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September 30, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy



This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Fiction
2014 HarperCollins and Blackstone Audio
Readers: Scott Sowers, Jenna Lamia and Erik Bergmann
Finished on July 22, 2014
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!) 


Publisher’s Blurb:

Hailed as “mesmerizing” (New York Times Book Review) and “as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird” (Richmond Times-Dispatch) A Land More Kind Than Home made Wiley Cash an instant literary sensation. His resonant new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, is a tale of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, a story that involves 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 reappears and steals 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 multimillion-dollar robbery. But Brady isn't the only one hunting him. Also on the trail is Robert Pruitt, a mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, a man determined to find Wade and claim what he believes he is owed.

The combination of Cash’s evocative and intimate Southern voice and those of the alternating narrators, Easter, Brady, and Pruitt, brings this soulful story vividly to life. At once captivating and heartbreaking, This Dark Road to Mercy is a testament to the unbreakable bonds of family and the primal desire to outrun a past that refuses to let go.


This Dark Road to Mercy captured my heart from the opening lines thanks to the outstanding performance by reader Jenna Lamina. Reminiscent of Catherine Tabor’s performance for The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, Lamina’s southern accent is spot-on and captivating. I quickly became engrossed in Easter and Ruby’s story, eager to return to this remarkable audio book at every available opportunity. The narrative takes place during the summer of 1998 and I found myself reminiscing about my own long, hot summer afternoons in Fort Worth, Texas, spent stretched out in front of the television, watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa race toward the home-run record. I do so love a good baseball story and one that is set in the south makes for a perfect novel, don’t you agree?

On baseball:
I could see everything around me now: the whole outfield with Sammy Sosa standing over in right, the upper deck, and the open white circle of the ballpark above us where the bright blue sky almost looked like a lid that was keeping all the heat trapped inside. I could feel everything around me too: the crowd was so loud that you couldn’t even hear the music or the announcers, and when Brian Jordan hit a fly ball to left field and McGwire stepped into the batter’s box with nobody on base it was the loudest thing I’d ever heard. Ruby stuffed her hot dog in her mouth and covered her ears with her hands. But as soon as McGwire set his feet and got into his batting stance the whole stadium went totally silent, and you couldn’t hardly hear a thing.

Maybe it was all the heat, or maybe it was the breeze coming across the field from home plate, but something about it all reminded me of the first time me and Ruby saw the ocean. It felt like years ago, even though it hadn’t quite been a week, but I remembered it now: the way the warm sand felt under my feet, the sound of the tide like the whispering voices I heard all around me now, the sight of the waves moving far out in the ocean like the way people were moving all around the ballpark, trying to get a better look at what might be about to happen.


Final Thoughts:

Part mystery, part coming-of-age (and with a powerful baseball story providing the perfect backdrop),Wiley Cash has written a beautiful story that will steal your heart from the opening lines. Fans of All Over But the Shoutin’ (Rick Bragg), The Homecoming of Samuel Lake (Jenny Wingfield), Calling Me Home (Julie Kibler) and The Help (Kathryn Stockett) are sure to fall in love with Cash’s lyrical prose and I suspect book clubs across the country will make this one of their top picks of 2014. I plan to pick up a copy of This Dark Road to Mercy when the paperback edition hits the shelves later this month. I encourage you to do the same. This is one to own!

About the Author

Wiley Cash is from western North Carolina, a region that figures prominently in his fiction. He holds a BA in literature from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, an MA in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He and his wife currently live in West Virginia, where he teaches fiction writing and American literature at Bethany College.





September 24, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

When She Woke


When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Fiction
2011 HighBridge Company
Reader: Heather Corrigan
Finished on July 2, 2014
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good, but not great)




Publisher’s Blurb:

Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable. — Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day and Property

I am a Red now.

It was her first thought of the day, every day, surfacing after a few seconds of fogged, blessed ignorance and sweeping through her like a wave, breaking in her breast with a soundless roar. Hard on its heels came the second wave, crashing into the wreckage left by the first: He is gone.

Hannah Payne's life has been devoted to church and family. But after she's convicted of murder, she awakens in a new body to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new "Chromes"—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The victim, says the state of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love.

A powerful reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a timely fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of the not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated, but "chromed" and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith and love.

Rating a book is such an imprecise act. Typically, my ratings for any given book have stood the test of time, but there have been some books for which I’ve been tempted to change the score (usually lowering rather than raising). I read Hillary Jordan’s novel Mudbound and gave it a perfect 5/5 stars. As I think back and re-read my review, I know that at the time I felt it was a great reading experience and that I was thoroughly impressed. Four and a half years later, I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t feel that it’s remained in the same category as The Help or The Book Thief, and yet at the time, it knocked my socks off. Hence, the perfect rating.

As I listened to Jordan’s second novel, When She Woke, I was impressed with her imaginative plotting and dialogue, stopping co-workers to tell them how great this book was. However, now that a few months have passed, I know that it was a good read, but not one that I would consider great. I haven’t read a lot of dystopic tales and while I’ve read a few of Margaret Atwood’s novels, I’m not a big fan. But as I read When She Woke, I continued to think about The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlett Letter. If I were still in book group, I would suggest reading all three books for one discussion, as they each address similar topics (not to mention all the obvious nods to The Scarlet Letter).

Final Thoughts: 

When She Woke is an entertaining book in spite of a weak second half. If you’re looking for a meaty novel to spark debate within your book group, this thought-provoking tale is certainly worth your consideration.

September 23, 2014

Backlist Revival


Last week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asked us to list the authors we'd only read once and would like to revisit. I'm a week late, but this is one list I really need to make!

1. Liane Moriarty (What Alice Forgot)
I think enough time has passed since I read this highly entertaining novel. Now to decide which of her new releases or backlist titles to read next. Any suggestions?

2. John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany)
I know, I know! I've read this book twice and loved it just as much the second time around. I've always wanted to try The Cider House Rules and think enough time has passed since I saw the movie.

3. Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone)
I seem to recall someone speaking highly of Verghese's memoir, The Tennis Partner, and have often thought about giving it a try. Cutting for Stone was one of my Top Ten reads in 2011.

4. William Landy (Defending Jacob)
I love a good mystery/thriller and am eager to see if Mission Flats is as entertaining as Defending Jacob.

5. Edward Rutherfurd (Sarum)
It's been almost 20 years since I read Sarum! Rutherfurd's novels are huge, so I really need to be in the mood for something that is going to take me well over a month to read. I have London on my shelf, so I'll probably give that a try.

6. Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain)
Another favorite read. I have the ARC of Stein's new novel on my nightstand, but what I'm really interested in trying is Raven Stole the Moon.

7. Carol Cassella (Oxygen)
I have Gemini on my nightstand and look forward to reading it later this fall.

8. Rick Yancey (The 5th Wave)
Infinite Sea came out this month and I can't wait to return to Cassie's story!!

9. Susan Hill (The Shadow in the Streets)
The Various Haunts of Men is the first in the Simon Serrailler crime novels by Susan Hill. I accidentally read the 5th in the series. Now to go back and start from the very beginning!

10. Wiley Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy)
I tried to listen to A Land More Kind Than Home, but couldn't get interested. However, I fell in love with This Dark Road to Mercy, so I plan to give Cash a second chance. I have the ARC of A Land More Kind Than Home and will give it another try. 

and one more for good measure...

11. Ann-Marie McDonald (The Way the Crow Flies)
I loved this novel, so why has it taken me over seven years to even remember that I wanted to read Fall on Your Knees?! 

See? Lists are a good thing. I can't wait to dive into some of these books this fall.



Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten Tuesday posts. 


September 21, 2014

Sunday Salon


Hello, friends! Yes, it's been quite some time since my last Sunday Salon post, hasn't it? More than six months, if anyone's counting. I took a short hiatus from blogging this summer, spending my weekends hanging out on the porch or deck, reading from my stacks and composing reviews for the huge back list of books that I read this spring and summer. With the exception of one final book, I am all caught up! It's such a good feeling and now I'm eager to start participating in some of the blogging memes that I've ignored this year.



I also want to thank all of you for sticking around and commenting on my recent book reviews. I don't remember who it was who said they schedule their reviews to post at midnight, but I decided to give it a try and I am pleasantly surprised with the number of comments I now receive. I'm not obsessive about my stats, but it is nice to hear from those of you who have been following this blog for the past eight years. Of course, I'm also getting a huge amount of spam and may have to change my settings to restrict anonymous comments, but that's an easy fix.

So, let's catch up, shall we?

Reading:: I'm over halfway through Ruth Reichl's novel, Delicious, and while I'm enjoying it, I'm beginning to feel like I'm ready to be finished and move on to something else. It's not that I don't care for it, but it's just not one of those books I'll raving about.

Listening:: I've been listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tart and I'm completely sucked into Theo's tragic story! The reader (David Pittu) is very good and I'm glad I decided to listen to this chunkster, rather than read the print edition. It's one of those books people either love or hate. I'm not sure which camp I'll wind up in, but at this point I'm thoroughly entertained.

Cooking:: Believe it or not, I'm making chicken soup for dinner. I've grown tired of the usual summer fare, grilling at least three times a week, and I'm more than ready for something a bit more autumnal. I got the recipe from my neighbor and not only is it one of the best soups I've ever tasted, it's also one of the easiest to make. I'll try to remember to take a photo so I can share the recipe next weekend.

Planning:: On this final day of summer, I hope to find time to sit outside on the front porch and enjoy our gorgeous weather. We hit 88 yesterday (after getting 1 1/2 inches of rain in the early morning hours), but today is much more mild. It's currently sunny and 74, with a gentle breeze. Pretty much perfect, wouldn't you say?



I also need to spend some time getting my house back in order. We had our carpets cleaned on Wednesday and I haven't finished putting everything back where it belongs. I'm kind of enjoying the minimalist look and may not put all my books back on the shelves. Maybe this is a good time to do a little book-purging.

Anticipating:: I looked ahead to the coming week and am happy to report that I have absolutely nothing on my calendar! I don't know about you, but I love that feeling, especially as my days at work become more and more exhausting as we head into the holiday season. I have some letters and emails to catch up on, but my afternoons and evenings are completely free. If the weather stays nice, maybe I'll get out on my bike for some short rides.

I hope you're all out enjoying this last day of summer. Have a great week!

September 18, 2014

The Girl You Left Behind



The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes
Fiction
2013 Pamela Dorman Books
Finished on June 15, 2014
Rating: 2/5 (Meh)




Publisher’s Blurb:

France 1916. Sophie Lefèvre must keep her family safe while her adored husband, Édouard, fights at the front. When their town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, she is forced to serve them every evening at her hotel. From the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait—painted by her artist husband–a dangerous obsession is born, one that will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before his sudden death. After a chance encounter reveals the portrait’s true worth, a battle begins over its troubled history. As the layers of the painting’s shadowy past are revealed, Liv’s world is turned upside down all over again, and her belief in what’s right is put to the ultimate test.

It’s been just over a year since I finished Me Before You and I still find myself thinking about Will and Louisa and the heartbreaking dilemma they faced in JoJo Moyes’ throught-provoking love story. The novel continues to land on the New York Times Best Seller list and I continue to have great success hand selling copies to customers, young and old. The word of mouth for that novel has been amazing. Unfortunately, I can’t say I feel the same for The Girl You Left Behind. I know this talented British author has a huge fan base, but the jury’s still out as far as I’m concerned. I was tempted on more than one occasion to call it quits while reading this book, but soldiered on, hoping for something to change my opinion. I’ve grown so weary of the dual storyline, which appears to be THE popular literary device of the 21st century!

Final Thoughts:

I have no quotes. No favorite passages. Just a glimmer of hope that The Last Letter From Your Lover will win my heart all over again.

Click here to read my review of Me Before You.

September 15, 2014

The Long Goodbye



The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke
Memoir
2011 Penguin Audio
Reader: Meghan O’Rourke
Finished on June 10, 2014
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)



“Meghan O’Rourke has written a beautiful memoir about her loss of a truly irreplaceable mother—yes, it is sad, it is in fact heartrending, but it is many things more: courageous, inspiring, wonderfully intelligent and informed, and an intimate portrait of an American family as well.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

Publisher’s Blurb:

From one of America’s foremost young literary voices, a transcendent portrait of the anguish of grief and the enduring power of familial love.

What does it mean to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief? After her mother’s death, Meghan O’Rourke found that nothing had prepared her for the intensity of her sorrow. In the first anguished days, she began to create a record of her interior life as a mourner, trying to capture the paradox of grief—its monumental agony and microscopic intimacies—and endeavor that ultimately produced this book. With poignant lyricism and unswerving candor, O’Rourke captures the fleeting moments of joy that make up a life, and the way memory can lead us out of the jagged darkness of loss. Effortlessly blending research and reflection, the personal and the universal, The Long Goodbye is not only an exceptional memoir, but a necessary one.

As I read Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir, The Long Goodbye, I was instantly transported back to December of last year, when I sat with my mother, brothers, and sisters as my stepfather, diagnosed only months earlier with cancer, slipped ever so slowly from this world. O’Rourke’s mother died of colon cancer in 2008, also in December (sadly, on Christmas Day). In her memoir, O’Rourke touches on so many (far too many) familiar topics about the death of a parent. As I listened, I found myself going to the ARC, which I’ve had on my shelves since 2011, noting and re-reading passages, nodding my head in agreement. Meghan’s voice and prose reminded me of Kelly Corrigan (another favorite author), tugging at my heartstrings, a lump growing in my throat as I willed myself not to cry in public as I listened to the audio book.

On mourning:
I was not entirely surprised to find that being a mourner was lonely. But I was surprised to discover that I felt lost. In the days following my mother’s death, I did not know what I was supposed to do, no, it seemed, did my friends and colleagues, especially those who had never suffered a similar loss. Some sent flowers but did not call for weeks. One friend launched into fifteen minutes of small talk when she saw me, before asking how I was, as if we had to warm up before diving into the churning, dangerous waters of grief. Others sent worried e-mails a few weeks later, signing off: “I hope you’re doing well.” It was a kind sentiment, but it made me angry. I was not “doing well.” And I found no relief in that worn-out refrain that at least my mother was “no longer suffering.”

Mainly, I thought one thing: My mother is dead, and I want her back. I wanted her back so intensely that I didn’t want to let go.

At least, not yet.

On the last taboo:
Grief is common, as Hamlet’s mother Gertrude brusquely reminds him. We know it exists in our midst. But experiencing it made me suddenly aware of how difficult it is to confront head-on. When we do, it’s usually in the form of self-help: we want to heal our grief. We’ve subscribed to the belief (or pretense) that it happens in five tidy stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (The jaggedness of my experience hardly corresponded to these stages.) As grief has been framed as a psychological process, it has also become a more private one. The rituals of public mourning that once helped channel a person’s experience of loss have, by and large, fallen away. Many Americans don’t wear black or beat their chests and wail in front of others. We may—I have done it—weep or despair, but we tend to do it alone, in the middle of the night. Although we have become more open about everything from incest to sex addiction, grief remains strangely taboo. In our culture of display, the sadness of death is largely silent.

On seeking the answers:
Sitting here among my precarious stacks of books about death and grief, trying to get “a handle” on what this loss means, trying to collect the information and set it all down, I am struck suddenly by the ridiculousness of my endeavor. I have felt that, as Flaubert wrote, “Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.” But life is out there in the world, in the hum of enterprise, flirtation, engagement, watching a sunrise, the sand under your feet, and the green in your eyes; life is in the moths fluttering up at dusk into the candle flames on a porch in summer.
I sit here in my tiny study, bills dropped on the floor, books piling by the desk—Death and Western Thought, Death’s Door, The Denial of Death, This Republic of Suffering—believing in some primitive part of my brain that if I read them all, if I learn everything there is to know, I’ll solve the problem. I will find the answer to the equation. And when I look up from my dutiful work, my head bowed to the page, there will be my mother again, saying, Good night, Meg from the door, the dog at her heels, her hair loose around her face, her eyes that were so particular, so hers—there she will be.
Where is she?

She is gone, and I will be, too, one day. I wake to my warm room, the wind roaring outside and the sun just coming up on another ordinary Tuesday when I will teach my class and go out to get coffee and eat some salad for lunch. But all the while my brain will be preoccupied by the question of death. And that makes it hard, at times, to pay my bills or pay attention to concerns of this world.
I can’t find the information I want in all these books. Not even in the Bible, which sits there, too, a fat red tome full of old wisdom. And that is my answer: I need to walk in the streets, through the bracing, chill air, to know it, to feel it, because it cannot be merely thought about.

Final Thoughts:

Anyone who has lost a parent, anyone who has sat beside one in hospice, anyone who has a heart, will not read this book with a dry eye. None of us will ever escape the death of a loved one and yet no one teaches us how to grieve. After losing my stepdaughter Rachel, I immersed myself in books about the loss of a child and now that I’ve lost a parent, I find myself drifting toward books about the loss of a spouse, as well as those dealing with the loss of a mother. Like O’Rourke, I’ve looked to books such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed for answers and consolation. I feel the need to have a road map to help guide me into the future, to not only be mentally prepared for that time in my life, but to also be comforted in the words of those who have survived what I know will eventually come. And yet, as I learned when we lost our daughter, nothing can prepare you for the death of a loved one, whether that death is expected or a knock-you-to-your-knees shock. Each and every loss is unique (and unbelievably painful) just as each and every loved one is unique in life. Having said that, I felt comforted hearing O’Rourke’s words, which are so familiar after nine years of grief.

September 12, 2014

The End of Your Life Book Club



The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Memoir
2012 Random House Audio
Reader: Jeff Harding
Finished on May 9, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

 

From Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, William Trevor’s Felicia’s Journey to Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book to John Updike’s My Father’s Tears: the books they shared allowed them to speak honestly and thoughtfully, to get to know each other, ask big questions, and especially talk about death. With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work. ~ Publishers Weekly

Publisher’s Blurb:

“Sharing books he loved with his savvy New Yorker mom had always been a great pleasure for both mother and son, becoming especially poignant when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, at age 73 . . . The books they shared allowed them to speak honestly and thoughtfully, to get to know each other, ask big questions, and especially talk about death. With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work.” —Publishers Weekly

“What are you reading?”

That’s the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, mother and son are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other—and rediscover their lives—through their favorite books. When they read, they aren’t a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will’s love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page.

I started listening to the audio version of The End of Your Life Book Club last year, but after finishing the first chapter I knew it was the sort of book that would require dozens of Post-It Notes. I decided to stop listening and instead read the print edition in order to highlight some of my favorite passages. However, I never got around to getting a copy of the book, so I started listening again (from the beginning) with the idea that I’d just make notes and glance at the book once I’d finished. I found myself still wanting to take lengthy notes about the various books mentioned, as well as highlight the passages about a parent with cancer, so as soon as I finished the audio, I immediately bought the book. As I sit here composing this review, I find myself re-reading not just a paragraph here and there, but full pages and complete chapters. In addition to the beautiful story about the author and his mother, it’s a wealth of information for any bibliophile!

On reading:
Our book club got its formal start with the mocha and one of the most casual questions two people can ask each other: “What are you reading?” It’s something of a quaint question these days. More often in lulls of conversation people ask, “What movies have you seen?” or “Where are you going on vacation?” You can no longer assume, the way you could when I was growing up, that anyone is reading anything. But it’s a question my mother and I asked each other for as long as I can remember. 

and
We all have a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.

On opening lines:
Mom and I loved opening lines of novels. “The small boys came early to the hanging” was one of favorites, from Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. How could you not go on reading? And the first sentence of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” And E. M. Forster’s first line in Howard’s End: “One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.” It’s the “may as well” that draws you in—casual, chatty even, yet it gives the reader a strong sense that there’s a lot of story to come.

On bound books:
One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. Sure, sometimes they’ll elude you by hiding in improbable places: in a box full of old picture frames, say, or in the laundry basket, wrapped in a sweatshirt. But at other times they’ll confront you, and you’ll literally stumble over some tomes you hadn’t thought about in weeks or years. I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They make me feel, but I can’t feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight. They can get in your head but can’t whack you upside it.

From the Epilogue:
I often think about the things Mom taught me. Make your bed, every morning—it doesn’t matter if you feel like it, just do it. Write thank-you notes immediately. Unpack your suitcase, even if you’re only somewhere for the night. If you aren’t ten minutes early, you’re late. Be cheerful and listen to people, even if you don’t feel like it. Tell your spouse (children, grandchildren, parents) that you love them every day. Use shelf liner in bureaus. Keep a collection of presents on hand (Mom kept them in a “present drawer”), so that you’ll always have something to give people. Celebrate occasions. Be kind.
Even though nearly two years have passed since her death, I’m occasionally struck by the desire to call Mom and tell her something—usually about a book I’m reading that I know she’d love. Even though she’s not here, I tell her about it anyway. Just as I told her about the three million dollars the U.S. government has committed to building the library in Afghanistan. By the time this book is published, the Kabul library will be finished. I like to believe that she knows that.
and
…Mom taught me not to look away from the worst but to believe that we can all do better. She never wavered in her conviction that books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books, in whatever format you choose—electronic (even though that wasn’t for her) or printed, or audio—is the grandest entertainment, and also is how you take part in the human conversation. Mom taught me that you can make a difference in the world and that books really do matter: they’re how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others. Mom also showed me, over the course of two years and dozens of books and hundreds of hours in hospitals, that books can be how we get closer to each other, and stay close, even in the case of a mother and son who were very close to each other to begin with, and even after one of them has died.
Final Thoughts:

In 1995 I joined my first book club. It consisted of two good friends and myself and we read a wide variety of novels, which we discussed over elegant lunches and often times while playing a few hands of Mahjong. Over the years I have since joined numerous online book groups, as well as face-to-face groups with co-workers and friends. My current group is comprised of three dear friends and while we don’t read an “assigned” selection, we get together once a month to share our recommendations of some recent favorites. As I read Will Schwalbe’s memoir, I couldn’t help but think of my own mother. Like her own mother and sister, she too is a voracious reader. There is never a conversation with my mom that doesn’t include the same question Schwalbe posed to his mother: “What are you reading?” I love that my mom and I share this passion for the written word and I look forward to many more years of her recommendations and thoughts on her current read. Maybe when I’m ready to dive back into this book (as well as some of the books mentioned by Schwalbe), she’ll decide to join me.

August 5, 2014

A Dog's Purpose



A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron
Fiction
2010 A Forge Book (Tom Doherty Associates, LLC)
Finished on 5/6/14
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)




Publisher’s Blurb:

All dogs go to heaven… unless they have unfinished business here on Earth.

This is the remarkable story of one endearing dog’s search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, A Dog’s Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life’s most basic question: Why are we here?

Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden-haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey’s search for his new life’s meaning leads him into the loving arms of eight-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog.

But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey’s journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders—will he ever find his purpose?

Heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny, A Dog’s Purpose is not only the emotional and hilarious story of a dog’s many lives, but also a dog’s eye-commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bond between man and man’s best friend. This moving and beautifully crafted story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on earth is born with a purpose.

I’m not what you would call a dog-lover. Don’t get me wrong. I love my Annie-Dog. And I love my daughter’s dog, Scout, as well as my good friends’ dogs, Bandit, Sundance and Suki. 






But unlike my husband, I don’t go out of my way to greet strange dogs while out on a walk, nor do I lie down on a kitchen floor to wrestle with someone else’s dog. It’s not that I dislike them; I just don’t feel that instant affection for dogs I don’t know. However, unlike my husband, I love a good dog story, even if the dog dies in the end or if the story has a canine narrator. I haven’t read too many books of this genre, but those I have read have been very, very good. So when a good friend (who loved The Art of Racing in the Rain as much as I did) told me about A Dog’s Purpose, I knew I was in for a treat. I went into the story almost completely ignorant of the premise, for which I am glad. The turn of events in Bailey’s life was completely unpredictable and surprising, yet without any cloying, saccharine sentimentality. Cameron has a great imagination and his mesmerizing novel (or dare I say tale), held my interest from start to finish. I read the book in a mere six days, which anymore is quite remarkable for me!

Final Thoughts:

Fans of The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle will undoubtedly fall in love with Bailey, just as they did with Enzo and Almondine. W. Bruce Cameron has won my heart and his inspirational story has me looking at my sweet girl, Annie, with a new awareness. Do I believe in reincarnation? Maybe... What I do know is that when we rescued our sweet girl, she rescued us as well, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I borrowed A Dog’s Purpose from a friend, but it’s one to own and read at least one more time. And, yes—it will make you laugh and cry.

Other Dog Books I’ve Read/Reviewed:

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski)
Marley & Me (Jon Grogan)
One Good Dog (Susan Wilson)


August 3, 2014

Gratitude Lately

 Lately, I've been thankful for


A new juicer and 
all the fixins for Adirondack Margaritas

The first day of summer!

Another beautiful morning commute

A peaceful deck

 
An inviting patio
and the soothing sounds
 of a water feature

A storm system that
stayed north of us
(creepy sky!)
 
This sweet and 
happy dog of ours

A great new-to-me beer 
with a cool label

Frontline 
and a tick-free dog

Lazy Sunday mornings
and time to cook

Clean windows
and a beautiful neighborhood

And unseasonably cool summer nights,
in August, no less!



Happy Sunday, friends!
What are you grateful for this week?

For more Gratitude posts, click here.

July 27, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home



Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Fiction
2012 Random House
Finished on 4/29/14
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)




Tell the Wolves I’m Home, was named a best book of the year by The Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Kirkus, BookPage and Amazon. It was also a Barnes and Noble Discover pick, Target club pick, Costco Pennie’s pick, New York Times bestseller, as well as an American Library Association Alex Award winner.

Publisher’s Blurb:

My sister Greta and I were having our portrait painted by our Uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying . . .

1987. The only person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus is her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can be herself only in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life. At the funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail containing a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and that this unexpected friend just might be the one she needs the most.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.

When I started reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home, I was instantly transported back to the mid-1980s when the national and local news was filled with horror stories (and panic) about AIDS, both here in the United States and in countries all over the world. Today, AIDS is still very much a world-wide epidemic and yet it doesn’t seem quite as prevalent in the headlines as it once was. Other than a friend of a friend, I have only known one person to have this terrible disease. Wilson was a young man with whom I worked with at HBJ Publishers in San Diego and although I didn’t know him very well, he and my husband were good friends and we were devastated when we learned of his untimely death from the disease in 1986.

Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel is an exquisite story about a young girl and the close relationship she shares with her uncle, and ultimately, the formation of a unique friendship with her uncle’s partner, Toby. I read this absorbing book as slowly as possible, trying to savor Brunt’s lyrical prose, and although it took me a couple of weeks to read, I wanted to continue reading and was sorry when I came to the end of the book. This is a powerful tale of love and loyalty and is quite simply unforgettable. Someday, I would love to listen to the audio edition of this coming-of-age novel and I think, in the right hands, it would make an excellent film.

Final Thoughts:

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is one of the best books I’ve read this year. While talking with friends and customers about specific books dealing with a difficult subject-matter such as Alzheimer’s and AIDS, I am often met with resistance to even considering giving the book a chance. I do hope that readers won’t be put off when they learn that this book is about AIDS. While Brunt’s novel is essentially about the death of a man infected with AIDS, I feel the disease is simply a backdrop to an achingly beautiful story about the tender relationship between 14-year-old June and her uncle’s partner, Toby. I thoroughly enjoyed this author’s engaging style and endearing characters, and I look forward to seeing what she has in store for her second novel!

July 25, 2014

{this moment}

~ A Friday ritual ~
A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.
A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

********** 


July 13, 2014

The Treatment


The Treatment by Mo Hayder
Jack Caffery Series #2
Thriller
2012 Dreamscape Media (audio)
Reader: Damien Goodwin
Finished on 4/18/14
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)



Publisher's Blurb:
 
The suspense is relentless in The Treatment, an emotional powerhouse of a thriller that brings back Jack Caffery, the detective from Mo Hayder’s acclaimed novel Birdman. A masterful blend of psychological insight and forensic detail, Hayder’s latest thriller is as chilling as it is heartbreaking, a gritty, gripping tour de force of suspense.

It is a perfect summer day in London’s up-market Brockwell Park. Yet, behind the elegant facade of one house, a man and his wife have been taken prisoner in their own home and their young son has disappeared. But the final horror of their terrifying ordeal is still to be revealed.

Called in to investigate, Jack Caffery tries desperately to make sense of the meager clues found at the crime scene. But the echoes of a devastating disappearance in his own past make it impossible for him to view the crime objectively. And as Jack digs deeper, as the disturbing parallels between past and present mount, the real nightmares begin...

I read Mo Hayder’s intense thriller, Gone, a few years ago and have now listened to the audio productions of Birdman and The Treatment. These last two thrillers were exceptionally good on audio. The reader hits his marks with precise tension and emotion, yet I feel the suspense would have been even greater if I had read the print editions (as I did with Gone) rather than listening.

Final Thoughts:

Like Tana French, Mo Hayder is quickly becoming one of my favorite mystery authors. Her thrillers are gritty and not for the faint of heart, but I’ve enjoyed the character development of Caffery and am eager to see how he grows in the future installments to this series. The Treatment is not a heart-stopping thriller like Gone, but still very good! I plan to pick up #3 (Ritual) later this fall. 

Click here to read my review for Birdman.

Click here to read my review for Gone.

July 11, 2014

{this moment}

~ A Friday ritual ~
A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.
A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

.......... 

July 1, 2014

Paris in July 2014




It's that time of year! Paris in July is celebrating its 5th year and I have my stack ready to go. I decided to be a bit more realistic than I've been with other challenges and limited myself to three new books, one re-read and one that I'm currently reading (and almost to the halfway mark). It would be so easy to find more for this pile, but let's be serious. :) There are only 31 days in the month and my granddaughter will be here for two of those weeks. I'll be lucky to finish the Doerr novel!

Click here to see what I attempted to read in 2012. 

Click here to see meet our lovely hosts and get the details about this challenge.