Saturday, October 29, 2016

Book Review: So Brave, Young, and Handsome

It has been over a decade since I read Leif Enger's blockbuster novel, Peace Like a River. In my memory, it was an outstanding book, so much so that I purchased a copy for my mother. I had heard reasonably good things about So Brave, Young, and Handsome. However, I cannot say my feelings were as strong for this book. Indeed, I don't think I even liked it at all. Perhaps that is because it was about cowboys and outlaws (just not my thing) or perhaps it didn't resonate with me. At many points in the novel, the narrator (an author) bemoans the weight of attempting to follow-up a bestselling book. This novel suffers in the same manner.

The author, Monte Becket, meets his mysterious neighbor, Glendon Hale, and Glendon begs him come along on a trip to make amends with his former wife, Blue. Frustrated with his own futile efforts to work on another book, Monte jumps at the chance and leaves his wife and son to travel with Glendon out West. Along the way, Monte discovers that Glendon is a wanted man, running from the determined Pinkerton detective, Charles Siringo.

While the chase was somewhat interesting, I never really connected with any of the characters and didn't care what the outcome was. I actually wanted the narrator to simply leave off and return to his loving wife and lively son. In the end, I wish I had chosen something more riveting and exciting to read, perhaps even reading Peace Like a River again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Distressed and Puzzled

Today I'm feeling extremely distressed about my writing career (something unexpected and depressing developed and although I don't wish to proclaim it, it is really pulling me down). But, I'm still having fun as evidenced by the 750 piece puzzle the boys and I worked on for the past two days. It was great fun (I love puzzles where a lot is going on because it makes it easier to complete and a joy to work on):

(No matter what I try, I cannot seem to get the photos to post in a horizontal position, sorry)

If you wish to purchase this entertaining puzzle, follow this link. Or if you wish to purchase it for even less, used, follow this link. I found mine at the Goodwill for only $3.00 and it even had all the pieces - yippee! The boost of positive vibes from completing this with my kids was priceless.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fall Break Filler

I needed a filler post today because my reading has been quite unsatisfactory of late. I abandoned two books after reading/listening for far too long. I attempted Maria Semple's newest book, Today Will Be Different. I read over 150 pages before finally deciding it just wasn't worth the time and energy. It seemed to be going nowhere fast and I didn't exactly get the whole appeal of the insertions of the Flood Sisters manuscripts. The main character was unlikeable. The novel was not really funny, either. While I did mostly enjoy Where'd You Go, Bernadette, this one left me cold and eventually, I just gave up ... wasting a whole mess of reading time. Groan.

Then, in my treadmill time, I had been attempting the first novel in Lisa Gardner's Detective D.D. Warren series, Alone. I enjoyed the fifth in the series, Love You More, before realizing it was a series to begin with. Although this book had the same gripping intensity of Love You More, it was full to the brim with coarseness and filth. I understand that detectives probably curse a fair amount and to be realistic, the author felt a need to include the foul language. But, the sexual filth was wholly unnecessary and the gist of the story could have been communicated just as effectively without all the smut and details. Since the book involves a pedophile who abducted one of the main characters as a twelve-year-old child, there were details that just unnerved me and made me finally give up on finding out whether or not Detective Bobby Dodge would be charged with murder after shooting the woman's husband in a Swat team operation. Just not a thriller series I feel I can recommend in good conscience to readers who have any moral fiber.

So, instead of reviewing abandoned books, I will provide details of our semi-boring fall break. We were more aware of how boring it was because Sean's homework was to collect images and items for a collage about his fall break. One of his classmates went to Paris for break. I'm sure his collage was far more impressive than Sean's. Ah well. The boys enjoyed lots of time to sit and play Guitar Hero.

In addition to a quick weekend trip to visit their grandmother (I had to stay home to water several patches of new grass), and an hour at the local trampoline place, we also headed down to Brown County for a few days in the Nashville, Indiana area. We hiked a trail on Ogle Lake:

The next day we walked the streets of Nashville, taking in the sights and visiting our favorite shops (like The Candy Emporium, the Halloween shop, where the boys fell in love with and purchased two soft bamboo pillows, the knife shop, where the boys both bought pocket knives - oh joy - and I purchased a beautiful pair of earrings, and the Man Cave shop - ha). The day wouldn't be complete without lunch at The Ordinary and a mining experience for the boys:

The boys had a blast, even if our break was fairly uneventful:

And on the way home from Brown County, I even thought I saw a black bear perched in a tree (too bad we were speeding by too quickly to snap a photo).

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Review: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

I thought perhaps, after the last installment of the Flavia deLuce mysteries, that I was simply tiring of the series. Instead, I think I'm still in love, but just experienced a lag when Flavia went off to Canada instead of working in her natural environs of Bishops Lacey, a small country town in England. Now that the twelve-year-old sleuth has returned to bonnie England, in Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, she is back in full form and happy to be home (even if home is much quieter than in the past).

Although she expects a vibrant homecoming, she is greeted by a tight-lipped Dogger (her father's right hand man) who informs her that her father is in the hospital. Rather than glumly sitting at home in Buckshaw with her moody sisters and her annoying cousin, Undine, Flavia decides to pay a visit to her old friend, the vicar's wife. She is sent on an errand and finds a reclusive wood-carver hanging upside down from a door in his house, dead as a doorknob, of course. Instantly, Flavia goes into sleuth-mode remarking, "It's amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one's spirits."

Flavia takes in all the clues and sets out to determine who the man was and how he came to be in his precarious and fatal position. Once again, Flavia provides a running inner dialogue (her distinctive voice that sets her apart) and a good dose of chemistry lessons. With her trusty bicycle, Gladys, she roams the countryside securing one clue after the next. Sadly, her final discovery gives her the biggest shock of all. I will be anxiously awaiting the next book in the series, to see where life takes Flavia next and what new mystery she intends to uncover.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Review: The Nightingale

This was a book club selection. After trudging through last month's lengthy book (without much enthusiasm), I was feeling a bit nervous about taking on another book of 400+ pages. Plus, it was a book about World War II and I wasn't really feeling up for that topic. However, I'm so glad I stuck with this book. It was a very moving and emotionally-stirring read. I should have expected good things because I have always loved other books by Kristin Hannah.

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters in war-torn France. Isabelle, the younger, is a reckless, headstrong teenager who has already been expelled from (and run away from) countless boarding schools. Vianne, the older, has a husband and young child, and lives in the country. When Isabelle is sent away from yet another school, her father sends her to live with Vianne (whose husband has gone to the front to fight). Nazis invade Vianne's quaint little village and a German captain requisitions her home. Isabelle is restless in the little town and cannot bite her tongue often enough in the presence of the enemy, so she returns to Paris and joins the Resistance. Both sisters must make their way through the devastation of war and fight to defend what is right.

Hannah has not only captured the essence of war, but has highlighted the experiences of women in the war. These two different sisters might struggle to get along, but they are both determined to make a difference in their dark corner of the world. Although it took a little while for me to be fully enticed into the story, once pulled in, I could not look away. As I finished reading the book, my youngest son came in to tell me that dinner was waiting (so thankful that my husband was willing to cook while I read on). He found me weeping and I had to recount why once we were seated together at the table. My husband's constant question is always, "is this a real story or just fiction?" Groan. Fiction for me is as good as real and I know that there were plenty of women who lived lives similar to the ones crafted in this novel. I was thoroughly moved by the bravery and fortitude of these fictional characters. It was definitely worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: Truly, Madly, Guilty

I wavered on whether to bill Truly, Madly, Guilty as a highly recommended title. On the one hand, it was a thoroughly absorbing read, where I could not wait to return to the book and find out a bit more and just a bit more. On the other hand, since I listened to it in audio format (while walking on my treadmill and doing dishes), I had to be very careful not to listen in moments when my children were nearby because there was a great deal of discussion about sexuality in the story. In past novels by this author, I have felt that the sex was somewhat necessary to tell the story adequately (for example, in The Husband's Secret, a great deal depends on the revelation of the secret and how that secret impacts the husband-wife relationship). However, in this case, the sexuality seemed less essential to the telling of the story. It is true that there was a frisson of sexuality hanging in the air in the moments before the big moment that shattered their lives, but still ... the constant referral to sexuality kept me from feeling like this is a book to be highly recommended. Moreover, while I love tension to be drawn out, it seemed as if the crux of the matter took forever to be exposed. Even so, I did enjoy the book immensely and marveled at the author's skill in creating fully fleshed-out characters, with realistic conflicts, exposed moment-by-moment, until a full picture developed and left you with a story you couldn't forget.

At one point in the book, a character is asked to describe himself as a vegetable and he selects onion because "he has so many layers." That is an apt description of this book. It has many layers. There are subplots and side-trips that all come together when, finally, the event is revealed (far too deep into the book). The final taste, while it can be pleasant and complimentary, is also somewhat stringent.

Clementine and Erika have been friends since childhood, but their friendship is a complicated thing. Although each of them have doting husbands, satisfying careers, and much to be grateful for, there is a sense of dissatisfaction both individually and between them. The bonds of their friendship are tested most significantly through the events of one afternoon barbecue at Erika's neighbor's house. The neighbors, Vid and Tiffany, are a colorful couple who live out loud and are thrilled to be entertaining both Erika and her husband Oliver, and Clementine and her husband Sam, along with the children, Dakota (Vid and Tiffany's 10 year-old daughter) and Holly and Ruby (Clementine and Sam's six and two year old daughters). In a moment of conviviality, something goes horribly wrong and everyone is left wishing they could simply strike that day from their memories.

As the back cover of the audio-book proclaims, "In Truly, Madly, Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundation of our lives, marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows us how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don't say can be more powerful than what we do, and how too often we don't appreciate how extraordinary our ordinary lives are until it's too late." These topics are held up to a magnifying glass until every aspect is exposed and investigated.

I enjoyed the details that emerged to tell the story. It was as if Moriarty was a painter, with a clear picture in her head, who dabs on a bit of paint here and then a bit of paint there, until the audience finally understands exactly what the portrait displays and how the paint works together to create the full effect. The tension was strong. I felt pulled along by the intense desire to know exactly what really took place at the barbecue and how it could have left such powerful ripples in the lives of the participants. The characters, each with their faults, foibles, and personal tics, were three-dimensional and seemed to come alive and feel like real living beings. The exploration of guilt was thought-provoking. The dissection of friendship rang true. This was a fully relatable tale that was expertly crafted (even if it took a tad bit too long to get to the meat of the matter and you felt like you were being endlessly teased with these exquisitely tasty details). Kudos to Liane Moriarty for yet another entertaining read!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Book Review: Greenglass House

This book, Greenglass House, is a great read for tweens who love a good mystery, have a healthy imagination, and are in the mood for a dead-of-winter type of read. It is also highly recommended for those who are adopted and have ever wondered about their birth parents or heritage. The story is sure to please any child, adopted or not, because the mystery pulls you along with mounting clues until, with a bit of suspension of disbelief, the story is pieced together and resolved.

Milo Pine is a young Asian boy whose adoptive parents run an inn for smugglers atop a mountain in Nagspeake (near a harbor for easy water access). The young boy is disappointed to find his anticipated quiet winter vacation disrupted by unexpected guests. The bell rings, alerting the presence of a customer wishing to be conveyed on the roller-coaster-like car up the giant mountain (this image immediately brought forth memories of a trip up the Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh, PA, back when I was a teenager, although this trip sounds more like a two-seater car pulled up on creaky old chains). Unbelievably, more guests arrive. Snow secludes them in the rickety old house and Milo, with the assistance of the cook's daughter, must determine why each guest has come. He suggests that they each tell a story, in a bid to find out more. The stories unfold, items are stolen and retrieved, new characters appear, and Milo takes on a special role to ferret out the facts of the case.

The framework is based loosely on a tale by Dickens called "The Holly Tree Inn" (where guests are trapped by inclement weather and pass the time by sharing stories). The author's note at the end of the book was fascinating. She told of the origin of the tale. She and her husband were in the process of adopting a young child from China (thus the adoption element which addresses many typical emotions young children feel when they are adopted). Plus, a writing prompt about "stained glass" led to her vision of the old house, with its windows and the stories such windows often tell. I always love to hear an author's explanation for the germ of a story.

Several parents in other reviews felt it important to mention that the book includes Dungeons and Dragons type role-playing games and the inclusion of a ghost in the story. For me, this was not a significant issue. I can handle the presence of such things and do not worry, if my sons choose to read it, that they would suddenly take up role-playing games or seek out spirits to communicate with. But, for some parents, this might be a factor in their book selection process.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book Review: The Forgetting Time

What would you do if your four-year-old son had a pathological fear of water, woke from dreams of suffocation, and begged to go home to his other mom? What if he claimed to be another person who met with a tragic end and came back to life in a new body? This is the dilemma facing the mother in Sharon Guskin's intriguing debut novel, The Forgetting Time. It was excruciating to watch the pain of a mother attempting to figure out how to help her distressed son, yet I could not look away. I devoured this book in two quick sittings.

Janie is at her wits end trying to deal with her young son, Noah. She doesn't know where to turn when the preschool forbids her son from returning until he gets some help. At the same time, Dr. Jerome Anderson is facing his own wall when he receives a diagnosis of primary progressive aphasia (a form of dementia that slowly robs a person of language skills). His life's work is still unfinished and he is longing for something to prove his efforts have been worthwhile. Then, he meets Janie, and takes on the case of her son, Noah. Both individuals need to solve the puzzle of Noah's memories of a previous life.

While I do not believe in reincarnation, I was fully able to put myself into the shoes of this mother, desperate for some resolution for her son while equally fearful of his intense attachment to another mother figure. The author did an outstanding job of capturing the reader and telling an intriguing story. She based this work of fiction on the actual work of two doctors who explore the lives of children who seem to remember previous lives. She nailed so many aspects of a good story: interesting characters, an intriguing concept, seamless writing, a well-executed plot with steady progression, and a satisfying resolution. I won't be forgetting this book.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Book Review: I'm Thinking of Ending Things

I don't remember when I put my name on the hold list for this book, or even why, but something about its description in the new acquisitions e-mail must have enticed me. I can't decide how I feel about it. On the one hand, it was an incredibly intense, yet quick read. On the other hand, it completely creeped me out. Yes, it was a thriller, but also a philosophical quest into the nature of identity and loneliness.

Here's the blurb from the inside cover: "In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.... Reid explores the depths of the human psyche by questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude.... Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page ... and never lets you go."

I'd have to agree with so much written there. It was deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving. It did, indeed, haunt me. I wasn't anticipating how creepy it would get. While I don't mind being creeped out now and again, it left a bit of a dissatisfied, bad taste in my mouth at the end. Too creepy, I guess.