Tuesday, March 18, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea every Tuesday.  Participants share the opening paragraph or two of a book they decided to read based on that paragraph. I have meant to read this book for years.  So sad, isn’t it?!  I’ve watched the move countless times.  Finally, I purchased a 50th Anniversary Edition of the book.  It includes three short stories, which I’m excited about.  The story is more novella than novel but still a huge treat. I want to savor it, but I know that I’ll still finish the book in a day or two.  What can you do?! 

Drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week, it’s always a good one, and to see who else is participating. You'll probably get some good book titles, too! 
Breakfast At Tiffany’s


Truman Capote 

Chapter 1 
I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco-spit. Everywhere, in the bathroom too, there were prints of Roman ruins freckled brown with age. The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be.

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: The Free by Willy Vlautin

The Free by Willy Vlautin 

Publisher:  Harper Perennial
Published:  February 4, 2014
ISBN:  978-0062309051
Pages:  320
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

 Book Summary:  Award-winning author Willy Vlautin demonstrates his extraordinary talent for confronting issues facing modern America, illuminated through the lives of three memorable characters who are looking for a way out of their financial, familial, and existential crises, in his heartbreaking and hopeful fourth novel
Leroy Kervin is a 31 year old Iraqi War veteran living with a traumatic brain injury. Unable to dress or feed himself, or cope with his emotions, he has spent the last seven years in a group home. There he spends his days watching old sci-fi movies until he awakens one night with a clear mind and memories of his girlfriend. Realizing what his life has been he decides it would be better to die than to go on living this way. A failed suicide attempt leaves Leroy hospitalized where he retreats further into his mind in order to make sense of his existence.

Freddie McCall is a middle aged father working two jobs. He's lost his wife and kids, and is close to losing his house. He's buried in debt, unable to pay the medical bills from his daughter's childhood illness. As Freddie's situation becomes more desperate he undertakes a risky endeavor he hopes will solve his problems but could possibly end in disaster. Just as Freddie is about to lose it all, he is faced with the possibility of getting his kids back.

Pauline Hawkins takes care of everyone else around her. She cares for her mentally ill father out of a deep sense of obligation. As a nurse at the local hospital, she treats her patients and their families with a familiar warmth and tenderness. When Pauline becomes attached to a young runaway, she learns the difficult lesson that you can't help someone who doesn't help themselves.

The lives of these three characters intersect as they look for meaning in desperate times. Willy Vlautin covers themes ranging from health care to the economic downturn and housing crisis, to the toll war takes on veterans and their families. The Free is an extraordinary portrait of contemporary America and a testament to the resiliency of the human heart.

My Thoughts:  The Free is the first book I have read by by Willy Vlautin. I have  never heard of him before now. But I’m happy to know there are three more books available for me to read because I enjoyed The Free so much.  Vlautin’s writing style is simple and straightforward but compelling. He doesn’t use a lot of metaphors or flowery language to convey what he’s trying to say.  He simply says it.  His characters are similar.  What you see is what you get.  They’re genuine, nice people struggling with issues that plague many Americans. They refuse to let their troubles, as bad as they are, defeat them. They’re strong and resilient and, despite how bad it gets, they’re hopeful.  They continue to do what they can to make things work out in the hopes of improving their lives.

The Free is relayed by the three characters, Freddie, Pauline and Leroy.  They tell their stories in interspersing chapters. Freddie, Pauline and Leroy are acquainted but they don’t  know each other. Freddie, Pauline and Leroy are struggling under the weight of some big crises and hoping they make it. They represent many Americans living in our country today.

Freddie, like so many Americans, is a single parent concerned about caring for his daughters.  They live with his ex-wife but Freddie pays they’re bills.  One daughter is disabled and her medical bills are staggering.  Freddie worries about paying past medical debts as well as finding the money for future bills and health insurance. Freddie worries constantly that his house, which has been in his family for generations, will be taken from him. But he doesn’t know what more he can do. He already works two jobs, day and night.  What little sleep he gets is disturbed by his constant worries.

Pauline has a good job working as a nurse.  In her free time, she cares for her mentally ill father.  But she’s a sad and lonely woman.  She isn’t looking for a relationship, though.  She does not completely trust men.  She was in a relationship once and he became more and more controlling as time passed.  Pauline doesn’t want to repeat that experience.  She would prefer to find a friend or companion, male or female, to spend time with and whose company she could enjoy.

Leroy, who signed up with the National Guard, was severely injured and brain damaged in Iraq.  He returned to the USA and moved into a group home. He suffers from chronic pain that the doctors don’t seem able to take care of for him.  In a moment of lucidity, Leroy remembers that sci-fi books he used to read obsessively.  He delves deep into his brain, creating a sci-fi story starring himself and his girlfriend, Jeanette.  In this way, Leroy can separate himself from the society that’s caused him so much pain and become a whole person again and maybe more.

 Freddie, Pauline and Leroy are good people struggling to lift themselves out of situations of despair and to wrest some luck out of life. Their stories are heart-breaking but filled with hope. What I find so remarkable about them is their unwillingness to give up.  They are hopeful and willing to laugh and see the good in their days despite having to struggle so much.  That’s what makes this book so worth reading.  These characters soldier on.  Life might be tough but it’s still worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

~ ~ 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.  Participants share the opening paragraph or two of a book they decided to read based on that paragraph. I read a book by this author a few years ago, shortly after I began my book blog.  I loved the writing and the characters were so compelling and interesting.  I’ve wanted to read more of this author’s work ever since.  So, when I was offered the chance to review one of her books, I was happy to do so especially after reading the storyline. 

Drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week, it’s always a good one, and to see who else is participating. You'll probably get some good book titles, too! 

Oleander Girl


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni 

I’m swimming through a long, underwater cavern flecked with blue light, the cavern of love, with Rajat close behind me. We’re in a race, and so far I’m winning because this is my dream. Sometimes when I’m dreaming, I don’t know it, but tonight I do. Sometimes when I’m awake, I wonder if I’m dreaming. That, however, is another story. 
I smile and feel my mouth filling with cool, silver bubbles. Rajat’s fingers brush the backs of my knees. Even in my dream I know that if I slow down just a bit, he’ll grab my waist and pull me to him for a mischievous kiss. Imagining that kiss sends a shudder of pleasure through me. But I don’t want it yet. The chase is too much fun. I surge away with a splashy kick. Hey! he calls out in spluttering protest, and I grin wider. Competitive, he slices through the water with his fierce butterfly stroke and lunges for my ankle. I wait for his strong, electric grip to send a current through my veins. My mouth floods with anticipation of our kiss.
Then out of nowhere a wave breaks over me. Salt and sand are on my tongue. I try to spit them out, but they fill my mouth, choking me. Where’s Rajat when I need his help? Gasping, I thrash about and wake in my bed, tangled in my bed sheets.  

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review Coincidence, J.W. Ironmonger

Coincidence by J.W. Ironmonger

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Published: 2014
ISBN:          978-0-062309891
Pages:        284
Rating:       4 out of 5 

Book Summary:   One seagull and four pieces of bread decide the course of one person's life. But is the rest just coincidence? THE COINCIDENCE AUTHORITY combines the ideas of David Mitchell or Hanif Kureishi with the warmth of David Nicholls or Marina Lewycka.

Thomas Post is an expert on coincidence. He's an authority. Every coincidence, he says, can be explained by the cold laws of chance. But why then do coincidences so afflict the life of Azalea Lewis? And why has Thomas Post's orderly life been thrown into such disarray by the coincidences of Azalea? 

This is the tale of two lost souls, each with a quest to understand the secret patterns hidden in a very random universe. It is the story of the short but eventful life of Azalea Lewis, a foundling child discovered at a travelling fair; and it is the unfolding story of Thomas Post who looks for patterns in a haphazard world, and who finds his belief in the fabric of life challenged by Azalea. From the windswept tranquility of a Manx village, to the commuter swarms of London, to the brutal abduction of child soldiers in Africa, this is a search for truth, a search for God, a search for love, and a search for a decent pizza in North London.

My Thoughts:   I thought this was a fantastic book.  On one level it’s a love story between Thomas Post and Azalea Lewis, but too complex to be simply be labeled as such.  Thomas Post is a Lecturer in Applied Philosophy at the Institute for Philosophy in London. He’s nicknamed ‘the Coincidence Man’ because he spends much of his time studying coincidences.  Azalea teaches English literature and poetry to adult learners at this same University.  She usually teaches at night and in a completely different area than Thomas. Their paths don’t cross for many years until one day when Azalea visits Thomas’ office to discuss the many events in her past and in her history that she believes to be coincidences.

Azalea is a likable character who it’s easy to sympathize with after hearing the story of the several tragedies of her childhood.   By the age of thirteen she’d been adopted twice.  She believed for many years her biological mother abandoned her.  She also doesn’t know the name of her biological father.  Azalea eventually learns what happened to her real mother and who might be her biological father.  The information she discovers and the events of her past are fascinating.  When she explains how and why she sees many of the events as coincidences it’s difficult to disagree with her.

Thomas, it seems, doesn’t really believe in coincidences and mostly argues against them.  Azalea, on the other hand, believes everything happens for a reason and places a lot of significance on the coincidences in her life.   When Azalea tells the story of her difficult, painful childhood to Thomas, and the coincidences she sees, he argues against the idea of coincidences.  There are several pages of interesting discussion involving philosophy, the Big Bang Theory, determinism and pre-determinism versus free will, and many different philosophers.  Thomas doesn’t change Azalea’s mind. She still believes things happen for a reason.

There’s a strong connection between Azalea and Thomas but, he more than she, allow their differences about the existence of coincidences to come between them.   He can be quite arrogant and condescending.  Even after everything Azalea tells him about her childhood, he doesn’t really understand why she shies away from relationships.  She takes her time deciding she wants to date Thomas and, even while dating she’s not sure she wants a relationship with him.  She feels he’ll never understand what Uganda and the mission where she spent most of her childhood with her adoptive parents means to her.  And she knows Thomas doesn’t understand why she believes events in her past are definitely coincidences and they are of great significance to her.  So, although she loves him she’s not sure she can spend her life with him.

This book is also compelling for its beautiful and descriptive writing.  The passages regarding Uganda and the mission where Azalea lived with her adoptive parents is vividly described as a lush, beautiful countryside teeming with happy people but a lot of poverty and violence.  Although much of the conversation throughout the book is serious there’s humor and lighter dialogue, especially between Thomas and Azalea.  This helps make the novel glimmer with realism and gets you invested in both main characters, though some of Thomas’ stubborn tendencies made me feel frustrated for Azalea.

Without giving anything away, the book is not a fairy tale and not for the intellectually faint of heart. It is heavy and layered in many ways: there’s philosophy, physics as well as romance.  So if you fancy yourself an intellectual romantic or a romantic with an intellectual bent, this book is calling for you to read it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review ~ ~ Bingo's Run by James A. Levine ~ ~

Bingo’s Run by James A. Levine 
Publisher:  Spiegel & Grau
Published:   January 7, 2014
ISBN:  978-1-4000-6883-8
Pages:  304 pages
Rating:   4.5 out of 5 
Book Summary:   Meet Bingo, the greatest drug runner in the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, and maybe the world.  A teenage grifter, often mistaken for a younger boy, he faithfully serves Wolf, the drug lord of Kibera. Bingo spends his days throwing rocks at Krazi Hari, the prophet of Kibera’s garbage mound, “lipping” safari tourists of their cash, and hanging out with his best friend, Slo-George, a taciturn fellow whose girth is a mystery to Bingo in a place where there is never enough food. Bingo earns his keep by running “white” to a host of clients, including Thomas Hunsa, a reclusive artist whose paintings, rooted in African tradition, move him. But when Bingo witnesses a drug-related murder and Wolf sends him to an orphanage for “protection,” Bingo’s life changes and he learns that life itself is the “run.” 
A modern trickster tale that draws on African folklore, Bingo’s Run is a wildly original, often very funny, and always moving story of a boy alone in a corrupt and dangerous world who must depend on his wits and inner resources to survive. 
My Thoughts:  Kibera, Nairobi is the setting for James Levine’s second novel, Bingo’s Run.  It’s a place very different from what many of us in “developed” countries know.  Levine paints a vivid picture of Kibera’s appearance: alleys and slums populated with scores of people with no shelter.  Those lucky enough to have shelter are living in squalor: dirt floors and houses with no roofs.  The even fewer lucky enough to have a roof have one made of board or corrugated tin.  Their walls are cardboard, cloth or wood.  Pathways have formed between the huts due to all of the foot traffic.   Many of these paths have become ditches carrying away the filth of humans and animals.  
This is where Bingo and his fellow countrymen live, where so many of the people have nothing.  Their time is spent picking through garbage mounds for scraps of food and anything else they may be able to use.  The mound “grows forever” and the smell permeates everything.  Atop a particularly large and ever-growing mound of garbage stands a man called Krazi Hari, a harmless maniac. Krazi Hari philosophizes and yells at all those who pass-by or stop to watch him or talk and yell back at him.  He screams at Bingo and his best friend and protector, Slo-George.  Bingo doesn’t mind, even enjoys his rants, as when Krazi Hari calls him ‘meejit’ as he often does, because Bingo knows Krazi Hari is crazy.  But Bingo feels offended and angry when other people call him “meejit’.  Bingo and Slo-George often begin their days throwing rocks at Krazi Hari. 
Bingo Mwolo is an undersized teenage boy. He is fifteen years old but looks as if he is ten.  Bingo tells us this is because he is a ‘growth retard’.   According to Bingo, he is also smarter than almost everyone else he knows.  He works for a local drug dealer, Wolf, as a runner delivering “white” to many customers throughout the day. Being a ‘growth retard’ (small for his age) is an advantage for Bingo as a runner.  Bingo has learned to work the “system”, combining his best attribute for what he does, speed, with a code he’s developed that ensures his success. He’s created a list of 13 commandments which he lives by.  Throughout the story, Bingo explains his commandments and how living according to these rules has saved his life more than once.   Bingo has also hidden away the money he’s made in his job in a variety of different locations.  This guarantees he’ll either have plenty of money or not lose too much at any one time should one of his stashes be discovered and pilfered.  He’s also learned the importance of paying respect to those who can kill him whenever they want to, for no reason, and get away with it, a common occurrence in his line of work. He knows many runners who’ve met such grizzly fates.  
There’s quite a bit of corruption and violence in Nairobi Bingo’s Kiberia.  Bingo offers an entertaining and eye-opening explanation of the people and their ‘jobs’.  The man at the top of the corrupt and sinister chain of men Bingo works for is named Gihilihili. In what would be ironic and criminal to westerners, in Kiberia it is as natural as air that Gihilihili is the head of police.  Gihilihili wears several other hats, too, because he does whatever he wants to do.  Under Gihilihili are Boss Jonni and then Wolf, extremely violent and corrupt men.  Wolf, Bingo’s immediate superior, loves violence for its own sake.  To navigate this maze of uncertainty, a life where Bingo lives under a Damocles’ sword in almost as literal a sense as possible, Bingo gets involved in the corruption, running drugs and stealing.   Levine allows the reader to feel for Bingo, if not outright root for him, despite the fact he steals from shop keepers and tourists alike.  To further the irony, Bingo steals not because he needs to, but either for sport or just to keep his “skills” in this area sharp.  He shares honestly with readers what he’s done when he talks with relish about “lipping” tourists’ wallets.  It’s not for gain, but for sport, because the idea is to lip the fattest wallet, the one with the most money.   
It’s difficult to find fault with Bingo when we know what his life has been like.   He was, for example, witness to his father’s, and later, his mother’s, murders.  It’s also tough for the reader to hold Bingo’s choices and actions against him when he tells us about some of the other people, such as Gihilihili and Wolf.  Comparing Bingo’s existence (and his countrymen) with the tourists, for example.  The tourists are pale, fat and gullible.  They are necessary to the economy of corruption in Nairobi.  But they can leave at any time while Bingo and his countrymen cannot.  We’re getting an opportunity to see what life is like here through the eyes of the natives. Levine, as a result, would like us to reassess how we view our way of life and feel about ourselves just because we give a few dollars to charity or spend money in Bingo’s country.   This money is NOT helping the locals or their economy because the corruption is prevalent, designed to benefit only a very few people at the top of the chain who don the appearance of respectability.  Orphans are housed by white priests who are also cogs in the corruption.  The police chief wears western suits and jewelry and pays extra attention to the tourists who can line his pockets:  a thousand dollars for a visa here, a few hundred dollars for a permit there.
Levine astutely reminds us, as smart and charming as Bingo is, he’s still only fifteen years old and virtually alone in this world.  We’re reminded of this when Bingo gets caught in the crossfire between the two drug lords, Boss Jonni and Wolf, as they vie for control of the drug trade.  After the frightening incident between Boss Jonni and Wolf, Bingo reminds us he trusts no one but himself. This turns out to be a good ‘rule’ to live by for Bingo because there’s a lot of deceit and subterfuge surrounding the Boss Jonni/Wolf incident and several people want Bingo’s trust.  In fact, Wolf, who prevailed against Boss Jonni, sends Bingo to St. Michael’s orphanage, ostensibly for Bingo’s safety. 

While at the orphanage Bingo meets Mrs. Steele, an American.  Her “real” purpose for being in Nairobi is somewhat mysterious. She says she wants to adopt Bingo and bring him to America.  Bingo is enamored of her and sees her as a mother figure.   Despite being alone for so long and trusting only himself, Bingo cannot help but be excited about the prospect of living in America. Bingo then discovers Mrs. Steele is an art dealer with an interest in the artist, Thomsa Hunsa.  She wants to secure a contract with him.  Bingo doesn’t like this idea.  He’s the only person Thomsa Hunsa trusts after some American art dealers burned him badly years ago.  Bingo thinks he should be Thomsa Hunsa’s dealer.  

Bingo is confused and unsure. Is Charity, the hotel maid where Bingo is staying with Mrs. Steele, telling him the truth about Mrs. Steele and her “selfish plans”?  What about the information the maid is relating to Mrs. Steele about Bingo?   Because there is so much corruption in Kiberia, Bingo cannot help but decide he won’t trust Mrs. Steele.  Rather, he wants to use Mrs. Steele and her greed (as he sees it) for Thomas Hunsa’s art to make his one big score that will free him from his life in Nairobi.  He plots and takes on the different roles he needs to, willing to use friends and other locals to advance his schemes.  He plays dumb. He plays obedient.  He lies. He steals.  He plans to cheat and hurt whoever he needs to in order to get what he wants.   However, it’s important to remember that Bingo is at heart still a boy, despite his  experiences that most people wouldn’t have over several lifetimes that have jaded him.  The reader hopes Bingo will come to realize what’s really important, and not go so far that he throws away his chance at happiness. 

We feel and root for Bingo because his life is shaped by such malevolent forces.  He is the “good guy” in a world where morals are non-existent and survival is all that matters.  Those lucky enough to have come to power have done so through terrorizing their compatriots. So if Bingo’s plans include taking them down, it gives us yet another reason to hope for his success.   The means may be immoral in and of themselves, but they are justified by the ends. But Bingo’s trust issues may stand in his way.   

Levine has created in Bingo a boy wise beyond his years, and interesting and human enough to give us no choice but to care about him. When we see him with Mrs. Steele, we see a boy who misses his mother and on a very basic level wants a mother’s love. Mrs. Steele (appears to be) offering this to him.     We don’t overlook the terrible things he does, even though he couches them within a set of self-styled commandments he always adheres to.   Whether forced or by choice, we are made to understand why he does these things.  It is because of where he lives and why he has come to be a drug runner.   Bingo was also left an orphan at a young age and did what he had to do and could do to ‘save’ himself. Though Bingo can’t do anything about being a native of Kiberia or being an orphan, he could opt not to be a drug runner. But if he did, he would be starving.  He would not have any clothes or a place to live. His life would have no purpose except to try and survive each day, one at a time.  He would not be able to help his friend Slo George.   As it is, because he is a runner, he has money and other substantial advantages so many of his other native countrymen do not.

It’s not possible to go into much more detail without giving away the book.  Suffice to say that it’s a good read with very interesting characters.  There are indeed many instances of clear-cut “bad guys” we want to see get it in the end, and if that comes via Bingo’s machinations, all the better.  I’ve never believed, except in extreme circumstances, that good and evil specifically are so clearly delineated.  I found it refreshing and realistic that the rest of the book follows along those lines.   Many of the ‘moral’ aspects of the book are muddled: the “good guys” aren’t riding in on white stallions with white hats, saving the day in the end.  Some of the “good guys” are seemingly plain nuts, railing from atop mounds of reeking garbage.  Some are drug addicts who create art while high as a kite.  Others see themselves as “growth retards” and allow themselves to see only the worst in people, almost to the point where it’s too late to make things right.   If you want to read a book that takes you places you never even knew were out there and ways of life that are fascinating because they are so desperate and different, you should read Bingo’s Run.

Thank you to Giselle-Marie Roig at Random House  for sending me a copy of Bingo’s Run to read and review.

Monday, February 17, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash 

Publisher:  William Morrow
Published:  January 28, 2014
ISBN:  978-0062088253
Pages:  240
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary:  The critically-acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller A Land More Kind Than Home returns with a resonant novel of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, involving two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins. 

When their mother dies unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are shuffled into the foster care system in Gastonia, North Carolina, a town not far from the Appalachian mountains. But just as they settle into their new life, their errant father, Wade, an ex-minor league baseball player whom they haven't seen in years, suddenly appears and wants to spend more time with them. Unfortunately, Wade has signed away legal rights to his daughters, and the only way he can get Easter and Ruby back is to steal them away in the middle of the night. 

Brady Weller, the girls' court-appointed guardian, begins looking for Wade, and he quickly turns up unsettling information linking Wade to a recent armored car heist, one with a whopping $14.5 million missing. But Brady Weller isn't the only one hunting the desperate father. Robert Pruitt, a shady and mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, is also determined to find Wade and claim his due.

My Thoughts:  Wiley Cash’s debut, A Land More Kind than Home was an extraordinary book.  It was dark and violent but beautifully written, filled with mysterious, scintillating characters and, ultimately, it was uplifting.  It’s not uncommon for an author’s second book to pale, at least somewhat, in comparison with a phenomenal debut.  Wiley Cash is too gifted a writer for this to happen.  His second book is different from the first and not at all disappointing.   I thought This Dark Road to Mercy was a fantastic book.  

This Dark Road to Mercy  is dark but not as dark as A Land More Kind Than Home.  The two books share some similar themes and a few other common elements but they are two very different books. This book is set during the summer of 1998 when the baseball players, Sammy Sosa, from the Chicago Cubs, and Mark McGwire, from the St. Louis Cardinals, were competing to break New York Yankee, Roger Maris’, 1961 home-run record.  This setting added some fun to the book and lightened the story up in parts. It also added to the story-line's tension, helping to bring it all to a head towards the end of the book.   If you’re not a fan of baseball, don’t worry, the book isn’t baseball-intensive.  Cash connects the baseball theme through several characters, including 12-year old Easter Quilby, who is rooting for Sammy Sosa.  Easter is one of the main characters in this book.  She’s amazing and a major reason I recommended reading this book. Baseball and the home-run competition is one of the few things that excites and puts a smile on Easter’s face throughout much of the story.  Easter is one of three people who tell this story.  The others are Brady Weller, Easter and Ruby’s court-appointed guardian and Robert Pruitt, the bad guy.  Easter describes Robert Pruitt to her father, Wade.  It’s a child’s description but boy is it creepy-scary! 

Easter is more mature than most kids her age and very responsible.  She’s kept an eye on and cared for her younger sister, 7-year old Ruby, even before their mom died. When Easter and Ruby are put in foster care, Easter becomes especially watchful over Ruby.  Easter is also wise, funny, suspicious of others and cautious around people.  She’s observant and careful.  But she’s also a 12-year old girl who likes a boy in her school, Marcus, wishes she had dark brown hair and misses her mother.   When her long-estranged father, Wade, shows up at the foster home in North Carolina, Easter isn’t happy to see him.  She doesn’t trust him, with good reason, and part of her doesn’t want to see him.  She tries to push him away and get him to leave. But there’s a part of Easter that also wants a father and his love.   

Easter and Wade’s relationship changes and grows over the course of the story. Easter learns more about Wade when he takes Easter and Ruby out of the foster care home, possibly for good. As Easter begins to know Wade better and realizes he loves her and wants to be her father, Easter begins to warm up to him.  I really enjoyed ‘watching’ Easter’s relationship with Wade improve.  We get a couple of opportunities to see Easter as the 12-year old little girl she would be if she had a father around.  She smiles easier and faster, giggles and laughs.  She breathes easier because she doesn’t have to be mature and responsible all of the time. Easter also understands, better than many adults would understand this, that a relationship with Wade, even as her father, means accepting him as he is.  Easter knows Wade is her father whether she wants him to be or not. Now she knows, after a few days with him, that he wants to be her father.  Easter allows herself to begin feeling love for Wade.  She realizes that it’s best for Ruby if Easter gets along with Wade and treats him as her father.  Easter’s only twelve but she understands if her relationship with Wade is going to work, Easter’s going to have to help it work.  Easter’s not only smarter than her father, but more ‘worldly’ than Wade.  Towards the end of the novel, we learn from Easter’s behavior, she’s made a decision about Wade. 

Wade, for all his faults and flaws, and he has a lot of them, loves Easter and Ruby. He wants to be and behave as their father and he wants to treat them like his daughters.  The problem with Wade is he makes many bad decisions and has a lot of bad habits.  He is unable to see how his actions might have some troubling future consequences. He’s in no position, right now, for instance, to rent or buy a place to live with Easter and Ruby because of something stupid he’s done.
There’s a second plot-line in this book that I didn’t discuss.  It’s dark, ugly and violent. Easter, Ruby and Wade are all in danger and Easter and Wade have been threatened.  This is also due to a bad call on Wayne’s part.  Easter knows Wade’s in trouble.  But together, Easter and Wade have made sure Ruby has no idea anything’s amiss.  This other aspect of the story is fascinating and explains more about Wade. Cash does a remarkable job bringing the two parts of the story together close to the end of the book.  Tension has been growing and the atmosphere is ripe for an ‘explosion’.  You don’t want to miss it!  This book is short, just 240 pages.  And that’s my only complaint.  Still, I highly recommend, This Dark Road to Mercy. It’s worth reading.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

~ ~ 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.  Participants share the opening paragraph or two of a book they decided to read based on that paragraph. I’m participating in the reading dare ( it's not a reading challenge!) The TBR Triple Dog Dare at the blog, James Reads Books. The dare is the reason I am finally, finally reading this book. This is an author whose books I’ve wanted to, and meant to, read for a long time.  I have this book in audio and paperback so I’ll be “reading” both.  I’m really looking forward to this book and plan to read it at my leisure, probably on the annoying Access-a-Ride van for the disabled on the way to my Dr. appts., or while sitting in doctors waiting rooms, or at night before I fall asleep or when I can’t get to sleep. (You get the idea!) But I won’t be surprised if it turns out to be one of those books I cannot put down and I end up reading in a few days!  

Drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week, it’s always a good one, and to see who else is participating. You'll probably get some good book titles, too! 
Case Histories
Kate Atkinson
Case History No. I 1970
Family Plot 

How lucky were they? A heat wave in the middle of the school holidays, exactly where it belonged. Every morning the sun was up long before they were, making a mockery of the flimsy summer curtains that hung limply at their bedroom windows, a sun already hot and sticky with promise before Olivia even opened her eyes. Olivia, as reliable as a rooster, always the first to wake, so that no one in the house had bothered with an alarm clock since she was born three years ago.
Olivia, the youngest and therefore the one currently sleeping in the small back bedroom with the nursery-rhyme wallpaper, a room that all of them had occupied and been ousted from in turn. Olivia, as cute as a button they were all agreed, even Julia, who had taken a long time to get over being displaced as the baby of the family, a position she had occupied for five satisfying years before Olivia came along. 
Rosemary, their mother, said that she wished Olivia could stay at this age forever because she was so lovable. They had never heard her use that word to describe any of them. They had not even realized that such a word existed in her vocabulary, which was usually restricted to tedious commands: come here, go away, be quiet,.and -most frequent of all -stop that. Sometimes she would walk into a room or appear in the garden, glare at them, and say, Whatever it is you're doing, don't, and then simply walk away again, leaving them feeling aggrieved and badly done by, even when caught red-handed in the middle of some piece of mischief -devised by Sylvia usually. 

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?
I included an extra paragraph just because I thought it was good & cute & you'd enjoy it. I hope you do!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

~ ~ 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.  Participants share the opening paragraph or two of a book we’ve decided to read based on that paragraph. I read this author’s first book.  It was terrific so, when I had a chance to get an ARC of his second book, I did.  It sounds mesmerizing and I cannot wait to read it. 

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and to see who else is participating. You'll probably get some good book titles, too!

This Dark Road to Mercy
Wiley Cash 

       Chapter 1 - Easter Quillby 
Wade disappeared on us when I was six years old, and then he showed up out of nowhere the year I turned twelve. By then I’d spent half my life listening to Mom blame him for everything from the lights getting turned off to me and Ruby not having new shoes to wear to school, and by the time he came back I’d already decided that he was the loser she’d always said he was. But it turns out he was much more than that. He was also a thief, and if I’d known what kind of people were looking for him I never would’ve let him take me and my little sister out of Gastonia, North Carolina, in the first place.
My earliest memories of Wade are from my mom taking me to the baseball stadium at Sims Field back before she died. She’d point to the field and say, “There’s your daddy right there.” I wasn’t any older than three or four, but I can still remember staring out at the infield where all the men looked the exact same in their uniforms, wondering how I would ever spot my daddy at a baseball game if he looked just like everybody else.

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

~ ~ 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.  We share the opening paragraph or two of a book we’ve decided to read based on that paragraph. This is a book by an author I’ve always meant to read and haven’t yet.  He’s written many books, so, hopefully, this is just the first of many of his I’ll read! 

Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and to see who else is participating. You'll probably get some good book titles, too!

Talk Talk
T.C. Boyle 

She was running late, always running late, a failing of hers, she knew it, but then she couldn't find her purse and once she did manage to locate it (underneath her blue corduroy jacket on the coat tree in the front hall), she couldn't find her keys. They should have been in her purse, but they weren't, and so she'd made a circuit of the apartment — two circuits, three — before she thought to look through the pockets of the jeans she'd worn the day before, but where were they ? No time for toast. Forget the toast, forget food. She was out of orange juice. Out of butter and cream cheese. The newspaper on the front mat was just another obstacle. Piss-warm — was that an acceptable term? Yes — piss-warm  coffee in a stained mug, a quick check of lipstick and hair in the rearview mirror, and then she was putting the car in gear and backing out onto the street.
She may have been peripherally aware of a van flitting by in the opposite direction, the piebald dog sniffing at a stain on the edge of the pavement, someone's lawn sprinkler holding the light in a shimmer of translucent beads, but the persistent beat of adrenaline — or nerves, or whatever it was — wouldn't allow her to focus. Plus, the sun was in her eyes, and where were her sunglasses? She thought she remembered seeing them on the bureau, in a snarl of jewelry — or was it the kitchen table, next to the bananas, and she'd considered taking a banana with her, fast food, potassium, roughage, but then she figured she wouldn't because with Dr. Stroud it was better to have nothing at all in your stomach. Air. Air alone would sustain her.

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard 

Publisher:  William Morrow & Company
Published:  December 3, 2013 (movie tie-in edition)
ISBN:   9780062313638
Pages:  288
Rating:  5 out of out of 5 

Book summary: As the end of summer approaches and a long, hot Labor Day weekend looms, the life of lonely thirteen-year-old Henry Wheeler is irrevocably changed when he and his emotionally fragile mother show kindness to a stranger with a terrible secret.

In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's "Atonement" and Nick Hornby's "About a Boy," acclaimed author Joyce Maynard weaves a beautiful, poignant tale of love, sex, adolescence, and devastating treachery as seen through the eyes of a young teenage boy--and the man he later becomes--looking back at an unexpected encounter that begins one single long, hot, life-altering weekend. 

My Thoughts:  This is a fantastic book.  It’s the second book I’ve read by Joyce Maynard, the first being her most recent, After Her.  As soon as I read After Her, I wanted to read another book by Joyce Maynard because her prose style and story lines are so addictive.  Labor Day has been on my list of books to read for a long time so it was a natural choice to read it next.  I’ve read some wonderful reviews of Labor Day and I wanted to read the book before the movie came out because I find nine times out of ten, the book is better!  I wasn’t at all disappointed with Labor Day, being even better than I’d hoped or expected.  I didn’t want to be finished reading it because I was enjoying it so much.  However, the extremely satisfying end helped cushion that let down one feels at the conclusion of a great book. 

Labor Day is quiet and introspective.  A grown up Henry is the narrator, relaying what happened in his life during the 6 day Labor Day weekend when he was 13 years old.  Henry is more mature than a lot of boys his age but is also naïve, socially awkward and unpopular.  He doesn’t really have any friends, spending his free time at home with Adele, his divorced mother.  He is the only company she’s had since her divorce.  She doesn’t like to leave the house and spends most of her time inside.  When Henry isn’t keeping his mother company and Adele isn’t delivering one of her daily monologues to Henry, he spends his time either watching TV or thinking about girls and sex, of which he knows little but wants to know more. 

Henry cajoles Adele into taking him out to the store for things he needs for the upcoming new school year.  She reluctantly drives Henry to the local five-and-dime, Pricemart, just before Labor Day.  Henry is thirteen.  While Henry is browsing he’s approached by Frank, an adult, who’s a loner and physically injured.  He’s bleeding from his leg and his head.   As such he requests Henry’s help.  Surprisingly, Henry’s able to convince Adele to give Frank a ride.  The surprises continue as Adele allows Frank to come home with her and Henry. Adele even fixes Frank’s injured leg and the cut on his head.   

Adele doesn’t seem concerned with where Frank’s come from or who he is.  She makes it clear to Frank that her only concern is for Henry’s safety and well-being.  Frank assures her Henry is completely safe.  It slowly becomes clear that there’s a real connection between Adele and Frank.  Henry relays how Frank and Adele seem to communicate silently with looks and gestures. Frank understands the importance of Henry’s place in Adele’s life and has no interest in coming between them.  Frank is enthusiastic towards Henry. He wants to spend time with him, too.  He wants to teach Henry to throw a baseball.    

Frank breathes life into Adele and Henry’s world.  He cooks rather than just heating up TV dinners. He’s able to fix things around the house.  He knows how to bake a pie and he teaches Henry the proper way to do so. Adele and Henry see Frank for the person he truly is and trust him.  The most important think Frank does is release Henry from being his mother’s companion. Frank wants to be the one to care for Adele. Henry can feel the burden leaving him and that feeling manifests itself physically. He can breathe easier now that he knows he’s not responsible for his mother’s happiness.  What a burden for a thirteen-year old boy! 

Joyce Maynard’s characters, particularly Henry, are terrific.  They’re quiet and contemplative and they feel real. There’s nothing false about them: they’re just lonely, alone and looking to connect with someone.  I felt the author’s connection to Adele and Henry.  She trusts them and believes in them.  The book isn’t autobiographical, according to Maynard, but after reading a few interviews with her, it’s undeniable there’s at least a little bit of her in Adele, the divorced, lonely mother. It explains her interesting and quirky character and how well created she is.   Although I personally didn’t feel very connected to Adele or Henry, I sympathized with them, particularly Henry.  The poor kid doesn’t have a chance at fitting in with a mother whose happiness he feels is his responsibility.  Growing up is tough enough without such a burden.   

Did Maynard create Henry because she had a son (or daughter) in a similar situation?  If she did, perhaps this is a way now to reach out to him and explain herself, as well as let him know that now she understands what he must have gone through.  If not, then she is an author with vivid imagination and amazing creative abilities, not that they have to be mutually exclusive.  Frank’s origin is something we can only guess at.  Perhaps he was created as a necessary catalyst to propel the story forward, born in a flash of inspiration.  In any event, his character is a testimony to Maynard’s great story telling. Labor Day is a unique and creative story about love, family, believing in others and loyalty.  It’s beautifully written with ingenious characters and a fascinating plot.  It’s a book I highly recommend and believe it would be a shame for anyone to miss reading it.


It’s now a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.