Wednesday, August 31, 2011

~ ~ Wordless (Almost) Wednesday!! ~ ~

Bad Cats: Time-out for some of the kitties!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book review: Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz

Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz

Publisher: Harper Collins
Published Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-188177-0
Pages: 340
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, finds himself among similarly displaced persons gathered in the Allied occupation zones of a defeated Germany. Possessing little besides a map, a few tins of food, and a talent for black-market trading, he must scrape together a new life in a chaotic community of refugees, civilians, and soldiers. With fellow refugees Fela, a young widow, and Chaim, a resourceful teenager with impressive smuggling skills, Pavel establishes a makeshift family, as together they face an uncertain future. Eventually the trio immigrates to the United States, where they grapple with past traumas that arise again in the everyday moments of lives no longer dominated by the need to endure, fight, hide, or escape.

Ghita Schwarz’s Displaced Persons is an astonishing novel of grief, anger, and survival that examines the landscape of liberation and reveals the interior despairs and joys of immigrants shaped by war and trauma.

My Thoughts: Ghita Schwarz has written an engrossing, haunting and evocative novel about several survivors of the Holocaust and the lives they created in the decades following the war. I have read many books about World War II, the horrors and atrocities Hitler and the Nazis visited on people and the touching and remarkable desire of people to survive the Holocaust and be standing when the war is over. I've never thought much about the lives of the survivors after WW II ended: What happened to them? Where did they go? What did they do once the war was over? Many of the people liberated from the concentration camps at the end of the war lost most or all of their family members and loved ones waiting for the war to end. Many of the survivors also lost their homes which were taken over by the Nazis or Germans, some were still occupied, many were rendered uninhabitable. So where do these people go now and what do they do? Displaced Persons is the amazing, breath-taking answer. This is the story Ghita Schwarz, the daughter of a camp survivor, wanted to read. When she couldn't find it, she decided to write it.

This book is divided into three sections, each covering a period of years. The first section is set in Germany beginning in 1945. The survivors have recently been liberated from the concentration camps only to be placed in a different kind of camp. Refugee camps were set up in the Allied occupation zones of defeated Germany. Several characters in Displaced Persons including Pavel, Fela, Chaim, Berel, Dvora and their small daughter Sima, meet in the Bergen-Belsen refugee camp. The camps provide a place for the survivors to go for food, to sleep, to find jobs and hopefully, surviving family members and loved ones. But the refugee camps are not comfortable or clean and not a place where many of the survivors want to stay. Many are over-run with rats, there is no privacy and the bathrooms are rather gross. The slogan in the refugee camps was "Liberated but not free". Ms. Schwarz effectively relates through Pavel, Berel and some of the other characters the mixed feelings the survivors have about staying in the camps. Her clear, honest writing transports us to this area of Germany in 1945 and it's not long before Pavel's anger, Berel's sadness and confusion and Sima's tears are understandable.

The title "Displaced Persons" as well as the term became all too clear to me after reading the first section of the book. I cannot imagine how someone like Chaim must have felt when he was handed an identity card and papers calling him a Displaced Person or "DP" which is what the survivors were soon being called. It's disheartening and shocking. Unfortunately, for Berel, Dvora and little Sima as for many of the survivors, the refugee camps are the only place available for them to stay. They don't have a home to return to, they are, effectively, displaced persons. Berel also displays the inner strength and hope that so many of the survivors have. He sees life in the camps as an opportunity to find a job and get Sima enrolled in school. Then he will bide his time until he can move his family to Israel.

Unlike Berel, Pavel refuses to live in the refugee camps. He uses bribery, trickery and deception to obtain a house for himself, Fela and Chaim, survivors he met while on line for ration cards at the camp. Pavel rationalizes his behavior because of all that he's been through since the start of WW II. Life for Pavel is all about survival and creating a good life for himself and his new family. Pavel will do what he has to do. He is resourceful and ambitious. Pavel makes connections with important people who can help him and learns about black-market trading. His ultimate goal is to get to America, something he's constantly planning for and figuring out. Pavel tries hard to put the past behind him but he has a lot of anger about life and periodically it boils over. Pavel expects to be respected, listened to and obeyed as he once was in his life before the war changed everything. He gets upset when things don't work out as he planned. But once he calms down, he continues on with his plans.

The second and third sections of Displaced Persons take place decades after the war. Many of the survivors are living in America, raising families and working. Pavel, Fela and their children live in Queens. It wasn't easy for Pavel and Fela to get out of Germany but they finally did it. Pavel has a small but successful business with his brother-in-law selling and tailoring suits and is taking care of his family. Fela stays home caring for thei two children. Try as they might, he and Fela cannot let go of the past. Their experiences with the war and the camps has marked them and impacted their behavior. Pavel is still filled with anger and pain while everything scares and worries Fela especially as regards her children. They don't talk about their experiences, their past. They don't want to burden their children. It's obvious Ms. Schwarz understands the struggle for people like Pavel and Fela. Although I couldn't exactly identify with them, I sympathized with Pavel and Fela and was amazed by their strength. Their courage is inspiring but I wonder if their children would relate to them better if they knew what their parents had been through. At the time, nobody talked about their struggles and the pain of their past, you just soldiered on. Pavel and Fela aren't that different from other people of their generation. They keep things close to their vest, unaware of the distance created by secrets kept from spouses and children.

Displaced Persons is an amazing book about strong and inspiring characters who have experienced profound tragedy but survive to build lives they can be proud of. Ms. Schwarz's characters are not mythical creatures but real human beings with major flaws and inspiring characteristics. Despite what they've been through, Pavel, Fela, Chaim and Sima all make mistakes and regret some of the things they do. Their power is in their strength and resilience. They don't give up despite their hardships and struggles they've had to face and overcome. Ghita Schwarz has written a rich, powerful and brilliant novel everyone should take the time to read. This is a book that shouldn't be read quickly. Her characters are complex and real and they come alive through the course of the novel. Like real people they grow and change as their lives move on and we can only fully understand and know them if we pay attention to their lives and experiences every step of the way. This is a poignant, inspiring and evocative novel you don't want to miss.

Ghita Schwarz website

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Salon ~ East Coasters Stay Safe and Dry, Please!!

We're 'weathering' (hee hee!) Hurricane Irene pretty well here. I think the cats are the most upset because they are stranded indoors. Bob aka Big Sexy Bob took a risk and went outside around 2 a.m. when the rain and wind quieted down for a little while. I think he lasted all of about 6.3 minutes outside, just enough excitement to knock him out for the next 6 hours! lol The worst of the storm, so far, came in the middle of the night with heavy downpours and major wind for several hours. Today has been really quiet. The sun even peeked out earlier. About an hour ago the wind picked up again. The news is reporting an extremely large number of homes are without power. A good friend of mine in MA is one of them. I'm hoping other Bloggers are doing okay and staying safe.

I picked up Alice Bliss this morning while having my coffee and read for quite a while. It's a great book, I'm really enjoying it. I'm relieved, too, because this past week or so I seemed to be in bit of a reading slump. Nothing was exciting me and I have some terrific books to read here. Whatever it was Laura Harrington seems to have chased it away with Alice so fingers crossed that was it for my slump! I'm going to visit a few blogs now and try to finish up a couple of reviews, namely The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker and Love Lies Bleeding by Jess McConkey.

I hope you're having a good Sunday.
Stay safe and dry and out of Irene's way!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book review: Cleaning Nabokov's House by Leslie Daniels

Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels

Publisher: Touchstone
Published Date: March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9502-4
Pages: 325
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
Courtesy of:  Crazy Book Tours

Book Summary: Barb Barrett has inadequate skills for relationships. In particular, she cannot follow her husband's instructions. Because of this character ''flaw,'' she falls through the safety net of her lousy marriage, losing custody of her children and her home as she plummets. Guided only by her intense inner life, and a questionable business plan, Barb is determined to reinvent herself. She moves into a house once occupied by the literary genius Vladimir Nabokov, author of the notorious Lolita. She discovers what could be Nabokov's last unpublished manuscript and from there begins a painful yet joyous journey that is deliciously romantic, both darkly comic and wise.

Introducing a dazzling new voice in fiction, Cleaning Nabokov's House will enchant fiction lovers with an accessible and engaging voice they will come to cherish.

My Thoughts: Cleaning Nabokov'e House wasn't the powerful, riveting story about a woman whose marriage fails but she manages to remake her life when she finds Vladimir Nabokov's unpublished manuscript buried in her new rental house I thought it was going to be. I wondered, seriously, what I'd gotten myself into when I read the opening lines:

“I knew I could stay in this town when I found the blue enamel pot floating in the lake. The pot led me to the house, the house led me to the book, the book to the lawyer, the lawyer to the whorehouse, the whorehouse to science, and from science I joined the world.”

I read them several times just to be sure I was reading them correctly. At that point, I almost closed the book for good because a pot, lawyer, whorehouse and science connected in some way that the protagonist then joined the world sounded a little too ridiculous. I don't like judging anything, books, people etc. too quickly, though, so I kept reading. I'm very glad I did. Leslie Daniels' writing is engaging and very funny and her main character and the narrator, Barb Barrett is a wonderfully compelling character.

Barb is a slightly eccentric, fashion-challenged, quirky and lovable woman who was bullied by her husband for most of their loveless marriage. In a more serious book, Barb would be a victim of domestic violence, particularly verbal and psychological abuse. In Leslie Daniels capable hands, Barb's story is less serious, more humorous and Barb's more in control than some victim's of domestic violence. Barb voluntarily walks out on her husband while he's instructing her, for the umpteenth time, on how to properly load the dishwasher. It takes a lot of nerve and courage for Barb to do this. She uses her last bit of gumption to leave the ex-person (her delightful term for her jerk of a former husband!). Actually, Barb takes one more major step that I'm going to save for you to find out!

Ultimately, Barb ends up all alone in the ex-person’s childhood home town, without a job, with very little money and without her children since the ex-person obtained custody of the kids. Her situation is daunting and over-whelming. Barb has to figure out how to show the court she’s a fit parent and come up with a game-plan to get her children back. Ms. Daniel convincingly portrays through Barb how difficult it can be for women in circumstances similar to Barb's: divorced from super-controlling bullies like the ex-person who use their power and connections to keep custody of the children regardless of whether it's in their best interests. Rather than give us a heavy, poignant drama, though, Ms. Daniels gives a light and humorous story with a delightfully funny and entertaining main character in Barb!

Barb is the quirky, sweet and funny woman we'd all love to have as a friend. Right now, thought, she’s in need of a friend but she's alone in a town where she knows no one. She flounders for a while, doubting her ability to go up against the ex-person. In need of support and unsure where to find it, Barb, understandably, throws herself a few pity-parties. She needs to find the confidence she lacks somewhere. Cleaning her daughter's room one day, she discovers a series of index cards that make up a manuscript which appears to be from Vladimir Nabokov, a former resident of Barb's house. Barb's found her source of confidence and we delight in reading as she slowly gets back her strength, sense of humor and her power as a woman and a mom. I enjoyed rooting for Barb every step of the way. There are some times when it feels like she'll never get anywhere and I wanted to shake her or slap her across the face to get her moving! Still, the book doesn't drag at all. Ms. Daniels writing is too good for that and Barb too engaging. She’s willing to take risks, doesn’t care if she makes a fool out of herself and she isn’t shy about sex. Not too mention, the snide, snarky remarks she mutters especially about the ex-person, are hilarious! And once Barb finally comes up with a plan nothing and no one can stand in her way!

Several of the supporting characters are similarly engaging and its obvious Ms. Daniels has a talent for creating unique, slightly off-beat and charming characters. They all have their quirks which endear them to us even more and their stories provide enchanting reading and give us a interesting vision of life in small-town Onkwedo. Although it initially took me a few pages to get drawn into Barb’s story, once her charm hooked me, the pages flew by. Barb is such a genuine, honest and direct person that it often feels as if she’s speaking with us directly. She shares her innermost thoughts and feelings with us as the narrative progresses making us feel like we know her personally. As a result, I became intensely invested in the outcome of Barb's story. It no longer mattered to me how nutty or unrealistic her game-plan was, I just wanted it to work for her.

Ms. Daniels excels at drawing readers into Barb's story with engaging writing, a compelling protagonist and an entertaining, enchanting story that is funny and compelling. To fully accept the story-line you will have to suspend your belief in reality for a bit and just go along with Barb's game plan, something I wasn't sure I could do but it turned out to be easy since I was already invested in the story. I was as surprised as anyone that I became so absorbed by this story but at some point while reading, I suddenly found myself cheering for Barb. I was fervently hoping for her to get custody of her adorable as well as quirky kids, whatever it took (almost!) and to beat the stuffy, boring, self-righteous ex-person at his own game...and possibly find a better man along the way. I read this book mainly at night after long, tiring days when this lighter, funny, enchanting and sometimes silly story was a delight with which to end the day. If you enjoy wacky characters with personality and a sense of humor and a funny, sometimes realistic, sometimes and well-written story I highly recommend Cleaning Nabokov's House.

Check out Leslie Daniel's website

Thank you to Crazy Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Cleaning Nabokov's House

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

~ 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. The idea is to share the opening paragraph (maybe two) of a book you've decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s). The first two paragraphs for my book this week are below. This book has received wonderful reviews and I'm very excited to read it! Be sure to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's terrific selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!

Prologue: August 20th

This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone. She is fourteen, barefoot, her sneakers tied together by the laces and slung across her shoulder so she can feel the soft sandy dust of the single track road between her toes. Her sister Ellie fell asleep halfway through the square dance, dropping from hyper excitement to unconscious in a flash. Her father carries Ellie draped over his shoulder and casually, or so it seems, her mother says, “Come home when the dance is done.”

She can hardly believe it. The dance is still in her feet, still in her bones, the steps like an intricate game. She danced with everyone and anyone at all, old and young, men and women, just to stay on the floor and moving. The caller was a blind man with two fingers missing from his left hand. His face was wrinkled and brown from the sun, his body heavy and the voice that called the steps strangely high and sweet. A boy’s voice in a man’s body. A boy’s wildness, as though he had no awareness of himself in his body.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas

Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas

Date Published: February 2011
ISBN: 978-1-58988-061-0
Publisher: Paul Dry Books
Page: 204
Genre: Memoir; Non-Fiction
Rating: 5.0 out of 5

Book Summary: In 2004 Rachel Hadas's husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of sixty-one. Strange Relation is her account of "losing" George. Her narrative begins when George's illness can no longer be ignored, and ends in 2008 soon after his move to a dementia facility (when, after thirty years of marriage, she finds herself no longer living with her husband). Within the cloudy confines of those difficult years, years when reading and writing were an essential part of what kept her going, she "tried to keep track... tried to tell the truth."

My Thoughts: My review of Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas is long overdue. I apologize to the author, the publisher, Paul Dry and to Mary Bisbee-Beek who brought this book to my attention. I've been reading this engrossing memoir for a long time because it's compelling, beautifully written and so worth savoring I couldn't stop reading it. Rachel Hadas is a professor of poetry and literature and a published poet. It is therefore fitting that she found help, guidance and comfort, as she tried to grapple with George's dementia diagnosis, in literature and poetry. She shares the passages from literature, essays and articles and the poems, including her own, with us in Strange Relation as she struggles with the drastic changes in her life.

Hadas is intensely honest in this heart-breaking, very personal account of dealing with the progression of dementia in her husband as well as the changes wrought to his character and personality over time. Hadas explains George has never been very talkative, he's more contemplative. One of the things she and George have always had in their marriage was a "shared silence". Even before Hadas knew something was wrong with George, the silence changed becoming the kind of silence that comes from living with someone who doesn't talk to you: "bleak, uncanny, sometimes infuriating." As I read about some of the changes in George amounting to the loss of the man Hadas married, I shed some tears. Hadas makes it clear how comprehensive the changes are in George when she relays a conversation with their son Jonathan, a junior or senior in high school when George began suffering from dementia. Jonathan, now several years out of college, discusses with his mother how he's never had an adult conversation with his father...and never will.

Hadas shares with us that she looks to literature and poetry because it helps her to figure out what she's thinking. Through literature Rachel discovered she wasn't alone because other people had experienced difficult situations similar to her own or harder and "found the courage to face and describe" what happened to them. Hadas provides detailed explanations and insights of why specific passages or poems from the works of authors such as Lawrence Shainberg, Wallace Stevens, Clinton Erb, Barry Unsworth, Allegra Goodman, Phillip Larkin, Thomas Hardy, James Merrill and Edith Wharton among many others. I think even readers who don't read poetry or literature will understand and appreciate why these various works served as life-lines for Hadas. Similarly, Hadas shares many of her own poems, some written in response to the impact of specific incidents in her life with George while others Hadas wrote previously evince how she was feeling and coping with George's Alzheimers.

One of Rachel Hadas poems that touched me:

love to spy what people
curled beside the river
are reading: Epictetus,
"Fermat's last Theorem," "Madame Bovary,"

until the afternoon
sun has its way with them.
Broad and glaucous river;
weeds and glittering rocks;

a navy T-shirt someone
shat on; a broken bottle.
One reader on the bank
from sqinting in the glare

has yielded to the hour
and drifted off downstream,
still there in basking body,
but dreaming, absent, gone.

You are like that:
your mind a mote shining across the water,
your person, handsome, lean,
comfortably angled to the sun.

Hadas discovered that once she finally understand that George was ill, writing about it, self-expression, helped her to further understand and clarify what was happening to George and in their life together. Hadas’ courage in sharing this difficult journey through George's decent into Alzheimer's and her role in it is remarkable. In sharing this story, Hadas provides succor and a truly valuable helping hand to countless other family and friends who lives will be impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s in the future. Strange Relation is an emotionally intense and complex book that pulls on your heart strings. I cannot recommend this beautifully written, poignant and absorbing memoir highly enough but be aware it’s not a quick read.

Rachel Hadas website.

Thank you to Mary Bisbee-Beek for the opportunity to read and review Strange Relation and thank you to the publisher, Paul Dry for a copy of the book

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

~ ~ Wondrous Words Wednesday ~ ~

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

The words below are from Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas:

"It's equally quixotic (though perfectly natural) to hope for a clear diagnosis or for a cure."

1. Quixotic
: impulsive and often rashly unpredictable.
: impractical or impracticable

“Like some illnesses, this simile is iatrogenic; its source is a physician”

2. Iatrogenic
: caused by the diagnosis, manner, or treatment of a physician

“Here I am, immured alongside him. Yet not wholly immured.”

3. Immured
: to enclose behind walls; to imprison
: to shut in, exclude or confine

" In the paternal role of disciplinarian, George had a gently creative approach: he invented the institution of the Talking Chair, which was an armchair to which father and son would repair to talk over whatever contretemps had transpired or whenever George declared a time-out. "

4. Contretemps
: an awkward or difficult situation or mishap
: a small disagreement that is rather embarrassing

The following words come from The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

" Gordie's presence betraying a hint of garrulity, insisting that she hadn't needed a rescue in any case, since she'd known how to swim since she was four. "

5. Garrulity
: talkativeness; loquacity

" His voice seemed tinged with private rue, something like self-reproach. "

6. Rue
: to feel sorrow, repentance or regret
: pity or compassion

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

~ First Chapter Paragraph(s) Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted every Tuesday by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. Share on your blog the opening paragraph (maybe two) of a book you decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s). The book I've chosen is on Tour with TLC Book Tours next month.
After reading the paragraphs from my book below, be sure to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's terrific selection this week and visit the other participants in this great meme!

When he was born he was alive. That was one thing.

He was a he too, astonishingly - not that anyone expected him to be otherwise, but the notion of one so elemental, so small, carrying the complex mantle of gender seemed preposterous, the designation "male" the linguistic equivalent of a false mustache fixed above his infant lip.
His lips: how barely pink they were, the pink of the rim of the sky at winter dusk. And in their curl - in the way the upper lip rose to peaks and dipped down again, twice, like a bobbing valentine; and in the way the lower bowed out, luxuriant, lush, as if sated already from a lifetime of pleasures - how improbably expressive were his lips.

His hands like sea creatures curled and stretched, as if charged with purpose and intent. Five of his fingers closed around one of his mother's and held it while he slept. He was capable of this.

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

~ Sunday Salon ~ Rain, Reading, Dreams, Nightmares, Cats, Traveling Books

Sunday, Sunday!! It's a lovely, very wet, rain-soaked day. Not my choice in weather but for reading it's perfect!

I woke up quite suddenly this morning around 2 a.m.. I think if I could have I would have bolted out of bed, do you know what I mean? Have you ever woken up suddenly and felt off like something was wrong?! I was disoriented. I didn't know if I was having a bizarre dream, a nightmare or something else. When I'd fallen asleep earlier, Bob was on the bed, curled up and sleeping....when I woke up it felt like I was surrounded by cats of all shapes and sizes all staring at me!! I think I may have even given a small shout, sort of like Aaahhhgggg! When I was able to collect my wits and breathe normally I looked around me. There were 5 cats (hardly 'surrounded'! lolol...Addie and Lola were sitting up on the dresser across the room facing my direction. JoJo was sitting up on a shelf close to, but above the bed, also facing me. Huxley was sitting on top of a bunch of pillows on the bed facing me, to looking down at me. When Huxley saw me look at him, he gave me one of his whiney meows as if to say, "It's about time you woke up, mom!" Bob, of course, was still curled up and sleeping, completely oblivious! I finally clued in when the sleep-fog fully cleared from my head, as to why the kitties came inside at roughly the same was pouring pouring cats and dogs kind of pouring. HA!Ha!ha! lolol That's a pretty sad, pathetic joke! Oh well...made me laugh! I think the rain is getting to me, too! lolol

I found a great blog a few days ago, Catsparella, belonging to Stephanie who is the proud mom of cats, Charlie and Priscilla. On the "About" page Stephanie tells all about her blog in terrific detail with some great links. Briefly, Catsparellais a 'cat culture' blog featuring the coolest cat related content online from adorable cats to cat fashion, cat art, cat cupcakes and all kinds of cat-related items. Saturday is 'Caturday' and very often features Catsparella reader's adorable cats. One of my favorite recent posts is from this past Friday, August 12 featuring a YouTube video, ’Mean Kitty’s New Home’ of 3 cats acclimating to their new home. Their owner, who appears on camera first, is a great cat dad and in tune with what his cats need and what's best for them as you'll see in the video. It's also set to great music reminiscent of the Ikea video when 100 cats were let loose in the store.(If you haven't seen this, it's also on YouTube and very much worth watching!)

I always plan to post Sunday Salon in the morning but it rarely happens! This morning was perfect reading weather so I made extra coffee and finished Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas, a very good book which took me a long time to read which I’ll explain in my review! I also read The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker and Love Lies Bleeding by Jess McConkey. I love free mornings when I can sit and read...and read! I started Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant. I received a package on Thursday that I was thrilled about when I opened it because  it was Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington.  I requested a copy of Alice Bliss on Laura’s website after I read a post on Dawn’s blog, She is Too Fond of Books. (Thank you Dawn!) The post was about Laura’s campaign to send Alice Bliss on an around-the-world adventure as part of the BookCrossing program encouraging people to read and share. I thought it sounded like such a great idea! After I read Alice Bliss I am supposed to ‘release’ it in a public place, log it into BookCrossing and watch where it goes! Please share with me where you think I should leave Alice Bliss after I read the book!

What are you up to today? Reading anything good?
I hope you’re enjoying your Sunday!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review: On Maggie's Watch by Ann Wertz Garvin

Title: On Maggie's Watch
Author: Ann Wertz Garvin
Date Published: August 2011
ISBN: 978-0425236789
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.0 out of 5

Publisher’s Book Summary: Maggie Finley has returned with her husband from the big city to her Wisconsin hometown, where she reunites with her best friend and awaits the any-minute-now birth of her baby. She's determined to create a safe haven on Hemlock Road, a neighborhood that has always meant security, community, and love. One way to do that: resurrect the defunct Neighborhood Watch program.

The Watch folks are mostly concerned with dog poop and litterbugs. But Maggie's done some digging and discovered a potential threat living just around the corner-a threat that must be eradicated. And the more Maggie tries to take control, the more out of control she gets...

My Thoughts: I was very curious about On Maggie's Watch by Ann Wertz Garvin the first time I read the book summary. I suspected what the threat "that must be eradicated" might be and hoped I was right because I wanted to read a book that focused on this issue. When I discovered On Maggie's Watch on the list for Crazy Books Tours I signed up immediately. My suspicions as to the threat were correct but otherwise this book wasn't at all what I expected. I finished reading it when I was in the middle of dealing with some difficult problems and I wasn't focused on the review. By the time things cleared up, I'd moved on to reading other books forgot to review On Maggie's Watch. I admit, too, part of it was I don't like writing reviews when I didn't like a book very much! Then I spoke to Jen who runs Crazy Book Tours. I realized it wasn't right for me to receive a book through Crazy Books hard work, read it and not write anything about it.

Maggie, the main character of On Maggie's Watch, is pregnant with her second child. Her first was stillborn and the pain and despair of that event and time in her life still lives inside Maggie. She and her husband moved out of the city to the suburbs of Maggie's childhood to be in a safer environment for their child. But Maggie's not completely comfortable in her old neighborhood either, even with her best friend, Julia, just a hop, skip and a jump away from her. When Maggie, with encouragement from Julia, decides to resurrect the defunct Neighborhood Watch program, she's envisioning something more like a military operation than some neighbors making sure they're all safe and respectful of each other and their property.

Maggie obviously has issues with control from page one but her concern with the safety of her unborn baby is understandable particularly when we learn about the problems with her first pregnancy. And women's hormones tend to go a little crazy during pregnancy. Still, I was perplexed when Maggie's husband and Julia made comments referring to times in the past when Maggie's behavior was strange and out-of-control. I felt like I was missing something that I was supposed to know which they assumed I knew but I didn't and I couldn't find the answer anywhere in the book. They seem to be saying that Maggie's bizarre behavior wasn't related to her pregnancy. But then why wasn't she seeing a doctor or getting some help from someone? It was frustrating and confusing. I soon got a clue to what they were probably talking about in terms of Maggie's behavior but it only made me more confused and perplexed.

Maggie discovers via the internet that a sex offender lives in the neighborhood. She has no idea why this person's on the list but she doesn't care. That fact that he's on the sex offender list is enough. Maggie becomes extremely annoyed because nobody else, not her husband or Julia or the neighbors, take this issue as seriously as she does. Maggie's, wacky, nutty-but-cute, controlling behavior suddenly evolves into completely out-of-control, looney-tunes crazy! It includes the obviously pregnant Maggie, in her adorable PJs, bicycling through the neighborhood in the dead of night to sabotage the home of the sex offender.

In Maggie's mind she's protecting her unborn child. Somehow her husband, who is so concerned about her, completely misses these nightly excursions. Julia eventually finds out what Maggie's doing and, though she thinks Maggie's nuts, does nothing about it! During the day, Maggie seems to be losing her grasp on reality as she distances herself from her husband, flirts with a man she met through the Neighborhood Watch program, imagining a new life with him and plans her nightly assaults on the sex offender. It doesn't help Maggie's behavior that she's not sleeping much. It seems Maggie's become so obsessed with the sex offender and her new crush, she's forgotten she needs to take care of herself to take care of her unborn baby.

On Maggie's Watch moves at a quick pace and, although I had problems with Maggie's character, I though the novel was well-written, the dialogue realistic and well-done and the passages about sex offenders and the sex offender list were interesting and informative. This certainly wasn't the light book I thought it was going to be. There are some funny scenes and humorous comments but several of the issues including that of sex offenders as well as Maggie's behavior make this a more intense, and heavier book than I expected it to be. I wasn't able to connect with or relate to Maggie in anyway and I didn't really like her. The other characters were so ineffectual and two-dimensional that I barely remembered them after finishing the book. Ms. Garvin relays one of the major problems with the way the sex offender laws are administered in her book. I wish the story surrounding this issue was clearer and more powerful.

Ann Wertz Garvin's Website and Blog

Thank you to Crazy Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review On Maggie's Watch.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Review: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Date Published: August 9, 2011
ISBN: 978-0062065117
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher’s Book Summary: Tom Violet always thought that by the time he turned thirty-five, he’d have everything going for him. Fame. Fortune. A beautiful wife. A satisfying career as a successful novelist. A happy dog to greet him at the end of the day.
The reality, though, is far different. He’s got a wife, but their problems are bigger than he can even imagine. And he’s written a novel, but the manuscript he’s slaved over for years is currently hidden in his desk drawer while his father, an actual famous writer, just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His career, such that it is, involves mind-numbing corporate buzzwords, his pretentious arch-nemesis Gregory, and a hopeless, completely inappropriate crush on his favorite coworker. Oh . . . and his dog, according to the vet, is suffering from acute anxiety.

Tom’s life is crushing his soul, but he’s decided to do something about it. (Really.) Domestic Violets is the brilliant and beguiling story of a man finally taking control of his own happiness—even if it means making a complete idiot of himself along the way.

My Thoughts:  The cover of Domestic Violets makes me think about the intro to Mad Men, of which I am a fan, but it's the title 'Domestic Violets' that first drew my attention to this book. It's a little bit irreverent which I love and immediately made me think it was probably about a family in some respect or other. Then I read the premise and it was an easy choice to review this book for TLC Book Tours. In the back of my mind, I was concerned the title, cover and premise of this book would be, like so many movie trailers, the best part of the book I need not have worried. This book is smart, extremely funny, well-written with genuine dialogue and seriously flawed, realistic characters who are as charming as they are jerky and easy for me to love.

The Violet family, Tom, Anna and 7-year old Allie, lives in Washington D. C. with other family members including Tom's father, Curtis Violet, his step-father, Gary and his mother in surrounding nearby areas. Curtis moves in to Tom's house for a short time due to some domestic problems in his own home, adding to the chaos that is Tom's life right now. Having his dad as a houseguest could be a good thing or a disaster, only time will tell. And Tom getting a clue and paying attention to things happening right under his nose would help!

Tom's life has run seriously off-course in the last few months and is only getting worse. As the book opens, Tom is in the bathroom off the bedroom he shares with Anna. She's in bed, dressed in lingerie, waiting for him and he's bemoaning his inability to have sex with his wife. Try as he might, Tom cannot get his flaccid penis to cooperate. He returns to the bedroom where Anna, despite Tom's reluctance and discomfort, tries to help things along to no avail. Tom's humiliation is complete. Just as Anna seems about to try to talk to Tom, there's a frantic knock on the locked door. Allie's upset, convinced there's a burglar downstairs. When Tom and Anna hear noises below, Tom creeps down the stairs, his nine-iron on his hand, to find his front door open and Curtis in the refrigerator rummaging around for some good alcohol. Matthew Norman opens his captivating novel with a humorous, slightly pathetic, brief and meaningful glimpse into Tom's current life.

Tom's a guy's kind of guy. He likes to drink beer, play golf, admire pretty women and crack jokes, the more inappropriate the situation the better for joking. He doesn't like to talk about feelings, or things that cause him stress, or try to figure out what such issues might be. Tom doesn't like to communicate even with Anna, maybe especially with Anna. Rather than communicate with her, he shuts her out.. As a result, he's become distant from Anna and there's no light on the horizon indicating things are going to improve on their own. Tom's frustrated and feeling sorry for himself. The reality of his life doesn't match what he's always dreamed and expected it would be by the time he reached 35. He doesn't appreciate what he has but whines about what he doesn't have and wants. Tom's always wanted to be a successful writer of fiction. The major problem here is that his father, Curtis Violet, is a famous, award-winning novelist and this years Pulitzer Prize winner.

Tom has been writing a novel for several years. It's currently sitting in his desk draw with a title page naming the author as Thomas Ferris! To pay the bills he's a copywriter at Management Services Worldwide (MSW) a huge company. Tom detests his job. To get through the days at MSW, Tom flirts with the other copywriter on whom he has a crush: Katie, a beautiful, young 23-year old who looks at Tom with stars in her big brown eyes. Tom also openly, mercilessly mocks Gregory Steinberg, his coworker who edits Tom's copy. Tom doesn't like Gregory. He knows exactly what things bothers Greg and he relishes pushing those buttons each and everyday. Both of these situations have the potential to get Tom in a lot of trouble.

Tom has the potential to be a real jerk but he can also be charming. Deep down he seems to have a good heart and loves his wife and daughter. None of this will matter if Tom doesn't figure out his life, learn how to communicate with his wife and repair the disconnect between them. Norman has created a remarkably flawed, very human character in Tom. He has incorporated many of the male traits in Tom women moan about in men. He's also included in Tom many of the characteristics we often wish to see in men. Tom is a well-rounded character but he's a good example of how even stable, fortunate people can screw up their lives sometimes. Tom's terrible at communicating with his wife but he's well aware of his failings as a husband, father and man. He sincerely shares his problems and issues with us throughout the novel. I thought his honesty was one of his most endearing qualities. I also really appreciated his self-deprecating humor. It effectively portrayed how much pressure Tom feels wanting to be a novelist yet having Curtis with his reputation and accomplishments as a father.

I think it was a brilliant choice of Norman's to have Tom narrate the novel from a first-person point-of-view because it creates an intimacy with the reader. At times during the narrative, I felt like Tom was flirting with me a bit, turning on his charm to influence my opinion, maybe being a little too honest or genuine. Similarly, it sometimes felt as if Tom's joking is all for our benefit like he's putting on a show. I was surprised Anna didn't become more frustrated with Tom on a regular basis. I sure wanted to smack some sense into him occasionally!

Norman's talent isn't limited to 36-year old Tom. It's apparent that Norman understands people. His dialogue, whether between Tom and Anna, Tom and Curtis or even with Ashley, Curtis' beautiful, bitter and unpleasant wife, has a genuine ring to it and flows smoothly. Even his secondary characters are realistic and, even if we're not able to identify with them, we feel sympathy for them. Ashley, Curtis' young wife who kicked him out is self-centered and angry. She's also needy and bitter because she's not the center of Curtis' world, something she wants and needs. Although Ashley isn't someone I can truly relate to, I understand her, knowing that Curtis has an eye for women and being a faithful companion is not one of his talents, and was able to sympathize with her hurt and anger.

Tom's life gets more chaotic and unsettling after the first few chapters. He comes up with a way to free himself from the frustrations and limitations he feels and get a good laugh at the same time. Like much of Tom's behavior, it seems like a terrible idea that might turn out okay in the end. Still, I really wished for both their sakes, that Tom confided in Anna first. That would be a mature, reasonable grown-up things to do, though!

Domestic Violets is a book you don't want to miss. It won't just make you laugh and entertain you, it will irritate you and tick you off in parts, it will make you think seriously about different issues and, if it doesn't make you cry, it will sadden you in parts but it will also seriously entertain you! Once you start reading Matthew Norman's debut, you won't want to put it down. There's quite a bit going on in this book and it can be read on a couple of different levels. However you look at it, though it's about family, relationships, love, how we define ourselves, work, books and the book industry among other things. I highly recommend this book and I am already anticipating Matthew Norman's next book!

Matthew Norman's blog, The Norman Nation

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Domestic Violets and to Harper Perennial for a copy of Domestic Violets.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: The Foreigners by Maxine Swann

The Foreigners by Maxine Swann

Date Published: August 2011
ISBN: 978-1594488306
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.0 out of 5

Publisher’s Book Summary: A glittering, energetic novel about three women-each experiencing an awakening in the gloriously conflicted and sexy city of Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires is a city of Parisian affections and national anxiety, of amorous young lovers, seedy ports, flooded slums, and a dazzling social elite. Into this heady maze of contradiction and possibility enter two women: Daisy, an American divorcée; and Isolde, a beautiful, lonely Austrian. In Buenos Aires, Isolde finds that her blond European looks afford her entrée to the kind of elite, alluring social world she never would have had access to in her home country, but her ascension also sets her up for a long, surprising fall. Meanwhile, Daisy joins forces with Leonarda, a chameleonic Argentine with radical dreams of rebellion, who transfixes Daisy with her wild effervescence. Soon, Daisy is throwing off her American earnestness and engaging in a degree of passion, manipulation, and risk-taking in a way she never has before. Buenos Aires has allowed her to become someone else.
Against the throbbing backdrop of this shimmering and decadent city- almost a character in itself-Maxine Swann has created a stunning narrative of reawakened sensuality and compulsive desire that simultaneously explores with remarkable acuity themes of foreignness, displacement, and the trembling metamorphoses that arise from such states. From the award-winning, critically celebrated author of Flower Children, The Foreigners is a startlingly bold and original, unforgettable next novel.

My Thoughts: I finished this book last week but I needed to think about it for several days. I'm still a little unsure what to say about The Foreigners. This is the first book I've read that is set in Buenos Aires. I was really looking forward to reading The Foreigners for the setting alone, especially since the book summary tells us the city is "almost a character in itself". Unfortunately, I didn't find this to be the case. We’re told a little bit about Buenos Aires at various points throughout the book and even more about the tourists or foreigners who come to Buenos Aires. The Foreigners, primarily although, is a story about the course of the friendships between Daisy and the two women she meets in Buenos Aires, Leonarda and Isolde as well as the intriguing trajectory of Isolde‘s life.

Daisy, the protagonist of the novel, escapes to Buenos Aires after her 9-year marriage ends in divorce. She doesn't handle the stress and disappointment of divorce well physically or psychologically and is hospitalized after a frightening fainting spell. Daisy's friend suggests she get away. Through him, Daisy obtains a grant to study the water system in Buenos Aires.

Daisy visits the Silver river and some other bodies of water in Buenos Aires after sharing what she’s read about them and the water situation in Buenos Aires. In addition, Daisy occasionally tells about an area of the city she read about or shares glimpses of the different neighborhoods she walks through or the places where she goes for drinks or dinner. Rather than focus on the city itself, it's the tourists, the foreigners who come to Buenos Aires and how they are received by the residents that Daisy learns more about when she temporarily moves to Buenos Aires. The foreigners "fall into categories" depending on where they come from and why they come. Europeans or Americans, as long as they are "basically decently physically assembled" are considered upper class unless proven otherwise. I found the passages about Buenos Aires, foreigners and Daisy's conversations with Argentineans and other tourists about life in Buenos Aires one of the most interesting aspects of the book. These sections in the book were written in beautiful, compelling prose. I would have liked more of this writing and wish it had been weaved into the story rather than appear in the beginning or end of a chapter.

Maxine Swann is quite adept at creating eccentric, bizarre and fascinating characters. Daisy is the main character and also the first-person narrator. She is lost and at loose-ends after her divorce. She seems healthy, physically now but there's a disconnect between her and life which makes it difficult to relate to and connect with her. Unfortunately, I had similar difficulty with the two women Daisy befriends. Leonarda is an Argentine who is "interested in foreigners". She is moody, immature, has serious issues with control and enjoys shocking people. I'm not sure whether Leonarda is crazy or simply absurd. Maybe both. The first night Daisy meets her, Leonarda admits to staking Daisy, kisses Daisy in an erotic, sensual manner to shock some men in a bar and steals a policeman's hat right off his head and, laughing, runs away leaving Daisy standing with the policeman.

It becomes evident early in the book that Leonarda has a very loose relationship with telling the truth. I’m not sure if this is on purpose or if it’s part of her ’eccentricities”. Nevertheless, Daisy becomes enchanted with her and wants to be with Leonarda constantly. When their relationship becomes physical, Daisy becomes obsessed almost unable to keep her hands off Leonarda when they‘re together. When Leonarda decides they are going to hunt human "prey" and picks a victim imagining hurting or killing him, I was shocked. Daisy was, too, sometimes!

Isolde is the other woman Daisy befriends. She is Austrian, blonde and beautiful. She easily fits in with the elite class and loves moving in their circles. She struggles because, although she looks the part, she doesn't have the money she needs to comfortably fit in. Appearance is everything to Isolde. She's a vain, very superficial woman and extremely lonely. When not attending cocktail parties and sleeping with one of them men she's met, Isolde spends her time tending to her appearance and trying to come up with a respectable way to make money to afford the lifestyle she loves. Daisy and Isolde have little in common but Isolde treats Daisy as her confidant Daisy introduced Isolde to Leonarda but then became jealous when they got along! Isolde’s life takes a surprising and unexpected course towards the end of the book

These characters are fascinating but I wasn't able to relate to them or identify with them. Ms. Swann doesn't fully develop the women, barely referencing their past lives. Leonarda, for instance, speaks of her mother as "the monster" but says nothing more about her until the day Daisy compliments her nails and Leonarda says her mother painted them. We're left to wonder if her mother is the reason for Leonarda's nutty behavior or is there something else going on. After a while, the behavior of all the women becomes tiresome. Daisy also becomes friendly with Gabriel. He’s a secondary character who I really liked and hoped to see more. The biggest problem I had with The Foreigners is there’s no plot to the story. I kept waiting for something big to happen, a climax of sorts, but the story just meandered a long. Although The Foreigners didn’t work for me, I’m not finished reading Ms. Swann’s work and will be picking up her other books when I have the chance.

Thank you to the publisher, Riverhead Books for the opportunity to read and review The Foreigners.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

~ ~ Wordless Wednesday (sort of!) ~ ~

This is Mr. Magoo (Magoo) named such because he's very cross-eyed! He's extremely sweet, playful & loving. He's also very quiet so he's easy to over-look but when he wants attention he finds his choice of human & sits in their lap! Magoo sleeps in interesting places (bathroom) and positions (falling out of the cat bed). If allowed, he'll survive on a diet of BBQ potato-chips, pound cake, marble preferred, pancakes, vanilla ice cream & the smell of coffee...he begins every day with several good whiffs!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

~ First Chapter Paragraph(s) Tuesday Intros ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea on Tuesdays. Share on your blog the opening paragraph (maybe two) of a book you've decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s).

This is my first time participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros. The book I've chosen Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant, has received wonderful reviews and will be on Tour with TLC Books next month.

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's terrific selection this week as well as any other participants in this awesome meme who can be!

The metallic clanging. The loudspeakers blaring in five languages. The luggage carousel coughed up its half-digested suitcases.

Yona Stern dragged her valises onto a cart and wheeled it to the line for Passport Control, her brain on automatic after the twelve-hour flight and the surreal change in time - it was still yesterday at home - threading her way through a sea of Hasidim in inky black hats, as if a flock of crows had swooped down and settled on everyone's heads. The ones on the flight from Newark had prayed nearly continuously as the time zones slipped one into the next and the sun beckoned them eastward like a hungry lover, congregating every three hours by the bulkhead and the galley and the economy-class restrooms, prayer shawls draped down their backs like superhero capes. Yona was not a believer, had not attended a religious service in years, and found everything about them - their antiquated dress, their tribes of offspring - disturbing, yet their fervent shuckling in the cramped corners of the plane had provided a desperately welcome distraction. A spectacle she could follow with a kind of craven compulsion because it allowed her, if only briefly, to get her mind off herself.

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