Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock

What Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock

Date Published: August 7, 2012
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-0345524430
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 2.0 out of 5

Book Summary: Nine-year-old Carrie Parker and her mother, Libby, are making a fresh start in the small town of Hartsville, North Carolina, ready to put their turbulent past behind them. Violence has shattered their family and left Libby nearly unable to cope. And while Carrie once took comfort in her beloved sister, Emma, her mother has now forbidden even the mention of her name.

When Carrie meets Ruth, Honor, and Cricket Chaplin, these three generations of warmhearted women seem to have the loving home Carrie has always dreamed of. But as Carrie and Cricket become fast friends, neither can escape the pull of their families’ secrets—and uncovering the truth will transform the Chaplins and the Parkers forever.

My Thoughts: Caroline Parker (Carrie) first appeared as a narrator in Elizabeth Flock’s dark, troubling novel, Me & Emma (my review). Flock continues the story of Carrie and her family in What Happened to My Sister. Although it’s been seven years since Me & Emma graced bookstore shelves, little time has passed for Carrie. This book opens with Carrie and her mother, Libby, driving away from Murchison, the small North Carolina town where they lived, after a horrific incident altered their lives. Carrie believes they’re on their way to her Grandma’s house, possibly in Asheville, but they only make it as far as the rundown Loveless Motel in Hartsville.

I was looking forward to this book, especially because Carrie and her mother are forging a new life together. I hoped things would eventually work out for them, though I expected it would be difficult for a little while at least. Remembering Flock’s exploration of the psychological manifestations of Carrie’s struggles and how she coped with life, I hoped for a similar treatment of Libby considering how rough life had been on her. I hoped, at least, to know Libby better and understand her behavior a bit more. Unfortunately, What Happened to My Sister is as different from Me & Emma as seemingly possible. Where her first book was layered, smart and sad but inspiring with some shocking twists, this book is predictable, one-dimensional and dull. It becomes difficult to believe this Carrie is the same person from Me & Emma. She meets with so many favorable circumstances and amazing coincidences, we’re forced to suspend belief to the nth degree and enter a land of fairytales. Towards the end, a couple of surprises are revealed but for readers who didn’t figure them out on their own, they come too late to prove exciting.

I can’t help but wonder what inspired the Flock to wait seven years for a sequel that is so polar opposite of the original. There are too many ridiculously fortuitous situations that make everything else about the book predictable. Had the first book not been so good, this may have held up on its own as better-than-average chick-lit, but as it is, when compared to its predecessor (as all sequels are, unfairly or not), I found What Happened to My Sister to be just a plain disappointment.

See Elizabeth Flock's Website
See Elizabeth Flock's Facebook Page

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review What Happened to My Sister and to Ballantine Books for an ARC copy of the book.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock

Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock

Date Published: March 1, 2005
Publisher: Mira Books
Pages: 288
ISBN:  978-0778320821
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

Book Summary: In many ways, Carrie Parker is like any other 8 year old girl; playing make believe, dreading school, dreaming of faraway places. But even her naively hopeful mind can't shut out the terrible realities of home or help her to protect her younger sister, Emma.

As the big sister, Carrie is determined to do anything to keep Emma safe from a life of neglect and abuse at the hands of their drunken stepfather, Richard - abuse their mother can't seem to see, let alone stop.

After the sisters' plans to run away from their impoverished North Carolina home unravel, Carrie's world soon takes a shocking turn, with devastating results. In one shattering moment in the Parker sisters' lives, a startling act of violence ultimately reveals a truth that leaves everyone reeling.

My Thoughts: In the small southern town of Toast, where 8-year old narrator Carrie Parker lives, poverty is as much a way of life as is staying out of each other’s business. Even if a child’s being hurt. Teachers, store clerks and other townsfolk offer Carrie a kind word, candy or a pat on the head, but nothing more despite having a good idea about what’s going on behind closed doors at the Parker house.

Elizabeth Flock has filled Me & Emma with a cast of dysfunctional, flawed characters, even the best of whom is difficult to like because, even though many of the townsfolk are kind to Carrie, no one does what it takes to “rescue” her. Even the surroundings are colorless. As such, Carrie’s days are only about survival. When not in school, Carrie spends most of her time trying to avoid Richard, her mean and angry step-father. Carrie daydreams frequently and relies on memories of her murdered father to cope when she’s lonely, hurt or scared, which is most of the time. Using Carrie to narrate the story, the author offers us a first hand look at what goes through the mind of an abused and neglected child.

A fascinating and perplexing side to Carrie is her relationship with her mother, for example. Though I found it difficult to like a mother who rarely shows love or concern for her small daughters, doing little to protect them, Carrie loves her. She doesn’t seem bothered by Momma’s distance and irritability. Rather, she excuses most of her mother’s behavior as a result of losing her husband. Carrie even tells us Momma doesn’t like Emma (Carrie’s younger sister) very much but explains it away because Emma looks so much like their deceased daddy. Carrie has many happy memories of the loving family she had when her father was alive. She holds on to who her mother used to be, rather than seeing her as she is. Is this a defense mechanism, Carrie hoping she’ll be like that again one day? Again, Flock shows how complicated a little girl’s world can be when raised amid such chaos. Adding to Carrie‘s confusion and fear is the fact that Momma herself is frequently abused by Richard.

The fact that Momma gets angry at anyone trying to act on her behalf, to “interfere” as she sees it, helps answer one of the more obvious questions the first half of the book raises: how come no one saves Carrie? Well, if her own mother’s attitude is “mind your own business, even if it means I’m going to be beaten to a pulp”, how can we expect anyone to take action on Carrie’s behalf? This is the author taking the reader to another place and seemingly another time. It’s as if Toast, North Carolina is a town left in the past, never progressing into the 1990s. So even though Carrie doesn’t understand what her Momma sees in Richard, she never questions it. She just accepts that he’s there and that for now, all she need concern herself with is avoiding him. There is no blame directed at her mother. But the reader, being a product of a modern society, will still occasionally feel sympathy for Momma - usually when she is being bashed around by Richard. At times this is going to leave the reader frustrated, wanting to reach out and shake Carrie into reality. Here the author has made an amazing parallel, connecting two societies separated by place and attitude because we find that, for different reasons, we’re just like the people of the town: we want to help, but can’t.

Carrie, at least, isn’t alone most of the time. Emma, her quiet and tough younger sister, scared of nothing is the sweet, well-mannered Carrie’s constant companion. Together they forage for food when Richard eats it all or their Momma is too drunk to make anything. The rest of the time they find fun and safe places to hide away from Richard and his wrath.

Halfway through the book, the Parker family moves to a more remote area in North Carolina. The tension that was slowly building as the story progressed increases as Richard’s temper flares constantly now and momma becomes more irritable and distant. Carrie and Emma spend more time away from home. They befriend a gruff, elderly neighbor, Mr. Wilson. He’s the first adult to openly address Carrie’s home situation and offer she and Emma hope for the future. In the hands of a less-skilled author, this could come off as a forced way of taking Carrie out of an otherwise dead-end (perhaps literally) existence. But there is attention to detail and explanations that, taken in the context of where and when the story takes place, makes sense, and isn’t made to seem “inevitable”.

Flock shows exceptional skill in psychology of people, but especially children. Through Carrie the author encompasses the extent and importance of day dreaming and why it might even be necessary to such an extent for Carrie, in particular. Past events and her current life impact Carrie in such a way that she has no choice but to daydream in order to cope and survive. It’s important for me to let you know that I can’t explain the why’s of all of this without “spoiling” the end of the story. You don‘t want me to do that. Trust me! What I can say is events at the end of the story are a direct result of the many layer’s of Carrie’s personality. The crux of this book is about the psychology of Carrie’s struggle to cope and survive her life and show Flock’s mastery of the human condition when facing a horrible situation. One with no signs of things changing for the better.

This is a fascinating and extremely well-written book, one worth reading. But it’s not a happy one. It might be especially difficult for the parents of small children to read. If you’re okay with the subject matter, I highly recommend Me & Emma.

Elizabeth Flock's Website
Elizabeth Flock's Facebook page

Mailbox Monday ~ August 27th

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created by Marcia at A girl and her books and hosted during August by Jennifer at 5 Minutes for Books Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.
Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris ( for review from The Penguin Press via TLC Book Tours)
Collateral by Ellen Hopkins (for review from Atria Books via TLC Book Tours)
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (for review from Harper via TLC Book Tours)
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (for review from Harper via TLC Book Tours)

The Bookie’s Son by Andrew Goldstein (for review from sixonseven Books via TLC Book Tours)
The Other Half of Me by Morgan McCarthy (for review Free Press)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Sunday Salon ~ Reading, Sleeping and Introducing Owen!

Happy Sunday!
I hope you’re all enjoying your day. Last night here in Brooklyn the weather was ideal for sleeping. It was in the 60s with a slight breeze...total Amy world! Lol The humidity disappeared several days go...wooo-hooo! I’m not a fan of humidity! It seems the cats aren’t either since all my cats were outside for most of the night last night! When it’s hot and humid they lie around, completely lethargic the entire day and night. Several of their feline friends were outside last night, too. All of the cats were running around, rolling in the grass together, wrestling and playing so happily. It was great fun to watch them!

It’s one of the first nights of really good sleep I’ve had in a long time. Such a nice change of pace. I don’t think my sleep issues have much to do with the weather, although. I’ve been having a lot of pain in the early mornings and during the night in different areas but especially my joints and lower back. My doctors think, after a bunch of x-rays and tests, it’s severe arthritis, primarily a result of all the surgeries and my bone condition. Now that I know, I can take steps to help alleviate the pain. Hopefully, I will get back to blogging more. I’ve been getting frustrated because I haven’t been able to post on my blog or visit other blogs nearly as much as I would like too. I’m hoping, so much, that I’ll be able to do that now.

There’s a new, adorable family member. Last week, some young children who live down the block, knocked on our door and asked if we wanted their kitten! They said their mother no longer wanted the kitten in the house and gave various reasons, none of which really made sense. Some people are so irresponsible. But Owen, as we’re calling him, is so cute. I promise to tell you all about him soon!

I’ve been reading quite a bit of It by Stephen King. I didn’t think it was scary but the more I read, the scarier the book gets. And while I’m reading, a creepy, kind of scary feeling comes over me. The book is also funny in parts. I’m pretty impressed with King’s writing, too. I’m also reading The City and the City by China Miéville, taking my time with it.

Enjoy your Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I decided to just do IT!

I was in the city yesterday and stopped by Barnes & Noble to kill some time. I was browsing the shelves of books, turned the corner and there was 4 or 5 shelves filled with Stephen King’s books. I picked up IT, making sure to avoid the creepy picture on the front and leafed through it. Then I started reading...and ended up buying the book! It’s a long one but I’m looking forward to reading it!

The last time I read a Stephen King book I was 12 or 13 and had terrible nightmares for a week or so. My mother wouldn’t let me read anymore of his books! I’m not expecting to have the same problems this time around! I think it will be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the It-along hosted by Softdrink Jill!
I don’t agree that Clowns are Fun, though...they’re creepy and weird!

Cool or Creepy Clown Fun Facts found at Reading Thru the Night

If you want to join the readalong: Just do IT
          Check here for IT related Tweets -  #ITalongreadalong

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ August 19th

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate, share the opening paragraph or two (I’ve shared a little more here!) of a book you've decided to read based on the paragraph(s). I was fortunate to win this book in a Facebook giveaway hosted by author Cathy Marie Buchanan.

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and the many other wonderful contributions of other participants in this meme.

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
1930, Shantou, China
 On a winter night shortly after the New Year festivities, Chen Kai sat on the edge of the family kang, the brick bed. He settled the blanket around his son. “Gwai jai,” he said. Well-behaved boy. “Close your eyes." “Sit with me?” said Chen Pie Sou with a yawn. “You promised . . .” “I will.” He would stay until the boy slept. A little more delay.
Muy Fa had insisted that Chen Kai remain for the New Year celebration, never mind that the coins from their poor autumn’s harvest were almost gone. What few coins there were, after the landlord had taken his portion of the crop. Chen Kai had con-ceded that it would be bad luck to leave just before the holiday and agreed to stay a little longer. Now, a few feet away in their one-room home, Muy Fa scraped the tough skin of rice from the bottom of the pot for the next day’s porridge. Chen Kai smoothed his son’s hair. “If you are to grow big and strong, you must sleep.” Chen Pie Sou was as tall as his father’s waist. He was as big as any boy of his age, for his parents often accepted the knot of hunger in order to feed him.
“Why . . .” A hesitation, the choosing of words. “Why must I grow big and strong?” A fear in the tone, of his father’s absence.
“For your ma, and your ba.” Chen Kai tousled his son’s hair. “For China.”

Later that night, Chen Kai was to board a train. In the morning, he would arrive at the coast, locate a particular boat. A village connection, a cheap passage without a berth. Then, a week on the water to reach Cholon. This place in Indochina was just like China, he had heard, except with money to be made, from both the Annamese and their French rulers.
With his thick, tough fingers, Chen Kai fumbled to undo the charm that hung from his neck. He reached around his son’s neck as if to embrace him, care- fully knotted the strong braid of pig gut. Chen Pie Sou searched his chest, and his hand recognized the family good luck charm, a small, rough lump of gold.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

ISBN: 978-0812993295
Pages: 336
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Publisher's Summary: Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessey is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit of youth and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him-allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there’s the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessey.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise- and utterly irresistible- storyteller.

My Thoughts: The Harold Fry who leaves his home in Kingsbridge one morning is vastly different from the one who arrives in Berwick-upon-Tweed several months later. His days on the road, walking more than 600 miles to save Queenie, provide him ample time to think about himself, his life (past and present) and his family. Parts of his past which he’s forgotten come to the surface, often due to encounters with the myriad of people he meets on his trek. Most of these people surprise Harold with their kindness and willingness to help. His journey awakens him to much about life and people of which he was unaware. His mind, closed for most of his life, is opened to so much that is new. In a similar way Harold’s journey reminds him of what matters in life, author Rachel Joyce’s captivating debut gently reminds readers to remember who and what matters in their own lives.

Harold’s journey to Queenie begins with a misunderstanding. During a conversation with a stranger, Harold believes her vague answer to a question means something it doesn’t. Before she can explain, Harold’s gone, off to begin his walk. This is very fitting as so much of Harold’s life is peppered with misunderstandings and miscommunications, though very few as fortuitous as this one. The worst of them, however, have reverberated for years, shaping the man Harold has become: quiet and reserved, lacking in confidence, unsure about what he thinks and believes. The few times he is sure, he is unable to assert himself. As such, the people in his world have been deprived of a caring, sweet and good-natured man.

Some of the misunderstandings in Harold’s life caused a great deal of anguish, pain and grief, leading ultimately to a profound silence in his marriage. Harold doesn’t confide in Maureen when he decides to walk the 600 miles to Queenie. In truth, the couple hasn’t spoken about anything significant in years. Harold loves Maureen but fears she’ll scoff at his idea (or worse) and destroy the fragile ground on which his confidence in the plan rests. As a result, Harold doesn’t return home to properly prepare for his journey but heads to Berwick wearing yachting shoes, a light jacket without food, drink or other supplies. Harold doesn’t initially consider the impact his decision to walk 600 miles for another woman, (one he doesn’t know very well and hasn’t spoken with in 20 years, no less), might have on his relationship with Maureen. In the 40-plus years they’ve been together, their relationship has become complex and confusing, which is not unusual. Ms. Joyce has created such a sympathetic and likable character in Harold that we hope he will learn to talk to Maureen.

Maureen. Harold’s wife, is, on the surface, an irritable, somewhat bitter and angry character. Her childhood and early life were simple and easy. Intelligent, she excelled in school and showed great potential. Although her parents weren’t impressed with Harold, he made Maureen laugh and lit up her world from the first time they met. This isn’t the Maureen we meet in the opening pages. This seems to make her at odds with who she is and who we might think she should be. But at the end, Joyce reveals the events that have changed Maureen, and we gain insights that provide explanations as to why her outlook and actions are so seemingly complex.

Many books center around a ‘journey’ but Harold’s differs from many in that there’s no fairytale aspect to it; it’s a period of self-reflection during which Harold makes peace with much of what’s happened in his life. He challenges himself to do things that make him uncomfortable, even scare him. His journey also allows Maureen time to reflect on herself, her life with Harold and where things got all twisted and complicated. Harold’s journey ends when he reaches Queenie. It’s relatively brief, but Harold learns more about himself, others and life during this time than he has throughout all the years he‘s been alive. The mental and spiritual journey Harold‘s been on while walking, in addition to Maureen’s own journey, has the potential to continue for years, giving them the ability to discover more about themselves, each other and the world around them and enjoy the experiences.

Ms. Joyce has written a fascinating book about a riveting experience lived by a simple man that is so profound it has the potential to change his life in small as well as significant ways. And though it seems this book would be layered in pathos, there is a surprisingly healthy amount of humor throughout, keeping the book from becoming weighted down in gravity. This book is also a stunning debut for any of us who’ve stumbled while trying to navigate our path through life and found ourselves confused about our relationships with the people we love. Ms. Joyce gently reminds us about what truly matters in life. Harold was sleepwalking through life, something he’d been doing for too many years. A letter encouraged Harold to choose a goal. His goal required him to make a plan. Harold’s plan enabled him to discover the beauty in the world and its people. Harold woke up and actually saw life for the first in a long time. And Harold laughed again. Ms Joyce encourages us to reflect on our lives as Harold and Maureen have, to go on a pilgrimage of sorts and celebrate what we discover about life, others and ourselves.

I highly recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to everyone. This mesmerizing book made me smile, laugh, well up with tears and, finally, cry. The world around me melted away as I read and I lost myself in it’s delightful words. This is a book you do not want to miss!

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and to Randomn House for an ARC copy of this book.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mailbox Monday ~ August 13th!

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia at A girl and her books and hosted in August by Jennifer at 5 Minutes for Books.  Below are the titles I received over the last few weeks (I have some catching up to do!) for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained.

The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam ( Win from author Cathy Marie Buchanan. Thank you, Cathy!)
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon (win from Peeking Between the Pages. Thank you Dar!)

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller (win from Reflections of a Bookaholic. Thank you, Alexis!)
The City & the City by China Miéville (purchase)

One of the Most Dangerous Things by Laura Lippman; and The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri (both wins from Drey at Drey‘s Library. Thank you, Drey!) 

Gone by Cathi Hanauer ( from publisher Atria/Simon & Schuster)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Date Published: January 3, 2012 (hardcover); July 31, 2012 (paperback)
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-0061938344
Pages: 320
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and fought for a better world. But over the past thirty years, the quartet has drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared.

Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter, fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of letting go on her own terms.

The World We Found is a dazzling masterwork from the remarkable Thrity Umrigar, offering an unforgettable portrait of modern India while it explores the enduring bonds of friendship and the power of love to change lives.

My Thoughts: The bonds between the four women in The World We Found reminded me of some of the friendships I made during my college years. I may not see or talk to some of these friends for years but I know if I called them tomorrow to say I needed to see them, they’d try their best to come. Author Thrity Umrigar adeptly captures the strong, enduring, albeit complicated, ties many women forge during their school years. These indelible connections between women remain strong over the years even when they’re separated by vast distances and haven’t spoken in years. So it’s easy to believe Laleh and Kavita’s willingness to visit Armaiti in America when she contacts them after years of silence, telling them she is ill.

As we age and form our own lives, things may become complicated. Children, finances and beliefs, for instance, may change the people we were. Nishta, the fourth woman of the group, married a Muslim man, Iqbal, a friend of the group at university. Nishta was Hindu and, as a result of her marriage, is denounced by her family. Nishta and Iqbal weren’t religious when they married. But, as the years pass, events such as the Hindu-Muslim riots of the early ‘90s and a dark tragic occurrence in his sister’s past deeply impacts Iqbal. He becomes a devout Muslim. Many of Iqbal’s ideas and beliefs change, adversely affecting his relationship with Nishta and their life. When Laleh and Kavita finally track her down, Nishta’s living in a rundown part of India they didn’t know existed. They don’t even recognize their old friend. Suddenly, the trip to America isn’t so simple an undertaking. Getting Nishta to join them and freeing her from the prison her marriage has essentially become, is now the main focus of the book. This sets the groundwork for a suspenseful and intense unfolding of the story.

The other books I’ve read by Thrity Umrigar lead me to expect fleshed-out, three-dimensional characters. People who are relatable despite their different ethnicities and cultures. Umrigar doesn’t disappoint in The World We Found. Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita and Nishta are so well crafted they become real to me early on. Having each narrate several chapters is a very effective means of accomplishing this because it allows the reader to get each characters unfiltered point of view. The variety of narrators also add depth and intrigue to the story. Iqbal is another character who narrates several chapters. This provides the opportunity to get to know him better, resulting in his becoming much more than a representative of evil. A simple “bad guy”. Rather, he becomes a real person with his own doubts and opinions: someone with a very different point of view than the main characters, yet we can understand and relate to him. In a less talented author’s hands, many narrators could become very confusing. But Umrigar is extremely talented and capable, so that using multiple perspectives adds depth and color to an already captivating book.

What I also found absorbing and touching each time it was examined was how each woman thought about who they were during their university years, remembering their beliefs and opinions at the time as well as their hopes and plans for their future. Umrigar very effectively portrayed each women’s feelings as they found themselves tied up in remembering who they were, who they are now, and where they are going. Each of the women found themselves not only thinking of their own lives, but their friends’ as well. Depending on when and where the reader is in their lives, they might find these parts of the book to be very personal, resonating on many levels. Just as you might run into an old friend who’s become everything she said she would and find yourself wondering what happened to me, you could just as easily meet up with someone from your past who you can’t help but pity. All this is universal and because it happens in this book, it adds yet another layer with which the reader can identify.

I have enjoyed all of the books by Thrity Umrigar I’ve read, but The World We Found is my favorite.  This book is an amazing and mezmirizing story that's not easily forgotten. Modern India is portrayed in vividly described scenes and, although some of the events and occurrences related are sad and depressing, as a whole, the book is not dark. The World We Found is a story of hope, energy and the power of friendship and love. Umrigar’s compelling prose provides for fluid pages that result in an very readable, wonderful book that’s tough to put down. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys beautifully written fiction.

For information on Thrity Umrigar and her other books, visit her website.

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

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Back to Blogging!!

Hello! I’ve been on a break of sorts from blogging for a while and am slowly returning. I’ve missed my blog, blogging and, especially my friends here. I hope you’re all doing well. I’m looking forward to visiting your blogs and reading your book reviews and other posts. And, of course, adding some exciting reads to my TBR and wish lists!

Rosie is doing very well. She’s had surgery to remove her left eye. She wasn't at all pleased with the plastic cone collar placed around her neck after the surgery. Basically, Rosie hated it and fought it so much that we removed and doubled the bandages covering her eye so she couldn’t damage the surgery site it from rubbing it with her paw. Other than that, she’s back to playing a lot, eating quite a bit and making friends. Rosie’s staying with a wonderful woman, Anne (and her family) who helps run a local animal welfare organization. Anne’s been helping with Rosie’s medical treatment and eye surgery since I rescued her. Anne saves/rescues many cats and kittens every week and has a lot of experience with the eye infections Rosie had as well as with caring for kitten's post-surgery eye treatment. Anne' also fostering several kittens around Rosie’s age so Rosie has many play-mates who are helping her learn to play nice and not bite so much! When Rosie comes home, we’ll bring her best/favorite playmate with her. I’ve included a photo of Rosie shortly after her surgery. The blue stitches her vet used can be seen where her little eye used to be.  She'll look better when the stitches are gone and her fur's grown in. Rosie's getting so big (to me, anyway!).

I’m beginning to feel better, too. The pneumonia is finally clearing up and I’m awake most of the day rather than sleeping through it! I'm not feeling so depressed either, a huge relief as I was really down in the dumps for a while. As I get older I seem to cope worse with getting sick. That's something I've got to change!

I finally felt up to reading last week so, of course, I began reading (too) many books at one time because I added one or two books tot he ones I was already in the middle of! I'm focusing mostly on The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar, The Light between Oceans by ML Stedman, Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel and The City and The City by China Miéville, a book I’d hoped to read with Care and Ti and several other bloggers. I was disappointed that I just couldn’t manage to get to it at that time but I’m happy that the casual read along was incentive for me to get a copy of the book and read it because China Miéville is an author I’ve wanted to read for quite a while. I’m not sure when I’ll read some other Miéville books but I will someday!

Today I’ll be enjoying The World We Found which I’m loving so far! What are you reading and, hopefully, enjoying today?

Enjoy your day, Happy Sunday, Happy Reading!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Flight from Berlin by David John

Flight from Berlin by David John

Date Published: July 10, 2012
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0062091567
Pages: 384
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Book Summary: August 1936: The eyes of the world are on Berlin, where Adolf Hitler is using the Olympic Games to showcase his powerful new regime. Cynical British journalist Richard Denham knows that the carefully staged spectacle masks the Nazis’ ruthless brutality, and he’s determined to report the truth.

Sparks fly when the seasoned newspaperman meets the beautiful and rebellious American socialite Eleanor Emerson. A superb athlete whose brash behavior got her expelled from the U.S. Olympic swim team, Eleanor is now covering the games as a celebrity columnist for newspapers in the States. While Berlin welcomes the world, the Nazi capital becomes a terrifying place for Richard and Eleanor. Their chance encounter at a reception thrown by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels leads them into the center of a treacherous game involving the Gestapo and the British Secret Intelligence Service. At stake: a mysterious dossier that threatens to destroy the leadership of the Third Reich.

Drawn together by danger and passion, surrounded by enemies, Richard and Eleanor must pull off a daring plan to survive. But one wrong move could be their last.

Set in America and Europe, David John’s Flight from Berlin is a masterful blend of fact and fiction, drama and suspense. A riveting story of love, courage, and betrayal that culminates in a breathtaking race against the forces of evil, it will keep you spellbound until its thrilling end.

My Thoughts: The 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany were very different from the Olympics we know today. Many Americans felt that we shouldn’t attend the Olympics. For example, the father of one of the characters (Eleanor) in Flight from Berlin, believed that sending our athletes to Germany was “condoning, lending respectability to the most iniquitous, the most unconscionable regime ever...”. On the other side of the coin, many felt as Eleanor did that the Olympic Games had nothing to do with politics. It’s important to bear in mind that in 1936, what Hitler was doing was known by very few outside Germany. In David John’s very readable novel, Eleanor soon learns, through the plight of the Jewish athlete Hannah Liebermann and her family, what her father meant and how wrong she was to think the Olympics were just games.

Richard Denham, a British journalist and a main character, was aware Hitler was up to no good and hoped to write and publish articles that revealed what was happening in Germany at the time. He meets Eleanor at a party in Germany and they have an immediate connection. Soon they are inseparable despite their differing opinions on whether or not American athletes should be competing in the Olympics. When Richard receives a tip that Hannah Liebermann’s participation in the Games on behalf of Germany is due to the Nazis threatening her wealthy family, Eleanor assists him with his investigation. In an intriguing chapter, Richard’s approached by British intelligence because they believe (correctly) Richard’s sympathies are with the Allies. Some very influential individuals apprised British Intelligence of the articles Richard publishes in American papers revealing the truth about what‘s happening in Europe. Richard declines to be a spy, but agrees to keep an eye out for a dossier the Nazis are desperate to get in their hands. Of course this means the British want it as well.

John masterfully describes, in a few captivating passages, Jesse Owens’ high jump and Hannah Liebermann’s jousting competition. The Olympic Games fade into the background before the novel is half-finished, much to my disappointment. When John plies his crisp style to describe events that actually happened, they are some of the book’s highlights, and it seems obviously that it’s no coincidence this book hit the shelves now, timed with the Olympic Games getting underway in London. I suppose some might see this as a shameless way to exploit the Games to sell a book. I leave that to others to debate the ethics of that strategy.

In that light, it is a bit surprising (or maybe it’s my fault for going in with some preconceived notions) that the search for the mysterious dossier dominates the story along with Richard and Eleanor‘s burgeoning relationship. Flight from Berlin becomes a suspense-tinged adventure story and much less a historical novel as we discover just how important the dossier is to the Nazis and the lengths they’re willing to go to obtain it.

Richard and Eleanor test the Nazis’ resolve to obtain the dossier. Eleanor, my favorite character, was raised in a wealthy family and is brash, outspoken and daring. When she believes in something or someone, she seems willing to risk anything and everything. She also has no qualms about using any family connection no matter high up. It helps, of course, that she’s a beautiful and charming woman. Richard learns there’s no changing Eleanor’s mind once it’s made up and, since he wants and hopes for the same results as Eleanor, Richard goes along with her. Eleanor and Richard devise an extremely risky, ultimately ludicrous plan involving the mysterious dossier, the Liebermann family and the Nazis. With the assistance of many friends, acquaintances and colleagues and a ridiculous amount of luck the adventure unfolds over the last quarter or so of the book. It’s at this point that the historical aspect of the novel gives way to fiction.

Flight from Berlin wasn’t the story I expected or hoped for but although I didn’t love it, I did like it. David John’s writing is compelling and the book is a quick, exciting read that’s difficult to put down at times. I enjoyed learning about the creation and flights of the Graf and Hindenburg Zeppelins and reading about Jesse Owens high jump. John bases some of the minor and major characters on real people and includes interesting information about them in their bios in the back of the book which I found fascinating. I would have liked more history particularly about the Olympics and less adventure and high jinks I’d recommend this book for readers who enjoy historical fiction.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Flight from Berlin and to Harper for an ARC of this book.