Saturday, July 21, 2012


I’m going to take a break from my blog and blogging for about two weeks. I haven’t been able to get online much the last two weeks. I was only able to post a couple of reviews and not much else and I haven’t been able to visit many blogs. I’ve been having some health problems that are distracting me and keeping me from blogging. And Rosie, my kitten, has also been having more problems with infections in her eyes. She needs to have surgery to remove one eye, poor little thing. I will post reviews that I’ve committed to and, if possible, will visit your blogs if I’m able!

Have a great couple of weeks!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

ISBN: 978-0385344098
Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: July 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core and setting the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

With the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield has created an enduring work of fiction.

My Thoughts:  The Lake Family - Samuel Lake and his wife, Willadee Moses Lake and their children Noble, Swan and Bienville - arrive in Arkansas at Hill House, the home of John and Calla Moses, the first Sunday in June for the Moses Family reunion. Willadee is giddy with excitement because she loves going home to the farm where she grew up and seeing her momma and daddy. Her happiness is infectious and soon the children are bursting with excitement, too. On the Moses farm they can run and play to their hearts content. Swan is also excited because when her daddy isn’t around, which is often, her mom lets her wear boys clothes instead of dresses!

Samuel, a Methodist preacher, to the horror of Willadee’s daddy, is a good, honest, loving man with an unshakable faith and a belief in God’s loves for everybody. Samuel believes God answers our prayers and questions even though the answers aren’t always apparent and don’t always make sense. As the children of a preacher, Swan and her brothers lives have been steeped in religion and they share their father’s beliefs. Eleven-year old Swan was named Swan because Willadee believes a girl needs power all her own and swans are extremely powerful. Swan and her name fit each other like a glove. Swan is not only bright, precocious and curious but she‘s strong and formidable. She questions most everything she’s told including what she learns about God. She believes what Samuel tells her but when she sees things in the world around her that don‘t make sense or aren’t right or fair she‘s puzzled and curious.

Religion, God and the concept of miracles are some of the main themes in The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. Jenny Wingfield successfully incorporates these topics into the story in a serious and respectful way without being preachy or heavy-handed. Samuel wants his children to share his love and fondness for God and the world so he conveys to them a God who is sometimes mysterious and, though not always understandable, always loving. Swan shares what she knows about God and his works with a new friend, a little boy named Blade who lives on a neighboring farm. Blade’s family is shockingly different from the Moses and Lake families. Swan and her brothers, as well as the adults in the family, will learn some tough lessons through Blade, much of which they’d rather not know. Learning about Blade’s life makes Swan and her family especially grateful for what they have in life.

This particular summer is one of great joy but also shocking sadness for the Moses and Lake families. Swan and her brothers learn that true evil exists this world, and can exact tremendous pain and suffering, when it finds its way to the Moses farm this summer. Samuel and Swan’s beliefs in God and miracles will be severely tested. Suspense builds slowly as the story progresses. Ms. Wingfield teases her readers by lulling us into feeling relaxed and easy as we read about the new pony Uncle Toy buys for Swan and her brothers, how the children show their gratitude to him and about the revival meeting Samuel is planning to hold across the road from Hill House. But then, suddenly, she reminds us of the evil that exists close by until, as the last quarter of the book looms, a completely shocking event occurs. Although I expected something bad to happen, I wasn’t prepared for what does happen. It’s horrid and I almost skipped a few pages.

Ms. Wingfield writing is so compelling and her storytelling so rich and absorbing with many surprises to skip over any part of this book I’m glad I didn’t because I was rewarded with some fascinating, although also sad, chapters as the suspenseful aspect of the storyline culminated in a heart-gripping incident which was finally resolved with a surprising twist. The themes of family, love and support and honesty, which are part of the story from the beginning, are the focus of the last several chapters of the book. One character, whom I don't want to reveal, makes a startling sacrifice out of love and obligation that actually brough tears to my eyes. Ms. Wingfield has written a very powerful novel with amazing characters that I won't soon forget. I was sad to have this book end and, although I wished the story was longer, when and how The Homecoming of Samuel Lake ended and felt right.

Ms. Wingfield’s remarkable debut novel wouldn’t be the mesmerizing story it is without the wonderful cast of characters. Most are thoughtful, kind and loving but they’re also real with faults and flaws that make them identifiable to us. Some are self-centered, others are lazy, some drink too much, and some aren’t as honest as they think they are. My favorite and the star of this book is the out-spoken, sassy Swan Lake. She reminds me of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird with a unique and fascinating mind always working, questioning and thinking. I imagine they’d be great friends. Calla Moses, Swan’s grandmother, is a woman I’d love to have in my family. She’s honest, a straight-talker, practical and loving. She adores gardening, cooks wonderful food and has a giving heart. She adores her grandchildren and is thrilled the Lake family moved into Hill House. Calla has one big regret in life which she shares with Willadee so her daughter can avoid making the same mistake. Swan’s father, Samuel, the preacher, is another character I liked quite a bit. He’s a kind man with an enthusiasm for life. When he finally finds what he believes he’s meant to do, his joy is palpable. This is a book I cannot recommend highly enough. I’m already looking forward to Jenny Wingfield’s next book.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Homecoming of Samuel Lake and to Random House for an ARC copy of this book.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mailbox Monday ~ July 9th

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted in July by Jennifer at Mrs. Q: Book Addict. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.

The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla (win from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric...Thank you!!)

November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror for Jews all across Germany. Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army rampages through China and tightens its stranglehold on Shanghai, a city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.

Dr. Franz Adler, a renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence and flees to Shanghai with his daughter. At a refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, but Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor murders her father. The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jews as the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Facing starvation and disease, Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open and protect his family from a terrible fate.

The Far Side of the Sky focuses on a short but extraordinary period of Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish history when cultures converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival

The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar (I think I won this but I’m not sure from whom but I was very excited when I opened the envelope to find this book! Thank you to whomever sent it to me!)
As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and part thirty years. Following different paths, the quartet drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared.

Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of letting go on her own terms even if her ex-husband and daughter do not understand her choices.

In the course of their journey to reconnect, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta must confront the truths of their lives- acknowledge long-held regrets, face painful secrets and hidden desires, and reconcile their idealistic past and their compromised present. And they will have to decided what matters most, a choice that may just help them reclaim the extraordinary world they once found.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Sunday Salon: hot, Hot, HOT!!

Holy Heat Wave!

The last several days have been just a bit hot here! Thank goodness today is much better, less humidity and lower temperatures. Even better tomorrow...I think & hope! Some states in the mid-west and elsewhere are coping with much higher temperatures. I was shocked when I read in the paper this morning how many people have died because of the heat. Many of them were elderly people living in stuffy, closed homes without air-conditioning. It’s so sad. One thing this weather is very good for is sitting still and what better reason to sit still than to read! Although I have some trouble keeping my eyes open and occasionally lose my focus, I have some terrific books that are helping these hot days pass quick enough! I hope those of you also facing the hot weather everyday are staying cool!

The kitten, Rosie, is doing very well. She spends her days playing, eating and sleeping. She’s a very happy kitty and a scrappy one. Little bothers her and she has a bit of a temper. When she’s truly mad, she growls in her throat and then strikes out with her little paws. One day last week she was in no mood for her eye drops and got mad at me when I insisted. When I finished giving her 2 drops in each eye and lifted her up to my face to kiss her, she hit my chin with her paws a few times, no claws, was funny. As I was about to put her down, she licked my chin so I guess I was forgiven!

The other cats can’t take their eyes off Rosie when she’s playing but otherwise ignore her. Huxley, Lola and Magoo sleep inside during the day but spend a lot of their nights outside roaming and playing. Bob comes into eat and visit but spends his time sleeping in the cool garden ‘jungle’ in back. He likes his comfort. So JoJo is the lone holdout. She refuses to come inside since Rosie arrived. As my friend, Paul, pointed out, "JoJo just doesn’t like other cats!” which is so true. She has started sitting on the window sill for a short time in the evenings. Hopefully, she’ll slowly work her way back inside although, since she’s still getting fed..and at several places now...she may decide not too. I hope that's not the case!

I finished reading The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo this morning and I’m lovin’ The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. I have to review this book this week so I’m concentrating on it right now and had to put The City and The City by China Miéville to the side for a couple of days as well as The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy which I am almost finished. I hope you’re reading something great....what is it?!

I hope you’ve been having a great weekend!
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

ISBN: 978-1-57962-227-5
Pages: 352
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea—blue as his eyes—and sees a vision: a slender blonde woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And it begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

What unfolds from there is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, peopled by Jess Walter’s trademark unforgettable characters: the Italian innkeeper and his mysterious beauty; the heroically cynical film producer who once brought them together, and his idealistic young assistant; and the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers who populate their world in the decades that follow. Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is pure Jess Walter—a novel full of flawed yet utterly relatable people, all of them reaching toward some impossible goal, leading us up a rocky shoreline path toward a future both distant and utterly familiar.

My Thoughts:   Beautiful Ruins opens in the tiny coastal village of Porto Vergogna, Italy in 1962. Porto Vergogna is so small it doesn’t have a telephone and just one small hotel with 6 guest rooms and a cafe. The hotel belongs to the Tursi family and run by Pasquale Tursi, a young man who returned home from the University of Florence to care for his ailing mother when his father died eight months earlier. Life in Porto Vergogna is quiet and rather boring for Pasquale but, like his father, he’s come to believe in the potential of this backward spot on the Italian coast. Pasquale is determined to turn Porto Vergogna into a flourishing tourist destination. Pasquale is just one of the many colorful, delightful characters in Jess Walter’s terrific novel but he’s my favorite for his sweet, thoughtful character, his easy-going, good-natured demeanor and the many comedic situations he finds himself in including a long car ride with a drunk, loquacious Richard Burton.

Cleopatra is filming in Rome at the time Pasquale is building a beach in Porto Vergogna. A minor actress in the film, Dee Moray, arrives in Pasquale’s village suddenly one day, changing his life forever. Dee’s sent to Porto Vergogna under false pretences by the film’s producer, Michael Dean, a rather sleazy, despicable but also amusing individual. Pasquale looks up from his ‘beach’ to see her coming to shore by boat and he’s instantly smitten. Dee’s story is disturbing and shocking but, as Pasquale sadly learns over time, pretty typical for Hollywood. Although Dee is only in Pasquale’s life for a very short time, she has a major impact on his life. Pasquale learns much about himself, other people and the strength and power of love through Dee.

Pasquale never forgets Dee Moray. Fifty years after meeting her in Porto Vergogna, Pasquale travels to Los Angeles in search of Dee. He starts at the offices of Michael Dean one of the few men Pasquale’s punched in his life. His first encounter with Dean, in Rome fifty years ago, was aggravating and pushed the normally calm Pasquale to his breaking point. On behalf of Dee and to assuage some of his anger Pasquale let Michael Dean have it, surprising himself even more than Dean. It‘s a fantastic scene in this book. In present day LA, Pasquale puts aside his dislike of Dean and manages to remain calm in his presence despite some of the offensive things Dean says. It helps, but only slightly that Dean apologizes for his behavior fifty years ago. It helps much more that Michael Dean, who hasn’t thought of Dee Moray in fifty years, is willing to do whatever it takes to locate her for Pasquale. Dee’s story is a fascinating part of Beautiful Ruins and surprising in parts.

Jess Walter has filled this novel with a large cast of characters which, in another author’s hands might be the downfall of the book, but in Beautiful Ruins every character enhances the story. Walter constructs intriguing storylines, some extensive, others brief, for all of his characters, providing the necessary details to make them real and captivating whether they have a minor role or are central to the story. Some of these characters are likeable, some are despicable but almost all are unforgettable. Through these characters Walter emphasizes how individuals impact the lives of the people they interact with, whether for a short time or a lifetime.

Beautiful Ruins is a rich, alluring and exhilarating story. I hated to have to put it down but the best part of that was the excitement I felt when I could pick it up to read again. The story is difficult to classify because it offers such a gratifying variety of unexpected delights in its 340 pages. This novel is poignant, funny, disturbing, amusing, sad, heart-warming and full of surprising twists and turns. Each chapter is different and you have no idea what to expect from the next one. The various characters take you from Italy in the ’60s to modern-day LA to Seattle in the late ’70s and to 2008 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Other chapters provide you with a script for a movie, the chapter of a failed writer’s book and parts of Michael Dean’s horrid memoir. All the chapters make sense together in the context of the story. Read it, you’ll see!

The contrast between the worlds of Porto Vergogna and Hollywood is especially fascinating. These places are so different fron one another but also similar in ways.  It's also captivating to see how the people in each world were shaped by their world. Walter brilliantly uses the filming of Cleopatra and the love stories that revolved around the making of this film, including the story of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, to bring the sordid world of Hollywood, with all its scandals and immoral behavior into the quiet, peaceful life of Pasquale on the coast of Italy and then to modern-day Los Angeles. Pasquale has his own story, some of which surprised me and disappointed me a little bit. We see an unexpected side of Pasquale, one that identifies him as a real man and human being.

Walter reminds us that people, at their core, are not that different from each other. One thing that's certain is love and relationships are complicated for every person. The heart wants what the heart wants and is often difficult, if not impossible, to control. But even in relationships that don’t involve romantic love, people impact each other everyday in good and bad ways. As Pasquale and Walter’s other characters show us, people make us angry, sad, joyful, confused, irritated, delighted, amused and they make us laugh. Jess Walter does all of that and so much more in this . Trust me, this is one book you don’t want to miss! I am so excited to read Jess Walter’s other books and to see what he gives us in the future.
exquisitely written novel

Jess Walter’s Website

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Beautiful Ruins and to Harper for an ARC copy of the book.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mailbox Monday ~ July 2nd

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme originally created and hosted by Marcia of A girl and her books and hosted in July by Jennifer at Mrs. Q: Book Addict. Below are the titles I received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the course of the past week.

Have Mother Will Travel by Mia and Claire Fontaine (from William Morrow Publishers for review)
A mother, a daughter, and a life-changing adventure around the world . . .

Their bestselling memoir, "Come Back," moved and inspired readers with the story of Mia Fontaine's harrowing drug addiction and her mother, Claire's, desperate and ultimately successful attempts to save her. Now it's a decade later and Claire and Mia each face a defining moment in her life, and a mother-daughter relationship that has frayed around the edges. At fifty-one, Claire's shed her identity as Mia's savior but realizes that, oops, she forgot to plan for life after motherhood; Mia, twenty-five and eager to step outside her role as recovery's poster child, finds adult life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Determined to transform themselves and their relationship once again, the pair sets off on a five-month around-the-world adventure.

What awaits them is an extraordinary, often hilarious journey through twenty cities and twelve countries--one that includes mishaps, mayhem, and unexpected joys, from a passport-eating elephant to a calamitous camel ride around the Pyramids--and finally making peace with their tumultuous past in the lavender fields of France, where they live for the last four months of the trip. Seeing how self-possessed and community-minded twenty-somethings are in other countries broadens Mia's perspective, helping her grow, and grow up. Claire uses the trip to examine her broken relationship with her own mother, a Holocaust survivor, and to create a vision for her second act. Watching her mom assess half a century of life, Mia comes to know her as Claire has always known Mia--as all mothers know their daughters--better than anyone else, and often better than themselves.

Wiser for what they've learned from women in other cultures, and from each other, they return with a deepened sense of who they are and where they want to go--and with each embracing the mature friendship they've discovered and the profound love they share.

Alternating between Claire and Mia's compelling and distinct voices, "Have Mother, Will Travel" is a testament to the power and beauty of the mother-daughter relationship, one that illuminates possibilities for our own lives.

Some Kind of Peace by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff  (from Lauren at Free Press for review)
"It seems so idyllic. But something is out of place. In the neatly raked gravel parking area is a dazzlingly clean black Jeep. The paint of the Jeep reflects a clematis with large pure white blossoms climbing up a knotted old apple tree. Someone is lying under the low trunk and crooked branches of the tree. A young woman, a girl. . . ."Siri Bergman is a thirty-four-year-old psychologist who works in central Stockholm and lives alone in an isolated cottage out of the city. She has a troublesome secret in her past and has been trying to move on with her life. Terrified of the dark, she leaves all the lights on when she goes to bed--having a few glasses of wine each night to calm her nerves--but she can't shake the feeling that someone is watching her through the blackened windows at night.

When the lifeless body of Sara Matteus--a young patient of Siri's with a history of drug addiction and sexual abuse--is found floating in the water near the cottage, Siri can no longer deny that someone is out there, watching her and waiting. When her beloved cat goes missing and she receives a photo of herself from a stalker, it becomes clear that Siri is next. Luckily, she can rely on Markus, the young policeman investigating Sara's death; Vijay, an old friend and psychology professor; and Aina, her best friend. Together, they set about profiling Siri's aspiring murderer, hoping to catch him before he kills again.

But as their investigation unfolds, Siri's past and present start to merge and disintegrate so that virtually everyone in her inner circle becomes a potential suspect. With the suspense building toward a dramatic conclusion as surprising as it is horrifying, Siri is forced to relive and reexamine her anguished past, and finally to achieve some kind of peace

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Sunday Salon ~ July 1st

Happy July 1st!

Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s already July. The days fly by yet I wonder what I do with the time! Except for the last couple of days because I’ve been reading, reading, reading! I haven’t been in such a reading mode in a long time. And it’s fantastic! I have a lot of great books I’m reading and others waiting to be read. It’s the perfect way to deal with the heat, too, since my reading style‘s a pretty sedentary activity. The days of exercising on a stationery bike or some other piece of exercise equipment are over for me. Been there, done that! Now I prefer to do my reading in a comfy chair or in my bed! (If it was possible to read while swimming laps, I might consider it but I’m happy there isn’t!) The a/c is good for my breathing but I don’t like sitting in a/c round the clock. Even though it’s hot and the air is still, I prefer to be outside for a little while or have the windows open for a little while. Sitting and reading with a fan on and ice-cold water is working well for me so far.

Huxley, Lola and Magoo have come back inside after initially balking at Rosie’s presence and deserting their home for a day or two. They sleep all day, spread out as much as possible. Bob left home at the same time as Huxley, Lola and Magoo but Bob, who used to stay indoors sleeping all day, discovered that the overgrown garden ~ now a mini- ‘jungle’ - in the backyard, just past the deck, is very cool during the day with a nice breeze. Bob’s taken to sleeping there almost all day, everyday. Once or twice a day, I visit him. I’ll out his name a few times, Bob comes up on the deck, leans his furry butt against my leg ~ the Bob sign of love and affection ~ then sits next to me and allows me to scratch his cheeks and head and pet him a lot. When Bob’s had enough attention, he gets up walks towards the end of the deck and the jungle, turns and looks back at me as if to say, “See ya later and thanks!” and then he finds himself a comfy, cool spot in Bob’s jungle. There are several plants in Bob’s jungle with enormous leaves. My friend told me their called ‘elephant ears’. This morning, Bob was asleep under two extra-large elephant ears with only his little stub of a tail poking out of the plants in the jungle!

Little Rosie is the only cat who shows some displeasure with my reading. If she can, she climbs on the book while I’m reading it or sits on my chest blocking my view of the book. If she’s unable to climb on me or reah the book I’m reading, she finds another book and chews on it! Fortunately, so long as I twirl a string for her, roll a ball across the floor or push a bottle cap around so she can chase all or any of them, she’s happy as can be and runs around and around until she drops from exhaustion and sleeps for an hour or two. Rosie also loves to attack the oxygen tubing I wear because If I’m moving at all, it’s moving. Rosie’s too little to cause any damage to the tubing now but I’m going to have to find a way to dissuade her from playing with the oxygen tubing soon or else, one day, she’s going to put some holes in it!

Today I’m going to finish Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, just in time for my review Tuesday! I’m also reading The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo and I’m just getting into The City and The City by China Miéville. I picked this book up as part of a informal readalong with Care, Ti and other bloggers. I’m a little behind, as is usually the case, but very happy I’m reading this book around the same time as other terrific bloggers! I look forward to their thoughts on The City & the City.

I hope you’ve been having a great weekend! Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
I hope you are reading something enjoyable!