Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Crown
Published Date: October 4, 2011
ISBN: 978-0307394996
Pages: 400
Genre: Mystery; Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.

The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?

The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.

The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

My Thoughts: I don't often purchase newly published contemporary fiction but the past few months many enticing books have come out that have been receiving wonderful reviews in the book blogging community and elsewhere. The Night Strangers is one such book. I have been reading and enjoying Chris Bohjalian's books for years. I haven't read all of his books yet but I have read many of them and I've never been disappointed. So when I read about The Night Strangers I couldn't resist buying it and I'm very happy I did.

The action and suspense in this novel begins almost as soon as you start reading. Mr. Bohjalian doesn't ease his readers into this story but begins with a bang as we read about a harrowing plane crash had by pilot, Chip Linton. It's the stuff of nightmares even for those of us simply reading about it.  Anyone even vaguely familiar with current events and fascinating 'happenings' of the last few years will recognize the plane crash in The Night Strangers opening scenes.  Chip Linton's crash isn't the same as the one in the news a few years ago but Mr. Bohjalian does a terrific job paying homage to the heroic pilot of that crash while making Chip Linton's his own. This nightmarish tragedy changes not just Chip's life but the lives of his entire family forever.

Chip and Emily decide to move their family, pre-teen, twin daughters Hallie and Garnet, to the small town of Bethel, New Hampshire. Moving from an urban area to suburbia is always a big change, requiring adjustments and the time to get used to a different way of life. That's an understatement in the Linton's case. The family not only has Chip's crash and its impact on him as well as on their lives to cope with, but, within a short time of moving into the 3-floor Victorian house they bought, the Linton's lives seem to go from bad to worse as strange things begin happening around them. They also discover some unsettling facts about the family that owned and lived in the house before them. And Chip finds a small door in the basement bolted closed with 39 bolts, the same number as passengers who died in the plane crash.

Unbeknownst to the Linton family, they've moved to a town populated by a large group of women who call themselves 'herbalists'. Residents of the town who aren't part of the 'herbalists' cadre think the women are more like witches...but few residents of the town will talk about the herbalists to anyone. Half the town seems petrified of these women and convinced harm will come to them and their families if they say a bad word against the 'herbalists'. These herbalists seem quite taken with the Linton family. Many of the women stop by unannounced, frequently, bringing baked goods and dinners, particularly Anise who seems to be the leader of the group. Little by little, these women and some others infiltrate every aspect of the Linton's lives before they know it.

Meanwhile, Chip Linton seems to be losing his mind. Nightmares, hallucinations or something more sinister is going on with him and within him. As the story progresses, it seems as if there are two Chips because he behaves so differently one minute to the next. Some of the herbalists are very interested in Chip just as some are focused on the twins. Could these women be manipulating Chip, causing his breakdown. But why would they want to do this?

Bohjalian does a masterful job of giving us hints about what's happening in Bethel to the Linton family by providing glimpses here and there of conversations between the herbalists regarding things they've done in the past and why they are so interested in the Linton family. It's not difficult to figure out these women are up to something but whether good or bad is not easy to determine nor is their motivation. When I finally understood what was happening in the book I gasped out loud.

This is an unnerving, creepy story with many of the hallmarks of good ghost stories. In addition to the various points of view, Bohjalian's writing gives us vivid descriptions and creates an atmosphere that's tense, suspenseful and creepy. I read this book late into the night reluctant to put it down but I also wanted to be sure I didn't rush through it. The ending really took me by surprise, too. I lost count of how many times I reread it and several pages prior to it. I'm still not quite sure what I think about it...but I love that Bohjalian took me by surprise so much!

The only issue I had with The Night Strangers was Emily Linton's willingness to allow these women she barely knew into her family's life as if they were old and trusted friends. She even allowed them to care for the twins every day after school. But I also question how I feel because I think these women 'herbalists' (witches!?!) may very well have been manipulating the thoughts and behavior of all of the Linton's. When they weren't wining and dining the family, they were filling their refrigerator with all kinds of food so....

I highly recommend you read this book! You won't be disappointed, especially if you enjoy creepy, suspenseful stories.

Chris Bohjalian's website and blog, Idyll Banter

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Sunday Salon...all kinds of stuff & the winner of my Literary Blog Hop!

Happy Halloween!  I hope nobody is snowed in or without power. A friend of mine and her family live in NJ and lost power late yesterday and are still without it. We got several inches of snow here which is already melting. Some areas in NJ and more upstate NY got walloped by a major snowstorm. The kind of snow was very wet and heavy and, as a result, branches and limbs broke off trees in many spots causing power outages and general mess and chaos. Sheesh! I hope this isn't a sign of what's to come for winter...the Southwest is looking really nice right about now! lol

My youngest and smallest cat, Lola, sat at the window yesterday just watching the snow fall. A few times she pawed at it so I opened it for her. Lola stuck her head out, pulled it right back in, shook and then looked at me and uttered this high-pitched, long, whiney & sad sounding meow - I felt guilty as if the storm was my fault! lolol By late afternoon, 3 cats were sitting around the window staring outside in disbelief that they still couldn't go out. As you can guess, my home is empty of cats today...the sky is blue, the sun is shining and warm and there's not a feline in sight!

I'll be happy to see October come to an end, though. It hasn't been the best month for me health-wise. I had a right heart catherization on Tuesday...what a looooong day it was! I have a fantastic, sweet as-can-be cardiologist who adores her patients and treats each of us like we're her only patient. She's also an excellent doctor. Of course, this means she's in high demand and always busy. As a result, I waited over 2 hours before I was even put in a room and prepped for the procedure and once I was ready and in a mini-OR (I hate those rooms) we waited for her some more...apparently this was partly due to a miscommunication from her staff of 4, all of whom thought the other one had let my Dr. know we were ready. (Grrrrr!). The procedure itself went fine but the results weren't great. I came home exhausted, a little stressed and down. My doctor contacted in the following days to let me know what medicine she had ordered for me and when it arrives at her office, I'll go in and they'll tell me all about it For the first few months of taking it, I'll have to have monthly blood draws etc. Ooooo, does the fun ever end?!! lol Her office is well-situated, since it's in Union Square, quite close to a B & N and, even better, The Strand! Wonderful retail therapy galore!

I think I was more stressed and upset than I realized because I had difficulty sleeping the few nights after the procedure. But I also had difficulty focusing so I didn't get much reading done either which irritated me! Then on Friday night, I fell asleep at 8:30 and woke up 12 hours later! Yay! I'm finally feeling good and well-rested and, most important,  back on track reading!

I had hoped to be, if not finished with, at least three-quarters of the way through Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters by Friday for the readalong at Caroline's blog, Beauty and the Sleeping Cat but that didn't happen. It's taken me a little while to get into the book but I'm really enjoying it now. I'm about 5 pages from the end of The Leftovers by Tom Perotta, a very interesting book! I am three-quarters of the way through Don't Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon and having difficulty continuing with the book because it's half fantasy, faeries and the shadow people. This isn't the kind of story I really like unless it involves children playing which it does...sort of. I'll finish it to see what happens, hoping there's an explanation for all of it! I'm really enjoying Wings by Karl Friedrich which I'll be reviewing later this week. I have plenty of reviews to post and write, too! And, since The Jets have the weekend off, I don't have the excuse of football to distract me!

I realize I never posted who won my Literary Blog Hop Giveaway! Sorry about this!

The winner of a copy of The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar is Mama Munky of the blog, Babies Books and Signs. Congratulations!
Mama Munky was emailed with the good news & already sent me her address. Soone she will have a copy of this fantastic book which I hope she enjoys!

What book/books are you enjoying this weekend?
Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

~ Saturday Snapshot ~

It's snowing outside right now! Holy cow, Halloween hasn't even come yet!  A day like today is a great day for getting cozy and reading!  Jojo and, especially, Addie (the black & white kitty) have been very mushy and attention-seeking the last few weeks .  Whenever Addie and Jojo come in from outside, they run up to me, Addie meowing the entire time, and when they reach me, they rub their heads all over my hands, arms, legs, and, if I'm reading, all over my book! They also like to sit on me or right next to me, if they can, when I'm reading.  Neither Addie nor Jojo is a fan of being held, as you can see in the photo where I'm holding Addie, or trying to!, but otherwise they adore being petted and fawned over.

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods by Tana French

Publisher: Penguin Books
Published Date: May 27, 2008
ISBN: 978-0143113492
Pages: 464
Genre: Mystery; Detective Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled shoes, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox – his partner and closest friend – find themselves investigating a case with chilling links to that long-ago disappearance. Now, with only snippets of buried memories to guide him, Rob has the chance to unravel both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

My Thoughts: I cannot believe I waited so long to read this book. Tana French is a super star in the genre of mystery and detective fiction especially considering this was her debut, a fact which still takes me by surprise. A multi-layered plot, terrific character development and top-notch suspense make this book an edge-of-your-seat, can't-put-it-down read!

There's just about something for everybody in In the Woods. It's mainly a mystery with an intriguing murder that comes to light early in the book and involves a riveting investigation. Possibly linked to this is an unsolved case from many years ago that serves as a secondary story-line. There is also a relationship, and potential romance, story-line that's captivating and extremely well-written with some of the best chemistry of any book, TV show or movie I've experienced! Ms. French has filled the pages of her debut with an enticing, magnetic story of many parts that kept me treading well into the night and not regretting a minute of the sleep I sacrificed!

Detective Rob Ryan and Detective Cassie Maddox are the fascinating stars of In the Woods and will keep you engrossed until the very end. Maddox is tough and up to proving she can play with the big boys and beat them at their game. Many of the detectives in the murder squad, all men, don't believe it's a place for women and that includes Maddox's boss, O'Kelly. Ryan doesn't have the same opinion as his colleagues, especially when the woman is Detective Cassie Maddox. Ryan and Maddox become a great pair, equally engaging and likeable, at least in the beginning. Ryan, it seems, has some pretty intense secrets from the days of his childhood. When they come to light and threaten his spot in the investigation of the young girl's murder, he asks nicely, or manipulates, depending on your point of view, his partner Maddox into keeping his secret. This decision could prove detrimental to both their careers and it's at this point the story takes on a little extra intrigue!

I became slightly suspicious and wary of Ryan at this point! I couldn't decide whether or not Ryan could be trusted. I also wasn't sure if Maddox was a weak woman, afraid to assert herself, or if she trusted Ryan and believed he had integrity and her back. Clouding these issues was the growing chemistry between Maddox and Ryan. One minute they were definitely just good friends and partners, the next their relationship was much more intimate. With every chapter Ms. French developed Ryan and Maddox a little more with facts and details about their lives and characteristics of their personality until, by the end of the book, I felt as if I knew them both, Maddox in particular.

The primary characters might take up a lot of the space in this story but Ms. French is too good a writer to ignore her secondary characters. Rosalind Devlin, for instance, is an intense, beguiling character who won't be dismissed as simply an interested party in the case. When Rosalind's around the air crackles with tension. Det. Ryan's behavior and his ability as a detective is undeniably questionable when Rosalind is around. This was another reason, in a growing list, of why I doubted Ryan's integrity and professionalism. Ms. French adds further intrigue by permitting Ryan to narrate the story. He has a healthy ego, like many men, and is rather self-absorbed. He can be kind and thoughtful if he so chooses and quite cruel if he doesn't. He's judgmental and doesn't often consider other's opinions or points of view, valid. He's intelligent but he refuses to admit that he's lonely and troubled until it's obvious to everybody that he's losing his mind.

Ms. French kept me on the edge of my seat, as the novel progressed. I was trying to figure out not only who was the murderer, but if the old and new cases were connected. There are subtle, as well as more obvious suggestions regarding possible suspects sprinkled throughout the story that had me choosing first one person and then another as the perpetrator. Eventually I figured it out, partially. Just as this wasn't a straightforward murder investigation, there wasn't a simple, straightforward resolution. Readers probably could figure out the result but Ms. French keeps things complex and intense similar to real life. This isn't a case of point A to point B and when you get there, you've got your man. As in real life, the road is curvy and some of those curves are hair-pin turns. There are many side roads with plenty of dead ends. A person needs to keep their focus on the case, something most detectives learn and can apply, the good ones, anyway. It's easy to get distracted by some of the tangents and Ms. French puts plenty of interesting tangents in our way!

Ms. French's writing flows beautifully from one page to the next and draws you in to the story. At various points the story is intense, riveting and suspenseful but it's also fun, entertaining and funny. and I totally enjoyed the many references to current pop-culture such as South Park's "Who killed Kenny?" If you haven't read any of Tana French's books yet, I highly recommend you start as soon as possible. I've read some grumblings about the ending of In the Woods although I had no problems with it. I think that Ms. French seemed to run out of steam a bit in a few of the chapters leading up to the end as the story line got a little clunky and inelegant but that's also me being picayune. If you enjoy great mysteries and detective fiction you cannot go wrong with the Edgar Award Winning In the Woods by Tana French.

Tana French's website and Facebook page

Wednesday, October 26, 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 following word comes from In the Woods by Tana French

"Few people would have considered her beautiful, but my tastes have always leaned towards bespoke rather than brand name, and I took far more pleasure in looking at her than at any of the busty blond clones whom magazines, insultingly, tell me I should desire."

1. Bespoke
: bespoken, custom-made; tailor-made, made-to-order (commonly used to refer to clothes)

" It was one of the things that first fascinated me about the job - that and the private, functional, elliptical shorthand: latents, trace, Forensics."

2. Elliptical
: (of speech or writing) expressed with extreme or excessive economy; relieved of irrelevant matter

' "So after the tea break Mark told me and Mel to go up there and mattock it back while the others did the drainage ditch." '

3. Mattock
: an instrument for loosening the soil in digging, shaped like a pickax, but having one end broad instead of pointed.

" But those lost, liminal pockets of time are usually solitary; there is something about the idea of a shared one that makes me think of twins, reaching out slow, blond hands in a gravity-free and wordless space.. "

4. Liminal
: (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the "threshold" of or between two different existential planes (from Wikipedia)

Monday, October 24, 2011

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme created by Marcia from A girl and her books. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week. Mailbox Monday currently is on tour in the Book Blogging Community. This month’s host is Serena of Savvy Verse and Wit. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Chosen by Chandra Hoffman (for review)
Chosen features a young caseworker increasingly entangled in the lives of the adoptive and birth parents she represents, and who faces life-altering choices when an extortion attempt goes horribly wrong.
It all begins with a fantasy: the caseworker in her “signing paperwork” charcoal suit, paired with beaming parents cradling their adopted newborn, against a fluorescent-lit delivery room backdrop. It’s this blissful picture that keeps Chloe Pinter, director of The Chosen Child’s domestic adoption program, happy juggling the high demands of her boss and the incessant needs of parents on both sides.
But the job that offers Chloe refuge from her turbulent personal life and Portland’s winter rains soon becomes a battleground itself involving three very different couples: the Novas, college sweethearts who suffered fertility problems but are now expecting their own baby; the McAdoos, a wealthy husband and desperate wife for whom adoption is a last chance; and Jason and Penny, an impoverished couple who have nothing-except the baby everyone wants. When a child goes missing, dreams dissolve into nightmares, and everyone is forced to examine what they really want and where it all went wrong.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (purchase)
In the final days of a falling Saigon,The Lotus Eaters unfolds the story of three remarkable photographers brought together under the impossible umbrella of war: Helen Adams, a once-naïve ingénue whose ambition conflicts with her desire over the course of the fighting; Linh, the mysterious Vietnamese man who loves her, but is torn between conflicting loyalties to his homeland and his heart; and Sam Darrow, a man addicted to the narcotic of violence, to his intoxicating affair with Helen and to the ever-increasing danger of his job. All three become transformed by the conflict they have risked everything to record.
In this much-heralded debut, Tatjana Soli creates a searing portrait of three souls trapped by their impossible passions, contrasting the wrenching horror of combat and the treachery of obsession with the redemptive power of love.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (win from Adam, Roof Beam Reader)
This is the most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmain family and the rapidly disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize his spiritual and social distance from them.
Volt by Alan Heathcock (win from TNBBC:The Next Best Book Blog)
A blistering new collection of stories from an exhilarating new voice.
One man kills another after neither will move his pickup truck from the road. A female sheriff in a flooded town attempts to cover up a murder. When a farmer harvesting a field accidentally runs over his son, his grief sets him off walking, mile after mile. A band of teens bent on destruction runs amok in a deserted town at night. As these men and women lash out at the inscrutable churn of the world around them, they find a grim measure of peace in their solitude.
Throughout VOLT, Alan Heathcock’s stark realism is leavened by a lyric energy that matches the brutality of the surface. And as you move through the wind-lashed landscape of these stories, faint signs of hope appear underfoot. In Volt, the work of a writer who’s hell-bent on wrenching out whatever beauty this savage world has to offer, Heathcock’s tales of lives set afire light up the sky like signal flares touched off in a moment of desperation

Sunday, October 23, 2011

~ Post-Readathon Sunday Salon! ~

Yesterday was Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon. It was a lot of fun! Thank you to everyone who left me messages of encouragement and cheer. I didn't get as much reading done as I hoped too. I have one of those colds where your head feels like it weighs 500 lbs. Every time I picked up a book and started reading it was great for 15 or 20 minutes and then Zonk!...zzzzzzzz! And there went another 45 minutes or an hour. lolol It seems I can't get enough sleep. I decided to start cheering a little earlier than I planned to during the readathon. I had a lot of fun visiting readathon participants blogs and encouraging and cheering them on! This was the first time I participated as a cheerleader and I thought it was really fun! If I cheer at the next readathon - I probably will - I think I'd like to come up with a few rhymes or cheers to make it easier to know what to say...and faster! And I think it's a good way to get readers excited.

Between my cold and 'losing' Dopey I forgot to post a few reviews I have ready and haven't quite complete by review of In the Woods but I'd like to post it before the end of the week and include it in the R.I.P. Peril Challenge. I finished reading The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. What a book. I'm still thinking about it a little bit, especially the ending. Can't decide what I think of it! I'm reading The Leftovers by Tom Perotta, The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli , a great book, and Don't Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon, which I'm having a little trouble getting into and I'm not sure why.

I'm watching the Jets play San Diego and I'm beginning to wonder if it's a good idea. ugh! lolol
We're having beautiful weather here today. I hope you are, too, wherever you're signing on from!
Hey, did you all hear that Tim Burton is designing a balloon for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? Pretty cool!

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon: Update!

Read-a-Thon Update: Hour 10

This is a brief check-in mostly because I don't have a lot to report. After my initial readathon post this morning I read for a while and then fell asleep! After a 45 minute nap, I decided to get on-line and do some cheering. It's a lot of fun although a little time consuming! I posted a few cheer comments on twitter, too. I hope I did it correctly! I've visited about 40 blogs so far, commenting & cheering! Then I took a break from cheering to read a little more. Oh, yes & feed the kitties. They're feeling a little neglected which I realized when Mr. Magoo & Addie climbed on me at the same time...they're usually not big on sharing!

Pages read: 110
From what books: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta and The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Time read: 1 hour 50 minutes
Blogs visited: 41

The Readathon Begins!

Read-a-Thon Hour 1

1) I am reading from Brooklyn, NY this sunny, chilly morning!

2) I am addicted to coffee; I love working crossword puzzles even though they sometimes make me feel dumb!; and, since somebody exclaimed over this a couple of days ago ~ I'm very short, as in I wish I was 5 ft. tall!

3) My TBR pile for the Readathon contains 8 books, not because I expect to read 8 but because I'm never quite sure what I'll feel like reading

4) My goals for the Readathon changed this morning because I am sick. I started getting the symptoms of a cold Thursday afternoon and by this morning I've got a terrible headache, sore throat, bad cough etc. I was sick a couple of weeks ago & I guess I didn't completely shake it.  So today I just want to get some reading done. I signed up to be a cheerleader for part of the marathon and I want to make sure I do my share of cheering for bloggers participating in the Readathon.

5) In past Readathons, I've found that once you get on-line to update how you're doing during the Readathon, compete in some of the Readathon challenges and visit some other blogger readers and wish them luck, lots of time can pass eating into your reading time. My advice is to be mindful of that and, if your goal is to get a lot of reading done, limit your internet time. But above all, make sure you have Fun!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James Martin, SJ

Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James Martin, SJ

Date Published: October 4, 2011
ISBN: 978-0062024268
Publisher: Harper One
Pages: 272
Genre: Non-Fiction, Spirituality
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: In Between Heaven and Mirth, James Martin, SJ, assures us that God wants us to experience joy, to cultivate a sense of holy humor, and to laugh at life’s absurdities—not to mention our own humanity. Father Martin invites believers to rediscover the importance of humor and laughter in our daily lives and to embrace an essential truth: faith leads to joy.

Holy people are joyful people, says Father Martin, offering countless examples of healthy humor and purposeful levity in the stories of biblical heroes and heroines, and in the lives of the saints and the world’s great spiritual masters. He shows us how the parables are often the stuff of comedy, and how the gospels reveal Jesus to be a man with a palpable sense of joy and even playfulness. In fact, Father Martin argues compellingly, thinking about a Jesus without a sense of humor may be close to heretical.

Drawing on Scripture, sharing anecdotes from his experiences as a lifelong Catholic, a Jesuit for over twenty years, and a priest for more than ten, and including amusing and insightful sidebars, footnotes, and jokes, Father Martin illustrates how joy, humor, and laughter help us to live more spiritual lives, understand ourselves and others better, and more fully appreciate God’s presence among us. Practical how-to advice helps us use humor to show our faith, embrace our humanity, put things into perspective, open our minds, speak truth, demonstrate courage, challenge power, learn hospitality, foster effective human relations, deepen our relationship with God, and ... enjoy ourselves. Inviting God to lighten our hearts, we can enjoy a little heaven on earth.

My Thoughts: I was raised in a strict religious Roman Catholic home. My family attended mass every Sunday and every holy day. I went to a parochial grammar school and a Catholic girls private high school. My religious education didn't include the virtues of humor, laughter or joy. My religion classes studied Bible passages and psalms but joy was never specifically discussed. My overall impression as a child was of a stern God with an emphasis on punishment. The priests I knew as a child were more serious . Sure they smiled and laughed but they didn't humor and joy in their lessons about the Bible or God. Not surprisingly, my mother and grandmother frowned on even the most innocent jokes that included any religious figure such as a priest or monk.

I attended a Jesuit college and the priests I met there had wonderful senses of humor and laughed frequently. I'm not very religious, unlike my family. I don't regularly attend church and some of that has to do with life experiences but it's mostly because of my early exposure to religion which, frankly, left a sour taste in my mouth. I've always felt that joy and celebration is a part of religion and God and my childhood religious education should have included discussions about joy and humor. I've never read any books on religion, religious education or Bible interpretation but when I read the book summary for Between Heaven and Mirth I knew I wanted to read this book. I wasn't familiar with Father James Martin before reading this book but, after reading it, I believe had he or a priest like him taught some of my religion classes when I was growing up, I would feel differently about Catholicism.

Between Heaven and Mirth is written in an easy, enjoyable manner that feels as if you're having a captivating exchange or conversation with Father Martin. The first few chapters veer a little bit like a lecture but Father Martin manages to keep his discussion of humor, laughter and joy in scripture light and interesting as he explains why and how these virtues can and should be a part of our religious beliefs. He tells us "they are the heart of that life." Father Martin compares humor, laughter and joy in secular life and in religious life, finding humor and laughter, which can be good and bad, very similar in both . Father Martin believes they should only be discouraged when they are mocking and hurtful. So long as they are used in a positive manner, humor and laughter should be considered gifts from God. He then tells us about joy, an extensive concept that flows through every aspect of the religious life and is considered a result of one's deep connection to God. Father Martin's discussion focuses on joy and his examination of it in scripture and life is truly thrilling and exciting!

Father Martin doesn't belabor his points or write with a heaven hand. He makes his points easy to understand as he explains how, in both the Old and New Testaments, humor may have received it's negative connotation in religion, often illustrating them with a story or personal anecdote make these ideas more understandable. His explanations make sense ultimately providing us with a new perspective from which to view humor in religious reading. Father Martin explains, for example, how at the time the scripture and psalms were written what people considered funny and humorous was different than it is today. When we read the scriptures and psalms in this new light, the humor with which they are written becomes apparent.

Father Martin clearly is not advocating we all walk around with stupid grins cracking jokes. There are going to be times when we are upset, worried and mourning in life. But he wants us to remember that just as there's a time to mourn and grieve, "there is a time to laugh". In a wonderful chapter "Happiness Attracts", Father Martin provides '11 and a half' specific reasons for laughter in the spiritual life because humor not only helps to lighten sad situations, it can deepen our spiritual life. Some of these examples are as simple as the idea that joy, humor and laughter show our faith in God and 'Humor is fun'.. In many of these examples, Father Martin draws us in by sharing personal stories from his own life to emphasize his point. Many of these concepts are one we are familiar with from secular life such as 'Humor is healing' similar to the idea that laughter is the best medicine and 'Humor is a tool for humility', reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously. These are great reminders and lessons for all of us, even those not very religious, because they're reminders of how to live a good, enjoyable life. Father Martin's last example is a 'half' because is not completely spiritual: 'Humor is practical' and, as an example he uses a very funny story about how humor helped his father's cousin Bernie get out of a speeding ticket thereby humor saved him money!

One of the chapters I enjoyed the most in Between Heaven and Mirth is one in which Father Martin 
clearly evidences his understanding that humor, laughter and joy isn't easy for everybody. Sometimes it doesn't feel like it fits in your life. Father Martin speaks to groups of people frequently and relays answers he's given to several significant questions about incorporating humor laughter and joy in our loves, particularly during trying and sad times. He realizes life is complicated and our emotional response can be equally complicated. Father Martin remarks on how ridiculous is the idea that you must be cheerful all of the time in order to demonstrate a belief in God. He also addresses the belief, in some practices, that illness and disease is a result of a person's failure to think positively. Father Martin quotes Barbara Ehrenreich who calls this idea "monstrous". Father Martin differentiates these examples with those of the person who constantly whines and complains. In a rather funny discussion, he points out that for attention-seeking people like the latter it comes down to choosing positive thoughts and gratitude over constant carping.

Father Martin has written an entertaining and interesting book that people of all different beliefs, religious or not, would enjoy, particularly those interested in living a more joyful, humor-filled life. Father Martin details, over several pages, how to bring more humor into your life including advising us on "reading author's who highlight life's comic-side such as Bill Bryson".  Father Martin also explains how humor, laughter and joy are very much part of a well-rounded spiritual life in a way that, I believe, would be interesting to anyone, particularly his explanation of humor in scripture and the Bible passages.  It's Father Martin's varied background and life experience that makes him such a credible and captivating source for the knowledge and beliefs he shares with us in Between Heaven and Mirth. He attended the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and worked for General Electric for several years prior to entering the Jesuit society and  then, years later, being ordained as a priest. He has appeared on The Colbert Report several times to discuss various issues and in 2009 Stephen Colbert promoted him to "The Colbert Report chaplain." Father Martin is also a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company and has written or edited more than 10 books. I highly recommend Between Heaven and Mirth.

Father Martin's website and blog, America and his Facebook page

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Between Heaven and Mirth and to Harper One for a copy of Between Heaven and Mirth.

Tuesday, October 18, 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. I've wanted to read this book for a long time, particularly after I read several wonderful reviews about it. Last week I discovered that Beauty is a Sleeping Cat is hosting a group read of this book at the end of the month. I'm so excited about this!
Be sure to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

April 28, 1975
The city teetered in a dream state. Helen walked down the deserted street. The quiet was eerie. Time running out. A long-handled barber’s razor, cradled in the nest of its strop, lay on the ground, the blade’s metal grabbing the sun. Unable to resist, she leaned down to pick it up, afraid someone would split his foot open running across it. A crashing noise down the street distracted her — dogs overturning garbage cans — and she snatched blind at the razor. Drawing her hand back, a bright pinprick of blood swelled on her finger. She cursed at her stupidity and kicked the razor, strop and all, to the side of the road and hurried on.
The unnatural silence allowed Helen to hear the wailing of the girl. The child’s howl was high and breathless, defiant, rising, alone and forlorn against the buildings, threading its way through the air, a long, plaintive note spreading its complaint. Helen crossed the alley and went around a corner to see a small child of three or four, hard to tell with the ubiquitous malnourishment, standing against the padlocked doorway of a bar. Her face and hair drenched with the effort of her crying. She wore a dirty yellow cotton shirt sizes too large, bottom bare, no shoes. Dirt circled between her toes.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Five Orange Pips by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

For Short Story Monday and the R.I.P. Challenge, Peril the Short Story:

Sherlock Holmes: The Five Orange Pips by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I became a little obsessed the Sherlock Holmes stories after reading The Hound of the Baskervilles in high school. I wrote a paper on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and read a lot of the Sherlock Holmes and Watson stories! And then, as often happens, life got in the way. It came time to look at colleges, then attend college and Sherlock and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were pushed off to the side. Less than a year ago, I discovered most of the stories on Netflix with Sherlock Holmes played by the wonderful actor Jeremy Brett. After watching some of them, I really wanted to read some of Sherlock Holmes' adventures again so I went out and purchased this and I'm so happy I did.

The Five Orange Pips is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. I think it's one of the best of the many I've read.

It's September 1887 when the story opens with the always talkative Watson summing up some of the cases he has helped Sherlock Holmes investigate during the year. It's been a busy and strange year Watson writes. On this particular day, it's windy and rainy out. Dr. Watson describes the weather so well we can picture the strong winds, teeming rain and the dark, sinister day outside creating the perfect atmosphere for a creepy mystery

All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life, and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney.

Sherlock Holmes is sulking because he's bored. Watson frequently comments in the stories about Holmes' brilliance but also his frequent childish behavior such as sulking and pouting! When Watson asks if he heard the bell, Holmes argues with him that there's no client at the door because no one would come out on a night like this. Holmes also reminds Watson that he is Holmes' only friend. But, sure enough Watson was correct, a man has come to see Sherlock Holmes in desperate need of help.

Watson describes the man as young, well-groomed and very anxious. His name is John Openshaw and he's 22 years old. Mr. Openshaw he proceeds to relay a very strange story to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson which soon has them rapt with attention. He tells them about the deaths of his Uncle Elias and his father under very similar circumstances although years apart: Elias died in May of1883, John's father in January of 1885.

Mr. Openshaw's Uncle Elias had been living in England, on an estate in Horsham, West Sussex since 1869 after moving from Florida where he was a planter and served in the Confederate Army. Elias died 7 weeks after he received an envelope postmarked Pondicherry, India which contained five little dried orange pips. On the inside of the envelope's flap, scrawled in red ink the letter 'K' was written three times. When his uncle first saw the envelope, he shrieked "My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!". When John asked him, "What is it, Uncle?" his uncle said "Death".

Mr. Openshaw told Holmes and Watson that shortly after this, Elias summoned his lawyer to the house and signed over his estate and all he owned to his brother, John's father, expecting that everything would eventually become John's possessions. While Elias was signing all of the necessary documents, John happened to see the box Elias had been keeping all of his important documents in and got a huge shock. Elias' brass box was inscribed with three "K"s just like the envelope!

John relayed that for the next several weeks, his Uncle drank much more than he normally did and rarely went out, spending most of the time in his room with the door locked. Occasionally his uncle would run out of his room in a drunken frenzy and run around the garden brandishing a revolver, screaming that he was afraid of no man. John relayed to Holmes and Watson that he himself experienced a growing feeling of dread during those weeks. One night his Uncle came running out of his room, revolver in hand and never returned. He was found dead on his property the next morning.

John Openshaw went on to tell Holmes and Watson that his father came to live at Horsham after Elias' death. John lived there with his father quite nicely for about a year until January 4, 1885. Openshaw told Holmes and Watson that his father received an envelope containing five dried orange pips and “K K K” in red ink on the inside flap of the envelope. Above the 3 "K"s was written "Put the papers on the sundial". His father treated it as a practical joke calling it all "tomfoolery". Openshaw said his father refused to listen to John who advised him to go to the police and he forbid John to do so. Three days later his father went to visit with a friend, Major Freebody, for a few days. On his second day there, John's father fell over a deep chalk-pit and shattered his skull.

It's been two years and eight months since his father's death. Initially Openshaw said he thought Horsham was cursed but because so much time passed with no incident he was enjoying himself. And then yesterday Openshaw received an envelope with five dried orange pips in it, 3 "K"s in red ink on the inside flap of the envelope and the message "Put the papers on the sundial". Exactly the same as the envelope his father received.

Openshaw tells Sherlock Holmes, in response to Holmes' inquiry, that he has done nothing since receiving the envelope, that he is basically frightened out of his mind and doesn‘t know what to do. He tells Holmes and Watson he feels helpless and in the grasp of some "inexorable evil". Sherlock Holes tells him "You must act, man, or you are lost. This is no time for despair.".

If you are at all familiar with Sherlock Holmes you know that the cases he investigates energize and thrill him. He’s not at all upset about the case Openshaw shared with him but very excited about it! The more difficult and perplexing, the happier he is which makes following along as he investigates interesting and a lot of fun!

When Openshaw tells Holmes he went to the police first and they basically laughed at him, Holmes is obviously annoyed (and probably somewhat insulted!). Holmes, with his fist clenched high in the air rants a bit about the "incredible imbecility" (presumably Holmes is referring to the police). Holmes gets even more excited when Openshaw explains that the police did assign a man to say with Openshaw and he has remained at the house as he was ordered to do. Holmes cannot help but ask why Openshaw didn’t come to him sooner with the passion he always exhibits during an investigation. The answer doesn’t really matter except apparently Holmes believes Openshaw is in some danger and the sooner he acts the better.

Sherlock Holmes, as is usual for him, we learn already has an inkling about what's going on in his new client's life. Openshaw shares that he has brought with him some shreds of documents he took from the fireplace around the time his Uncle received the first envelope with the orange pips in it. Holmes seems very excited by this evidence, which to most of us, like Openshaw and Watson, would mean nothing. Holes sends Openshaw on his way telling him to be very careful as he believes he is "threatened by a very real and imminent danger".

Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that this is one of their most fantastic cases. And when Watson asks Holmes if he knows what are the perils Openshaw faces, Holmes replies "There can be no question as to their nature." For Holmes, maybe! Sherlock Holmes is so attuned to human nature and behavior that he's often figured out most of the case by the time the story is relayed in full.

Sherlock Holmes explains to Watson with amazing detail what he believes is happening in this case and the points he needs to investigate and clarify before he can be quite sure of things. Holmes is a brilliant man and the extent and breadth of his knowledge is amazing. I'm curious about how much research Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did for each of the cases he wrote about.

Holmes is a man of severe highs and lows, he's easily excitable but can become quite depressed, too. This investigation doesn't work out exactly as Holmes thinks it will the way many of Holmes’ cases do. I like that Conan Doyle decided to change things up a little here and show us Holmes in a little different light. Although an arrogantly satisfied and smug Sherlock Holmes is fun to experience, not even Holmes can get everything perfectly right all of the time! Here we experience how Holmes behaves when things don't go as he expects in the middle of the investigation despite his precautions and safeguards. This is a great Sherlock Holmes story that permits the reader to see Holmes at his most challenged and when things don’t work out quite as he expects! I highly recommend The Five Orange Pips!

This story is from Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I
Published: October 1986
ISBN: 978-0553212419
Publisher: Bantam Classics
Pages: 1088
Genre: Mystery, Thriller Fiction; British Detective Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: Since his first appearance in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most beloved fictional characters ever created. Now, in two paperback volumes, Bantam presents all fifty-six short stories and four novels featuring Conan Doyle’s classic hero--a truly complete collection of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in crime!

Volume I includes the early novel A Study in Scarlet, which introduced the eccentric genius of Sherlock Holmes to the world. This baffling murder mystery, with the cryptic word Rache written in blood, first brought Holmes together with Dr. John Watson. Next, The Sign of Four presents Holmes’s famous “seven percent solution” and the strange puzzle of Mary Morstan in the quintessential locked-room mystery.

Also included are Holmes’s feats of extraordinary detection in such famous cases as the chilling “ The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” the baffling riddle of “The Musgrave Ritual,” and the ingeniously plotted “The Five Orange Pips,” tales that bring to life a Victorian England of horse-drawn cabs, fogs, and the famous lodgings at 221B Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes earned his undisputed reputation as the greatest fictional detective of all time.

~ Mailbox Monday ~

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme created by Marcia from A girl and her books. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week. Mailbox Monday currently is on tour in the Book Blogging Community. This month’s host is Serena of Savvy Verse and Wit. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (from a friend)
Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is the seminal novel of the 1960s that has left an indelible mark on the literature of our time. Here is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome powers that keep them all imprisoned.
 The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjilian (purchase)

In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.
The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain after double engine failure. Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, however, most of the passengers aboard Flight 1611 die on impact or drown. The body count? Thirty-nine – a coincidence not lost on Chip when he discovers the number of bolts in that basement door. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself wondering about the women in this sparsely populated White Mountain village – self-proclaimed herbalists – and their interest in her fifth-grade daughters. Are the women mad? Or is it her husband, in the wake of the tragedy, whose grip on sanity has become desperately tenuous?
The result is a poignant and powerful ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply.
The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (from a friend)
"Opens at Nightfall; Closes at Dawn." The Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus unlike any other, just as this magical debut novel is equally unique. At the center of The Night Circus spectacle are two specially gifted young magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other in professional competition, drawn towards one another in love. Erin Morgenstern's literary fantasy has already drawn raves for its captivating evocativeness: "A world of almost unbearable beauty.... A love story on a grand scale: it creates, it destroys, it ultimately transcends." "A novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell... If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

~ Sunday Salon ~

October, usually a favorite month of mine, is slowly losing its cool! I'm not quite over my cold or whatever I have...maybe allergies?....but it hasn't turned into bronchitis or pneumonia which is great. Addie is completely over her respiratory infection which is also great. I was concerned because she lost weight while she was’s amazing and scary how quickly cats lose weight...but I needn't have worried...I think she's chubbier now than before her illness! She's chowing down daily, making up for the meals she missed! So that's all good.

Everything’s over-shadowed by poor Dopey who I had to put to sleep this past week. He developed severe renal disease, something older cats often get. For Dopey it was a sign his body was shutting down. He went from eating, playing and joyfully antagonizing the other cats to losing half his body weight in a few days, then having increasing difficulty walking until he was so weak he couldn't walk. He also developed infections in his mouth because his teeth were decaying, another common ailment of old cats. Poor Dopey, he was a weird cat and loved because of it. This is a major negative to rescuing cats off the street, you don't know what they've been exposed to, what illnesses they've had, how old they are etc. I've been having a really tough time with Dopey's death. This morning, in an effort to shake off my sadness some, I looked at photos of Dopey which turned out to be a good idea. He was such a silly cat and he loved to chit-chat. He looks kind of dopey in many of the pics but I often wondered if he was looking at us that way as if to say, "You humans are a bunch of Dopes!" lolol He probably was.

Anyway, I know I haven't posted or blogged much at all the last 2 weeks but I am going to make an effort to do a better job of posting and blogging this week.

I have several reviews to catch up on including a review of fathermucker by Greg Olear for TLC Book Tours which I missed and feel terrible about and want to make up. Hopefully I’ll be able to focus on the books I want to review and put together something halfway decent for you all to read! I’ve been writing a little bit the last couple of weeks but it’s more whatever comes to mind rather than something structured like a review. I’ve also been reading alot...escape, maybe?! extreme to another! Maybe this will be the encouragement I need to get reviews done before the books pile up into a huge, daunting stack!

I finished In the Woods by Tana French. I really want to review this book! I think I recall reading a lot of comments that bloggers didn’t like the ending. I’m curious about that since I didn’t have any problems with it. I also finished The Radleys by Matt Haig, a fun, entertaining, and smart book. I’m reading Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon, a good one for the R.I.P Challenge at the blog Stainless Steel Droppings.  I also picked up another R.I.P. book, The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian which is great so far!

My neighbor has my vopy of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Ugh! I read close to half the book. She noticed it, remarked on the cover and then picked it up to read the back. I started to tell her a bit about the book and how interesting and good it is. The next thing I know she’s talking about how excited she is to read it and thanking me for letting her borrow it as she walks away with my book! Dumbfounded, and slow to act, I watched her disappear from sight with my pretty yellow and purple book! I’m probably not going to say anything for a little while because my friend doesn’t read much so I don’t want to dissuade her interest in a book. And I have plenty to read... I’m trying to be ‘magnanimous’ but there’s a small part of me that wants my book! lolol

Enjoy your Sunday! I hope you’re having as beautiful a Sunday as we are here in NYC!

Happy Reading!