Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Movies ~ Battle Axe...

Feature Presentation...

Sandy at You've GOTTA Read This has chosen the themes for the movie meme the last few weeks. Today she wraps up her month with a great theme: epic battle scenes! Sandy kindly allowed her husband to contribute, hence fighting and violence predominate today! This theme lets us choose from a wonderful selection of movies! These aren't your school yard brawls or drunken skirmishes outside a pub in the wee hours of the night. As Sandy describes it so well: We're talking knock-down, drag-out, testosterone-filled armies bent on destroying each other. The kind of movies that make you want to beat your chest, scream, smear war paint on your face and grab the nearest weapon". I listed below the few films that came to mind when I thought about battles in the movies. Be sure to check out Sandy's movie choices, too and then head on over to The Bumbles Blog where they've listed their choices along with a great video preview! Share on your blog movies with epic battle scenes, and link back here so that others can find you. And don't forget to visit your fellow participants!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) ~ a quintessential epic battle scene between good and evil at the end of the movie when four children evacuated from The Blitz enter the fantasy world of Narnia through a wardrobe they find. In Narnia they help Aslan, the huge and noble Lion, fight the forces of Jaddis the White Witch for control of Narnia and thereby ending the curse of 100 years of winter the White Witch put on Narnia.

Braveheart (1995) ~ there are many battles in this movie with one quite amazing battle scene. And there are many men in kilts!

Slap Shot (1977) ~ There's a major fight at the end of this film, on the ice, when the Charlestown Chiefs, a minor league hockey team who've become known for their violent style of play, try to play the final playoff game clean, without violence. The team the Chiefs are playing, the Syracuse Bulldogs, are beating the Chiefs bloody! Then the Chiefs find out during a break after the first period, there are scouts from the NHL in the stands. The Chiefs start playing like the goons they are, then, and All hell breaks loose!

Honorable Mention:

The Princess Bride (1987) ~ There isn't an epic battle scene per se in this movie, but there is a terrific sword fight that is certainly worth seeing and is much more than a skirmish or schoolyard brawl! Westley (Cary Elwes), the man Buttercup, Princess of Florin, loves and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) who is out to revenge the death of his father. Inigo Montoya assists in the kidnapping of Buttercup and Westley wants to avenge that....and the rest I will leave for you to discover when you watch this wonderful, very funny movie!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Salon ~ Laid Up and Reading like a Crazy Lady!

This is going to be a quick Sunday Salon. My computer time is limited right now (why did I ever decide against a laptop?! I'm looking at getting one now ...and dreaming of an iPad!). I cracked a bone in my hip area and have to keep off it as much as possible and keep my leg elevated. It's an awful spot for a crack because it's difficult to find a comfortable position when I'm not in hurts when I sit and when I lie down. Ugh! It'll take some time for it to heal enough that I can begin using it. And because my bones are more delicate and not as strong as they should be I have to be even more careful. But I think just one more week of being really careful and I should be able to spend much more time on my computer blogging! But at least I'm home and my orthopedist didn't hospitalize me. He wanted to, though!

The cats are very good at keeping me company although some of them don't understand that they cannot sit on my lap! I've been reading a lot and have drafted some reviews which I'm trying to persuade a certain someone to type up for me! (Ssshhhh!!). I finished Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese for Erin's Reading Buddies Project for June. I think she posted her final thoughts about the book. When I'm able, I will comment on her post and then post my own review. I thought it was a terrific book. I also finished Miss Timmin's School for Girls by Nayyana Currimbhoy which I'll review soon for TLC Book Tours. I really enjoyed this book and I'm sad I've finished it. I'm reading Endless Nights by Agatha Christie. Devourer of Books is hosting a discussion tomorrow and I'm hoping I can join in for a little while. I'm reading Next to Love by Ellen Feldman. Several bloggers have already reviewed this book. It's wonderful so far. I'm still reading Strange Relations by Rachel Hadas, too. It's a beautiful, sad but lovely book and one to be savored. Finally, I started The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji which seems very good.

What are you reading and enjoying this Sunday?

Don't forget to enter the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop hosted by Leeswammes! Good Luck!

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop! Have Fun!

Welcome to the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop!

The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop is hosted by
Leeswammes. Be sure to check out her post!

Between now and Wednesday, June 29th, you can hop to over 70 different book blogs, all offering one or more giveaways of books or bookish items. All books will be literary (non)fiction or something close to that.
Follow the links at the bottom of this post to find the other participating blogs. This is my first time listing all of the blog participants in a Blog Hop so I'm not promising the list below works! And for some reason, I think there's a huge gap between my post and the blog list!?! Oh well! But Leeswammes' Blog has a clear, working list of all Literary Giveaway Blog Hop participants!

My Giveaway:
As part of the blog hop I will be giving away 2 books, which are open for worldwide entries. Two lucky winners can choose between these books:

Neither book is new, but they are in excellent condition, it's difficult to tell they're not new! You can enter for one book or for both books.

Felicia's Journey by William Trevor: William Trevor has long been hailed as one of the "very best writers of our era" (The Washington Post). In both his short stories and his novels, Trevor manages to shed light on the darkest corners of the human heart. It is no surprise, then, that with Felicia's Journey Trevor uses his gifts as a master storyteller—spare, lyrical prose; a tightly woven story; and finely drawn characters—to turn out this psychological thriller.

Felicia's Journey is a simple tale told with a subtle complexity. Felicia is an Irish country girl who has come to England to look for her jilted lover. Hilditch is a mild-mannered, gentle psychopath who lures the helpless Felicia into his trap. Interestingly, we see
the story from each character's eyes when they are separate, but from Hilditch's view when they are together. It is an unusual and effective device that distorts the perspective and adds texture to a classic story.

March by Geraldine Brooks: As the North reels under a series of unexpected defeats during the dark first year of the American Civil War, one man leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. Riveting and elegant as it is meticulously researched, March is an extraordinary novel woven out of the lore of American history.

From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, March, who has gone off to war leaving his wife and daughters. To evoke him, Brooks turned to the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, a friend and confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

The rules:

1. Anyone can enter. You do not need to have a blog.
2. I’m sending out the books myself so the only thing you need is a post-office recognised address anywhere in the world, where you can receive packages.
3. You do not have to be a follower or become a follower, although if you like my blog I hope you will! You can follow by Google Friend Connect or by RSS (see buttons in the side bar on the right).
4. You can enter the giveaways until June 29th, 11:59 pm EST.
5. Double or invalid entries will be removed.
6. I will notify the winners by email. The winners need to answer my email within 48 hours or I’ll announce a new winner.

Good luck!!

  1. Leeswammes (Int)

  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)

  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)

  4. Teadevotee (Int)

  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)

  6. Bibliosue (Int)

  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)

  8. write meg! (USA)

  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)

  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)

  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)

  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)

  13. Book Journey (Int)

  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)

  15. Col Reads (Int)

  16. The Book Diva's Reads (Int)

  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)

  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)

  19. Lizzy's Literary Life (Int)

  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)

  21. Book'd Out (Int)

  22. The Readers' Suite (Int)

  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)

  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)

  25. Miel et lait (Int)

  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)

  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)

  28. Book World In My Head (Int)

  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)

  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)

  31. Nishita's Rants and Raves (Int)

  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)

  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)

  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)

  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)

  36. Gaskella (Int)

  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)

  38. chasing bawa (Int)

  39. 51stories (Int)

  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)

  1. Silver's Reviews (USA)

  2. Nose in a book (Int)

  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)

  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)

  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)

  6. Caribousmom (USA)

  7. breienineking (Netherlands)

  8. Let's Go on a Picnic! (Int)

  9. Rikki's Teleidoscope (Int)

  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)

  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)

  12. Elle Lit (USA)

  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)

  14. The Book Stop (Int)

  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)

  16. Joy's Book Blog (Int)

  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)

  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)

  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)

  20. Tony's Reading List (Int)


  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)

  23. Kinna Reads (Int)

  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)

  25. Books in the City (Int)

  26. Lucybird's Book Blog (Europe)

  27. Book Clutter (USA)

  28. Exurbanis (Int)

  29. Lu's Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)

  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)

  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)

  32. Lena Sledge's Blog...Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)

  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday ~ Playful Jazzy!

The adorably grouchy Jazzy does have a playful side to her...particularly after imbibing on catnip!!

I thought Jazzy deserved some blog attention, she usually keeps to herself and stays out of the limelight!

I might not be posting or visiting other blogs very much for several days since I cracked a bone in my hip area or injured something...the docs are still trying to figure it out! (Oy!) But whatever it is, I'm less mobile than usual and have the least amount of pain when I sit very still with my leg elevated. I'll be back on a daily basis asap!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Movies ~ Prozac Anyone?...

Feature Presentation...

June is Sandy's month to choose the theme for the Monday Movie Meme. Today's topic is movies that leave you thoroughly depressed after viewing. On her blog, Molly relates that she's so relaxed about not having to come up with a movie topic that she forgot to post anything until she woke this morning and remembered the movie meme! I did a similar thing in that I plumb forgot it was Monday and therefore the awesome Monday Movie Meme day. But better late than never! I've listed below movies that really bummed me out. We're not talking sad movies that maybe caused you to shed a tear or two but, as Sandy put it, films "that make you want to drive your car into a wall.". Most of these movies are very good, but be aware they will bum you out! See Sandy's great list of films at You've GOTTA Read This Share on your blog movies that make you go totally bummed out and link back to The Bumbles Blog so that others can find you. And don't forget to visit your fellow participants!

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Last Exit in Brooklyn (1989)

Bubble (2005)

The Pledge (2001)

Ordinary People (1980)

The American (2010)

Mystic River (2003)

~ Hello Goodbye by Emily Chenoweth ~

Title: Hello Goodbye
Author: Emily Chenoweth
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Published Date: June 14, 2011
ISBN: 978-0062-034601
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Book Summary: In the summer after her freshman year of college, Abby Hansen embarks on what might be a final vacation with her parents to a historic resort in northern New Hampshire. The Presidential Hotel, with its stately rooms and old-fashioned dress code, seems almost unbearably stuffy to Abby, but the young, free-spirited hotel staff offers her the chance for new friendships, and maybe even romance.

However, for her parents, Elliott and Helen, their time spent together in the shadow of the White Mountains has taken on a deeper meaning. By inviting family friends to join them, they open their marriage up to a lifetime of confessions, and they must confront a secret about Helen’s health that they have been hiding from their daughter.

Heartbreaking and luminous, Hello Goodbye deftly explores a family’s struggle with love and loss, as a summer vacation becomes an occasion for awakening.

My Thoughts: Somebody once told me I like to read depressing books in which bad things happen to people. I beg to differ! Human beings and their behavior intrigue me. As such, friends have said I should've gone into psychology or psychiatry because I like to listen to people talk about their lives. All aspects: the good, the bad and the ugly. And, in point of fact, I'm pretty good at it. Illness and tragedy are a part of life and people react to them in a variety of ways. What I've seen in my own life makes me interested in the human condition, but I'm not a voyeur, so I read fiction.

A good study of people in the face of illness comes from Emily Chenoweth's debut novel, Hello Goodbye. It begins as the Hayes family pulls up to the Presidential Hotel one Monday morning in August 1990. It's quickly apparent that something isn't right. The Presidential Hotel presents so "... spectacular and sudden a vision" as you drive through ornate iron gates and up "...a narrow road beneath vine-wrapped lampposts whose globes flickered with gaslight, past a pond edged by daylilies and tall, whispering grasses..." but there's little reaction from the Hayes. When wife and mother, Helen starts to say the hotel looks like a ship but cannot remember which, she says "You know, that one..." Abby, the eighteen-year old daughter, replies, "Actually, we don't know". Her unexpected rudeness contrasts vividly with the beautiful setting. Not the relaxed excitement you expect from a family on vacation at a beautiful resort.

Emily Chenoweth does a good job creating a family trying to appear normal but filled with tension and uncertainty. Abby holds out the hope that possibly, in a grand place like this, things might get a bit better: "She could imagine her father relaxing, her mother feeling stronger, and herself becoming kinder and more attentive.". Before long we realize Abby's father Elliott doesn't share her hope. But he hasn't shared everything he knows with Abby or Helen for quite some time. Elliott is so tense and unnerved, he's taken up smoking. And smoking a lot.

Helen Hayes was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor seven months ago. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, doctors informed Elliott there was nothing more to be done and Helen will die soon. Elliott still hasn't shared this information with anyone, including Abby. He's planned a week's vacation at the Presidential Hotel resort in New Hampshire, near where he and Helen lived when they were first married. Several long-time friends will join them during the week, which will culminate in a dinner celebrating Elliott and Helen's 20th Anniversary. At some point during the week, Elliott will tell their friends and then Abby what the doctors told him

Elliott Hayes is one of the two main characters in Hello Goodbye narrated in the third person. Elliott is a decent man in an impossible, upsetting situation. He desperately wants to protect Helen and Abby from the truth but knows that ultimately he can't. His awareness of his inability to do so frustrates him. Chenoweth does a remarkable job creating a man who, in his fear of losing the woman he loves and their life together, realizes his limits as a human being. It comes naturally and without surprise that he almost collapses under the weight of this knowledge. This is a testament to Chenoweth's ability to understand people, and it's even more impressive that she is able to paint so believable a portrait of someone of the opposite sex.

Abby is the other main character but she's not as sympathetic or relatable. Chenoweth has made her, for lack of a better term, the "typical" sullen teenager. But this doesn't quite fit particularly since Abby is eighteen-years old. Abby has been away at college and isn't aware of what the last seven months have been like for her mother or her father. She only knows Helen is a shadow of the woman she used to be, literally and figuratively. She and Helen had an extremely close relationship, as much like sisters and best friends as mother and daughter. It's difficult to discern this from Abby's behavior towards Helen now. Abby spends little time with her mother and when they are together, she seems to be there more out of a sense of duty than desire.

Her attitude towards Elliot is short and dismissive, her thoughts are rude and she shows no empathy for the obviously difficult time he is having. It's no wonder Elliott finds Abby closed-off and confusing. Our initial urge is to sympathize with Abby and to hug her. But her detached, self-absorbed attitude alters that quickly. We also find her confusing, on the one hand immature and self-centered, on the other troubled and endearing.

Abby's not relaxed with her peers, either. The young members of the hotel staff invite her to their after-hours gatherings. She's awkward, insecure and uncomfortable when the boys pay attention to her and quiet and reserved with the girls. When Vic, a young, smart, good looking member of the staff, who spent time with Abby's family several years ago, calls her stuck-up, we're inclined to agree. Unfortunately, Chenoweth doesn't provide us enough information to fully understand what's going on with Abby. She comes across as a genuine, flawed human being, a stereotypical teenager in some ways. But she's too old to be an immature, spoiled girl. I suppose it's possible that she's reverted to that behavior in light of Helen's illness. Abby prioritizes her life while at the Presidential Hotel, in such a way that meeting people seems more important than her family. She has this one week to spend with her family, her mother in particular, away from the rigors of everyday life and Helen's medical issues. Instead she retreats to her peers. It's hard to sympathize with Abby, let alone like her. She's intriguing but not really recognizable to us. Our hope is that she finds her way to reconciling the reality of life, her mother's illness and her father's love for her and becomes a well adjusted, if not happy young woman.

Hello Goodbye is not a sappy, melodramatic treatise on coping with the debilitating illness of a loved one. Chenoweth's novel is an unsentimental, realistic look at how one family copes with their grief as beloved wife, mother and friend struggles with cancer. Chenoweth makes some astute observations about human behavior and manages convincingly to include light-hearted moments in her poignant debut. Still, while reading Hello Goodbye I couldn't dismiss the feeling that something was missing. Possibly it's too reserved and needs a little pathos, if not sentimentality. I'm having trouble putting my finger on it. Don't misunderstand me: I much prefer Chenoweth's novel to overly-emotional stories that try to be heart wrenching. But Elliot and Abby in particular seem too disconnected from real life at times. Perhaps that disconnectedness is what Chenoweth wanted to convey and for us to feel. She does this effectively if we are to take it that the main characters are in shock over the sudden, dramatic change in their enjoyable lives. The problem is, as with some other issues in the book, we don't know because Chenoweth doesn't provide us quite enough information.

Overall this is a powerful, deeply penetrating and captivating book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in a book about coping with life in crisis. Or if you just want a good read that has an impact. Chenoweth's debut novel has, in my opinion, something for everyone and I look forward to her next effort.

Thank you to
Harper Perennial for a copy of Hello Goodbye and to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Title: Night Road
Author: Kristin Hannah
ISBN: 978-0312364427
Pages: 400
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.0 out of 5

Publisher's summary: For a mother, life comes down to a series of choices.
To hold on…
To let go..
To forget…
To forgive…
Which road will you take?

For eighteen years, Jude Farraday has put her children’s needs above her own, and it shows—her twins, Mia and Zach—are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill moves into their small, close knit community, no one is more welcoming than Jude. Lexi, a former foster child with a dark past, quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable.
Jude does everything to keep her kids safe and on track for college. It has always been easy-- until senior year of high school. Suddenly she is at a loss. Nothing feels safe anymore; every time her kids leave the house, she worries about them.
On a hot summer’s night her worst fears come true. One decision will change the course of their lives. In the blink of an eye, the Farraday family will be torn apart and Lexi will lose everything. In the years that follow, each must face the consequences of that single night and find a way to forget…or the courage to forgive.

My Thoughts: I have seen Kristin Hannah reviewed on numerous book blogs throughout the community but never read one. I saw Night Road advertised in the Shelf Awareness Newsletter so I looked it up on Goodreads and the story sounded interesting. When I'm not feeling well or in a lot of pain, I like a book that isn't too intense or heavy, one that will distract and absorb me. Night Road is a sweet story but not what I expected or hoped. It was too melodramatic, the characters either too intense or too superficial and their behavior unrealistic, as were many of the situations in which they found themselves.

The story begins with one of the two main characters, fourteen year old Lexi Baill. meeting her great aunt Eva to live with her in a double-wide trailer in Port George, Washington. Lexi has already had more than her share of hardship and for many years lived in foster care. The trailer might not look like much but for Lexi it's paradise compared to some of the places she's lived. Lexi finds it difficult to trust that Eva really wants her living there with her. After all, it's been so long since Lexi has felt wanted or loved by anyone. But Eva tries to make Lexi understand that she wants her living in her home. Lexi and Eva form a tight bond we're told but Hannah spends little time on the details of their relationship. I was hoping to find out more about Lexi's family history and thought she and Eva would talk about that and other things. After so much time alone, I expected Lexi would want to be with her great aunt a lot more than she does. Hannah doesn't develop Eva's character and she makes only occasional appearances in this book which I found disappointing and puzzling.

Lexi meets Mia Farraday and her twin brother Zach, on the first day of school and the girls bond instantly. The twin's mother, Jude Farraday, decides Lexi, after some major questioning, is an acceptable friend for Mia despite her sketchy family history. Lexi quickly becomes like a third Farraday child. From here on in, the first half of the novel revolves around the Farraday’s world of wealth and privilege. There are regular reminders that Lexi wasn't born into this world but the only one who seems somewhat concerned about this, besides Eva, is Jude, who doesn't want anything to compromise the glorious future she has planned for her children.

On her worst day Jude Farraday would beat June Cleaver for mother of the year . Perhaps the similarity is the genesis of her name. Jude drives a black Escalade and is a Michele Pfeiffer look-alike. She's involved in every aspect of her children's lives and, though they are teenagers, aside from a few eye-rolls, are perfectly fine with that. Zach is Mr. Popularity and the smartest kid in the class while Mia is more introspective and nerdy. She's been a loner most of her life but has never begrudged Zach his circle of beautiful, terrific friends. At school they don't mix much but at home Mia and Zach are close. Now Mia has Lexi as her best friend so life is rosy.

Kristin Hannah's writing is engaging and each sentence flows smoothly into the next. But I found it difficult to take Night Road seriously. Hannah's created a superficial, perfect world in which the Farradays live. A trailer park world that couldn't be more different is Lexi's real home and one we see very little. In fact, once Lexi meets the Farraday Family, very little time in Night Road is spent on Lexi's side of Port George. Lexi spends almost all her free time with Mia or with the family at the Farraday home. Hannah virtually ignores her aunt Eva whose relationship is one-dimensional. Lexi's background and lifestyle are referenced infrequently and mostly only when she's having a bad moment. It's difficult not to feel that Hannah sees Lexi's world as uncomfortable and unacceptable.

Later in the novel, when Lexi descends to a dark place, Hannah brushes over it with a line or two, rather than use this time to show us another side of Lexi. It's as if Hannah doesn't want to admit there's a darker side of life. It's difficult to believe that Lexi, who hasn't trusted anyone for years, slips almost flawlessly into the Farraday's life, accepting them with few doubts or questions and, despite a glitch here or there, everything works out perfectly. Eva warns Lexi to be careful because the Farradays are so different from her, and cautions that Lexi shouldn't expect to be considered an equal when it comes down to it. In other words, the Farraday parents would never compromise their own for Lexi's benefit or comfort. It's obvious that Eva feels she doesn't have the right to tell Lexi what to do and she feels she cannot compete with the glitter and luxury of the Farraday's lifestyle.

Much of the book is spent showing Jude Farraday’s pride and obsession with her children. They come before anything else in her life. The book could have been up to one third shorter had the author give the reader enough credit to know that, after one or two examples, we understand that. But Hannah doesn't seem to be able to stop hammering home this point. This is beyond foreshadowing so when the inevitable crises does occur, there are no surprises. When tragedy strikes, Jude Farraday’s personality alters completely. We see a subdued, depressed side of her. Again, Hannah hammers home this side of Jude. We’re told again and again how unhappy she is, how ineffective she is in taking care of her family. What we don’t get is much insight into what’s going on with Jude. We’re told how she feels, what she thinks repeatedly but we don’t get more than a few pages about the deep, complex side of Jude Farraday. Why is she so obsessed with her children, why does life have to be so perfect, why can’t she face the bad stuff? This occurs with other characters in Night Road, as well. It brings us to the real problem: Hannah doesn't tell us, or doesn't give us enough to go on to help figure out why her characters do what they do. She makes bold statements about her characters but doesn't help inform us in any significant detail, as to the "why's" of their choices

Without going into detail, there is a tragedy that directly affects Jude and everyone else. However, Jude's reaction fails to resonate with me. It's too much, too severe, to make it seem believable. This is symptomatic of the book's major problem. It doesn't have a sense of subtlety or degrees: everything is black or white. Not to say that Hannah isn't good at creating a touching and absorbing story with engaging, impassioned characters. But I think it would be far more compelling if they displayed more nuance in their behavior, making them more three-dimensional because in real life, people aren't just one way or another. They are more complex and as such, act and react in their worlds with varying shades of strength, weakness, delight and sadness, love, hate and apathy.

I said in the beginning of my review this is a sweet story. It is. It has the requisite happy ending, as well. But there isn’t much complexity or depth and little realism. Part of the reason I wanted to review this book is because the back cover states “Kristin Hannah has made an emotional, artistic and literary leap with Night Road”. There are many emotional scenes in Night Road but I didn’t connect with the characters or the story.

Kristin Hannah has a website chock full of information!

Thank you to St, Martin’s Press for sending me an Arc copy of Night Road to read and review.

Friday Finds ~ Two Great Book for Summer!

Friday Finds is hosted by Should Be Reading . Two books that look like great books to read over summer!

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
Adopted by a pair of diehard hippies, restless, marginal Jude Keffy-Horn spends much of his youth getting high with his best friend, Teddy, in their bucolic and deeply numbing Vermont town. But when Teddy dies of an overdose on the last day of 1987, Jude's relationship with drugs and with his parents devolves to new extremes. Sent to live with his pot-dealing father in New York City's East Village, Jude stumbles upon straight edge, an underground youth culture powered by the paradoxical aggression of hardcore punk and a righteous intolerance for drugs, meat, and sex. With Teddy's half brother, Johnny, and their new friend, Eliza, Jude tries to honor Teddy's memory through his militantly clean lifestyle. But his addiction to straight edge has its own dangerous consequences. While these teenagers battle to discover themselves, their parents struggle with this new generation's radical reinterpretation of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll and their grown-up awareness of nature and nurture, brotherhood and loss.

Moving back and forth between Vermont and New York City, Ten Thousand Saints is an emphatically observed story of a frayed tangle of family members brought painfully together by a death, then carried along in anticipation of a new and unexpected life. With empathy and masterful skill, Eleanor Henderson has conjured a rich portrait of the modern age and the struggles that unite and divide generations.

I saw this one on The Book Lady's Blog:

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano at night. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.
As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.
By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cat Thursday ~ Play Time!!

Lola, Hennessey and Addie & JoJo, respectively, playing Hide n' Seek!

Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle at The True Book Addict. If you have a cute, fun photo of your cat, share it by posting it on your blog and linking it to The True Book Addict.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun (please do!) Be sure to leave a link to your post over at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

All words are from Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

"She'd always loved the story of Pasteur's discovery of microbes, or Lister's experiments with antisepsis.". (p.60)

1. Antisepsis (~ noun )
: Prevention of infection by inhibiting or arresting the growth and multiplication of germs (infectious agents). Antisepsis implies scrupulously clean and free of all living microorganisms

(This next sentence provides more info than you may care to know about part of the male anatomy!)

"And then she was thinking of the Frenchman's balls, of rugaeform folds, of the median raphe that separated one bollock from the other, of the dartos muscle, the cells of Sertoli." (p.87)

2. Rugaeform ~ noun
: I had difficulty finding a meaning for this word. wiseGEEK provided the clearest explanation:
: In anatomy “rugae” is a term which refers to the ridges formed by tissue which is naturally folded. Rugae can be found in a number of anatomical structures in the body. The arrangement of the folds can vary from person to person, causing the ridges to look different in different people. Folds in body tissue serve a number of important functions, ranging from protecting reproductive ability to ensuring that someone can eat comfortably

3. Raphe ~ noun
: a seam-like union between two parts or halves of an organ
: a connecting ridge of tissue

4. Dartos ~ noun
: a thin layer of vascular contractile tissue that contains smooth muscle fibers but no fat and is situated beneath the skin of the scrotum or beneath that of the labia majora

5. Sertoli ~noun
: a 'nurse' cell of the testes that is part of a seminiferous tubule.- called the 'mother' or 'nurse cell because its main function is to nurture the developing sperm cells through the stages of spermatogenesis (the process when primary germ cells divide into sperm)

"Much later that night, Mebratu and Ghosh palavered over cognac and cigars.". (p.271 )

6. Palaver ~noun; verb
: a conference or discussion; profuse idle talk, chatter
: a long parley, especially one between primitive natives and European traders, explorers, colonial officials, etc.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The London Train by Tessa Hadley

Title: The London Train
Author: Tessa Hadley
ISBN: 978-0062011831
Pages: 324
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary Fiction; Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Publisher: Unsettled by the recent death of his mother, Paul sets out in search of Pia, his daughter from his first marriage, who has disappeared into the labyrinth of London. Discovering her pregnant and living illegally in a run-down council flat with a pair of Polish siblings, Paul is entranced by Pia’s excitement at living on the edge. Abandoning his second wife and their children in Wales, he joins her to begin a new life in the heart of London.
Cora, meanwhile, is running in the opposite direction, back to Cardiff, to the house she has inherited from her parents. She is escaping her marriage, and the constrictions and disappointments of her life in London. But there is a deeper reason why she cannot stay with her decent Civil Service husband—the aftershocks of which she hasn’t fully come to terms with herself.
Connecting both stories is the London Train, and a chance meeting that will have immediate and far-reaching consequences for both Paul and Cora.

My Thoughts: The London Train by Tessa Hadley is actually comprised of two shorter books, best thought of as novellas: first, The London Train and second, Only Children. Both are about middle-aged individuals, Paul in the former and Cora in the latter. Each are coping with troubling crises, trying to find their way. We learn the two novellas are loosely connected in Only Children. My reaction varied depending on where I was in the reading. I was confused, incensed, bored or intrigued while reading this book and I had some difficulty getting through The London Train novella because I didn't like the character, Paul. Now that I've finished reading and thought about it for a while, The London Train is a realistic, intriguing, well written commentary on human behavior.

Paul's widowed mother died in the opening pages of The London Train and, as her only child, Paul must finalize things at his mother's home and make arrangements for the funeral. It quickly becomes clear Paul is out of his element: "...he must be so careful to do the right thing, but it wasn't clear what the right thing might be." Yet when his wife, Elise, who Paul has called about his mother, offers to come and help, he says no. Ms. Hadley slowly, subtly, is letting us know what kind of man Paul is. He refers to his mother's death as "...the ordinary, expected, common thing..." and adds that it's a "...release from a burden of care." So it's really no surprise when, in the next paragraph, we learn "he had not visited her as often as he should." but this is understandable if regrettable and happens to many adult children of elderly, ill parents. Its when Paul admits "He had been bored, when he did visit", we feel We have no choice but to convict him being at best selfish, at worst, cruel.

Ms. Hadley has created, in Paul, a character that many of us might not want to associate with. He's very human, rationalizing his bad behavior. Who among us can deny that this is a universal trait? His honesty is probably what makes most of us uncomfortable, since most people take their less savory elements and sublimate them or flat out deny their existence. For example, while making love with Elise, Paul fantasizes about his pregnant daughter's 28-year old friend. He feels some shame about this middle-aged cliche, so what does he do? Does he focus on his wife while making love to her? No! Instead he tries conjuring up the woman he had an affair with a few years earlier! All of which he freely admits to himself.

Paul is an extremely flawed human being with a long list of repugnant qualities. And so it is to Ms. Hadley's credit that I wanted to continue reading The London Train. She has created some engaging secondary characters such as Pia, whose continued presence in Paul's life intrigued me. She is Paul's daughter from his first marriage, pregnant and living in an illegal sublet in London with her boyfriend. Paul doesn't know Pia very well and hasn't been a good father to her. Ms. Hadley very effectively shows us how Paul's egotism and self-centeredness colors his perception of others through his relationship with Pia. Paul's judged her harshly because while growing up Pia was very different than he was at her age. Instead of being obsessed with politics and ideas, Pia was "...anxiously shy, wrapped up in the tiny world of her friends and their fads, devoid of intellectual curiosity.". Rather than try to understand Pia, Paul condemned her for not being a mini version of himself, calling her "...stolid, sulky, unyielding...". Paul may be put off by Pia's quiet, reserved manner and facial piercings but admits that when he used to take her to visit her grandmother, Pia was patient and kind to her. This surprised Paul because he was irritated by his mother's behavior, especially her tendency to repeat herself. The result is he's unable to empathize with Pia or comfort her while she is upset about her grandmother's death. Instead, Paul's surprised she's affected so much.

It's difficult to understand why Pia allows Paul into her London life when he's been primarily absent until now. Through Paul and Pia, Ms. Hadley explores the complexity of father/daughter relationships. There's a powerful bond between them and Pia's willing to give Paul another chance to be the father she needs. She's facing motherhood, a new experience, and feels alone and uncertain. Paul's disinterest and ignorance of who Pia used to be enables her to let him in now.

As Paul feels unstable and uncertain about life after the death of his mother, caring for Pia gives him something to focus on. Paul, ever the self-centered male, envisions himself as Pia's rescuer. But we are willing to grant him this bit of selfishness if he's there for Pia. Ms. Hadley plants hope in our minds that Paul will be a better man. But then she cleverly and cruelly reminds us that people rarely change who they are as Paul makes another selfish, cruel decision without regard for the long-term consequences, something he's done before. We remember, with a gasp, a part of the story Pia doesn't know. We realize Paul's just is not there for Pia and probably never will be. Paul is a very real, very flawed human being with few redeeming qualities even in the face of his daughter's need.

In Only Children, we are introduced to Cora, a middle-aged woman going through a difficult time in her life. She, too, is flawed and, like Paul, makes a very bad choice without regard for its long-term effects. Unlike Paul, Cora struggles with the implications of her decision, almost destroying her life as a result.

Cora lives in Cardiff, Wales, in her childhood home bequeathed to her after her mother's death three years ago. Cora recently redecorated the house, resigned her teaching job, left her husband and their home in London. She has essentially begun a new life. Although Cora seems stiff, formal and uncomfortable when her best friend and sister-in-law Frankie comes to visit with her children, it's apparent that Cora isn't an unkind person but in the throes of a life crises and struggling to stay afloat. Frankie represents Cora's old life, one she's trying to break free of because she has too much pain and unhappiness associated with that time.

Cora is a much more sympathetic character than Paul but, like him, she rationalizes her behavior. Ms Hadley writes compellingly of Cora's breakdown following her mother's death and the intense pain that caused her to shut down. As Only Children progresses, we understand that Cora is over-whelmed by life. She and her husband were trying to have children in the years before her mother's death and Cora had been undergoing fertility treatments. Her inability to communicate with her husband or anyone else and intense feelings of failure resulted in Cora making a decision she never could have imagined.

Ms. Hadley keeps us interested in an otherwise "regular person's" life with her ability to throw curve balls. She does this effectively with Cora, snapping her out of her self-centered whirl pool of pity. Throughout Ms. Hadley shows she is well aware of the exigencies of real life and the impact of choices and events, large and small, on human beings. She tells compelling stories, writes very real characters without the need for embellishment or extraordinary occurrences, and keeps you reading whether you like a character or not, which is a talent that deserves attention.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for a copy of The London Train and the opportunity to read and review this book.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Movies ~ Somebody Better Do Some Splainin'...

Feature Presentation...

Sandy at You've Gotta read this! is a regular participant to The Bumbles Blog Monday Movie Meme. She's away right now but planned ahead by choosing themes for the next few weeks. Sandy's first movie meme is all about confusing movie plots. Storylines that make you think and force you to pay attention to each and every detail are great but the plots that leave you more confused at the end because the film is super complicated are something else. Despite being confusing and leaving you all twisted up at the end of the film and your brain exhausted after such a strenuous workout and wondering what just happened, some confusing movies are still quite good and often we see them again. But very often I'd prefer to understand the film I just saw when the credits roll! The Bumbles picked a great film and Sandy has a list of films I agree with 100%! Hop on over to Sandy's blog to read the full theme explanation, share on your blog movies that make you go hmmmmmmm, and link back here so that others can find you. And don't forget to visit your fellow participants!

Synecdoche, New York (2008) a theater director, Caden Cotard, (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) struggles to produce a new play on Broadway with a MacArthur Grant. It's to be his masterpiece "a piece of brutal realism and honesty, something into which he can put his whole self". In a wharehouse in Manhattan's theater district, he builds a replica of NYC and intructs his cast to live out their lives in this mockup of the city as a celebration of the mundane. Meanwhile, Caden's life is falling apart, it's out of control and filled with a variety of women, too many women! Caden's destroyed his current marriage and he's plagued by thoughts of his ex-wife, Adele,(Catherine Keener) a celebrated painter who left him years ago for the art scene, something he's never been able to accept or reconcile. He's also tortured by thoughts of his daughter, Olive, growing up under the guidance of his ex-wife's questionable (to Caden) friend. He thinks the actor he hired to play himself, Sammy Barnathan (Tommy Noonan), is too perfect and is preventing Caden from reviving a relationship with an old girlfriend, Hazel (Samantha Morton). Then there's his ineffective therapist, his disabled daughter, Ariel and Caden has a mysterious condition that is shutting down each of his autonomic functions. All of these things and more assault and harass Caden over the years as he continue to work on his masterpiece, eventually seriously blurring the lines between his deteriorating reality and the world of the play. The only hope is that someone will come along to save Caden and the viewers because, by now, your mind is a swirl of names, faces, weird happenings and there's no rhyme or reason to it all!

The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), an oceanographer, believes his partner was killed by a mythical, possibly nonexistent Jaguar Shark. Steve assembles Team Zissou including his estranged wife, a journalist and a man who may or may not be his son, to hunto and kill the Jaguar Shark. Steve Zissou's life isn't going so well right now. Along with his partner being eaten, his wife maybe be spending time with her ex-husband, his recent films haven't done well, he cannot raise money for the expedition to avenge his partner's death, he's attracted to the pregnant journalist who seems interested in this young man who is claiming Steve is his father. Steve Zissou hates fathers. But he's determined to make a documentary of the expedition to hunt down the Jaguar Shark so off they all go, with very little money, on a bizarre and wild adventure that has more twists, turns and nonsensical occurrences as well as a pirate attack. It's fun and strange!

Solaris (2002) At an isolated space station studying Solaris, a bizzarre planet where some strange spatial phenomena is occurring. Dr. Gibarian, on board the space station, makes a strange video request to his friend, civilian psychiatrist Dr. Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), to come to the space station. Kelvin is still struggling with the death of his wife but his background and experience may enable him to discover and explain what's happening at the space station. The space program wants Kelvin to go because the security team they sent is now missing. When Kelvin arrives he finds only two surviving members, Drs. Gordon and Snow. They tell him Dr. Gibarian committed suicide. Kelvin also discovers something very unexpected: aboard are Dr. Gibarin's adolescent son and Kelvin's deceased wife. The appearance of the crew's loved ones is why Kelvin was asked to come. The rest of the movie becomes confusing as to why the people are appearing and what to do about it. There are some sinister overtones implying they might be there to cause the death of those on the space station.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Salon - a new find, Greenlight Bookstore!

My Sunday Salon post is running a little bit late today. I have a good reason for this, though! It's been a wonderful Sunday morning (and early afternoon!). After reading late into the night...or actually early morning hours...I slept in, something I don't often do. While enjoying my coffee with Cutting for Stone, Mr. Magoo started rubbing his cheek along the corner of the book, something he loves to do when I'm reading and usually means "Pay attention to me!" lol. So, while I gave him a good 'mushing up' and rubbed his cheeks and head, a great idea for a story popped into my head. I try and write at least a little bit everyday like so many writers recommend but I haven't had a really good idea, one I liked that I felt I could actually do something with, in quite a while. As a result, my creative writing has really slacked off. So I was very excited about this idea and spend several hours, enhancing it, thinking about it, writing is, sketching out characters ideas & descriptions and more. It was fantastic, fun, frustrating, headache=producing and so much more. I hope I can write something I like with this idea!

One other nice thing about today is the weather! The heat and humidity that moved in the last half of the week is gone with the end of the rain storms Friday and Saturday. It was wonderful waking to cool, breezy air. The cats are no longer lolling about, fully stretched out on the floors. They're back to sleeping in their beds or on various blankets and pillows. But first, most of them ran around like little nutters! The cool air gave Lola, Magoo, Addie, JoJo, Huxley, Sadie and even Bob so much energy! Most of those cats play, run and jump around often but Bob doesn't usually move much and prefers rest & sleep to major activity. Bob saw one of his favorite toys, a simple red piece of plastic that looks like a piece of rotini pasts and he batted around the room and then, suddenly he was running from one end of the room to the next, toy forgotten, and then from one room to the next at break-neck speed, leaping onto tables, bins, chairs and anything that was in the path of his run. It was hilarious! Bob only lasted at this about 10 minutes but it was great to watch...the other cats were mesmerized & a little scared & smart enough to stay out of Bob's way!

I think I forgot to mention last week that I discovered a beautiful bookstore not far from my home. It's the Greenlight Bookstore. It's a little more than a year old. I've been meaning to visit it for a while now and am happy I finally did because it's a terrific store. It's larger than I expected and is simple with white walls, wood floors and large windows so it's airy and light-filled. Books and book-related items are everywhere you look, of course, but it's fantastic to see! It has a terrific collection of books and many wonderful display tables. One of my favorites was a big display of Europa editions books, I love the look of these books! I didn't know where to look first! I spent a couple of hours browsing but I didn't buy anything. I'm surprised and shocked, too! I have my eye on a few books and will be going back soon. The store has authors come in for readings regularly and hosts other events, I think. I'm very excited about my new bookstore find am trying not to be too aggravated with myself for not getting to the Greenlight Bookstore sooner!

I'm still a little behind on reviews. I have some ready for this week including Dreams of Joy by Lisa See and The London Train by Tessa Hadley. I'm still reading Miss Timmins’ School for Girls by Nayyana Currimbhoy and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and really enjoying both of them. I'm also reading Strange Relations by Rachel Hadas. I tried to read this book about a month ago but I was distracted and couldn't focus on it. Rachel Hadas is a poet and writing in this beautiful. It's also a story that deserves my undivided attention, which it's now receiving! I've just started Family Album by Penelope Lively. I haven't started The Astral by Kate Christensen yet as I thought I would but it's next on my list!.

What are you reading and enjoying this Sunday?
I hope you're having a good weekend!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Snapshot ~ June 11

Lola playing with a favorite 'toy':

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. It’s easy to participate – just post a picture that was taken by you, a friend, or a family member and add your link to the Mister Linky on Alyce’s site.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Title: Lives of Girls and Women
Author: Alice Munro
ISBN: 978-0375707490
Pages: 288
Release Date: February 13, 2001
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: Lives of Girls and Women is an insightful, honest book, "autobiographical in form but not in fact," that chronicles a young girl's growing up in rural Ontario in the 1940's.

Del Jordan lives out at the end of the Flats Road on her father's fox farm, where her most frequent companions are an eccentric bachelor family friend and her rough younger brother. When she begins spending more time in town, she is surrounded by women-her mother, an agnostic, opinionated woman who sells encyclopedias to local farmers; her mother's boarder, the lusty Fern Dougherty; and her best friend, Naomi, with whom she shares the frustrations and unbridled glee of adolescence.

Through these unwitting mentors and in her own encounters with sex, birth, and death, Del explores the dark and bright sides of womanhood. All along she remains a wise, witty observer and recorder of truths in small-town life. The result is a powerful, moving, and humorous demonstration of Alice Munro's unparalleled awareness of the lives of girls and women.

My Thoughts: I have read some of Alice Munro's short stories, which are beautifully written, brilliant and intense but often funny, as well. I always wanted to read her only novel, Lives of Girls and Women and, finally, I did. I'm only sorry I waited so long. In some ways this book isn't that different from her short stories in that the chapters, which chronicle the various experiences of a young girl, Del Jordan, growing up in the 1940's, in Jubilee, Ontario, are not unlike short stories, their unifying theme being Del trying to figure who she is and what she wants to be as she grows into a young woman. There are seven chapters, each chronicling a year in Del's life. Munro's writing is gorgeous, captivating and brings Jubilee and its people to life. Munro has titled each chapter with an intriguing, sometimes funny, occasionally cryptic title, such as "Heirs of the Living Body" and "Age of Faith" each relating to that chapter's contents.

" The Flats Road was the last place my mother wanted to live. As soon as her feet touched the town sidewalk and she raised her head, grateful for town shade after the Flats Road sun, a sense of relief, a new sense of consequence flowed from her. She would send me to Buckles' store when she ran out of something but she did her real shopping in town Charlie Buckle might be slicing meat in his back room when we went by; we could see him through the dark screen, like a figure partly hidden in a mosaic, and bowed our heads and walked quickly and hoped he did not see us. My mother corrected me when I said we lived on the Flats Road; she said we lived at the end of the Flats Road, as if that made all the difference. Later on she was to find she did not belong in Jubilee either, but at present she took hold of it hopefully and with enjoyment and made sure it would notice her, calling out greetings to ladies who turned with surprised, though pleasant faces, going into the dry-goods store and seating herself on one of the little high stools and calling for somebody to please get her a glass of water after that hot dusty walk. As yet I followed her without embarrassment, enjoying the commotion. My mother was not popular on the Flats Road. She spoke to people here in a voice not so friendly as she used in town, with severe courtesy and a somehow noticeable use of good grammar. "

Del is smart, observant and a bit of a misfit from a young age. She lives with her parents and her brother Owen at the end of Flats Road on the outskirts of the town of Jubilee. Her mother detests living on Flats Road and eventually moves into Jubilee, only to discover it doesn't suit her either. Del, as a child, is aware her mother doesn't fit in with the people of Jubilee and she doesn't want to. Del's mother is intelligent, creative and ambitious woman who believes in ideas and education. She can also be out-spoken and off-putting. Del's Aunt Elspeth and Auntie Grace, her father's sisters, mock and criticize her mother in front of Del. Del doesn't always understand what they're saying but she gets the gist of what they're saying. Del knows her mother believes she's better than them and Del's aunts disdain her mother for it. Del fears being made fun of and being disliked like her mother. She wants to fit in with the people in this town. She wants her aunts to continue to like her and invite her to visit. Del doesn't want to be like her mother

" 'Is your mother going on the road much these days?' they would ask me, and I would say no, oh no, she isn't going out much anymore, but I knew they knew I lied. "Not much time for ironing," they might continue compassionately, examining the sleeve of my blouse. "Not much time for ironing when she has to go out on the road." I felt the weight of my mother's eccentricities, of something absurd and embarrassing about her - the aunts would just show me a little at a time - land on my own coward's shoulders. I did want to repudiate her, crawl into favor, orphaned, abandoned in my wrinkled sleeves. At the same time I wanted to shield her. She would never have understood how she needed shielding from twoold ladies with their mild bewildering humor, their tender proprieties. "

Del struggles with anger towards her mother, partly fueled by fear she will become just like her. In some respects she already is: Del is intelligent and quick-witted and a prolific reader of a variety of books. Del struggles not to be eccentric and smart like her mother for a while. Then she decides to rebel in the typical fashion of young girls by doing exactly what her mother hopes she won't . While trying to figure out who she is, Del relishes shocking and disappointing her mother. Del's mother intensely disdains religion (her own mother was very religious). There are four churches in Jubilee . Del's parents belong to the United Church of Jubilee and Del and Owen were baptized but her parents rarely attend. Del begins attending the United Church when at age eleven to annoy her mother as well as hoping to make herself more interesting. By the time she's twelve, Del has questions about God and is looking for answers. She ends up spending more time in Jubilee's churches than even she intended.

Del, as well as her mother, are the main characters in Lives of Girls and Women. Munro also fills her book with a myriad of quirky, eccentric characters who come in and out of Del's life as she grows up. Her best friend, Naomi, who's mother is a nurse and shares entirely too much of her job with her daughter, according to Del's mother, is an example of the kind of girl found in Jubilee. Naomi doesn't dream of a career or a life beyond Jubilee. She expects to get a job, marry, settle down and have a family. Del's mother worries Naomi will be a negative influence on Del by encouraging Del to follow this same path. Del's mother expects Del to break free of the boundaries of a town like Jubilee and make something of her life, like her mother wishes she herself had done. You can imagine, then that her concern about Naomi is nothing compared to her worry over Del's Baptist boyfriend, Garnet!

Munro makes even the most minor character come alive with a few words or a brief description. Some of the characters are sweet and sad such as Miss Ferris, one of Del's teachers, some are more like the menacing Dale, a slimy, lecherous boyfriend of her mother's boarder, Fern and many, such as Del's Aunt Elspeth and Auntie Grace will make you cringe at their caustic remarks but also laugh. Munro enables us to feel something for each of her characters, be it pity, disdain, joy or contentment and we recognize them in people from our daily lives and so can identify with them. The people of Jubilee are colorful and fascinating. They add a depth and richness to this story that, along with Munro's vivid descriptions of Jubilee, Flats Road and the surrounding country, provide us a life-like picture of Del, her family and friends and the place where she grows up.

I've provided some additional examples of Munro's breath-taking and compelling writing. Ordinary, simple situations become remarkable and surprising when she applies her considerable talent and wit to the occurrence. Scenes don't always follow the predictable path we're used to and often the conclusion of an incident is not as expected. Munro was obviously aware of the breadth and variety of human behavior and actions. When young Del bites the arm of her cousin after the girls harasses Del at her uncle's funeral we learn why:

" When I bit Mary Agnes I thought I was biting myself off from everything. I thought I was putting myself outside, where no punishment would ever be enough, where nobody would dare ask me to look at a dead man, or anything else, again. I thought they would all hate me, and hate seemed to be so much to be coveted then, like a gift of wings. "

" When I was younger, out at the end of the Flats Road, I would watch her walk across the yard to empty the dishwater, carrying the dishpan high, like a priestess, walking in an unhurried, stately way and flinging the dishwater with a grand gesture over the fence. Then I had supposed her powerful, a ruler, also content. She had power still ,but not so much as perhaps she thought. And she was in now way content. Not a priestess. She had a loudly growling stomach, whose messages she laughed at or ignored but which embarrassed me, unbearably. Her hair grew out in little wild gray-brown tufts and thickets; every permanent she got turned to frizz. Had all her stories, after all, to end up with just her, the way she was now, just my mother in Jubilee? "

I can't recommend this book enough. I loved it. It's not a quick read and it may take a little time to get into it but a few pages of Munro's writing about Del and I had difficulty putting this book down. I reread many different passages as the book progressed, comparing the things Dell thought about her mother or to remind myself of something from earlier in the store when Del was younger. Reading Alice Munro is a rewarding, worthwhile endeavor. I'm already looking forward to my next book of her short stories. I only wish she's written more than just one novel. I hope you read Lives of Girls and Women. If you do, let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

212 by Alafair Burke

Title: 212
Author: Alafair Burke
ISBN: 978-0061561320
Pages: 368
Release Date: June 7, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins Paperbacks
Genre: Crime Fiction
Rating: 2.0 out of 5

Book summary: In New York City, nights are dangerous. Days are numbered.
A celebrity mogul’s bodyguard is slain in his boss’s luxurious penthouse at an exclusive Manhattan address. At NYU, a sophomore is menaced on the Internet, stalked, and killed. Phone records reveal a link between the NYU student and a murdered real estate agent who was living a dangerous double life. Detectives then learn that the dead real estate agent shared a secret connection to the same celebrity mogul who’s bodyguard was murdered…

These cases, equally sordid and shocking, end up falling to NYPD homicide detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner—who soon find out that this is just the tip of a terrifying iceberg.

My Thoughts: I enjoy crime fiction though I don't read the genre as often as I once did. I'm always looking for good thrillers. I was intrigued by 212 because author Alafair Burke, in addition to being the daughter of a well-known, prolific mystery author, was a prosecutor and now teaches criminal law at Hofstra University. Reading the summary I discovered 212 (a) is set in New York City; (b) the investigation is headed by a female homicide detective; and, last but not least, (c) includes elements similar to recent current events. I was intrigued enough to read this crime fiction.

Detective Ellie Hatcher is young, smart and despite being a little hot-tempered, very good at her job. She is the main character in the third-person narrated 212. I know from experience it's unusual and inspiring to find such a young female detective heading up homicide investigations. The author emphasizes Hatcher's youth much more than her sex. Over all, Alafair Burke does a good job of bringing Ellie Hatcher to life. In one early scene, Ellie is questioning a wealthy, powerful business man about a murder. It's here the author crafts some of Hatcher's more human qualities as we can't help but relate to her when her professional veneer disappears in the face of the man's rudeness. Hatcher can't help but let her anger and irritation show. Similarly, when Ellie tells two parents their daughter has been murdered, Burke makes us focus on Ellie's compassion. As a result, we see even more realistic human qualities in Burke, making her feel alive.

When Ellie is away from the job and teasing her brother, Jess, (currently sleeping on her apartment sofa) or encouraging him, in a motherly way, to figure out his life, we see another side of Ellie: as a caring sister. Though it may not be a specifically universal situation, it is universally relatable. Yet another facet Burke has added to Detective Ellie Hatcher, making her all the more real and three-dimensional.

212 is very much a modern day crime fiction story. The internet is a handy tool in the investigation, providing vital information quickly. Example: Detective Hatcher uses Google to help her locate a missing woman in Baltimore. Cell phones are not only constantly used but tweeting is a ubiquitous form of communication, especially between Ellie and Jess. The locks on some apartment and hotel doors require codes or cards instead of keys. Burke, inspired by recent current events such as The Craig's List Killer and political sex scandals, uses elements of these incidents in her story but with ingenuity and creativity, makes them her own.

The book is set in New York City, and I enjoyed reading about the different establishments the detectives frequented during the investigation. There was some personal identification reading about the bars and restaurants Ellie visited with Jess and ADA Max, her boyfriend. Unfortunately, this personal knowledge became a double edged sword. As much as I enjoyed being able to personally relate to many of the areas in general and some establishments in particular, this same knowledge also served to alert me something wasn't right. From there, things went downhill.

Most chapters are only a few pages and at the beginning of each, we're told the time and, if applicable, a new day and the date. About halfway through the book, in the chapter titled '1:45 am', Detective Hatcher thinks " had been only fifteen hours since she'd emerged from this same elevator earlier that morning to see the body of Megan Gunther being wheeled from the building.". I felt like I'd hit a brick wall because this line stopped my reading dead in its tracks. It felt to me like quite a bit had happened - too much - since Detective Hatcher saw Megan Gunther's body.

In the interest of full disclosure, the fact that I grew up on Long Island and lived and worked in NYC when I was a prosecutor in the Brooklyn DA's Office, definitely gave me a well-informed viewpoint. So I know the places Burke's writing about and how long it generally takes to get from point A to point B in and around NYC. As such, I also know from first-hand experience the first 24-hours following a murder can be the most important in terms of gathering evidence and the police try to get a lot done very quickly. Still, something felt off so I decided to retrace my steps in the book. I discovered that the time-lines in several chapters just don't work. Maybe this is being picayune, maybe somebody living away from NYC wouldn't pick up on the time-line issues. I might agree to that except other problems started to crop up.

Detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner, JJ Rogan, must be two of the luckiest detectives around! Here are just two examples: first, all of their witnesses are available the first time they visit to interview them. Second, when Detective Hatcher needs to speak to a witness who's a DJ, not only does Jess know of him and about him, he's able to tell her where the DJ is working. Ellie and Jess arrive at the bar at 6:30 pm. Early hour for a DJ, but, of course, the DJ is already there, playing! Having Jess around turns out to be fortuitous in other ways, as well. In fact, Jess' assistance is integral. He introduces Detective Hatcher to a witness who willingly assists her in apprehending a business man with vital information. This man's nieces work in his business. When he refuses to cooperate and turn over his business records, his sister, the mother of the nieces, shows up at the precinct, speaks with him and voila! the detectives can have whatever they want!

These are just a smattering of coincidences and lucky occurrences that make this investigation move along quickly and smoothly for the detectives. Any of these incidences, individually, or two, maybe three, might reasonably be expected to occur during the course of a long investigation. But too many things fall into place to favor the detectives as to border on the supernatural, making the crimes and the subsequent investigation fail to ring true. The readers are expected to suspend their belief in reality and dispense with common sense far too often to give this particular story, as it unfolds, any credence. Finally, as the investigation is coming to a close and the perpetrator(s) are close to being caught, Burke throws in an unexpected twist. I would have really enjoyed this surprise if, in fact, it had been a surprise. However, I figured it out earlier in the story. Detective Hatcher drops one or two hints regarding this aspect of the case that were too obvious.

There were some opportunities for Burke to play to her strengths, specifically, character development. Unfortunately, Detective Hatcher is the only one of the individuals we really get to know. Had Burke applied her considerable talent for creating realistic characters to some others in her book, it may have broken free of the path of the formulaic detective novel filled with disposable characters. That's not to say Burke's writing isn't compelling in spots. She does keep the story moving quickly, but it seemed to me too much of it was "forced". Had there been a few more realistic characters and a few more realistic scenarios, perhaps the plot itself wouldn't have seemed so reliant on coincidence and luck. Good detectives, just like good athletes, for example, make their own luck. Detective Hatcher and her partner, in 212, seem to rely on Burke to provide their luck for them which she does in spades.

Alafair Burke has an interesting, fun website where she's currently hosting the 2011 Duffer Awards.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for a copy of 212 and the opportunity to read and review this book.