Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Best Kind of People, Zoe Whittall. three stars.

 The Best Kind of People

The Best Kind of People
Zoe Whittall

I admit to being a bit triggered the first time I tried to read this book about a beloved schoolteacher accused of molesting teen-aged girls, and the effect it has on his family.  But I gave it another shot, and frankly found it too quiet for the subject matter, and pretty much unbelievable. 
Things I had trouble believing:
-No bail, incarceration in prison for 8-9 months when the accused was a member of a founding family, a local hero and beloved teacher?  Because he was a flight risk? No.
-The length of time George was in prison gave his family time to shift from “hell no” to probably guilty. 
-That two books could be written and published after the arrest and before the accused went to trial.
-that a high school senior was basically set “free” …not attending classes, not accounting to anyone, and apparently had unlimited funds, but still got into Columbia.
-that no one sued anyone else civilly.
Despite the inability to suspend disbelief, the writing felt authentic.  I am not sure about choosing three different narrative points of view though, and the book didn’t impress me enough to want to read more.  To be fair, it is tough subject matter that requires facility with teenagers, the legal system, the gossip and publishing worlds, gay issues and the psychological effect all those things have on a “typical suburban (wealthy) family.” To the extent that the author took those risks is commendable.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for this review.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Catching up on book reviews: Any Dream Will Do, Debbie Macomber

Any Dream Will Do
Debbie Macomber

While I admit to being a fan of Romance, and most often anything Debbie Macomber writes, I didn’t love this book.  I didn’t care for the alternating point of view chapters, between Shay, the protagonist, and Drew, the love interest. Mostly because it felt like reading parts of their personal journal, and I want characters to interact more.  The number of times these two conversed, or more, was very limited.  The result was a set of cardboard characters who only did the right thing or the wrong things.  Characters, like people, need to have depth for me to feel invested in them.  There was ample opportunity for this, but that wouldn’t serve what felt like the simplistic happily ever after that we knew was coming. 
I’m especially disappointed with the way the author handled Shay’s family… while she was willing to give up her dreams, job, and reputation for her brother, by stealing money for him and going to prison, he seemed to have no feelings for her at all.  Shay befriends a couple of homeless people along the way, but we get very little of their story as well. Why not let Shay have conversations with these people?  The story is merely told, not experienced.

I’ve been a long time Macomber reader and while I was disappointed with this book, I don’t think it will keep me from reading her next one. I know her writing well enough to know she could have done better.

I accepted this copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Girl from Summer Hill, Jude Deveraux, A fun romance.

The Girl from Summer Hill, by Jude Deveraux

I'm a reader who needs to have something lighter, easier to read after reading heavy, important books, like Lilac Girls, in my last review.  Jude Deveraux is on of the writers I can count on to let me imagine different lives and can count on a happy ending. I know that sounds formulaic for romance novels, but that doesn't mean there isn't great character development, full plot arcs and wonderful settings.

 In The Girl from Summer Hill, Deveraux chose to overlay Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice over a completely contemporary setting and characters.  "Lizzie" is played by Casey, an accomplished chef who's come home to her hometown to recover from her last stressful job in DC.  Darcy is played by Tate Landers, an honest to goodness movie star, who owns the estate where Casey comes to rest.  Aside from the sizzle between them, the town is putting on Pride and Prejudice for charity. So the book is structured as a play within a play, within ... well, You'll see.  It's a sweet romance with just enough Hollywood thrown in to make it almost, but not quite, over the top.

I received this book from NetGalley for this review. For more information, contact Random House Publishing. This book will be released on May, 2016.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelley. Five stars

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

For anyone who loved Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale or Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Lilac Girls is a perfect book. Told from the perspective of three women during WWII with unique and important perspectives, The Lilac Girls will give you an understanding of how life continued in three very different ways.  I thought there had been enough WWII books for a while, but this one was well worth the time and impossible to put down.
Caroline Ferriday is a member of the New York aristocracy working as a volunteer in the French Embassy assembling comfort packages for French orphans when she meets handsome and charming French actor Paul Rodierre.  Though Paul is married, the two fall in love and much of Caroline’s story revolves around finding Paul again after he’s returned to Paris. In the process, she learns of the Rabbits, Polish prisoners at Ravensbrück, Hitler’s only major all female concentration camp upon whom some of the horrible medical experiments were conducted.
One of the Rabbits is Kasia, who was arrested as a young teen for helping her would be boyfriend in the Polish Resistance.  Kasia’s story from before the war through the trials after the war is as mesmerizing as they are awful. 
Perhaps the most original perspective comes from Herta, though. A German patriot, and gifted surgeon, Herta found herself closed out of the male-only community of physicians in Germany.  Even after passing all the tests, she was only able to find part time work as a dermatologist, and thus was unable to support herself or her mother, who depended on her.  When offered the opportunity to serve as a full physician at Ravensbrück, she reluctantly agrees. The progression from compassionate physician to puppet of the Third Reich is heartbreaking, and if it were possible, almost understandable.
This fascinating book is made even more so by the Author’s notes, where we learn not only that these women were real people, (though some conglomeration and literary license added to bring the story together. I won’t spoil the story by adding more facts here, but will just say that the author’s journey alone, finding the facts and putting them together is enthralling.  One of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

I received this book from NetGalley for this review. For more information, contact Random House Publishing. This book will be released on April 5, 2016.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The January Revival

Ah January, time for renewal! This morning I’ve read three articles in the New York Times dealing with three areas where I’m always looking for renewal: time management, diet and exercise. They were motivational and they suggested ideas that would work!  Resolutions and time management, healthy eating, and getting to the gym, if you want to check them out for yourself.)

For me though, the issues seem to be different, in that I have that elusive treasure, time.  There are benefits to reaching a certain age and letting go of the 9 to 5 world, and benefits as well to having a spouse who took on the task of financial support and retired able to keep those commitments.  But without stress or money woes to motivate me, what makes me get up in the morning?

For the past year, I’ve struggled with that.  There were days that I slept until noon, because I didn’t need to be up before dawn to do anything.  A year.  A whole year just blowing in the breeze. Now here, January 11, 2016, not the first, I realize that if I don’t figure it out, I’ll wake up closer to dead than ever before (isn’t that every single morning?  The cause of death is, after all, life.) So I need to figure out what I want to leave behind and how I want to spend the time I have.  I am not ready, it seems to roll over and wait life out.

It’s easier to know what I don’t want to leave behind, and easier to address that, though most of it makes me want to run and do anything else. Getting rid of all the skeletons in my figurative closets. Going through my files and disposing of the work that I’ve grown beyond.  Throwing away broken toys from when my children (in their late 20s and early 30s now,) have left behind.  Even moving out of the huge family home to something more fun and manageable.

But honestly, that’s just stuff. What do I want to do next?  When I pose this question to my inner psyche, ask it, what is important to you?  I came up with a few answers. 

1. My family.   Maybe that goes without saying, having devoted the last 30+ years in that direction, but I really do love them and am delighted when I can spend time with them or help them out. So I’ll keep that.

2. My freedom.  That includes the ability to write, the ability to move around freely, the ability to say and do as I genuinely want.  Stays in the “keep” pile.

3. My curiosity.  A long time ago someone coined the term “life long learner.”  Truth be told I’m happiest when I’m learning, whether that be following links on the internet, or traveling.  I love classes.  I keep signing up for ones that are a bit of a hoop jump to get to, but I make it.  So I’ll officially recognize this and find more.

4. My health.  This sounds like one of those things I’m supposed to write down on lists like this, but when I can’t sleep because something hurts, or I can’t climb that next mountain because my knees ache, the other things that are important to me get pushed aside.  It takes so little effort to be healthy… half an hour a day moving and eating things that aren’t junk.  I don’t have to treat my body like the low man on the totem pole. And I can enjoy this process so long as I don’t get crazy.  Walk the dogs, not run marathons.  Just not my aspiration.

So that’s where my focus will be in 2016. Not specific resolutions, though I’d like to do those too, because it helps me satisfy the inner list crosser offer…and because it is good to have short-term goals to measure long-term success. That will be my next task.

Gratuitous Dog Photo

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summertime, time to work?

It’s been a while since I actually wrote a blog post that wasn’t a rehash of something I wanted to remember or a book review.  Don’t be discouraged.  The book reviews were to get me to focus on structure and the elements of writing in books… instead of just zipping through them for pleasure.  I don’t intend to make it the focus of the blog, but I do think it’s interesting to read from the point of view that I need to say more than “I liked it” or “I hated it.”

As August approaches, Houston continues to do its Hot thing.  I had the pleasure of being in Southwest Michigan last week and lost touch with that reality when the days didn’t get over 80 and the nights were in the 50s.  Such civilized weather!  It had us out planting flowers, walking in the woods, and cuddling in blankets to watch movies late into the night.  Nights so dark and star studded that we felt we had fallen into the velvet of another world. 

Home though, we are in what my midwestern heart considers the dead of winter, (dangerous to be outside and not fun) or summer if you must. Too hot to do anything of substance outside.  Time to stay hunkered into the A/C and clean closets and think about selling the now way too big house.  And time to read and write, which feels so totally indulgent to me.

I’ve joined a couple of writing groups to try to spur myself into more serious application of my time.  I am tired of work shopping stories written years ago, so it is time to write new ones.  I have lines or titles or images that have been whispering this summer, if I can manage to coax them in to fully realized narratives, I’ll try. 
For now, perhaps a photograph as a placeholder.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Another winner by Paula McClain: Circling the Sun

Product DetailsCircling the Sun

By Paula McClain

The beginning of this book, with Beryl Markham taking off for the first transatlantic flight from England to the United States, with her engine failing and her plane hurtling through the air, made me think. Oh. Another tragic book of life lost, of early flight.

I was wrong.  Circling the Sun flies not only on those frightening, early flights but also through the life of this extraordinary woman.  Her story begins in colonial Kenya in 1920, when Africa was untouched and unsullied.  We learn of Beryl as the child left behind, the daughter chosen to stay with her father as he tries his hand at farming and, his specialty, training thoroughbreds. Beryl runs wild in the jungle and learns the ways of the Kip tribe, to hunt, to respect the land, to respect the creatures. 

She grows into a beautiful young woman whose passion for life leads her into the inner circle of Ex-pats living in Africa.  Her love of the continent, the horses, and the people who love it, especially the one who is completely out of her reach, with her mesmerizes the reader into a longing for a simple harshness that only true pioneers can understand.  McClain exceeds her work in The Paris Wife with the telling of this remarkable woman’s triumphs and tragedies.  The first person accounting lets her readers fly with Beryl.  I highly recommend Circling the Sun.  Especially if you want to know how that transatlantic flight comes out.

I received this book from NetGalley for this review.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Shallow water for Beach readers

I Take You: A Novel 
I Take You
By Eliza Kennedy

Lily Wilder is the image of a young, beautiful, successful New York Lawyer, gallivanting through cases, and men, including her senior partner, with such energy and verve that her approach to work, alcohol and men is the norm.  It is only when she decides to marry handsome archeologist Will that the assumption is brought into question.  Can she really settle down, and limit herself to one man?

The questions are explored as Lily spends the week before her wedding with family and friends.  Her bridesmaids and her unconventional collection of mother/stepmothers/grandmother try to convince Lily that she should call off the wedding, each for her own reasons.  Lily’s father, who has married each of the three powerful women, and divorced them as one casts off last season’s coat, complicates Lily’s decisions by giving her a glimpse of where her appetites originated, and what the future may hold for her. 

The quest to discover if she should or should not marry Will plays in counterpoint to Lily’s work on a high profile case for her law firm, for which she is unqualified and poorly prepared.  The reader will continue to turn the pages to see if Lily implodes both personally and professionally, or if by some miracle, everything will indeed work out.

The book is well written, especially the characters, and is sprinkled both with humorous situations and clever turns of phrase.  Lily’s grandmother is delightful and one of the only seemingly honest characters in the book.  It falls down a bit on emotional depth… Lily is so flighty it is hard to take her seriously when she asks the big question: should she marry Will.  It could have delved deeper into the issue of sexual expectations for both genders; instead, Will lectures Lily, and thus the reader, on historical and sociological implications.  At this point, I just want these characters to feel something…even if it is heartbreak.  Perhaps it is the one week timeline that the book limits itself to, but everything feels as though it happens too fast.  The way Lily’s life is portrayed gives the same impression, and you just want to tell her to slow down.

A great beach read, but don’t expect to ponder it long!

More info about I Take You at
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.