Sunday, January 29, 2012

~ Sunday Salon ~

I’m having a lazy Sunday after a kind of crazy week. Crazy with cats! I’ve been emailing, calling and talking with rescue organizations, shelters, veterinarians and their staff and foster homes. Several people have offered to help me get the 2 abandoned cats(Pip and Annie, thanks, Ti!) and the little guy (Edgar) who showed up last month, neutered and spayed, so we don’t add to the cat population problem. That's an issue that drives me nuts! Getting the cats fixed will probably help getting them placement or a home, too. Until then they’ll stay I can get attached to them!

I wish we could keep them all. I think Pip and Annie will be happier in a home with a few less cats. Pip was the only cat in the home he lived in for almost a year and Annie doesn't seem to be a big fan of her own kind! She hisses and growls at other cats quite a bit. There are a lot of personalities here and some of the cats are having a little more difficulty adjusting than others. But most of the time I’m surprised and impressed by how well they’re all getting along. Pip and Annie are young and play with Edgar and Lola a lot. Sometimes some of the older cats, like Huxley and Magoo, join in which is great since they need the exercise!

I spent some rather mindless time today watching a couple of British detective shows on Netflix. They have some really good ones like Bird on A Wire and Rosemary & Thyme. I also discovered that Shameless, on Showtime now, was a British series about 8 years ago. Very funny. I also spent some time reading The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen today and I’m hoping to finish Norwegian Wood.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Date Published: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 400
ISBN: 978-0385534635
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

My Thoughts: The Night Circus is an amazing book that engages all of your senses and impacts every emotion. I’ve read very few books with plots that involve fantasy and magic. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to read The Night Circus although I’ve always loved the circus. The reviews I read by bloggers and critics were extremely positive and then, one day while shopping in a bookstore, I saw a hardcover copy of this book for the first time. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful book with a gorgeous cover and very detailed graphics throughout the book. I didn’t hesitate to purchase a copy. When I read it, I discovered that the beautiful design of the book is lifted from the pages of this amazing story and Erin Morgenstern’s very detailed images of the circus.

Ms. Morgenstern transports you to a different world with her detailed, lush descriptions of every feature of the circus from the grass on which the circus tents sit to the food and drink available for the patrons. Reading this book was like having my most wondrous dream become a reality. It’s simply enchanting. The circus in these pages is called Le Cirque des Rêves, The Circus of Dreams because that’s what it is. Ms. Morgenstern’s alluring, lyrical and rich prose brings the vivid images of the circus to life enabling readers to ‘see‘ her vision in all its glory. Ever word feels specifically chosen to enhance Ms. Morgenstern’s amazingly creative vision I felt like I could see and smell the exhibits, the clothing and food detailed in these pages when I closed my eyes.

There’s a host of interesting, eccentric characters in The Night Circus. Many are developed only to the degree necessary for their role. Their secrets and mysterious nature serve to enhance the magical world of the circus. Celia and Marco, the main characters, are the most detailed, fully-developed. They are young children in the early chapters of the book when they are being educated and groomed to compete against one another. Marco is often evasive and remains a bit of an enigma for most of the book. There were several times in the story when I wasn’t sure he could be or should be trusted.

Celia is a sweet, smart young girl who grows into a mature, complex woman. She’s intelligent, kind, emotional, strong and reserved. Celia cannot separate her professional and her private life much as she’d like to. As her worlds become more hopelessly and inextricably intertwined, she struggles desperately to juggle what is required of her with what she desires seeking, as well, to avoid harming anyone. Celia knows something must be sacrificed to make everything work but she’s not sure what that is. Can she preserve the world of the circus and bring the competition to an end without anyone losing?

Le Cirque des Rêves is a world of beauty, elegance, laughter and light. But, as in many Sadness, worry, and uncertainly linger beneath the beauty and merriment heightening the suspense and mystery of the circus world. Ms. Morgenstern has searched the depths of her imagination to give us this captivating story thereby encouraging us to use our own imagination as we read The Night Circus. This is a book that must be read, experienced for anyone to fully understand the wonder and beauty in its pages. I highly recommend The Night Circus for everyone. You won’t be disappointed.

Erin Morgenstern’s website.  Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

~ ~ Wondrous Words Wednesday ~ ~

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words 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.

The following words are from No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie (ARC copy)

“The current, swift here as the river made its way towards the roar of the weir below Hambleden Mill, was a treacherous trap for the unwary or overconfident.”

1. Weir
: a dam in a stream or river to raise the water level or divert its flow
: a fence or enclosure set in a waterway for taking fish

“And if it meant leaving the Met, she would leave, but she would not be fobbed off quietly with a token gold watch and more hollow promises.”

2. Fob off
: to put (someone) off by deception or trickery
: to cheat someone by substituting something spurious or inferior; palm off

These words come from The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

"She had grown up to be a snob, it was true. But she was only protecting what she thought was important. She had been officious even as a child."

1. Officious
: objectionably aggressive in offering one's unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome

“If Amber had been rubbing their hands together and muttering how ‘umble she was, she could not have been more obsequious.”

2. Obsequious
: characterized by or showing servile complaisance or deference; fawning
" And on and on it went, this sycophantic barrage."

3. Sycophant
: A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people; a fawning parasite

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. In this meme, share the opening paragraph(s) of a book you've decided to read based on the paragraph(s). There was no question for me that I wanted to review this book after reading an excerpt from it. I’m really looking forward to experiencing this promising debut. A few different passages from this book can be found on-line, if you‘re interested.

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants. Chances are you’ll find at least one book to add to your wish list!
Night Swim by Jessica Keener


Mickey Fineburg’s email brings everything back again.

Hi, Sarah. Remembering those good ol’ days in the neighborhood. Saw your CDs online. Sampled the links. Wow! Impressive. How did you end up in California?

I kissed Mickey under a broken pool table in my basement. We were eight, his lips warm as play dough, pressing with earnest intention. I pressed back, happy and unafraid, oblivious to Mickey’s younger brother watching us. That night at the dinner table Mother looked stern and surprised. She said: Mickey’s mother called me. You’re too young to start, Sarah.

Start what? I wondered.

I do a quick search online. His company bio says he resides in Greenwich, Connecticut, after living in London for twenty-three years. Married with three children. I write Mickey back - “Thank you so much. I moved west after high school. Just read your company bio. Did you like living overseas?”
What are your thoughts about these 2 opening paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?

Monday, January 23, 2012

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted this month by Alyce of At Home With Books. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists! I didn’t receive any review books this week but I did receive two books I’m really looking forward to reading!
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris  (for review)
It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie. Who, if not me, was dealt that hand?

As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, over four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame that she maintains he deserved.

Back in 1888, the young, art-loving Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes - leading to a notorious criminal trial - the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disintegrate into mystery and deception.

Featuring a memorable cast of characters, infused with atmosphere and period detail, and shot through with wicked humour, Gillespie and I is a powerful and haunting second novel from one of today's most striking new voices.

Open City by Teju Cole   (for review)
Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. Though he is navigating the busy parts of town, the impression of countless faces does nothing to assuage his feelings of isolation.

But it is not only a physical landscape he covers; Julius crisscrosses social territory as well, encountering people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.

A haunting novel about national identity, race, liberty, loss, dislocation, and surrender, Teju Cole’s Open City seethes with intelligence. Written in a clear, rhythmic voice that lingers, this book is a mature, profound work by an important new author who has much to say about our country and our world.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

~ Sunday Salon ~

Happy Snowy Sunday! I woke up to snow falling from the sky yesterday morning. It looked beautiful. There’s just a few inches on the ground. It’s already started to melt a little bit.

I didn’t realize until earlier today, when I was looking at my blog, that I haven’t posted since Wednesday. Huh! I had doctor appointments in NYC Thursday and Friday. The apptointments always take longer than I think they will. And those days are always tiring particularly when my doctor is running late or access-a-ride is really delayed or when there are several stops on the way home. So, I'm very happy that this week, I don’t have any doctor appointments, tests or procedures! Yay! a free week...hopefully it stays that way!

I planned to “redecorate” my blog a little bit yesterday, work on some posts and reviews, visit blogs and other fun things like that. But, late morning two kittens (9 or 10 months) were found abandoned pretty much on the front doorstep. Several neighbors knew what had happened, who was responsible but no one wanted to work at finding a home or shelter for the cute little guys....well, guy and gal. Yep, a boy and a girl! They’ll have to be spayed and neutered soon or these little ones will have some little ones of their own! So I spent a lot of time yesterday emailing vets, shelters, cat adoption agencies and similar people and places. It shocks me that people can just abandon dependant, innocent animals without much thought or care...and in this cold weather, too. At least take them to animal care & control or a vet or shelter. I’m trying to come up with something to call them for now better than kitty or cat. Ugh! This really ticks me off! Wish me luck finding some where for these kitties to live permanently or temporarily.

I’m going to, hopefully, spend some time reading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño and more of Norwegian Wood which is a thin book but I’ve been taking my time with it, enjoying Murakami’s writing. That’s about it for today!

Have a wonderful Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan JepsonISBN: 978-0062081605
Pages: 320
Release Date: January 2012
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical Fiction; Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Book Summary: For every young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires .
For Feng, that means becoming the bride of a wealthy businessman in a marriage arranged by her parents. In the enclosed world of the Sang household—a place of public ceremony and private cruelty—fulfilling her duty means bearing a male heir. For every young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires.
The life that has been forced on her makes Feng bitter and resentful, and she plots a terrible revenge. But with the passing years comes a reckoning, and Feng must reconcile herself with the sacrifices and terrible choices she has made in order to assure her place in the family and society—even as the violent, relentless tide of revolution engulfs her country.

My thoughts: All the Flowers in Shanghai is the story of Feng’s life as she looks back on it and records her memories. This book is light on plot focusing primarily on the character of Feng and, to a lesser degree, the people closest to her. Feng recounts much of her life with honesty and integrity, an act which requires great courage since she was an angry, bitter woman out for revenge most of her life.

Feng spent her childhood days, outside of school, with her grandfather in the gardens by her home. He taught her all about flowers and plants and about her deceased grandmother. Feng’s mother was busy grooming her older sister to marry a wealthy man and thereby establish their family in society. This was a time consuming undertaking providing Feng much freedom to do as she pleased. Her life was very simple, quite the opposite of her Sister’s (Feng never gave her a name) which was filled with glamorous clothes, makeup, social events and suitors. Feng had no understanding of Sister’s life and viewed it as one of extreme “complexity and sophistication” and considered her sister to be “far above her”.

Wedding plans were soon being made for Sister. Marriage isn’t part of Feng’s future plans. As the second daughter, it’s expected that she will live at home and take care of her parents as they age. Feng accepts this, showing no interest in a life like Sisters. Feng seems much younger than Sister although only 5 years separates them. Feng is sweet, happy and childlike, without any of her sister’s arrogance or scheming, conniving mind, but she’s also immature and naive. Feng’s freedom has spoiled her while the companionship of her grandfather, who she loves dearly has infantilized her. I was quite surprised to learn that Feng was 17 at this time.

The tone of the narrative changes considerably when, much to her shock and dismay, as well as the readers, Feng is married off to a wealthy family. A situation arises making it impossible for Sister to marry (which I won’t reveal here). Feng’s mother is too desperate to be a part of wealthy society and insists that Feng marry in Sister’s place! Feng is given very little notice or time to prepare herself for such a monumental change. Feng’s life changes completely in a matter of days. Her pain and hurt are palpable particularly when her father and her grandfather, the two people who’ve always loved and supported her, don’t object to the arrangement or come to her defense. Feng feels betrayed and utterly alone. Her writing about her feelings at this time, is so stark and honest that I felt overwhelmed by her pain, sadness and dismay.

Feng’s last few days in her home are a whirlwind of activity. She’s an automaton going through the motions in terrible shock. Grandfather completely abandons her, leaving the house for several days. Suddenly, Feng finds herself glamorously dressed standing in a resplendent room in a huge house, tears running down her face as the three day wedding ceremony begins. The strange, unfamiliar surroundings intensify Feng’s already overwhelming pain and hurt. The seeds of anger that will mark her days for years to come, are already sprouting as she experiences her first truly cruel thoughts. They are directed at her family. Feng’s once light and carefree spirit is curdling in the pit of her stomach as the pain and hurt turn into anger and bitterness. Xiong Fa, her new husband, is a nice, kind man, if a little immature, and willing to make things work and even fall in love. But Feng has difficulty not viewing him as an enemy. She’s been provided a maid, Yan, who is kind and tender towards her and Feng relies on her these first days of her marriage.

Feng is soon unrecognizable as the young, simple girl she used to be. She has all the material things she wants and, aside from daily meals with the family, little is asked of her. But she’s miserable and truly angry. The pain and hurt she feels doesn’t lessen over time but grows as she harbors thoughts of revenge. Any new pain adds fuel to the fire. She tells about the families obsession with a male heir. Feng is expected to produce one as soon as possible. Feng knows this but has absolutely no idea how it’s accomplished. And she doesn’t like it at all when she finds out. Having no understanding about life and how to make things work, Feng behaves in ways that make life difficult and unpleasant for herself and her new husband. My thoughts and feeling were all over the place at this point in my reading. I wanted to shake Feng and slap some sense into her. But I also felt badly for her and just wanted to hug her. I found it infuriating that so much angst over the male heir could have been avoided if Feng’s mother or somebody talked to her about men and women and relationships.

Feng grows to appreciate many of the finer things her new family’s money can be. Xiong Fa gives her beautiful and generous gifts she enjoys. Feng soon loves the glamorous, rich clothes and accessories along with the respect and deference the public shows her. It’s not long before Feng understands the power that comes with this kind of wealth. She begins to behave in accordance, exercising her power, treating people from family members to servants with unkindness and disdain. Feng learns how to manipulate people as a woman with wealth, status and power. She also discovers how to use her body and sex against Xiong Fa. As the weeks, months and years pass, Feng becomes more selfish, cruel and ugly as intense anger and bitterness fester inside her. She exacts revenge whenever possible for perceived wrongs against her, behaving in truly reprehensible ways. She doesn’t grow as a person, mature or take responsibility for anything she says or does and she shows no respect for others. It was difficult to like Feng or to continue to understand why she was like this never mind sympathize with her. Feng looks at everything from the perspective of how it impacts her. Anger and bitterness has made her weak, self-centered alone.

I tried to believe in and root for Feng for most of the book but she really disappointed me the last six or seven chapters of the book. I thought she was courageous to record her life story for her family but when the time came to own up to her behavior once and for all, she took the coward’s way out. And, although I think she’s very honest about some parts of her life, I also think she doesn’t own up to everything that she did and left some things buried that she didn‘t want to face. For instance, I was hoping to learn more about her relationship with Yan, which changes and becomes more formal. Not surprisingly, Feng took care of this with a sentence or two failing to provide a truthful explanation.

This is an emotionally powerful and intense book. Duncan Jepson’s writing is engaging and this story captivated me from the first page even though there‘s only one major character and no real plot. I was intrigued to learn about marriage traditions and the role of women in 1930’s China. I thought it interesting that most of the male characters were quiet and meek, susceptible to manipulation or, in the case of Feng’s father-in-law, arrogant and pompous. I suppose this is because Feng didn’t think highly of the men in her life and this is her story. There’s little character development of any of the other characters which is, again, a symptom of this being Feng‘s story and, therefore, all about her. Feng’s behavior, when her friend Ming tells her she’s moving to America evidences how self-centered Feng is. She becomes irate, feeling that Ming is abandoning her and worries about who she’ll confide in now. She shows little concern for Ming’s welfare despite that she and her husband are leaving because they are worried about the state of China under Chairman Mao. Feng is a very damaged, stuck woman for most of her life but her story is absorbing and hard to ignore. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy strong mail characters with riveting stories to tell!

Duncan Jepson’s website: All the Flowers in Shanghai

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review All the Flowers in Shanghai and to William Morrow for an ARC copy of this book.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. In this meme share the opening paragraph(s) of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph(s). I’m participating in Orange January being hosted by Jill at The Magic Lasso. This book was nominated for the Orange Prize several years ago. I have read two other books by this author, one of which was fantastic, the other just okay. I’m interested to see what I think about this book which looks promising based on the premise!
Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants. Chances are you’ll find at least one book to add to your wish list!

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

At eight o'clock in the evening, the Baltimore airport was nearly deserted. The wide gray corridors were empty, and the newsstands were dark, and the coffee shops were closed. Most of the gates had admitted their last flights. Their signboards were blank and their rows of vinyl chairs unoccupied and ghostly.

But you could hear a distant hum, a murmur of anticipation, at the far end of Pier D. You could see an overexcited child spinning herself into dizziness in the center of the corridor, and then a grownup popping forth to scoop her up and carry her, giggling and squirming, back into the waiting area. And a latecomer, a woman in a yellow dress, was rushing toward the gate with an armful of long-stemmed roses.

Step around the bend, then, and you'd come upon what looked like a gigantic baby shower. The entire waiting area for the flight from San Francisco was packed with people bearing pink- and blue-wrapped gifts, or hanging on to flotillas of silvery balloons printed with IT'S A GIRL! and trailing spirals of pink ribbon. A man gripped the wicker handle of a wheeled and skirted bassinet as if he planned to roll it onto the plane, and a woman stood ready with a stroller so chrome-trimmed and bristling with levers that it seemed capable of entering the Indy 500. At least half a dozen people held video cameras, and many more had regular cameras slung around their necks. A woman spoke into a tape recorder in an urgent, secretive way. The man next to her clasped an infant's velour-upholstered car seat close to his chest.

What are your thoughts about these 2 opening paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Salon: Reading Weather!

Winter has arrived, it’s not supposed to get above 28 degrees today! Time to hibernate! I don’t go out very much at all when it’s this cold.  The crisp, clean air is refreshing in small doses but if I’m out in it for too long, it has an adverse effect on my lungs and breathing and also tends to make my bones hurt more. But so long as I’m not out for more than 15 or 20 minutes without a break from the cold it’s okay. And the cold provides a great argument for snuggling under a warm blanket...or a cat or two...with a cup of tea and a good book! I seem to be experiencing the opposite of a reading slump! I have a lot of books I’m really interested in reading now so much so that I’m having difficulty picking which one to read next! I’m not complaining, though, just relaying...this is much preferred to a reading slump!

The cold temps have brought the cats inside. On the really cold nights, like last night, a couple of neighborhood cats, confirmed nomads unwilling to commit to one home, wander in late looking for a warm spot to sleep. So I’ve got a full house of felines these days. I’ve been surprised by how well they’re all behaving, too. There have been a few hissing & ’boxing’ matches, a few dust-ups but considering how many of them are here and the mix of personalities, it hasn’t been bad. It certainly helps that they spend most of the time sleeping...with some snacking, too, of course! The new addition is fitting in well. He’s so cute. I hope to have some photos soon.

On the book front, I’m finally making a dent in the reviews I want to do...I still have quite a few to finish but I’m getting there. I hope to post reviews of The Night Circus and The Three Weissmanns of Westport this week, along with some others. I finished reading All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson. My review is due towards the end of the week. The main character is something else, very intriguing among other things! I’m really enjoying Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. His writing is mesmerizing and engages me immediately. Some how Murakami makes even the most mundane of scenes interesting in the way he writes and through his descriptions. I find that he really makes me think about the characters and their lives. I’m participating in Orange January at Jill's blog, The Magic Lasso so I started reading Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deidre Madden. So far I’m finding the subjects the narrator talks about very interesting. I’m not very far into the book, yet, but so far there’s been almost no dialogue, just the narrator talking about Molly Fox. It’s different than many of the books I read and I like that.

So that’s about it from my quiet corner of Brooklyn. I’m planning to work on reviews today and continuing reading Norwegian Wood and Molly Fox’s Birthday.
What are your plans today? Are you reading something good? I hope so!

Have a wonderful Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

~ Saturday Snapshot ~

I was looking through some old photos the other day and came across these of Ophelia. She's no longer with us but I love these photos because they show how much she enjoyed life. She was a great cat with a big personality! Ophelia loved to sleep in funny positions, enjoyed playing hard but was also very sweet. She never simply walked into a room but she bounded in at high speeds and it looked as if she was applying the brakes (much like Wile e Coyote) so she didn't crash into a wall! I miss her and I'm happy I have wonderful memories of Ophelia.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at her blog, At Home with Books. It's easy to participate, just post a photo taken by you, a friend or a family member and link to the Mister Linky at the bottom of Alyce's post.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Date Published: August 30, 2011
ISBN: 978-0312358341
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 368
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: What if the Rapture happened and you got left behind? Or what if it wasn't the Rapture at all, but something murkier, a burst of mysterious, apparently random disappearances that shattered the world in a single moment, dividing history into Before and After, leaving no one unscathed? How would you rebuild your life in the wake of such a devastating event?
This is the question confronting the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, a formerly comfortable suburban community that lost over a hundred people in the Sudden Departure. Kevin Garvey, the new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized neighbors, even as his own family falls apart. His wife, Laurie, has left him to enlist in the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence but haunt the streets of town as "living reminders" of God's judgment. His son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet by the name of Holy Wayne. Only his teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she's definitely not the sweet A student she used to be.

Through the prism of a single family, Perrotta illuminates a familiar America made strange by grief and apocalyptic anxiety. The Leftovers is a powerful and deeply moving book about people struggling to hold onto a belief in their own futures.

My Thoughts: The Leftovers is a fascinating novel and one I thought about long after I finished it. The story is set three years after the occurrence of a bizarre, Rapture-like event being called the "Sudden Departure" ('SD'). On the day of SD, people all over the world simply vanished. One second they were there, the next they were gone. There was no rhyme or reason to which people vanished either: people of all ages, races, religions, and ways of life, believers and non-believers, the good, bad and indifferent, disappeared. The people remaining, the "leftovers" are bewildered, dismayed, angry, jealous, despairing and embittered as they struggle to cope and make some semblance of a life for themselves in the years following this strange occurrence.

I didn’t know what to expect from this novel after reading the prologue. I wasn't particularly interested in a book about how our country and the rest of the world deal with the rapture-like event. I prefer more personal, character strong stories. I needn't have worried. Had I read more books by Perrotta, something I plan to do, I would’ve known he likes to scrutinize the hearts and minds of average middle-class individuals living in the suburbs. Perrotta most often focuses on assessing the reactions and behavior of indviduals in situations recognizable and bizarre. True to form, in The Leftovers Perrotta trains his keen eye on the Garvey Family: Kevin, Laurie, Tom and Jill, well-known residents of Mapleton, NJ. The Garveys are typical of many families living in the suburbs. Their familiarity made me feel like I was able to relate to them. The more I read about them, the more I card for the Garveys, even when they irritated me, and I became invested in what happened to them.

Perrotta’s talent for creating characters who are interesting because they are flawed, complex and dysfunctional. He has a keen eye for how people behave and the complexities of personality which is exceedingly evident in the Garveys. This family is very fortunate not to have lost anyone during the SD but you'd never know that from their behavior. In the years following the SD, Kevin, Laurie, Tom and Jill fracture and fall away from each other. Their family unit disintegrates instead of bonding and becoming stronger as the years pass. It’s not surprising that Tom disappears and cuts off contact with his family or that Jill questions everything in her life and rejects the way she was living before the SD given how their parents behave.

Laurie expresses concern about her children shortly after the SD but as more time passes she inexplicably distances herself from her family, finally leaving them to join a cult. Kevin seems to be coping well early in the book, taking things in stride. But as the novel progresses, I realized that he doesn’t act as if he’s all that upset about what’s happened to his family. Kevin doesn’t fight for his wife to stay home, he doesn’t search for his son and his fear that Jill will leave home causes him to stop parenting her, becoming more of a friend and roommate. The support and love Jill needs from her mother isn’t available and her father who is available to her, doesn’t offer her the love and support she wants. I hoped for a while that Kevin would sit down with Jill and talk to her, tell her he loved her and bond with her, until I realized this was never going to happen. For Kevin the SD offers an opportunity for a new life, a second chance. He gets a new job as mayor, goes out every night drinking and socializing and begins searching for a new partner while his wife, rather than risk the pain of suddenly losing her family one day, takes control of the situation and protects herself by abandoning them. Suffice to say the Garveys, apparently, are not the kind of family that grows closer and stronger in times of crisis.

The Garveys, their behavior, thoughts and actions are fascinating. I felt the same way about several other characters in the book, particularly Nora, a woman Kevin connects with and begins dating. I still don’t totally understand the Garveys and some of their friends and acquaintances but that's okay with me. Like human beings, they are complex, multi-faceted individuals with quirks, idiosyncrasies, good characteristics and faults. And I think this highlights Persotta's insightfulness and how brilliant, clever and astute he is at transforming these observations into parts of his ingenious characters.

The Leftovers isn't just grim and depressing. There are many scenes where Perrotta is witty and amusing and I particularly enjoyed his use of satire. Holy Wayne is an example of the charismatic preachers many people follow and believe in without question as Tom does but then express dismay when scandal follows. The Barefoot People, a group Tom latches onto when disappointed by Holy Wayne, exemplifies how ridiculous some of these cults are yet they proliferate because people are so anxious to belong to a group, to fit in. Perrotta looks at the darker side of some of these cults with the group Laurie joins, the Guilty Remnant. This cult requires members to take a vow of silence, wear white, smoke incessantly and stalk non-members on a nightly basis. Followers of groups like these, as Perrotta demonstrates with acerbic, disturbing wit, don’t question what the rules mean and the leaders rely on this blind adherence. In a pivotal scene, Perrotta shows the kind of reprehensible actions that can result from the ignorant mindlessness of followers just looking to belong. By the time Laurie is called on by the leaders of the Guilty Remnant, to take a major step as a member of the cult, she’s in too deep to turn back.

Identity and the idea that people aren't often who they purport to be, that there's more to them than meets the eye is one of the themes that threads its way through these pages. Perrotta touches on a myriad of other themes throughout The Leftovers including loss, survival, beliefs, loyalty, friendship, family, love and connection. I think I could talk about this book for hours and still barely begin to cover all of its facets. It wouldn't surprise me if everyone who reads this book gets a little something different from it. One thing I think everyone will agree upon is how fascinating, intriguing and enthralling are the characters and this story. I am looking forward to reading some of Perrotta's other books and am hopeful I’ll enjoy more of his insight into human beings and their personalities.

Tom Perrotta’s website

I won an ARC of The Leftovers from Jenners at Life...With Books.
Thank you so much, Jenners!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Review: Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
Date Published: March 6, 2012
ISBN: 978-1451636888
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher’s Book Summary: Carry the One begins in the hours following Carmen’s wedding reception, when a car filled with stoned, drunk, and sleepy guests accidently hits and kills a girl on a dark, country road. For the next twenty-five years, those involved, including Carmen and her brother and sister, connect and disconnect and reconnect with each other and their victim. As one character says, “When you add us up, you always have to carry the one.”

Through friendships and love affairs; marriage and divorce; parenthood, holidays, and the modest tragedies and joys of ordinary days, Carry the One shows how one life affects another and how those who thrive and those who self-destruct are closer to each other than we’d expect. Deceptively short and simple in its premise, this novel derives its power and appeal from the author’s beautifully precise use of language; her sympathy for her very recognizable, flawed characters; and her persuasive belief in the transforming forces of time and love.

My Thoughts: Carmen is practical and decisive although she sometimes doubts her decisions later. The book opens at Carmen’s wedding reception. She’s not an ebullient, giddy bride. Carmen’s unsure about the marriage and now sees Matt, her new husband, as a stranger. Meanwhile, her sister, Alice, a passionate and impulsive artist, is locked away in a bedroom with the bridegroom’s sister, Maude. And Nick, their brother, is in another bedroom with his girlfriend Olivia, introducing some younger cousins to the wonders of mushrooms. A brilliant astronomer, Nick loves exploring the universe while high on hallucinogens and opiates. When Alice, Nick and the others drive off at the end of the night, no one is focused on the road or in any condition to drive although they all told Carmen they were fine. A short time later young Casey Redman is dead and the lives of the siblings and others are forever changed.

Carmen, Alice and Nick are amazingly real and relatable. They’re intelligent and successful but also flawed and damaged. They harbor pain and anger from a tough childhood at the hands of a nasty, unkind father, Horace and a mother, Loretta, who always sided with him. Carmen, Alice and Nick are bonded by their childhood experience and now by the death of Casey Redman. They grieve for her and cope with her death in different ways but she’s never far from their thoughts. Everything that happens in the lives of Carmen, Alice and Nick, from that day forward, is touched by Casey’s shadow.

Carol Anshaw has written a seemingly quiet, casual story that turns out to be powerful and emotionally complex. It depicts the myriad of ways the relationships and lives of Carmen, Alice and Nick are impacted by their pasts and particularly, by the death of a young girl, as the three grow and change over the course of 25 years. Anshaw writes beautifully and the pages of Carry the One are filled with Alice’s passion and intensity, Carmen’s stoicism and Nick’s nutty genius and the wit and sarcasm they share. It’s clear that Anshaw understands how human beings tick and cope with life and this understanding is depicted in her fantastic, intriguing and lovable characters. This is an absorbing book that grabs you and holds your attention until the last word. I only wish it was longer! I highly recommend this novel.

Carol Anshaw’s website.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for an ARC copy of Carry the One.

~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. In this meme, I share the opening paragraph(s) of a book I've decided to read based on the paragraph(s). I’m participating in Orange January  hosted by The Magic Lasso. This is one of the books nominated for the Orange Prize that I plan to read. It’s received some wonderful reviews from other bloggers and I’m really looking forward to reading this book as well as several of the author‘s other books.
Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you've become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at her landlord's door.

For she was standing at her open window, in a collarless shirt and a pair of greyish underpants, smoking a cigarette and watching the coming and going of Mr Leonard's patients. Punctually, they came — so punctually, she really could tell the time by them: the woman with the crooked back, on Mondays at ten; the wounded soldier, on Thursdays at eleven. On Tuesdays at one an elderly man came, with a fey-looking boy to help him: Kay enjoyed watching for them. She liked to see them making their slow way up the street: the man neat and dark-suited as an undertaker, the boy patient, serious, handsome — like an allegory of youth and age, she thought, as done by Stanley Spencer or some finicky modern painter like that.

After them there came a woman with her son, a little lame boy in spectacles; after that, an elderly Indian lady with rheumatics. The little lame boy would sometimes stand scuffing up moss and dirt from the broken path to the house with his great boot, while his mother spoke with Mr Leonard in the hall. Once, recently, he'd looked up and seen Kay watching; and she'd heard him making a fuss on the stairs, then, about going on his own to the lavatory.

"Is it them angels on the door?" she had heard his mother say. "Good heavens, they're only pictures! A great boy like you!"
Kay guessed it wasn't Mr Leonard's lurid Edwardian angels that frightened him, but the thought of encountering her. He must have supposed she haunted the attic floor like a ghost or a lunatic.
What are your thoughts about these 2 opening paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?

Monday, January 9, 2012

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme, hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books for the month of January, originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists! I didn’t receive any review books this week but I did receive two books I’m really looking forward to reading!
Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deidre Madden (sent by a friend after she learned I am participating in Orange January)
It is the height of summer, and celebrated actor Molly Fox has loaned her house in Dublin to a friend while she is away performing in New York. Alone among all of Molly's possessions, struggling to finish her latest play, she looks back on the many years and many phases of her friendship with Molly and their college friend Andrew, and comes to wonder whether they really knew each other at all. She revisits the intense closeness of their early days, the transformations they each made in the name of success and security, the lies they told each other, and betrayals they never acknowledged. Set over a single midsummer's day, Molly Fox's Birthday is a mischievous, insightful novel about a turning point--a moment when past and future suddenly appear in a new light.

Solar by Ian McEwan (sent by the same great friend)
Michael Beard is in his late fifties; bald, overweight, unprepossessing – a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. An inveterate philanderer, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. When Beard’s professional and personal worlds are entwined in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself, a chance for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and very possibly save the world from environmental disaster.

Solar is an engrossing and satirical novel which focuses on climate change. It is a stylish new work by one of the world’s greatest living writers about one man’s ambitions and self-deceptions.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Salon ~ Getting back to it in this new year!

I’m slowly getting back into the swing of blogging regularly after being largely away from my computer for most of the last month or so. It’s a relief not to feel exhausted from trying to sit and hold my head up. Thinking back on it, it’s a little frightening how tired I felt from the pneumonia. It’s such a relief to feel well again. Now I just have to work the laziness - from forcing myself to continue to rest once I began to feel better - out of my system. It’s kind of amazing how quickly your brain - mine, anyway! - can get used to not thinking or being used!

I have a long list of reviews to finish and a shorter list of reviews that need to be written in full. I worked on several while recuperating but when I read what I thought was my finished review I didn’t like much of what I’d written! Ugh! I hate when that happens. So I figure I will post reviews of books I’ve read recently and intersperse reviews of older reads every few days or something like that. I’m trying to shorten my reviews a bit, too, a least while I have so many to work on.

I finished The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Shine which turned out not to be as light a book I expected. It’s very good and has some wonderfully flawed, dysfunctional characters! I also finished Carry The One by Carol Anshaw, also very good. My neighbor returned Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (yay!) so I am reading it again. I wasn’t that far into it before so I decided to start at the beginning. It’s so worth it, anyway! I’m also reading All the Flowers of Shanghai by Duncan Jepson. I’ve read several reviews of this book and, although I’m not exactly sure what to expect from this book, I know it’ll be an interesting reading experience! I signed up for a group read of The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano  hosted by Richard at his blog, Caravana de recuedos. I didn’t get to start reading the book last month like I wanted to because I was sick so I’m not sure I’ll finish by the end of January (700+ pages!) but I’m enjoying what I’ve so far read.

So that’s about it for now. Life’s been very quiet in my world the last couple of months, of course. I’ll leave you with this fun tidbit...there may be a new small, furry addition to our family! Stay tune as for updates as the situation develops...! lol

Have a wonderful Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

~ Saturday Snapshot ~

This is Hennessey. She's been with us since she was about 6 months old, about 5 years. She doesn't like living inside with other cats so she spends much of her time outside, dropping by frequently for meals and/or a cat nap. When the temperatures drop and it gets cold, she comes in for several days at a time. She hisses at the other cats frequently, not caring that she may have taken over their sleeping spot or simply because she thinks they're standing or sitting too close to her! She can be distracted by any toy. though, and loves to play with balls or string toys.

Hennessey, a small cat, is the only cat I've known who puts on 5+ pounds every winter, becoming noticeably chunky! When spring time comes around she slims down again! The two photos of her sleeping sort of show her normal size and then chubby. I'm going to try to get better photos of her now while she's a fatty!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce on At Home with Books. It's easy to participate, just post a photo taken by you, a friend or a family member and link to the Mister Linky at the bottom of Alyce's post.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Little Princes: by Conor Grennan

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

Pages: 304
Published Date: December 27, 2011
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0061930058
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: An astonishing testament to true courage, the transformative power of love, and the ability of one man to make a real difference.

In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war–torn Nepal. But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu. For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from—a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.

Little Princes is a true story of families and children, and what one person is capable of when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. At turns tragic, joyful, and hilarious, Little Princes is a testament to the power of faith and the ability of love to carry us beyond our wildest expectations.

My Thoughts:  Conor Grennan didn't count on the powerful impact the children at Little Princes Children's Home in Godawari, Nepal would have on him when he initially committed to volunteer there for three months in 2004. His motivation for volunteering with the orphans of Nepal. Grennan also figured it was a good excuse for his year long trip around the world following his stint at the orphanage. The first few pages of Little Princes was difficult to get through because Grennan, although candid, is so obnoxious, arrogant and immature I wanted to throw the book across the room! In fact, when Grennan is dropped off outside the orphanage on the day he's supposed to start his volunteer work, he makes his reluctance to be with the children so clear, I wondered if he was going to bail on his promise. When he drags himself through the gate into Little Prince's property, it's the first inkling that there might be a decent guy at Grennan’s core.

Grennan becomes so fond of and connected to the children during his first three months at Little Princes he's reluctant to leave the night before he’s to depart for his trip around the world . One of the boys, Anish, asks Grennan when he will return to the orphanage. He initially tells them he doesn't know, maybe in a year. Grennan then realizes how sad he is to be leaving the children and how truly happy he's been in Godawari with them. He also feels as responsible to and for the eighteen children living in the orphanage as if he was their parents. Grennan tells Anish and the other children that he will return after a year. A promise he gladly keeps.

Grennan still believes that the children living at Little Princes Children's Home are orphans when he returns to volunteer for another 3 months in January 2006. Shortly after returning to Godawari, Grennan and his fellow volunteer and good friend, Farid, learn the children at Little Princes are not orphans when the mother of two of the children shows up at the orphanage looking for her boys, Nuraj and Krish. These boys and the other children believed their parents were dead. To Grennan and the other's total surprise, the parents of most of the children are actually living in their respective villages around Nepal. Their children were taken by a child trafficker who promised parents he would keep their children safe from Maoist rebels, who abducted children and forced them to fight against the government, in return for a large sum of money. The trafficker then pocketed the money, mistreated the children and abandoned them or sold them into domestic slavery. Grennan's dismay upon hearing the truth is evident as he relays the events of the day he learns the truth about the children. He also feels even more responsibile for the children after hearing how they were treated and deceived.

Grennan writes with a refreshing honesty and humility about his decision to try to find the families of the children living at Little Princes Children's Home. He is also concerned about seven children abandoned by the child trafficker with the mother of Nuraj and Krish, despite the fact that she has no means for feeding or clothing them. When he returns to Jersey City, NJ to get a job and make a life for himself, Grennan shares how difficult it was to move on with his life. He listened to news about the situation in Nepal constantly and emailed with several people he's come to know while in Nepal. While he's perfecting his resume and researching companies and organizations to interview with, Grennan receives disturbing news about some of the children in Nepal. He's forthright in relaying how clearly dismayed he is by the news as well as how strong a sense of responsibility he feels for these children. Grennan decides to return to Nepal. But unlike his often rash, impulsive self, Grennan realizes with the help of Farid, he'd be foolish to return without a solid, good plan of action on behalf of the children in Nepal. This leads to Grennan's idea to form a nonprofit organization, Next Generation Nepal (NGN) and to search for the families of the children at Little Princes and more.

Little Princes is a remarkable, heart-breaking and heart-warming book. Grennan tells the story of the children and NGN with honesty, humor and integrity that made me cry, laugh, feel intense anger and much sadness. It's also an inspiring story full of hope and promise, great kindness, selflessness and love. The children about whom Grennan writes with respect, admiration and love are simply amazing. They are unbelievably resilient and survivors of terrible loss and pain. They are heroes. The other star of this book is Conor Grennan. He is still slightly rash and impulsive by the end of Little Princes but he's a very different man than the one who initially volunteered with orphans in Nepal only in order to impress the ladies. Over the course of this story, Grennan grows into a mature, responsible, caring and selfless person who willingly risks his life to reunite the children of Little Princes Children's Home with the parents and families they never expected to see again. This well-written, emotional and candid book is one I recommend to everybody.

About the Author:
Conor Grennan, author of the memoir Little Princes, spent eight years at the EastWest Institute (EWI), both in Prague and the EU Office in Brussels, where he served as Deputy Director for the Security and Governance Program.

At the East/West Institute, Conor developed and managed a wide variety of projects focusing on issues such as peace and reconciliation in the Balkans, community development in Central Eastern Europe, and harmonizing anti-trafficking policy at the highest levels government in the European Union and the former Yugoslavia.

Conor left EWI in 2004 to travel the world and volunteer in Nepal. He would eventually return to Nepal and found Next Generation Nepal, an organization dedicated to reconnecting trafficked children with their families and combating the root causes of child trafficking in rural villages in Nepal. He was based in the capital of Kathmandu until September 2007 where he was the Executive Director of Next Generation Nepal.

Conor now serves on the Board of Next Generation Nepal, together with his wife, Liz. He is a 2010 graduate of the NYU Stern School of Business, where he was the President of the Student Body. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son, Finn, and a soon-to-be baby girl.

See Conor's Website and his organization, Next Generation Nepal. Conor is also available on Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Little Princes and to William Morrow for a copy of this book.