-in-law passed away. It was very comforting to have some of my beliefs validated by Allison.

This book not only helps me strengthen my belief in life after life, but it also strengthens my belief that those that have passed are still close by and caring for us. There is nothing contrary to God and Heaven in what she does or believes, which is also important to me.

Although I am grateful for what this book has given me, I only gave it 3 shots (3.5 actually) because I felt it was repetitive where it didn't need to be and possibly could have been better written or edited. It was a quick and easy read and I do recommend it if you are of a like mindset.

On another note, I would love to meet Allison DuBois!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fairytale (Fairies of Rush #1)

Fairytale (Fairies of Rush #1)
by Maggie Shayne

I was going to call it a modern day fairytale, but really it's not, it's a modern day story about fairies.  More specifically, fairy twins who were taken from their magical homeland for their safety.  They became separated when one of them was adopted from an orphanage and the other was not.   They each had a hand made fairy book which told their story. As they grew up one girl held onto it as the truth, while the other eventually began to believe it was a story the nun at the orphanage told to help her cope.

Fast forward to the current time. The sister who knows she is a Fairy (Princess, no less!) decides it's time to find her sister and reclaim their kingdom in their magic homeland. Of course there are evil fairies involved and danger to be faced.

Not to mention the "I-didn't-know-I-really-am-a-fairy" sister may not be 100% convinced it's a good idea.

No spoilers from me.  The rest of the story is the why you want to read the book, right? 

This was a light and airy read with a steamy chic lit romance involved. I did feel there was far more time than necessary spent on gazing into one another's eyes and recounting the lies and secrets that cannot yet be revealed.  Too much of that stuff at the expense of a more intricate story.

All in all I gave it 3 of 5 shots.

Hope Town

Hope Town
by Brendan P Myers

This isn't a book I would normally be drawn to.  Indeed, the only reason I had it was because I had gone through a period of downloading free ebooks for my Nook.  Recently I needed a book I could read in the dark, so Hope Town it was.

The action/adventure/mystery-thriller genre is not one I venture into on a regular basis, but it was a good time to read this book.  A great diversion from the "real world" with problems and issues that were completely not something I could relate to.  Great escapism!

Parker and Jessica meet in a bar one evening just after he's been fired and she's had a horrible day. Sometime later they leave the bar together and thus begins their romance.  Unfortunately, they were a couple of innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Other activities at the bar that evening eventually lead to a murder.  Parker and Jessica find themselves in danger yet are unsure why.  In a small town where murder is rare, people seem to be dropping like flies.  Before Parker realizes the danger, Jessica has been kidnapped and he's got to find her before it's too late.

Part of my enjoyment of this genre is wondering if the "solution" I have arrived at is the correct one for the final outcome.  In my case, it was. 

I have searched for this book again on barnesandnoble.com and cannot find it.  But that is another mystery. 

I gave this book three of five shots. I was fun and enjoyable, just not my usual read.   

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Dinner

The Dinner
by Hermann Koch

I found this to be an interesting novel translated from Dutch to English.  The characters could easily have been American as the story felt very relatable in American culture. 

Two couples meet for dinner at an upscale restaurant.  One of the couples is a politician and his wife.  He is running for president or prime minister (don't remember which) of the country. The other couple is the brother to the politician and his wife. The story is told through the voice of the brother.

The couples are meeting to discuss a terrible event their sons were involved in together.  Not immediately disclosed, the background and event are revealed slowly to the reader as the dinner moves along and each person remains unsure what the others know.Ultimately, they must decide what they will do in regard to their sons' actions.

Upon finishing this book my initial reaction was that I hated it.  It was very disturbing and not at all what I was expecting.  The author is very clever at taking you along, introducing you to his characters and making you believe them.  But in the end, is what you thought you believed real and are the people you felt empathy with worthy of it? 

I share a similar response to this book with many whose reviews I read (after the book) on Goodreads.com.  That is that I want to give the book only 2 or 3 shots (stars), but since it keeps staying with me and I keep thinking about it, maybe it deserves more?

Nowhere But Home

Nowhere But Home
by Liza Palmer

My daughter picked out this book for me from work.  My copy was an ARC (advance reader copy) which bookstores are privileged to receive.  I do miss working at the book store.

Nowhere But Home is chic lit and I am a fan of a good chic book.  Starting with oddly named characters, we are introduced to a woman who felt she was always an outcast due to her low social status in the town she grew up in. Despite attending and graduating from college, she felt the need to redefine herself and moved around the country with little success of finding happiness.  She eventually returns home with her tail tucked between her legs, and a chip on her shoulder.

The story is one of finding one's own self worth rather than running from a past that cannot be changed.  Nowhere But Home is a feel-good book, although I have to admit there were times I wanted to grab Queenie and just yell at her.  It seems the good stuff can be right in front of you if you just open your eyes and stop listening to the voices. 

Four of five shots.

What I've Already Read & Reviewed

This is simply the list of books by title that I have read and reviewed through this blog site. If you wish to see what I had to say, including any comments of my followers, just click on the book title.

Books read prior to 2013 are listed here.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (a catch-up blog)

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender

Barnes & Noble synopsis:

  • Discovering in childhood a supernatural ability to taste the emotions of others in their cooking, Rose Edelstein grows up to regard food as a curse when it reveals everyone's secret realities.

Yes, that's their entire synopsis.

I really didn't care for this book at all, although I really wanted to like it.  It's been a few months since I read it so I can't really write a good review decently expressing my own thoughts, but many of the reviews on Barnes and Noble accurately reflect my feelings.  The one good puzzling mystery kept me reading to the end only to discover there was never going to be an adequate explanation or solution.  Bleh.  Don't read it.

The Houserkeeper and the Professor (A catch-up blog)

The Housekeeper and the Professor
by Yoko Ogawa

Synopsis from Barnes and Noble:

  • "He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem - ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory." "She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him." "And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor's mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities - like the Housekeeper's shoe size - and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away." The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family. 

I recall not being particularly taken with this book.  The "50 First Dates" aspect of the loss of long term memory intrigued me, but I really didn't find much of a story to bite into.

I gave it 3 of 5 shots.

Belated Posting and a Challenge

It's been several months since I've done a book review. I have been reading but the desire to write has been missing.

If you know me personally, you are probably aware that I have a lousy memory.  It's partially responsible for my blogging as a way to recall what I've read and what it was about.  With that in mind, I am going to do a few short blogs to catch up with the books I've read recently, but the reviews may be non-existent, as long as I can add the cover blurbs.  I apologize in advance. 

As to the my challenge.  This is a challenge to myself to catch up on my wish list of reading. That list grows longer almost daily with more books being added and few being read and removed.  I have a Goodreads.com account where I keep my complete list of books I've read and want to read.  Recently I discovered that Goodreads.com offers book giveaways and as I've entered to "win" books they have been added to my "want-to-read" list causing it to grow even more quickly.

Ack!!!

My new challenge to myself is to start at the oldest end of my list and read 20 books from it before allowing myself to read any other books already on the list or not.  I'm not going to require that I read them in any particular order, other than the first oldest 20.  So for the next period of time, the following list,in no particular order, is my-read-it-or-delete-it reading profile.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
As Always, Jack by Emma Sweeney
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Civil War Wives by Carol Berkin
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
A little update:  I've moved the books I've read (in the order I read them) to the bottom of my list.  It's an easy way for me to see that I am making progress.  In regard to that - I'm really enjoying this self made challenge and also enjoying the books that I've put off reading for so long! 

If you've stumbled upon this particular post and would like to read any of my reviews of the books I've completed and listed here, just click the photo. 
First book completed of 20 book challenge

Book 2 of 20
Book 3 of 20

Book 4 of 20


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not My Time!

It is difficult for me to give up on a book.  I've read many that I should have quit on far before reaching the end.  But I've decided life is too short to be held hostage by a bad book.  I'm giving myself permission to put them down.

This is my list:


The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

I read more of this one than I should have.  Just not interesting.  I thought I'd get some great recommendations, but I'll never read what they read. 
I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

This is one I will more likely than not return to.  I've enjoyed what I've read, probably about 1/4 to 1/3 of the book, but I'm thinking the timing is just not right. 
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Started as a book club selection I just couldn't get into it.  Dull and boring.  The one person who did read it felt it was a waste of time.




Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller

I won this book on Goodreads.com and it wasn't bad.  I think it may have been another timing thing.  I just got to a point where I put it down and never went back to it. 


Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman

I can't say why I didn't finish this one.  I am sure I was at least 80% through it and then just stopped.  I doubt I'll ever go back to it.