October 27, 2013

Pray for Silence

Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo
2010 Macmillan Audio
Reader: Kathleen McInerney
Finished on 9/6/13
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

From the author’s website:

The Plank family moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to join the small Amish community of Painters Mill less than a year ago and seemed the model of the Plain Life—until on a cold October night, the entire family of seven was found slaughtered on their farm. Police Chief Kate Burkholder and her small force have few clues, no motive, and no suspect. Formerly Amish herself, Kate is no stranger to the secrets the Amish keep from the English—and each other—but this crime is horribly out of the ordinary.

When she discovers a diary that belonged to one of the teenaged daughters, Kate is shocked to learn the girl kept some very dark secrets and may have been living a lurid double life. Who is the charismatic stranger who stole the young Amish girl’s heart? As Kate’s outrage grows so does her resolve to find the killer and bring him to justice—even if it means putting herself in the line of fire.

Pray for Silence is the second installment in the Kate Burkholder series. I read the first (Sworn to Silence) with my book club in 2009 and thought it was good, but not outstanding. This time around, I decided to listen to the book and while it kept me occupied while working, it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat. I often found my mind elsewhere, which meant I had to repeat a track or two. It’s now over a month since I finished the audio book and not only can I not tell you much about the plot or characters, I have absolutely no idea who committed the murders!

Final Thoughts:

I’ve given Castillo a fair shake, but it’s time to move on. This is one series I don’t need to finish.

October 19, 2013

Sea Creatures

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
2013 HarperCollins
Finished on 8/30/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Overview from the author’s website:

When Georgia Quillian returns to her hometown of Miami, her husband Graham and their young son in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. The family has fled Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment, the fallout from Graham’s severe sleep disorder and Georgia’s failed business. To make matters worse, their charming three-year-old son, Frankie, has for months refused to speak a word.

Although Georgia is still grieving her mother’s death from five years earlier, her father and stepmother offer warm welcome — and a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. On a lark, Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for a reclusive artist who lives in the middle of the bay, and soon finds that time spent with the intense hermit might help Frankie find the courage to speak, and might also help her reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.

But when Graham leaves to work on a research vessel in hurricane Alley, and the truth behind Frankie’s mutism is revealed, the family’s challenges return, more complicated than before. As a hurricane bears down on South Florida later that summer, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.

SEA CREATURES is a mesmerizing exploration of the high stakes of marriage and parenthood, the story of a woman forced to choose between her marriage, her child, and the possibility of new love.

(from the author's website)

It’s been almost three years since I read Susanna Daniel’s debut novel, Stiltsville. I loved that novel and plan to re-read it when I get the chance. I was thrilled to see her new release when it hit the shelves at work and couldn’t wait to return to the South Florida setting, with its sun and salt water and stilt houses on the bay. It took me a little longer to get invested in Georgia’s story, but once I did, I couldn’t put the book down. I marked many passages, which is always a sign of a good read. Here are just a few!

On parenthood:
It was my husband Graham’s idea to buy the houseboat. The notion took shape on the first leg of our move from Illinois to Miami, between pulling away from the cottage in Round Lake and stopping at the county fair outside of Peoria, where we urged our three-year-old, Frankie, into a gargantuan bouncy castle. For a few minutes Frankie seemed to take some pleasure in jumping haphazardly among strangers, until he remembered that he didn’t like strangers, and staggered lock-kneed toward the exit. I mention this interlude in the long drive for one reason: a few minutes after we walked away from the enormous cartoonish castle, a gust of wind upended it, bouncing children and all. Ambulances arrived quickly. As we stood among the anxious crowd, I thought—not for the first time and not for the last—that to be a parent is terrifying. Graham once told me how the Stoics practiced imagining their own worst fears had come to pass, to make peace. But it seems to me that what worries us most—pedophiles, kidnappers, dog attacks—is least likely to happen, while what is most likely is some unimagined event. And how do we prepare for that?

On parasomnia:
I don’t sleep well—it’s a problem, yes, but it’s a problem on a par with losing your grocery list before getting to the store. I don’t talk about it, but when it does come up, people are sympathetic. Most people have a passing association with insomnia, and they know it’s an experience they don’t care to repeat. I want to tell them how much worse it can be. Perhaps the closest relative to Graham’s experience is chronic pain—recurrent migraines or crippling arthritis, for example. Living under the thumb not only of the pain itself, but also of the threat of a full-on outbreak. People with these conditions know a bit about what it’s like to live as Graham did, in perpetual discomfort and perpetual fear.

On unanticpated life-changes:
The course of a life will shift—really shift—many times over the years. But rarely will there be a shift that you can feel gathering in the distance like a storm, rarely will you notice the pressure drop before the skies open. That morning, as Frankie and I had plodded from errand to errand, led around by the hermit’s list like animals on leashes, I’d known on some level that this was one of those times. I would like to believe that I wouldn’t again make the mistake of walking in blindly. Then again, blindly is the only way I would have walked in.

On nostalgia:
Every time I arrived at Stiltsville, I experienced a strong sense of inverted, irrational nostalgia. It was as if rather than being there in that moment, I was somewhere else, wishing I could be there. It wasn’t unlike the feeling I had sometimes after putting Frankie to bed, even after a long day, even if I’d been relieved to say good night—sometimes I was seized by the desire to wake him just to be in his presence again, to reassure myself of him. The strange reverse-nostalgia itched at me every time I stepped from the boat to the stilt house dock, and it was several minutes before I could slough it off and relax. I think as much as anything else it was a weighty sense of gratitude, as well as the foreknowledge that whatever this was—this occupation, this friendship, this parallel life—it would not last forever.

On jellyfish:
Jellyfish season came early that year. I was in the office and Charlie and Frankie were sitting in the rocking chairs on the porch, taking turns with a pair of binoculars. Through the window, I heard Charlie say, “What is it?” When I looked out, I saw Frankie make the sign we’d learned, one hand against the other, pulling away and moving back again.

I couldn’t see them at first, but a moment after they appeared the water was thick with them. They came in a wind sock pattern, a leviathan in aggregate, dense at the start before petering out. Charlie told us this was called a bloom, that it happened every summer, usually not until August. It was still only mid-July, but there had been a rash of small storms in the Atlantic, and they’d washed in prematurely.

On life in Stiltsville:
In the time I’d spent at the stilt house, I’d learned a good bit about its logistics. I knew that the generator came on only to cook meat or boil water, and for showers—Charlie didn’t abide cold water—and I knew that Charlie always closed the bedroom and bathroom doors, to cut off the hottest part of the house. I knew that on particularly beastly days, Charlie draped dark sheets over the bedroom windows, keeping out as much heat as possible. I knew that sometimes this wasn’t good enough, so he dragged one of the spare mattresses onto the eastern porch and slept there until his own bed was habitable again. I learned that there were mosquitoes at Stiltsville, but not many, and only on evenings with very little wind, and there were none of the no-see-ums that hounded us in the canal. There were a few cockroaches around, too, and once I’d asked Charlie where they came from—for a second I wondered if maybe they could swim—and he cocked his head at me. “They come with us,” he said.

Final Thoughts:

There is a lot of sadness and a sense of loneliness in this novel and yet I loved the setting and the scenes of domestic life, particularly those set on the stilt house on the bay. Daniel’s writing is vivid and intensely emotional, but I didn’t love it as much as Stiltsville. Nonetheless, it’s still a winner and I look forward to another by this rising star.

October 12, 2013

The Good House

The Good House by Ann Leary
2013 Picador/McMillan Audio
Reader: Mary Beth Hurt
Finished: 8/9/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Overview (from the author’s website):

How can you prove you’re not an alcoholic? It’s like trying to prove you’re not a witch. You can’t.

Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of an historic community on the rocky coast of Boston’s North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. Hildy is a descendant of one of the witches hung in nearby Salem, and is believed, by some, to have inherited psychic gifts. Not true, of course; she’s just good at reading people. Hildy is good at lots of things. A successful real-estate broker, mother and grandmother, her days are full. But her nights have become lonely ever since her daughters, convinced their mother was drinking too much, staged an intervention and sent her off to rehab. Now she’s in recovery—more or less.

Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy needs a friend. She finds one in Rebecca McCallister, a beautiful young mother and one of the town’s wealthy newcomers. Rebecca feels out-of-step in her new surroundings and is grateful for the friendship. And Hildy feels like a person of the world again, as she and Rebecca escape their worries with some harmless gossip, and a bottle of wine by the fire—just one of their secrets.

But not everyone takes to Rebecca, who is herself the subject of town gossip. When Frank Getchell, an eccentric local who shares a complicated history with Hildy, tries to warn her away from Rebecca, Hildy attempts to protect her friend from a potential scandal. Soon, however, Hildy is busy trying to cover her own tracks and protect her reputation. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one threatens to expose the other, and this darkly comic novel takes a chilling turn.

THE GOOD HOUSE is by turns funny, poignant, and terrifying. A classic New England tale that lays bare the secrets of one little town, this spirited novel will stay with you long after the story has ended.

I love audio books and after reading several positive reviews for The Good House, I decided to add it to my Nano. Unfortunately, after listening for a couple of days, I gave up. I didn’t care for Mary Beth Hurt’s voice and it felt like the story was going nowhere. But then I read the following on Staci’s blog:
This is the best audio presentation that I've experienced to date!! Mary Beth Hurt WAS Hildy Good. I loved her raspy voice and she absolutely nailed the accent and the whole vibe of the character. I was struck with how immediate the faces, the houses, and the whole town came to life within my mind as I was listening. There was never a dull moment and I found myself anxiously wanting to return to my iPhone to listen to the story.

Recommend? YES! This will probably be in my top favorite books and audios of the year! Hildy captured my attention from her very first sentence, she made me laugh out loud at her inappropriate thoughts, shaking my head in exasperation at her justification of "it's only wine, I can handle my wine." This was a brilliant audio production of a stellar book!!

I have always found Staci’s recommendations for audio books to be spot on with my reading tastes, so I decided to give the book a second chance. She was right. Mary Beth Hurt is Hildy Good! Once I got used to her voice, and the storyline picked up, I was hooked. The humor had me laughing out loud (particularly during a Thanksgiving dinner scene) and there’s a fair amount of suspense as the book draws to a close, which had me on the edge of my seat.

On houses vs. homes:
I like a house that looks lived in. General wear and tear is a healthy sign; a house that's too antiseptic speaks as much to me of domestic discord as a house in complete disarray. Alcoholics, hoarders, binge eaters, addicts, sexual deviants, philanderers, depressives - you name it, I can see it all in the worn edges of their nests.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, this is a winner, but the slow start knocks my rating down a notch.

Breaking News:

As I was perusing Ann Leary's blog, I discovered this. I love De Niro and Streep and can't wait to see this film!!

October 7, 2013


I know this blog is all about books (and food, travel, photography, and gardening), but I want to introduce you to my beautiful daughter's fashion blog. Amy graduated from TCU with a B.S. in Fashion Merchandising and has worked in Dallas in the fashion industry for over 12 years. I hope you'll take a look at her impressive and informative blog. Here is just a sample of what she's featured:

In addition to daily outfits, trends and styling, Amy provides links to retailers for those seeking accessories or fashion-related gift ideas. Enjoy!

October 5, 2013

Me Before You

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
2012 Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Finished on 8/1/13
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe, Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after a motorcycle accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You is an unlikely story about two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy means breaking your own heart?

I don’t typically read romance books, but I am a sucker for a romantic story. (Three of my favorite movies are You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and French Kiss.) This tender novel (which, by the way is classified as fiction and not romance), with its humor and witty dialogue, is not the least bit sappy and I found myself sneaking in a few pages while cooking dinner, as well as reading far too late on a work night. Definitely a sign of a good book! I came to care about Louisa and Will, wondering what I’d do in each of their situations. The moral dilemma presented in this book would make for a great book club discussion.

On the arrival of Spring:
Spring arrived overnight, as if winter, like some unwanted guest, had abruptly shrugged its way into its coat and vanished, without saying goodbye. Everything became greener, the roads bathed in watery sunshine, the air suddenly balmy. There were hints of something floral and welcoming in the air, birdsong the gentle backdrop to the day.

On mistakes:
Some mistakes...just have greater consequences than others. But you don't have to let that night be the thing that defines you.

Unlike two of my blogging friends, I didn’t immediately sit down and start writing about this wonderful novel (it’s been over two months since I finished!) and I’m afraid my review won’t do it justice. See what Bellezza and Nancy had to say about Me Before You:
There are millions of love stories out there but few that get to the core of what the couple means to one another, a meaning beyond physical attraction and personal fulfillment. But the story JoJo Moyes has written of Will Traynor and Lou Clark goes exactly there.

This is a complex novel, examining much more than the love between two people. It also examines how our lives can enrich one another, and how we can reach beyond our fallibilities and limitations to show how much we truly care. It is very powerful and deeply moving. (Bellezza)

I won't tell you how the book ends, apart from saying that I was a bit astonished to find the story both heartbreaking and beautiful without being depressing. Me Before You is a love story, but it's so much more. It's about really living life every day, the question of whether or not anyone has a right to die with dignity at a time of his or her own choosing, the emotional and physical pain of quadriplegia and how a relationship that lacks the usual physical comforts can be much deeper and more intimate than the norm. Me Before You is a powerful story that brings up a lot of questions and would make an excellent discussion book (although, perhaps, one that could potentially lead to a bit of a shouting match between those with differing opinions).

Highly recommended to those who love a meaningful story of love, life and loss. Miserably, compulsively readable, with exceptional dialogue and character development and not a single wasted word in its 481 pages (in my humble opinion). (Nancy, of Bookfoolery)

Final Thoughts:

Me Before You is more than just a satisfying page-turner of a read. It’s also a smart, funny, and complex story about life and how we choose to live with the cards we’re dealt. I’m so happy (and relieved) that this novel lived up to my expectations. I can’t wait to read more from her backlist!

About the Author:

Jojo Moyes is the author of The Last Letter from Your Lover. Me Before You was a runaway word-of-mouth sensation and a Top 3 bestseller in the UK. She lives with her husband and children in Essex, England.