Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Sunday Salon ~ Merry Christmas!!

I want to wish all of my blogger friends and visitors a Happy Holiday Season and a Merry Christmas.

I hope you've had a festive few weeks and have some wonderful plans for joyous celebrations this week! I haven't been around for a few months but I'm finally back blogging and posting. I have a lot of catching up to do, reviews to post, blogs to visit and organizing and cleaning up of my blog. It will get done slowly but surely.

I'm enjoying listening to Christmas carols and viewing different Christmas lights displays. I'm also loving all the yummy food around this time of year. And sharing it all with dear friends.

I'll be posting more regularly once the New Year begins, if not before. I have a new furry feline family member to introduce you to as well and many funny tales of kitty antics! Stay tuned...

I wish You and Yours lots of love, good cheer, and tasty food and drink over the Holidays! Here's to Your Health, Happiness, Friendship and Love in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Married Love by Tessa Hadley

Married Love and other Stories by Tessa Hadley

Publisher:  Harper Perennial
Date: November 20, 2012
ISBN:  978-0-06-213564-3
Pages: 240
Rating:  5 out of 5

 Summary:  Married Love is a masterful collection of short fiction from one of today’s most accomplished storytellers. These tales showcase the qualities for which Tessa Hadley has long been praised: her humor, warmth, and psychological acuity; her powerful, precise, and emotionally dense prose; her unflinching examinations of family relationships. Here are stories that range widely across generations and classes, exploring the private and public lives of unforgettable characters: a young girl who haunts the edges of her parents’ party; a wife released by the sudden death of her film-director husband; an eighteen-year-old who insists on marrying her music professor, only to find herself shut out from his secrets. In this stunning collection, Hadley evokes worlds that expand in the imagination far beyond the pages, capturing domestic dramas, generational sagas, wrenching love affairs and epiphanies, and distilling them to remarkable effect.

My thoughts:  I’ve always enjoyed short story collections but don’t read them as often as I’d like.  When I saw Tessa Hadley’s new book on TLC Book Tours review list, I was excited to read and review it.  I read Hadley’s last novel The London Train.  I thought her writing was sharp and clever and her characters fascinating.  So I was interested to experience her short stories and am very happy I did.

Married Love may be the title but Hadley explores different kinds of love and relationships:  love in family and friendships, burgeoning love, passionate love, old and settled love, tentative love and more.  Her explorations show an acute understanding of human nature and interaction. 

In the riveting title story, Married Love, Lottie, a young and single 18-year old, tells her family she’s going to be married. Their confusion and concern is heightened when Lottie announces, triumphantly that the groom is her music professor, Edgar.  Lottie’s oblivious to the fact that he’s three times her age and married with grown children.  She’s been flattered by Edgar and made to feel special. Lottie’s watched her older siblings move out and build exciting, interesting lives while she’s still at home.  Hadley shows us how anger and resentment can cause impetuous choices, especially in someone young and immature like Lottie.  This is, at its core, a story of rebellion and irony.  Lottie relishes shocking her family.  She expects them to see her as all grown-up, as someone important and special. Lottie doesn’t understand their dismay at her choice to marry an elderly man with a reputation for seducing his young female students.  These are trite, unimportant details to Lottie who’s caught up in visions of a fantasy life with Edgar. Hadley captures, in Lottie, so many young women’s feelings of insecurity and their need for attention.  
Lottie gets what she wants but her fantasy life shatters quickly and the reality of her behavior becomes clear.  In not considering the big picture, Lottie finds herself, if not physically, emotionally and psychologically alone in the end, her days spent caring for their children with no room or time for music. Edgar’s character is clearly delineated but Lottie, the focus of this story, is more complex but certainly relatable to millions of young women.   Hadley conveys powerful messages through strong, simple sentences packed with emotion that have an intense impact on the reader.    

One of my favorite stories in this collection is She’s the One.   Ally and Hilda meet briefly at a writer’s center.  Hilda’s very serious and stoic, not given to talking about herself or making friends easily.   Being 30 years Ally’s senior it’s not until they run into each other at the market, away from the center that they talk.  Both women have been marked by traumas, so they sense a connection with each other.  Hadley uses these women to illustrate how pain and suffering can bring people together who might otherwise have no connection at all.  Hilda recognized Ally’s need for support, understanding and companionship because of her ability to relate to her suffering. These women form a bond and discover they can talk to each other about things they can’t reveal to other people.  Hadley succeeds in telling, with insightful, beautiful prose, a heartfelt and painful story that shows how people can find solace and friendship in some very unlikely ways.  

 These two stories speak strongly to women, as do most of the stories in Hadley’s collection, but Hadley’s intuition and understanding of human interaction and relationships renders this story collection one able to be appreciated by anybody interested in better understanding fellow human beings.  In other words, these stories are more along the lines of literature in their complexity, acuity and style and should be appreciated as such.   In Married Love Hadley has written a fascinating, powerful and insightful collection of stories worthy of being read and savored by all.  I highly recommend this collection.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Married Love and to Harper Perennial for an ARC of the book.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraphs of a book you've decided to read based on the paragraph(s). This book won the National Book Award for fiction in 1958. It's been on my 'tbr' list for far too long. I plucked it off my shelf the other day and read the foreward by author Rick Moody and the first few pages and was hooked!

Be sure to take the time to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and the many other wonderful contributions from the participants in this meme.

St. Botolphs was an old place, an old river town. It had been an inland port in the great days of the Massachusetts sailing fleets and now it was left with a factory that manufactured table silver and a few other small industries. The natives did not consider that it had diminished much in size or importance, but the long roster of the Civil War dead, bolted to the cannon on the green, was a reminder of how populous the village had been in the 1860s. St. Botolphs would never muster as many soldiers again. The green was shaded by a few great elms and loosely enclosed by a square of store fronts. The Cartwright Block, which made the western wall of the square, had along the front of its second story a row of lancet windows, as delicate and reproachful as the windows of a church. Behind these windows were the offices of the Eastern Star, Dr. Bulstrode the dentist, the telephone company and the insurance agent. The smells of these offices -- the smell of dental preparations, floor oil, spittoons and coal gas -- mingled in the downstairs hallway like an aroma of the past. In a drilling autumn rain, in a world of much change, the green at St. Botolphs conveyed an impression of unusual permanence. On Independence Day in the morning, when the parade had begun to form, the place looked prosperous and festive.

The two Wapshot boys -- Moses and Coverly -- sat on a lawn on Water Street watching the floats arrive. The parade mixed spiritual and commercial themes freely and near the Spirit of '76 was an old delivery wagon with a sign saying: GET YOUR FRESH FISH FROM MR. HIRAM. The wheels of the wagon, the wheels of every vehicle in the parade were decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper and there was bunting everywhere. The front of the Cartwright Block was festooned with bunting. It hung in folds over the front of the bank and floated from all the trucks and wagons.

The Wapshot boys had been up since four; they were sleepy and sitting in the hot sun they seemed to have outlived the holiday. Moses had burned his hand on a salute. Coverly had lost his eyebrows in another explosion. They lived on a farm two miles below the village and had canoed upriver before dawn when the night air made the water of the river feel tepid as it rose around the canoe paddle and over their hands. They had forced a window of Christ Church as they always did and had rung the bell, waking a thousand songbirds, many villagers and every dog within the town limits including the Pluzinskis' bloodhound miles away on Hill Street. "It's only the Wapshot boys." Moses had heard a voice from the dark window of the parsonage. "Git back to sleep." Coverly was sixteen or seventeen then -- fair like his brother but long necked and with a ministerial dip to his head and a bad habit of cracking his knuckles. He had an alert and a sentimental mind and worried about the health of Mr. Hiram's cart horse and looked sadly at the inmates of the Sailor's Home -- fifteen or twenty very old men who sat on benches in a truck and looked unconscionably tired. Moses was in college and in the last year he had reached the summit of his physical maturity and had emerged with the gift of judicious and tranquil self-admiration. Now, at ten o'clock, the boys sat on the grass waiting for their mother to take her place on the Woman's Club float.

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Sunday Salon ~ September 23, 2012

Hello! I’ve been on a forced “break” of sorts from blogging. Turns out that computer virus I thought was gone from my computer “hid” a few bits of itself here and there. My computer shut down again and wouldn’t start back up. Holy cow! What a nightmare! I think this computer is all set now and squeaky clean. This sounds like what I said a week or so ago!

We have another abandoned cat here. The people who lived just two or three doors away moved out and left their one-year old tabby cat on the landing with a cup of water and open can of cat food. Bear in mind they had a month’s notice. They knew they were leaving and couldn’t be bothered to take care of their cat. A cat you have to assume was a part of their lives for a few months at least. By late afternoon yesterday, the poor thing was consistently and loudly meowing to get into his home. So we took him in and we’re calling him Oscar at the moment. Considering that cats are creatures of habit, poor Oscar isn’t a real happy boy at the moment. He hisses a bit, growls a lot, even when he eats and plays, and meows loudly when anyone comes near. He’s scared, confused, unsure of where he is and what’s happening. Oscar doesn’t seem to like other cats too much, either. Hopefully he’ll calm down in a few days as we continue to feed him regularly, play with and pet him, offer him catnip and take care of him. What’s wrong with people? Is it pure cruelty? Laziness? Stupidity? Selfishness? It’s probably a combination of all these. Does this happen everywhere? It happens so often here in Brooklyn. It’s an awful way to treat a pet, so cruel and unfeeling. If they’re found out people are fined $300 if the abandonment is reported. Oscar’s adorable and if he decides we’re a good fit for him, we’ll be fortunate to have him in the family.

I missed the mid-point for IT reviews. I’m going to post mine by Tuesday and read the reviews by other #Italong-ers!. I received a terrific #Italong book mark from softdrink. It’s awesome and makes my reading much more festive! I missed my scheduled review date for Telegraph Avenue but will have a new date soon. I’ll be reviewing A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris this week. Unbelievable! This weekend I’ve just finished reading Henning Mankell’s first Wallander book, The Pyramid, about his early years on the police force. It’s great. I’m going to start reading The Cutting Season by Attica Locke.

Now I’ll return to the football game that’s making me want to scream!! Oy those Jets!

Happy Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Bookie's Son by Andrew Goldstein

The Bookie’s Son by Andrew Goldstein

ISBN: 978-0-9848245-0-2
Pages: 248
Release Date: May 2012
Publisher: sixoneseven
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher‘s Summary: The year is 1960 and the place is the Bronx. All twelve-year-old Ricky Davis wants to do is play stickball with his friends and flirt with the building super’s daughter. But when his father crosses gangster Nathan Glucksman and goes into hiding, Ricky has to take over his father’s bookie business and figure out a way to pay back his debt—before the gangsters make good on their threats. Meanwhile, Ricky’s mother, Pearl, a fading beauty of failed dreams, plots to raise the money by embezzling funds from one of her boss’s clients: Elizabeth Taylor. Fast-paced, engrossing and full of heart, The Bookie’s Son paints the picture of a family forced to decide just how much they’re willing to sacrifice for each other—and at what cost.

My Thoughts: The Bookie’s Son has the intimate feel of a memoir. The working-class Bronx neighborhood where the Davis family lives is described in such vivid detail I was as if I’d been there before. The first-person narration by 12-year old Ricky enhances the familiar and personal feel of the story. I sometimes felt as if I was sitting at the Davis’ kitchen table watching and listening as Grandma Rosie relayed stories of her past to Ricky and told him how to live his life. The more Ricky shared about his family and the neighborhood the easier it became to imagine the people and places he talked about. Ricky quickly drew me into his world with his sweet, caring nature, his vivid adolescent fantasies and his struggle to find the courage to save his family. I found myself laughing at some of Ricky’s anecdotes and nearly brought to tears by others, his sincerity breaking my heart. In just a few chapters I was emotionally invested in The Bookie’s Son, hoping for Ricky and Rosie’s sake, especially, that things would work out for the Davis family.

The book covers Ricky’s twelfth summer through Yom Kippur in October. Ricky’s got a lot on his shoulders: pounding, pulsing adolescent hormones; confused thoughts about girls’ bodies; ducking the neighborhood bully; preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and wondering what it means to become a man and how this is going to happen. But most of the time Ricky’s trying to find a way to save his family from the crippling debt his father owes a violent mobster. Ricky, like most 12-year old boys, wants his father, an extremely flawed, mean and inconsiderate man, to respect and love him and he wants to take away his mother’s worries. Ricky figures he’ll accomplish this by being a hero. It’s funny and sad to read as Ricky makes various plans to get the money and discovers, at 12, he doesn’t have the strength or bravery to do so.

Pearl, his mother, a narcissistic, quick-tempered, mouthy woman loves Ricky and, sadly, treats him as her best friend. Sometimes this scares him and often it further confuses him. But I think the shining light of the book is Rosie, Ricky’s grandma. Rosie is the quintessential Jewish grandmother. She has a 91-year old boyfriend she‘s called Mr. Fein for 20 years. She cooks constantly, forcing food on anyone who enters the apartment: even mob enforcers. Rosie relishes offering unsolicited Yiddish-laden advice to family and friends. She’s convinced everyone likes her because she’s so smart. She has no qualms letting her son-in-law know what she thinks of him: as a low-life, telling him in a string of unflattering Yiddish insults. She’s more sure of herself than Ricky is, and she believes she can save the family, roping him into helping with her scheme.

Much of the commentary about this book focuses on the comedy. And much of the book is funny. However, make no mistake that in the form of Nathan Glucksman, the family nemesis, a sinister force pervades this story and it is far from sweetness and light. Andrew Goldstein has set out to create an atmosphere not just of a time and place. There is fear, loyalty to family and friends and what it means to be part of a family, since all families are crazy. In the Davis Family, as in most families, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly! I was surprised at the brevity of the book and the uncertainty at the end, otherwise, Goldstein accomplishes the goals of this book with a great deal of success. I highly recommend reading The Bookie's Son!

Andrew Goldstein’s website

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Bookie’s Son and to Andrew Goldstein and SixOneSeven publishers for a copy of this book.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII

It’s the time of year for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril when we spend our time imbibing as much that is ghastly, ghoulish and ghostly as possible! I never seem to get in as much as I hope too, but I enjoy trying to read and watch as much creepy stuff as I can! Considering as I keep forgetting to sign up, I may not be off to the best start but it could be the fault of a scary clown, Pennywise, in IT or the hair-raising true life murder case in The Wilderness of Error!
Anyway, I'm (finally!) signing up for R. I. P. VII hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

This fun event runs for the next two months, between September 1st and October 31st. We can read novels (or watch movies) in the following categories:

Dark Fantasy.

There are several different levels of Peril to choose from. I was tempted by Peril I but not being the quickest reader I decided I might not get to 4 books so I opted for Peril II. I’ll definitely read at least two books from the above categories. I wanted to join the read along for The Little Stranger but I have too much to read already this month! Some of the books I might read other than

IT   and
The Wilderness of Error, are
The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Sue Myers,
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson,
The Likeness by Tana French, and
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Another great option of this event that I love is Peril on the Screen for those of us who, as Carl posted, “like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare”. I’m a fan of British Detective shows such as Midsomer Murders, Rebus, Waking the Dead, Wire in the Blood, Luther and similar movies as well as thrillers such as Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, Rebecca and Cape Fear.

Once you finish a book, TV show or movie and review it, there's a R.I.P. Review Site to post a link to you review, sharing it with other R.I.P. VII participants.  As Carl made sure to mention, the goal of R.I.P. VII is:

1. Have fun reading!

2. Share that fun with others!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ September 11th

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on the opening. This is a debut novel that sounded really interesting to me. I also liked the Wales setting!

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea and read Diane's selection this week and be sure to visit and read the contributions of other participants in this terrific meme who can be found in the comments!

It doesn’t take long to divide an old life from a new life - a few minutes, not even that. One quick, unfair blow, and you find yourself looking back across the uncrossable, to a place that can’t ever be reached again, despite the fact you were there - brushing your teeth or reading your paper or wondering where you left your umbrella - just a moment ago. But that’s over, the kind, old life, and you have to go out into the unknown, unbalanced world, where everything important is wrong. People vanish, the scenery changes. Things you loved become meaningless, and meaningless things stay that way.

After this happened to me last November, one of the worst things has been the swap between the hemispheres of asleep and awake. I used to shake myself out of my dreams with relief; I would rush into the day and not look back. But now I start to wake up from a dream of my old life, in the uneasy, empty twilight of the morning, and I think No all over again, with the same force as the No on the telephone that day, standing in the Arctic blank of the hotel room, gripping the receiver with my locked-up fingers, as if that could stop her disappearing.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday, Sunday...

Happy Sunday!  It's terrific it's a beautiful, sunny day, great for football and US Open Tennis! I hope you're enjoying the day!

My plans to spend most of my free time in the book blog arena this past week were thwarted by a hideous computer virus called Live Security Platinum. Ugh! It was a rogue software virus which took a good 4 days to fully and completely rid from the computer. I think it infected my computer when my Facebook page was hacked. I’m not entirely sure that’s how it got in. I am sure I spent entirely too much time frustrated by it!  It was a huge relief when we knew it was gone for good. Now it’s a matter of beefing up security and anti-virus software, trying to guarantee, as much as possible, it doesn’t happen again.

I read a considerable amount this week since it’s one of the best way to calm my mind and soul after fighting the virus. Unfortunately, I seem to have buried myself in review books, again, despite my intentions not too. At least I still want to read most of the review books now that it’s come time too! I’m reading the true crime book The Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris which is fascinating. I am about 100 pages in to Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. His writing is brilliant and the characters are intriguing, so far. I just started The Bookie’s Son by Andrew Goldstein which I have no doubt will be good.  And, last but not least,  I’m loving IT by Stephen King. I’d forgotten what a terrific story-teller he is, creative, detailed and thrilling! I'm so glad I joined this readalong!
The one other wonderful, delightful distraction from all that’s frustrating and painful is the cats, especially the kitten, Owen. He’s full of energy and lots of fun as well as mushy, loving and cuddly. He’s an ideal cat!  I'll have more photos soon, just need to download them!

Enjoy your Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday!

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words 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 words are from Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk :

She, Juliet, aged thirty-six, mother of two, a teacher at Arlington Park High School for Girls - a person regarded in her youth as somewhat exceptional, a scholarship student and at one time Head Girl - had been slightly obnoxious to their hosts, the Milfords: Matthew Milford, the vilely wealthy owner of an office supplies company in Cheltenham, and his horse-faced, attenuated, raddled wife, Louisa.

1. Attenuated
: weak; diminishing

2. Raddled
: being in a state of confusion : lacking composure
: Broken down; worn

In they came, farouche in their ballet slippers.

3. Farouche: (adj.) (French)
: fierce
: sullenly unsociable or shy; socially inept

These words are from The City & The City by China Miéville

It is a heavily crosshatched street - clutch by clutch of architecture broken by alterity, even in a few spots house by house.

1. Alterity
: The state or quality of being other; a being otherwise.

The local buildings are taller by a floor or three than the others, so Besz juts up semi-regularly and the roofscape is almost a machicolation.

2. Machicolation (noun, Architecture)
: (esp in medieval castles) a projecting gallery or parapet supported on corbels having openings through which missiles could be dropped
: any such opening

The convenor, a wiry, pony-tailed man, who went by Zyet, “Bean“ would not give us their names.

3. Convenor
: a person who convenes or chairs a meeting, committee, etc, especially one who is specifically elected to do so.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ September 4th!

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday. To participate, share the opening paragraph or two (I’ve shared a little more here) of a book you've decided to read based on the paragraph(s). This book was published several years ago and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2007. This is a relatively small book and I found it buried on a shelf a few weeks ago. Reading over the book’s summary ~ the lives of five young mothers over the course of a rainy day in a London suburb ~ reminded me why I wanted to read this book.

Be sure to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and the other wonderful contributions to this meme.

Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk

All night the rain fell on Arlington Park.
The clouds came from the west: clouds like dark cathedrals, clouds like machines, clouds like black blossoms flowering in the arid starlit sky. They came over the English countryside, sunk in its muddled sleep. They came over the low, populous hills where scatterings of lights throbbed in the darkness. At midnight they reached the city, valiantly glittering in its shallow provincial basin. Unseen, they grew like a second city overhead, thickening, expanding, throwing up their savage monuments, their towers, their monstrous, unpeopled palaces of cloud.

In Arlington Park, people were sleeping. Here and there the houses showed an orange square of light. Cars crept along the deserted roads. A cat leapt from a wall, pouring itself down into the shadows. Silently the clouds filled the sky. The wind picked up. It faintly stirred the branches of the trees, and in the dark, empty park the swings moved back and forth a little. A handful of dried leaves shuffled on the pavement. Down in the city there were still people on the streets, but in Arlington Park they were in their beds, already surrendered to tomorrow. There was no one to see the rain coming, except a couple hurrying down the silent streets on their way back from an evening out.

"I don't like the look of that," said the man, peering up. "That's rain."
The woman gave an exasperated little laugh. "You're the expert on everything tonight, aren't you?" she said.
They let themselves into their house. The orange light showed for an instant in their doorway and was extinguished again.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock

What Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock

Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Flock's Website
Elizabeth Flock's Facebook page

Mailbox Monday ~ August 27th

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

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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Sunday Salon ~ Reading, Sleeping and Introducing Owen!

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your Sunday!
Happy Reading!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I decided to just do IT!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ August 19th

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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