August 30, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - The Tresspasser

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event that highlights a book that we can't wait to be published.  It's hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

The Trespasser 
(Dublin Murder Squad #6)
 by Tana French
Available on October 4, 2016


Antoinette Conway, the tough, abrasive detective from The Secret Place, is still on the Murder squad, but only just. She's partnered up with Stephen Moran now, and that's going well - but the rest of her working life isn't. Antoinette doesn't play well with others, and there's a vicious running campaign in the squad to get rid of her. She and Stephen pull a case that at first looks like a slam-dunk lovers' tiff, but gradually they realise there's more going on: someone on their own squad is trying to push them towards the obvious solution, away from nagging questions. They have to work out whether this is just an escalation in the drive to get rid of her - or whether there's something deeper and darker going on.

Well, I didn't care for The Secret Place, but I've enjoyed all of Tana French's other books, so I'm planning to grab a copy of The Trespasser just as soon as it hits the shelves. How about you? Which is your favorite Dublin Murder Squad book? Mine? The Likeness. Faithful Place. In the Woods. Broken Harbor. Yep. All but The Secret Place. :)

August 28, 2016

Survival Lessons

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
Nonfiction Essays
2013 by Algonquin Books
Finished on March 31, 2016
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

One of America's most beloved writers shares her suggestions for finding beauty in the world even during the toughest times.

Survival lessons provides a road map of how to reclaim your life from this day forward, with ways to reenvision everything--from relationships with friends and family to the way you see yourself. As Alice Hoffman says, "In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that's all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make."

Wise, gentle, and wry, Alice Hoffman teaches us all how to choose what matters most.

This slim book (a mere 83 pages) can easily be read in an afternoon, but I chose to sample a few chapters at a time, allowing each to sink in before moving on to the next. I have a few pages marked with Post-It flags, but in spite of discovering a few gems, I was hoping for a bit more substance. 

I've always believed there is a very thin line that separates readers and writers. You make a leap over that line when there's a book you want to read and you can't find it and you have to write it yourself. All the while I was in treatment [breast cancer] I was looking for a guidebook. I needed help in my new situation. I needed to know how people survived.

It took all this time for me to figure out what I would have most wanted to hear when I was newly diagnosed, when I lost the people I loved, when I was deeply disappointed in myself and the turns my life had taken. In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that's all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. This is what makes us human. This is why our world is so precious. I wrote to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the stars still come out at night. And too remind myself that, despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make. 

Final Thoughts:

I've read several novels by Alice Hoffman, so I was curious when I saw this small book on the shelf in the health/cancer section of the store. It's a short, sweet book that would make a nice gift for someone going through a difficult time, whether that be cancer or the loss of a loved one.

August 25, 2016

Looking Back - The Celestine Prophecy

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
1994 Grand Central Publishing
Finished on August 25, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

The Celestine Prophecy contains secrets that are currently changing our world. Drawing on ancient wisdom, it tells you how to make connections among the events happening in your own life right now...and lets you see what is going to happen to you in the years to come!

A book that has been passed from hand to hand, from friend to friend, since it first appeared in small bookshops across America, The Celestine Prophecy is a work that has come to light at a time when the world deeply needs to read its words. The story it tells is a gripping one of adventure and discovery, but it is also a guidebook that has the power to crystallize your perceptions of why you are where you are in life...and to direct your steps with a new energy and optimism as you head into tomorrow.

My Original Notes (1996):

What a great book! I didn't want to stop reading it! I couldn't decide if I truly believed in the "9 insights," though. I was very skeptical at first, but then (as coincidences began to occur in my own life), I began to think maybe it was all possible. Toward the end, I decided it was a very good fable, but not realistic. New Age, mystical stuff. Discussing it with my reading group. Should provoke stimulating discussions!

My Current Thoughts:

I remember the summer I read this book and now I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed it. I don't think I went on to read the sequel and I'll bet I wouldn't be as impressed with this book if I were to read it today.

Have you read any of Redfield's mystical books? What did you think?

August 23, 2016

The Tenth Circle

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
2006 Atria Books
Finished on March 30, 2016
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Trixie Stone is fourteen years old and in love for the first time. She's also the light of her father's life--a straight-A student; a freshman in high school who is pretty and popular; a girl who's always looked up to Daniel Stone as a hero. Until, that is, her world is turned upside down with a single act of violence... and suddenly everything Trixie has believed about her family--and herself--seems to be a lie.

For fifteen years, Daniel Stone has been an even-tempered, mild-mannered man: a stay-at-home dad to Trixie and a husband who has put his own career as a comic book artist behind that of his wife, Laura, who teaches Dante's Inferno at a local college. But years ago, he was completely different: growing up as the only white boy in an Eskimo village, he was teased mercilessly for the color of his skin. He learned to fight back: stealing, drinking, robbing, and cheating his way out of the Alaskan bush. To become part of a family, he reinvented himself, channeling his rage onto the page and burying his past completely... until now. Could the young boy who once made Trixie's face fill with light when he came to the door have been the one to end her childhood forever? She says that he is, and that is all it takes to make Daniel, a man with a history he has hidden even from him family, venture to hell and back in order to protect his daughter.

The Tenth Circle looks at that delicate moment when a child learns that her parents don't know all of the answers and when being a good parent means letting go of your child. It asks whether you can reinvent yourself in the course of a lifetime or if your mistakes are carried forever--if life is, as in any good comic book, a struggle to control the good and evil, or if good and evil control you.

I've read quite a few novels by Jodi Picoult, but at some point in time, I grew tired of her predictable style and ignored her new releases, as well as what I already own on my shelves. However, after thoroughly enjoying Leaving Time (Picoult's book about an elephant sanctuary), I decided to give her another try. In typical Picoult fashion, The Tenth Circle is told in alternating POVs, this time substituting an attorney with a detective. It's been five months since I finished the book and until I started to type up the publisher's blurb, the plot was long forgotten. I didn't really care for the inclusion of the graphic novel elements, but the panels weren't too intrusive or distracting. 

I no longer have the worries of a parent of a teenager daughter (my daughter is a successful young woman, living in Texas), but I do have a granddaughter who just turned 14, so this passage (as well as the theme of date rape) is particularly disturbing.

On teenage girls:

He had assumed that a kid who slept with stuffed animals would not also be wearing a thong, but now it occurred to Daniel that long before any comic book penciler had conceived of Copycat or The Changeling or Mystique, shape-shifters existed in the form of teenage girls. One minute you might find your daughter borrowing a cookie sheet to go sledding in the backyard, and the next she'd be online IMing a boy. One minute she'd lean over to kiss you good night, the next she'd tell you she hated you and couldn't wait to go away to college. One minute she'd be putting on her mother's makeup, the next she'd be buying her own. Trixie had morphed back and forth between childhood and adolescence so easily that the line between them had gone blurry, so indistinct that Daniel had simply given up trying for a clearer vision.

Final Thoughts:

The Tenth Circle is a compelling page-turner that kept me guessing, but it's not one I'd read again.

August 21, 2016

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
2015 Pottermore by J.K.Rowling Audio (Originally published in 1999)
Read by Jim Dale
Finished on March 24, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"'Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go.'"

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it's the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run - and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry's tea leaves.... But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss....

It's been years since I've read this series, and since I stalled at book 5, I decided to start listening to the remaining books before the new one was released in July. The first books in this series are by far my favorites. I love Jim Dale and this was an especially entertaining listen!
Final Thoughts:

Well worth a third reading! And, this pretty much sums up my feelings:
"To call Dale a 'reader' of books is like saying Monet was a Sunday painter." (Los Angeles Times)

August 20, 2016

The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
2012 Random House
Finished on March 17, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Luminous and haunting, The Age of Miracles is an unforgettable debut novel about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her family, the loss of friends, the hopeful anguish of love. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

“A stunner from the first page.” ~ Justin Cronin

Daylight Savings Time remains a controversial topic here in the U.S., and while I hate to lose an hour of productivity (and sleep!) I do love the longer days of spring and summer. After dinner, my husband and I like to go for walks, bike rides or simply enjoy a cocktail on our front porch. Imagine, though, if our days suddenly shifted from 24 hours in length to 28 or 30, or even, as much as 48! Not only would the slowing of the earth’s rotation disrupt our normal sleep patterns and the normal routines of society (government, work, school, etc.), but it would also cause serious problems for the tides, plant life and the earth’s magnetic field. Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel explores these situations, convincing this reader of the plausible outcome of such a disaster. Suffice it to say, I was just a little bit scared.
We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.

We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.

We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, weren’t still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every human being.

But there were those who would later claim to have recognized the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers, the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of ships, the drivers of big-rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick. These people were accustomed to waiting out the night. Through bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness on the mornings leading up to the news, but each mistook if for the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.

On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.


Our days had grown by fifty-six minutes in the night.
Since this novel is set in San Diego, I found myself reminiscing about my childhood. I moved to Southern California shortly after my 11th birthday, so not only did I relate to Julia’s experiences in sixth grade, but I recognized the locations to which Walker refers. As a matter of fact, if I were able to chat with the author, I’d love to see if I could guess her exact setting based on the details of her narrative. Like her protagonist, she grew up in San Diego and I can almost speculate where she spent her youth. I found it very easy to picture Julia and Seth hiking through the sage brush-filled canyons, heading toward the beach after hearing the news of a beached whale. I, too, have walked those canyons.

We were Californians and thus accustomed to the motions of the earth. We understood that the ground could shift and shudder. We kept batteries in our flashlights and gallons of water in our closets. We accepted that fissures might appear in our sidewalks. Swimming pools sometimes sloshed like bowls of water. We were well practiced at crawling beneath tabletops, and we knew to beware of flying glass. At the start of every school year, we each packed a large ziplock bag full of non-perishables in case The Big One stranded us at school. But we Californians were no more prepared for this particular calamity than those who had built their homes on more stable ground.

This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child.
On gravity:

We were living under a new gravity, too subtle for our minds to register, but our bodies were already subject to its sway. In the weeks that followed, as the days continued to expand, I would find it harder and harder to kick a soccer ball across a field. Quarterbacks found that footballs didn’t fly as far as they used to. Home run hitters slipped into slumps. Pilots would have to retrain themselves to fly. Every falling thing fell faster to the ground.
On snow in California:
“Holy shit,” said my mother in her green bathrobe.

I looked out the window: snow.

This was California, sea level, spring.

Five inches had fallen while we slept, and it was still snowing. Temperatures had been dropping further and further as each darkness stretched longer. Now the neighborhood shimmered, bluish in the moonlight: sugarcoated cars, fences frosted white, the terracotta roofs encrusted in snow. The sidewalks looked repaved. The artificial lawns had been swallowed whole overnight in one smooth sheet of clean, creamy white. Our street sparkled.

Seth showed up on my porch in a red ski parka I’d never seen before and a frayed knit cap, which sat crooked on his head. Snowflakes were melting on his shoulders.

“We have to go sledding,” he said. He held up the blue boogie board he’d carried down from his house. […]

We were beach kids, sunshine kids. We did not know the properties of snow. I had never seen it fall, never knew how soft if felt at first, how easily it collapsed beneath feet, or the particular sound of that crunch. I never knew until then that snow made everything quiet, somehow silencing all the world’s noise.
The Age of Miracles is not categorized as a Young Adult (YA) book, but it is a book I can recommend to teens as well as adults. It’s one I will recommend to book groups, as there are so many thought-provoking situations to discuss. How would you react to the longer days of sunlight and conversely, longer nights, as the darkness bleeds into the middle of what used to be mid-day? Would you try to stay on “clock time” or follow others who attempt to live in sync with the rising and setting of the sun, even if that means staying awake for two full days?

As I read the author’s conversation with Kate Medina (Random House Executive Vice President, Associate Publisher and Executive Editorial Director) I read Walker’s response to Medina’s question about her research, which is so realistically rendered. Walker says,
In general, I wanted my book to seem as real as possible. I recently read a Guardian interview with the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, who said that his books were about “the possibility of the impossible.” He explained that even if the premise of a book seemed “impossible,” it was important to him that the development of that premise be logical and rational. That’s exactly the way I wanted The Age of Miracles to function.
Go figure! I loved Saramago’s novel, Blindness, which aroused a visceral fear similar to that of Walker’s catastrophic disaster in The Age of Miracles.

Final Thoughts:

I loved this book! Part coming-of-age, part dystopic thriller, I couldn’t read fast enough. In some ways, The Age of Miracles is a quiet novel. Unlike The Dog Stars (Peter Heller), The Fifth Wave (Rick Yancey) or The Passage (Justin Cronin), the central disaster of Walker’s magnificent story does not involve a pandemic or an attack on earth by aliens or zombies. Other than some aggression shown toward the “real-timers,” this isn’t a violent book. It’s the unknown that’s so terrifying. I highly recommend this compulsively readable and highly imaginative novel. I can’t wait to read another book by Karen Thompson Walker!

August 18, 2016

Looking Back - A Bridge Between Us

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

A Bridge Between Us by Julie Shigekuni
1996 Anchor
Finished on August 8, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Four generations of Japanese American women make their home in a large house in San Francisco, united by the obligations of family and tradition and, perhaps, by love. In alternating chapters, the four women--Reiko, Rio, Tomoe, and Nomi Hito--speak with unflinching honesty about their lives, the secrets that have separated mother and daughter, and the fierce ties of intimacy that form an inextricable bridge between them.With the touch and power of a master storyteller, Julie Shigekuni gracefully interweaves four distinctive voices to shape a moving story of love and the courage it requires. In baring the heart of one family, she illuminates the truths about families, real and imagined, we all create.

My Original Notes:

Very, very good. Reminded me of Amy Tan's style of writing. I really enjoyed it, except the last couple of chapters were strange and disturbing. But really a great novel.

My Current Thoughts:

Once again, this is a book of which I have no recollection. So odd since I obviously enjoyed it.

August 17, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

This summer's window displays brought to you by my talented family!

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

August 15, 2016

The Preacher

The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
Patrick Hedstrom Series, #2
2011 HighBridge Audio
Read by David Thorn
Finished on March 15, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the fishing community of Fjällbacka, life is remote, peaceful, and for some, tragically short. Foul play was always suspected in the disappearance twenty years ago of two young campers, but their bodies were never found. But now, a young boy out playing has confirmed the grim truth. Their remains are discovered alongside those of a fresh victim, sending the tiny town into shock.

Local detective Patrik Hedström, expecting a baby with his girlfriend Erica, can only imagine what it is like to lose a child. When a second young girl goes missing, Hedström's attention focuses on the Hults, a feuding clan of misfits, religious fanatics and criminals. The suspect list is long but time is short—which of this family's dark secrets will provide the vital clue?

Oh my goodness! I really needed a family tree for this cast of characters. The narrative was very confusing until I finally got everyone (and their relationships to one another) sorted out. This may have just been a problem with the audio version, since so many of the names sound similar to each other, but it was definitely a hindrance to my listening pleasure. There is also quite a leap forward in time from where the previous book (The Ice Princess) left off, which made me feel like I had accidentally skipped a book in the series. And, I can't remember when I read such a convoluted denouement! If I didn't like the main characters so much, I would have ditched this book after reading 3 or 4 chapters.

Final Thoughts:


August 14, 2016


As you all may know, my husband has recently published a new book (Leveling the Playing Field). He is currently running a contest on his blog (The Geekly Weekly), as well as his Facebook page. Here are the details:
So, my ace marketing team (i.e., Lesley) noticed that we have seen several photos of people holding/reading/standing near their copies of Leveling the Playing Field, and this gave us an idea for another giveaway! This time it’s worth $50 at your favorite retailer! (As long as your favorite retailer is either Barnes and Noble or See the rules and fine print and such below:

NEW GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a $50 Barnes & Noble or Amazon gift card (your choice). Post on your Facebook wall a photo of yourself, your spouse (or S.O.), or a pet reading Leveling the Playing Field. (Photos taken in a bookstore don’t count.) :) Don’t forget to tag me, so I’ll know that you posted, and for a second chance to win, share THIS post with your friends. Winner to be announced on Sept. 30th. Thanks again for all your support. The “likes” and “shares” really help get the word out!

Notice that the contest ends September 30th. That’s so you’ll be able to attend the book signing (SouthPointe B&N, September 24th at 2:00), get your book signed, and still have time to enter the contest.

Also, don’t forget that you can get a second entry in the drawing by sharing my Facebook post.

Thank you all again for your help. It’s been a great journey so far, and it wouldn’t have been possible without your support.

So there you are. Good luck and thanks for all your support, friends!

August 11, 2016

Looking Back - The Sound of Waves

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
1994 Vintage Books
Finished on August 4, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in a remote fishing village in Japan, The Sound of Waves is a timeless story of first love. It tells of Shinji, a young fisherman, and Hatsue, the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village. Shinji is entranced at the sight of Hatsue in the twilight on the beach, upon her return from another island, where she had been training to be a pearl diver. They fall in love, but must then endure the calumny and gossip of the villagers.

My Original Notes (1996):

Very good! Beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A quick read, also.

Some of the dialogue seemed simplistic, maybe due to the translation?

My Current Thoughts:

Yikes. I have no recollection, good or bad, about this novel.

August 9, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

October 2015

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

August 7, 2016

City of Thieves

City of Thieves by David Benioff
2008 Viking
Finished on March 8, 2016
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival--and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

Stumped by a magazine assignment to write about his own uneventful life, a man visits his retired grandparents in Florida to document their experience during the infamous siege of Leningrad. Reluctantly, his grandfather commences a story that will take him almost a week to tell: an odyssey of two young men determined to survive, against desperate odds, a mission in which cold, hunger, and the Russian authorities proves as dangerous as the invading Wehrmacht.

Two young men meeting for the first time in a jail cell await summary execution for crimes of dubious legitimacy. At seventeen, Lev Beniov considers himself "built for deprivation." Small, smart, insecure about his virginity, he's terrified about the sentence that awaits him and his cellmate, the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier charged with desertion. However, instead of a bullet in the back of the head, the pair is given an outrageous assignment: In a besieged city cut off from all supplies, secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter's wedding cake. Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible in five days' time, a quest that propels them from the lawless streets of Leningrad to the devastated countryside behind German lines. As they encounter murderous city dwellers, guerrilla partisans, and finally the German army itself, an unlikely bond forms between this earnest teenager and his unpredictable companion, a lothario whose maddening, and endearing, bravura will either advance their cause or get them killed.

Hailed for his brilliantly drawn characters and incisive ability to capture the pulse of urban life, David Benioff rises to new heights in this portrait of two unforgettable young men and Soviet Russia under siege. By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves takes us on a breathtaking journey into the twentieth century's darkest hour even as it celebrates the power of friendship to transform a life.
My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen. I don't remember anyone telling me--it was something I always seemed to know, the way I knew the Yankees wore pinstripes for home games and gray for the road. But I wasn't born with the knowledge. Who told me? Not my father, who never shared secrets, or my mother, who shied away from mentioning the unpleasant, all things bloody, cancerous, or deformed. Not my grandmother, who knew every folktale from the old country--headed by witches--but never spoke about the war in my hearing. And certainly not my grandfather himself, the smiling watchman of my earliest memories, the quiet, black-eyed, slender man who held my hand as we crossed the avenues, who sat on a park bench reading his Russian newspaper while I chased pigeons and harassed sugar ants with broken twigs.
And so begins our tale.

Tense. Humorous. Touching. Unforgettable. This is by far one of the best novels about World War II that I've read this year or, for that matter, in many years. I loved Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See and Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale and Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller, but Benioff's is the best of the best. I've had the book on a shelf for several years and I'm so glad I finally decided to give it a go. If you have not yet read City of Thieves, I urge you to get a copy. You won't be disappointed.

On hunger:
You have never been so hungry; you have never been so cold. When we slept, if we slept, we dreamed of the feasts we had carelessly eaten seven months earlier--all that buttered bread, the potato dumplings, the sausages--eaten with disregard, swallowing without tasting, leaving great crumbs on our plates, scraps of fat. In June of 1941, before the Germans came, we thought we were poor. But June seemed like paradise by winter.

The boy sold what people called library candy, made from tearing the covers off of books, peeling off the binding glue, boiling it down, and reforming it into bars you could wrap in paper. The stuff tasted like wax, but there was protein in the glue, protein kept you alive, and the city's books were disappearing like the pigeons.
On compartmentalizing:
That is the way we decided to talk, free and easy, two young men discussing a boxing match. That was the only way to talk. You couldn't let too much truth seep into your conversation, you couldn't admit with your mouth what your eyes had seen. If you opened the door even a centimeter, you would smell the rot outside and hear the screams. You did not open the door. You kept your mind on the tasks of the day, the hunt for food and water or something to burn, and you saved the rest for the end of the war.
On friendship:
I heard the bedsprings creaking and looked up to see Kolya leaning over the side of the top mattress, his upside-down face peering at me, his blond hair hanging in filthy clumps. He looked like he was worried about me, and all at once I felt like crying. The only one left who knew how frightened I was, the only one who knew I was still alive and that I might die tonight, was a boastful deserter I'd met three nights before, a stranger, a child of Cossacks, my last friend.
Final Thoughts:

City of Thieves is a beautifully written novel by an amazing storyteller! I read the last few chapters very slowly, trying to savor the details, not wanting to say goodbye to Lev and Kolya. Excellent novel! Highly recommend.

August 4, 2016

Looking Back - A Long Fatal Love Chase

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

1995 Random House
Finished on June 21, 1996
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Written in 1866, this heretofore undiscovered gem by the author of Little Women tells the story of Rosamund Vivian, an intelligent, strong-willed, 18-year-old young woman who longs for adventure. But when she marries a wealthy, jaded young man, and is swept off to Europe, Rosamund too soon learns that her new husband is not as he had presented himself.

From Wikipedia:

In 1866, Louisa May Alcott toured Europe for the first time; being poor, she traveled as the paid companion of an invalid. Upon her return, she found her family in financial straits, so when publisher James R. Elliot asked her to write another novel suitable for serialisation in the magazine The Flag of Our Union (mockingly referred to as The Weekly Volcano in Little Women), Alcott dashed off a 292-page Gothic romance entitled A Modern Mephistopheles, or The Fatal Love Chase. She gave the novel a European setting and incorporated many of her still-fresh travel experiences and observations; Elliot, however, rejected it for being "too long & too sensational!", whereupon she changed the title to Fair Rosamond and undertook extensive revisions to shorten the novel and tone down its more controversial elements. Despite these changes, the book was again rejected, and Alcott laid the manuscript aside.

Fair Rosamond ended up in Harvard's Houghton Library. The earlier draft was auctioned off by Alcott's heirs and eventually fell into the hands of a Manhattan rare book dealer. In 1994, Kent Bicknell, headmaster of the Sant Bani School in Sanbornton, New Hampshire, paid "more than his annual salary but less than $50,000" for the unexpurgated version of the manuscript. After restoring it, he sold the publication rights to Random House, receiving a $1.5 million advance. Bicknell donated 25% of the profits to Orchard House (the museum of the Alcott Family), 25% to the Alcott heirs, and 25% to the Sant Bani School.

In 1995, Random House released the novel in a hardbound edition under the title A Long Fatal Love Chase. It became a best-seller, and an audiobook version soon followed. The novel is still in print (September 2007) as a trade paperback from Dell Books.

My Original Notes (1996):

Pretty good. Certainly started off very well and kept my interest. I really couldn't put it down. Very suspenseful. Then it began to sound a lot like a Sidney Sheldon novel (Rage of Angels, I think.)

Lots of symbolism - birds, roses, storms.

Tempest was such a villain! I hated him. So wicked. And Rosamond continued to be tempted by him, in spite of his evil ways.

Lots of similarities to Jane Eyre. Young orphan falls in love with a married man (unknowingly), to name just one.

My Current Thoughts:

I think I had high expectations for this novel, but was ultimately disappointed. Too much of a bodice-ripper for my taste.

August 2, 2016

The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Magicians Series #1
Science Fiction
2009 Penguin Audio
Read by Mark Bramhall
Finished on March 1, 2016
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. … Grossman’s sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwarts was never like this.” —George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

Publisher's Blurb:

Quentin Coldwater is a high school senior, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read when he was little, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, everything in his real life just seems gray and colorless. That changes when Quentin finds himself admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery.

But magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure and meaning he thought it would—until he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. The Magicians is a grand, glittering fantasy that reinterprets the grand tradition of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling in a brilliant novel for adults.

I can't remember the last time I vacillated so much while reading a book! One minute I was falling in love with the story and the next I was ready to throw the book across the room. Such a roller coaster! And while some may say it's a nod to Harry Potter and Narnia, I thought it was more of a ripoff, especially of J.K. Rowlings' series.

A school for magicians. Check.

Separate living quarters based on your magical abilities. Check.

"Send me an owl." Check.

A game called Welters, which sounds vaguely familiar. "Hang on," he said. "Gotta get my quidditch costume. I mean uniform. I mean welters." Check.

I discovered the following while reading other reviews and had to laugh because it's spot on:
I felt like I was doing peyote buttons with J.K. Rowling. (Mickey Rapkin, GQ)

The book pulled me in right away, but then my interest began to wane. Things picked up again when the group went to Brakesbills South in Antarctica, and the ending was great, but over all the pacing is uneven and the characters are flat and tiresome. I have no desire to read the next two books in this series and after watching about 20 minutes of the first episode of the series on DVD, my husband and I both agreed to call it quits. 

Final Thoughts:

While entertaining and somewhat imaginative, this mash-up of Harry Potter, The Night Circus and Ready Player One left me wishing for something more.