Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April Reading in Review

April was a bit of a blur for me as we awaited the late arrival of our second grandchild. I found myself kind of anxious, so thank goodness that baby has arrived and is doing really well. Here's what my month in books looked like -- (6) audio books and (6) print books (YTD)- 46 books
  1. Alice Close Your Eyes; Averil Dean - 2/5 - (arc) (April)
  2. King and Maxwell; David Baldacci (audio) - 4.5/5 (April)
  3. Cell; Robin Cook (audio) 4/5 (April)
  4. New Life, No Instructions; Gail Caldwell (eGalley)- 4/5 (April)
  5. Trespass; Rose Tremain (audio) - 4/5 April (no review)
  6. The Little Ted Hen and the Passover Matzah; Kimmelman - (library) 5/5
  7. Where'd You Go, Bernadette; Maria Semple (audio) 3/5 April
  8. Our Deepest Secrets; Carla Buckley (audio/eGalley) -  4/5 April
  9. The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh (audio/eGalley) - 4.5/5 April 
  10. Dept of Speculation; Jenny O'fill (arc) - 4.5/5 April 
  11. Shotgun Lovesongs; Nickolas Butler (eGalley) 4/5 - April
  12. Cambridge; Susanna Kaysen - (arc) - 3.5/5 - April
I enjoyed most of what I read, but the biggest surprise for me was  -- Dept of Speculation; Jenny O'fill - If you haven't read this little gem, I do recommend it.

May Plans --

There are so many books that I want to read in May, but I know I won't get to all of them.  Without looking at the list I made, the random ones that come to mind are:
How was your month? Any plans for May?

Cambridge; Susanna Kaysen

 Cambridge; Susanna Kaysen
Knopf - 2014
Cambridge, by Susanna Kaysen was a novel which seemed to be somewhat autobiographical. The story began in 1955 and followed a lonely young girl named Susanna from the second to the sixth grade. Her well-off, academia parents were from Cambridge, Massachusetts, but they moved her and her younger sibling around frequently during childhood. In a short period of time Susanna lived in several different countries.

The book began with a chapter called AWAY when Susanna lived in London and traveled to Italy, but longed to be back in Cambridge, MA.

Intro opening....It was probably because I was so often taken away from Cambridge when I was young that I loved it as much as I did.  I fell in love with the it, the way you fall in love with a person, and suffered during the many separations I endured. 

In the summer before our October departure for England, the screen door to the backyard broke and had to be replaced.  The new door had a hydraulic canister that hissed when it opened or closed instead of smacking, thump, thump, the way the old door had.  I didn't like this.  Neither did my cat Pinch.  Cats and children are conservative.  Pinch would use the new door to go out of the house, but she refused to come in through it, and she'd sit by the front door waiting for someone to notice that she'd decided it was time to come home.  After three weeks in England, I felt the same way: Okay, let's go home now.  It's time to go home.  But my parents, looking out their new, hydraulic door to England, didn't notice me, and, like Pinch, I had to sit there hoping and hoping."
Susanna, although intelligent, was miserable in school, she only wanted to do the things that she enjoyed. She was more interested in adults than she was in other children and she often came across as a spoiled, unlikeable child. Despite this, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her.  To me it felt liked she lacked the feeling of security that is so important for children.

I enjoyed Susanna's take on the people she met while visiting London, Greece and Italy. On the other hand, I felt the lack of plot and structure was difficult at times, but in the end, I was still happy I read this one. I do think this novel might have worked better as a coming of age story instead of the travelogue narrative that it felt like from time to time.  Not for everyone, but worth a try.

3.5/5 stars
(review copy)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intro ~ Mr. Lynch's Holiday; Catherine O'Flynn

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Care to join us? Today's pick---

Mr. Lynch's Holiday; Catherine O'Flynn
Henry Holt - 2013

"He arrived on a cloudless day.  As he stepped onto the tarmac, he looked up at the sky and saw nothing but blue and the traces left by other planes.

The terminal was deserted. He wandered along polished floors with a handful of other passengers.  Music was playing somewhere.  An old tune, he couldn't remember the name.  It was not how he'd imagined airports.  It seemed more like a ballroom to him.  Something grand and sad about the place."

What do you think? Would you keep reading? Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below ----

Monday, April 28, 2014

Shotgun Lovesongs; Nickolas Butler

 Shotgun Lovesongs; Nickolas Butler
Thomas Dunne Books/Macmillian - 2014
Shotgun Lovesongs is a quiet novel about four men and one woman who grew up in a small Wisconsin town of Little Wing. Each of them has taken different paths and they are reunited for the fancy wedding of Kip a Chicago stockbroker. The other friends are Hank and Beth who have clung to their WI roots after Hank inherits his father’s farm that has been in the family for generations. Ronny battles alcoholism after a head injury put an end to his success as a rodeo star.  Lee is a famous rock star of sorts who made it big in the international music scene, and there is Kip who should be center-stage as all gather for his wedding bash, but it’s Lee and his Hollywood girl-friend who everyone is watching. 

Shotgun Lovesongs makes you think about whether you can go home again, and if you could do things over would you choose a different path. These are the kinds of questions I think many readers will ask themselves. The author goes deep inside the minds of his characters, and does this by alternating chapters with multiple viewpoints. The best part of the novel for me was the way the author captured the feel of small town life.  The challenges each individual faced was well drawn out and the author does an awesome job creating a sense of community and friendship.

Although I enjoyed this novel, it moved a bit too slow at times for me.  It’s a simple story -- more thoughtful and reflective. It’s a story that captures small town life, its people and their conflicts perfectly. It’s the type a story which will appeal most to readers who don’t need a lot of action for them to feel satisfied. 

4/5 stars (eGalley)

Mailbox Monday

Got new books? Here's what arrived by mail over the last 2 weeks.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dept. of Speculation; Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation; Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation is a moving story about the disintegration of a marriage. It's about putting your dreams on the back burner for your child and for your marriage. 

An unnamed narrator tell of the highlights and low lights of marriage and parenting. None of the characters have names: husband, wife, daughter and a few friends, yet by the end I felt like I knew them or at least have been where they've been at some point in my married life.

The story shifts from points in time as memories, both painful and happy ones.  There are so many touching quotes that made me reflect on my own days as a young mother and wife.
  • "I remember the first time I said the word to a stranger. It's for my daughter. I said. My heart was beating too fast, as if I might be arrested." 
  • "Hard to believe I use to think love was such a fragile business.  Once when he was still young, I saw a bit of his scalp showing through his hair and I was afraid.  But it was just a cowlick.  Now sometimes it shows through for real, but I feel only tenderness."
  • "It is important if someone asks you to remember one of your happiest times to consider not only the question but the questioner.  If the question is asked by someone you love, it is fair to assume that this person hopes to feature in this recollection he has called forth.  But you could, if you were wrong and if you had a crooked heart, forget this most obvious and endearing thing and instead speak of a time you were all alone in the country, with no one wanting a thing from you, not even love. You could say that this was your happiest time.  And if you did this then telling about this happiest of times would cause the person you most want to be happy to be unhappy."
Dept. of Speculation is a terrific book that drew me in with it's unconventional format. I liked how it made me reflect on both the happy times and the miserable times spent as a married couple.  It's a quick read, that I finished in one sweep, but it's one of those books that I'll think about often when memories of marriage come to mind.

4.5/5 stars
(reviiew copy)
Dept. of Speculation is a quick, beautiful read that will draw out joy just as quickly as sadness, and may even cause one to pause and then wonder, and then to finally embrace both the misery and the magic of marriage. - See more at:
Dept. of Speculation is a quick, beautiful read that will draw out joy just as quickly as sadness, and may even cause one to pause and then wonder, and then to finally embrace both the misery and the magic of marriage. - See more at:
Dept. of Speculation is a quick, beautiful read that will draw out joy just as quickly as sadness, and may even cause one to pause and then wonder, and then to finally embrace both the misery and the magic of marriage. - See more at:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - The Conditions of Love; Dale M. Kushner

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today. I thought this one sounded like a good one. Do you like the sound of it? 

The Conditions of Love; Dale M Kushner
Grand Central Publishing
 May - 2014

 Dale M. Kushner's novel The Conditions of Love traces the journey of a girl from childhood to adulthood as she reckons with her parents' abandonment, her need to break from society's limitations, and her overwhelming desire for spiritual and erotic love. In 1953, ten-year-old Eunice lives in the backwaters of Wisconsin with her outrageously narcissistic mother, a manicureeste and movie star worshipper. Abandoned by her father as an infant, Eunice worries that she will become a misfit like her mother. When her mother's lover, the devoted Sam, moves in, Eunice imagines her life will finally become normal. But her hope dissolves when Sam gets kicked out, and she is again alone with her mother. A freak storm sends Eunice away from all things familiar. Rescued by the shaman-like Rose, Eunice's odyssey continues with a stay in a hermit's shack and ends with a passionate love affair with an older man. Through her capacity to redefine herself, reject bitterness and keep her heart open, she survives and flourishes. In this, she is both ordinary and heroic. At once fable and realistic story, The Conditions of Love is a book about emotional and physical survival. Through sheer force of will, Eunice saves herself from a doomed life.

The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh
Random House Audio / Spiegel & Grau

The town of Henbane, Missouri is a small, somewhat isolated town in the Ozarks where everyone seems to knows everyone. It's a town where secrets lie buried, but not forever.

The Weight of Blood is divided into 3 parts and weaves together two stories set almost 20 years apart. This style can sometimes be a difficult task to do well, but, debut author Laura McHugh succeeds. 

The first part begins with Lucy Dane, a young woman who tells the story of her former friend and classmate, a girl named Cheri. Cheri was developmentally challenged, and while other kids made fun of her, Lucy befriended Cheri.  When Cheri was 18 she disappeared and her dismembered body was later found by a creek in town,  just across the road from Lucy’s family business. Decades earlier Lila, mother of Lucy, was a young woman from Iowa whose parents had died. Lila was put into the foster care system and learned how to protect herself from sexual predators, or so she thought. When she was old enough to leave the system, she needed to find a job and responded to and add as a live-in housekeeper, in Henbane for Crete Dane, who owned the in town restaurant and general store.  Lila's beauty has all eyes on her by Crete and others of the opposite sex. She finds herself pregnant with Lucy. Some people in town view her as a witch because of the seductive allure she seems to possess, and then one day she goes missing.  Lucy is still a baby at the time and left without a mother.  Some suspect Lucy's father of murdering her, but no one is ever sure what happened.

Lucy, like her mother, is striking with her dark hair and alluring eyes. Some feel that like her mother, she must be a witch. Obsessed with finding out what happened to her mother, as well as her friend Cheri, she gets a local boy to help her dig deeper. A locket that belonged to Cheri is found, linking her possible disappearance and murder to some too close for comfort individuals.  Before long those long buried secrets which some intend could prove more risky for Lucy than she ever imagined.

It's a story which explores violence against women, which is often swept under the rug in a small town setting. An enjoyable semi-mystery, even though my early suspicions proved correct. The setting itself seemed to take on a life of its own, and the author does a great job creating a well paced story with almost a Gothic feel. I loved how they story pulled me in early on, loved the gutsiness of Lucy, and I thought that the ending was perfect as well.

The audiobook was read by several talented individuals -  all very enjoyable -- Dorothy Dillingham Blue (Narrator), Shannon McManus (Narrator), Sofia Willingham (Narrator) 
Read it - 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - North of Boston; Elisabeth Elo

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Care to join us? Today's pick---

North of Boston; Elisabeth Elo
Pamela Dorman Books/Penguin

"He was a loser,"Tomasina says, head lolling. "But he was a good loser. " A fifth of Stolichnaya has put her in a nasty, forgiving mood. I'm tempted to take a few shots myself to medicate my guilt and survivor's guilt. But someone has to stay sober for Noah.
What do you think? Would you keep reading? Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below

Sunday, April 20, 2014

She's Here!

Viviane arrived 13 days late on Thursday. She weighed 9lbs 3 ounces and mom and baby are doing well.

Big sister isn't quite sure what to make of the new arrival, but as the resident fire chief, she seems just fine.

Grandchild #3 is due in about 10 weeks. 

Hope everyone is having a nice Sunday. Happy Easter to those celebrating!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You - The Arsonist; Sue Miller

Here's my "Coming Soon to a Book Store Near You" pick for today. I thought this one sounded like a good one. Do you like the sound of it?

The Arsonist; Sue Miller
Knopf / Doubleday - June 2014


From the best-selling author of While I Was Gone and The Senator's Wife, a superb new novel about a family and a community tested when an arsonist begins setting fires to the homes of the summer people in a small New England town. 
After decades of summering in Pomeroy, New Hampshire, Sylvia Rowley has decided to retire to the house she loves with her brilliant but increasingly scattered husband, Alfie, until now a professor at the local college. Her son, Clark, is renovating a small house on their property. Her daughter Frankie, who lives and works in Africa, returns home for her first extended visit in years and begins an unexpected romance with the editor of the local newspaper, himself newly arrived and hoping to save it. Over the course of two summer months, class and social fault lines are exposed, and the simmering question of who owns the land and the town is brought to a boil as fires continue to rage through Pomeroy's homes and the arsonist remains at large.   

Suspenseful, sophisticated, rich in psychological nuance and emotional insight, The Arsonist is vintage Sue Miller—a finely wrought novel about belonging and community, possibility and finitude, and the question of how and where to live, what it means to lead a fulfilling life. One of our most elegant and engrossing novelists at her inimitable best.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where'd You Go Bernadette; Maria Semple

Little, Brown Co / Hachette- 2013

After so many readers raved about this book I had to give the audio version a try.

If you haven't read this one "Bernadette" is not your average mom. She's an Ivy league graduate, former award-winning architect and now a stay-at-home-mom after numerous miscarriages.  She lives with her husband Elgin, who is a big mucky muck at Microsoft. Her daughter Bee, her real name is Balakrishina because she was born blue with heart issues,  is  their miracle child. Bee is in the eight grade, and like her parents is super smart, having been awarded a place at the elite Choate boarding school. She'll be leaving home the next school year, but she is not the only one leaving home.

Bernadette is a mess. She has social anxiety, hates Seattle, doesn't get along with her neighbors or the other kid's moms. She even stays away from her daughter's school events, but Bee seems well adjusted and spunky despite this. However, just two days before Christmas Bee's mom disappears. Fifteen year old Bee is desperate to find her. Her father is concerned, but there seems to be less of a sense of urgency to for him to find Bernadette and bring her home.

The story is all over the place beginning with Bee's perfect report card which means that she gets her wish of a family cruise to Antarctica. Then there are emails from her mother's personal assistant in India, a woman who deals with the daily issues that Bernadette can no longer cope with. As the story progresses we learn more about Bernadette, by way of letters, newspaper stories and blog posts.  
I had a hard time sympathizing with any of the characters. Bernadette seemed like a complicated individual, but she also seemed like her her own worst enemy. The writing style while comical at times, had some touching moments, but overall, this was just not my thing. I enjoyed some of the humor, yet at other times it bugged me. I'm wondering whether I might have enjoyed this one more in print because of the structure or lack or structure it seemed.
The story was narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite, who did well with multiple voices, but the voice of young Bee, at times began to irk me.
3/5 stars
(library audiobook)

The Deepest Secret; Carla Buckley

The Deepest Secret; Carla Buckley
Bantam / Random House - 2014
On a stormy night Eve Lattimore is driving to the airport to pick up her husband when she receives a text message and takes she eyes off the road for a second to look at it. In that split second she hits what she thinks is a deer. She stops her car and to her horror she finds Amy, the 11 years old daughter of her neighbor and good friend, Charlotte. Amy is dead, killed instantly. What should she do and what will she do is her moral dilemma.

Eve's 14 year old son Tyler, suffers from a rare and fatal medical condition called, Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP). UV rays will burn his skin, and he must stay in a darkened house by day and only go out at night . Eve is a dedicated mother who has done everything possible to protect Tyler. Since Eve's husband David works in Washington, DC and they live in Ohio, she has the entire burden of childcare. Tyler's older sister Melissa needs seem to take a backseat given Tyler's medical situation.

When Charlotte realizes Amy is missing, an all out search begins. An anonymous phone call eventually leads to the discovery of Amy's body. Everyone in the neighborhood seems to be a suspect except Eve. She is desperate to do what it takes to make sure she doesn't risk being sent away for her role in Amy's death. However, in this suburban neighborhood, Eve isn't the only one hiding a secret. An interesting story about family dynamics, dysfunction, secrets, and suburban life.

I liked this audio book a lot. The author has created a compelling story, making the reader think about what they would do to protect their own children. I loved how all the families in their little neighborhood seemed to all have secrets of their own, and that there were several flawed characters in the mix. The story wasn't perfect, and at time I felt that the story moved way too slow and some parts felt repetitive, but overall I was still happy I gave this one a try. The audio book was read by Kirsten Potter, who did a great job. This seems like a good choice for book group discussion.

4/5 stars
(eGalley and audiobook)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph ~ Tuesday Intros ~ The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Care to join us? Today's pick---
The Weight of Blood; Laura McHugh
Spiegel and Grau - 2014


"That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body.  One Saturday in March, fog crept through the river valley and froze overnight.  The morning sun crackled over a ghostly landscape across the road from my uncle's general store, the burr oaks that leaned out over the banks of the North Fork River crystallized with a thick crust of hoarfrost.  The tree nearest the road was dead, half-hollow, and it leaned farther than the rest, balanced at a precarious angel above the water.  A trio of vultures roosted in the branches, according to Buddy Snell, a photographer for the Ozark County Record.  Buddy snapped pictures of the tree, the stark of black birds on white branches, for lack of anything better to print on the front page of the paper.  It was eerie, he said. Haunting, almost.  He moved closer, kneeling at the water's edge to get a more interesting angle, and that was when he spied the long brown braid drifting in the shallows, barely visible among the stones.  Then he saw Cheri's head, snagged on a piece of driftwood: her freckled face, abbreviated nose, eyes spaced too wide to be pretty.  Stuffed into the hollow of the tree were the rest of Cheri's pieces, her skin etched with burns and amateur tattoos.  Her flesh was unmarked when she disappeared, and I wondered if those new scars could explain what had happened to her, if they formed a cryptic map of the time she'd spent missing."
What do you think? Would you keep reading? Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below .

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mailbox Monday's New Books

Haven't participated in Mailbox Monday this months, so decided to share some new books which arrive by mail over the last 2 weeks. Have you read any of these?