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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

~ ~ First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros ~ ~

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by theSea every Tuesday.  We share the opening paragraph, or two, of a book we’ve decided to read based on that paragraph. I‘m reviewing this book next month.  I chose this book after reading its summary on Goodreads.  The characters and setting caught my attention. I was also struck by the author’s interest in music and writing music which is how he segued into book writing. The author’s three prior books are stories about the reality of struggling to grow up and the difficulties one encounters along the way. The storylines are based in reality and hard luck but also show glimmers of inspiration and hope.  All of the author’s books have won prizes, have been highly recommended and praised. I'm really looking forward to reading this book! 

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!

The Free
Willy Vlautin 

Leroy Kervin opened his eyes to see a woman in a blue-and-white-starred bikini holding a pneumatic drill.  He could see her blond hair and high heels and thin, long legs.  For the first time in seven years he could see her without blurred vision.  He could see her clearly from the glow of a small colored nightlight.

He lay in a twin bed and looked at the girl.  He could read the company name below her on the calendar: JACKSON’S TOOL SUPPLY. He remembered that his cousin worked there. Suddenly he could think things through, he could put things together, where in the past years he’d been unable to.  It was like his mind had suddenly walked out of a never-ending snowstorm. Tears dripped down the side ofhis face in relief.  Was he finally free?  Was he really himself again? 

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The TBR Triple Dog Dare

Triple Dog Dare January 1, 2014 – April 2014

I am a little late to this party but very excited about the TBR Triple Dog Dare Reading Challenge hosted by CB at his blog, Ready When You Are, C.B..  I’ve been reading books from my shelf for the past few months because, when I went through them looking for a particular title, I found some great books.  There are still plenty of books I want to read and don’t yet own, but I’ve got a good start.  I especially want to participate in this meme if this is going to be the last year it's hosted. Hopefully somebody will host this meme next year!  Okay, enough of that!
Here's a list of books I hope to read while participating in this meme. Some I will read, and some will be replaced with others and so on and so forth:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Andrew's Brain by E. L. Doctorow
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
Bingo's Run by James A. Levine
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCamm
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
Goat Mountain by David Vann
The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Playing St. Barbara by Marian Szczepanski

Playing St. Barbara by Marian Szczepanski 

Publisher:  High Hill Press
Published:  2013
ISBN:  978160653077151895
Pages:  380
Rating:  3 out of 5

Book Summary:   The secrets, struggles, and self-redemption of a Depression-era coal miner's wife and three daughters play out against a turbulent historical backdrop of Ku Klux Klan intimidation and the 1933 Pennsylvania Mine War. Their intertwined lives eerily mirror the 7th century legend of St. Barbara, patroness of miners, reenacted annually in the town pageant. Tested by scandal, heartbreak, and tragedy, each woman will write her own courageous ending to St. Barbara's story. 

My Thoughts:  This book is well written, intense and thoughtful.   The characters, though fully developed, have lives so foreign to me I am unable to relate to them.  Since they are, however, so seemingly real, with struggles I couldn’t imagine facing, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic.  There were times I wanted to step in and help them,  if only I could.   

Playing St. Barbara is the dark, somber story about the Sweeney Family, told from the viewpoints of the family’s mother, Clare, and the older daughters, Deidre, Katie and Norah.   Fin Sweeney, a heavy drinker with a violent streak, is the tyrannical head of the family.  He works in the coal mines which are dangerous, frightening places to work.  There are several coal miner deaths due to accidents every year.      

The women are afraid of Fin but they also stand up to him.  Fin physically abuses Clare every day.  He wants a son so, when he returns home nightly, drunk from the pub, he forces himself on Clare.  The following day, she does whatever she can to guarantee a miscarriage.  She doesn’t want Fin to have a son who would be under Fin’s influence.  It’s bad enough she’s had to watch, helplessly, as he abused his daughters over the years.   

Though the book is very well written, intricate and realistic, I personally found it difficult to get through because it’s so bleak.  Often I try to find in the author’s voice a message in their story, whether it’s one of hope or maybe redemption through suffering.  I was hard pressed to find anything like that here.  It takes some doing but an argument could be made that there is a testament to the human spirit.  The women try to live on the most basic levels of survival, but that means accepting the violence as a fact of life.  Rather than breaking free of it, it seems the best Clare can hope for is a miscarriage to keep Fin from being able to terrorize another innocent victim.  If Clare gets caught by Fin, there’s little doubt he’d kill her.  This is why I found it so hard to take anything positive away from the book.  At every turn there’s a dead end with violent consequences, and the Sisyphean nature of the women’s lives, having to face the same fate day in and day out left me depressed.   

The book’s title refers to an annual play put on by the high school.  St. Barbara is the patron saint of miners.  There is redemption in St. Barbara’s story, but for me this just adds to the frustration because there is no parallel between the play and the lives of the women in the story. If anything, it serves to add to the chasm between real life and what the women could ever hope for.   Deirdre, the second oldest daughter, did marry but it was against her father’s wishes.  Even her marriage was dangerous and sacrificial:  she needed her mother’s help to keep her father from preventing it, knowing that the steps he would’ve taken would have been extreme.   And now that she is married, she is alienated from her family and the only contact she has with them is if they visit her.  She even has a son, and it goes without saying that he will never meet his grandfather.  Even events that should seem joyful have to be shrouded in secrecy and fraught with fear.   

It’s difficult to say I enjoyed this book but I found it interesting. I don’t like happy endings with everything tied up neatly with a big red bow.  But I also prefer more than a continuation of the same bleakness and despair with which the book began.  The problem here seemed to be that Deidre, Katie and Norah weren’t satisfied with the lives they made for themselves. Deidre’s discovered that marriage to Billy, who loves her and whom she loves, and a house filled with children isn’t as satisfactory as she imagined.  Deidre seems to want a career or a job like Norah. Basically, Deidre wants it all. Katie’s not completely happy in the convent. She may wish she married Jack after all, it's hard to say.  But both women have a life better than Clare has had despite any struggles they face It would be nice if they showed some appreciation for their lives.

The granddaughter of immigrant coal miners, Marian Szczepanski grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and lived as a young child in the Jamison Coal Company house where her mother and aunts were raised. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and has won awards for short fiction and magazine feature writing. Playing St. Barbara is her first novel. She lives in Houston, Texas.

The author's website and Facebook addresses:http://www.marianszczepanski.com/

Tuesday, January 7, 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. To participate share the opening paragraph or two of a book you've decided to read based on that paragraph. This book was highlighted in the Shelf Awareness newsletter I receive in my email a few times a week.  I've read some of Doctorow's book in the past and really enjoyed them. This book caught my attention because of its unique, creative nature.  My copy is an ARC. The book hasn't been published yet but is due to come out sometime next week.  I hope I enjoy it as much as I expect too!

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

Andrew's Brain
E. L. Doctorow
I can tell you about my friend Andrew, the cognitive scientist. But it's not pretty. One evening he appeared with an infant in his arms at the door of his ex-wife, Martha. Because Briony, his lovely young wife after Martha, had died.
Of what?
We'll get to that. I can't do this alone, Andrew said, as Martha stared at him from the open doorway. It happened to have been snowing that night, and Martha was transfixed by the soft creature-like snowflakes alighting on Andrew's NY Yankees hat brim. Martha was like that, enrapt by the peripheral things as if setting them to music. Even in ordinary times, she was slow to respond, looking at you with her large dark rolling protuberant eyes. Then the smile would come. or the nod, or the shake of the head. Meanwhile the heat  from her home drifted through the open door and fogged up Andrew's eyeglasses. He stood there behind his foggy lenses like a blind man in the snowfall and was without volition when at least she reached out, gently took the swaddled infant from him, stepped back, and closed the door in his face.
This was where?
Martha lived then in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York, in a neighborhood of large homes of different styles _ Tudor, Dutch Colonial, Greek Revival - most of them built in the 1920's and 30's, houses set back from the street with tall old Norway maples the predominant trees. Andrew ran to his car and came back with a baby carrier, a valise, two plastic bags filled with baby needs. He banged on the door: Martha, Martha! She is six month's old, she has a name, she has a birth certificate. I have it here, open the door please, Martha. I am not abandoning my daughter, I just need some help, I need help!

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

~ ~ It's 2014 ~ ~

Happy New Year!!
Best Wishes for a Great Year!!