Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My apologies for the wait...

I know, I know. It has been way too long since I last updated my blog. I would love to give some great excuse about how exciting life has been, but alas, my only defense is that the hours of my day are hungrily eaten up by work, kids, making meals and trying to maintain some sense of order around the house. Thus my reading, and writing, rates have steadily declined as of late. Too bad my list of titles to read is going in the opposite direction.
So what have I been reading since I last posted? Well, I finished Karin Slaughter's FALLEN, which is the latest installment of what was previously the Grant County series. Georgia Bureau of Investigations agent Faith Mitchell returns home to find her infant daughter hidden in the shed, a dead guy in the laundry room and two armed gang thugs in the bedroom, but no sign of her mother. From here, her partner, Will Trent, and boss, Amanda, embark on a trip through the underbelly of Atlanta's drug world to discover how retired cop Evalyn Mitchell ended up in this mess and bring her home. Sara Linton, the one carryover character from the series's Grant County roots, is of course along for the ride, and as a possible love interest for Will.
Overall, this was a good mystery that made me want to keep reading. Now, I am not sure if it was the book or my overly occupied mind, but, at times I found myself slightly confused by what was going on. Plus, there is A LOT of backstory surrounding most of the characters, and I had trouble recalling all of it...which is possibly why I found myself slightly confused. Don't get me wrong, this was a good read, but it would be difficult to jump into the series with this book instead of starting back at the beginning.
Now, I know that a lot of people have already read Sue Monk Kidd's THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, especially in light of the popular movie released several years ago. I just finally jumped on the bandwagon and read it for one of my book clubs. The book, set in 1964, focuses on young Lily Owens, whose tragic past leaves her in the hands of her abusive father. Enter Rosaleen, the African American maid brought in from the family peach orchard to run the house and care for Lily. Lily, being progressive for the time and place (South Carolina) is supportive of Rosaleen when she decides to go register to vote, but unfortunately, not everyone in their small town feels the same and trouble ensues. This trouble gives them the opportunity to run away to Tiburon, where Lily is hoping for to find answers about her mother. Enter the Boatwright sisters, August, June and May. In the embrace of these three women, Lily and Rosaleen are introduced to a new way to look at the world, rediscover themselves and find a new lease on life.
All of that being said, I am hoping to get down to business and do some serious reading in the coming weeks, which will hopefully correspond with some blog writing and good recommendations to pass along to other readers. The only problem is that I have so many books that I want to read, I am actually struggling some to decide what to read next. Tis the season for something a little spooky...but we'll just have to see where the reading mood takes me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Historical Fiction Fan

I guess being a Social Studies teacher explains why I have a tendency to gravitate towards historical fiction.  Since I am also a fan of a good, gory murder mystery, historical fiction that leans towards the macabre is even better.  Hence the reason why Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i was right up my alley.  I have to admit, this book came to my attention thanks to the Target weekly flyer…it was a choice for their book club, and kudos to whoever chooses their books because it did not disappoint.  This book spans 65 years as it follows Rachel Kalama, whose life on the picturesque shores of Hawaii takes a tragic turn when a sore that just wouldn’t heal leads to a leprosy diagnosis.  Thanks to the limited understanding of the disease, the seven-year-old was subsequently ripped away from her family and sent to live on the shores of Moloka’i, a leprosy colony in operation from 1866-1969.  While a tragic tale of exile and longing, I was gripped by Rachel’s story.  Brennert did a wonderful job pulling the reader not only into Rachel’s life, but also the history of Hawaii, the disease and the colony.  While there are parts that make you want to cry, the book is well worth the tears.  A little warning though…this is a serious read that left me wanting to follow it up with complete fluff.

My other recent foray into historical fiction would be The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.  This was a book club read, and I am happy to report that it was enjoyed by the entire group.  The Kitchen House introduces the reader to a slightly different view on slavery.  It is the 1790’s when Lavinia comes to Tall Oaks plantation as an indentured servant following the death of her parents.  Here is the catch, she is only about five years old and she is white.  The ship captain, needing payment for the voyage that killed her parents, brings Lavinia home and entrusts her care to his slaves, including his illegitimate daughter, Belle.  While this would be a horrible turn of events for most, Lavinia because a member of the slave family and can’t understand that she is not a “negra.”  Much like Moloka’i, this book spans a multitude of years, and ends with Lavinia in her early twenties and enduring a different form of hardship in a life that has come full circle.  All in all, I highly recommend The Kitchen House to anyone looking for a book with a little meat, but which is still an easy read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Guilty Pleasure

There are three reasons why I decided to read Rob Lowe’s autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. 
1)      Another avid reading recommended it.
2)      Curiosity
3)      I am a West Wing junkie and especially loved his character, Sam Seaborn.  (I own all 7 seasons, could kick some serious butt at West Wing trivia and have a daughter named Ainsley…though in my defense my husband suggested the name first).
The West Wing aside, I was not overly familiar with Rob Lowe or his body of work.  I was too young during his “brat pack” days to appreciate St. Elmo’s Fire or About Last Night, though, after reading his book, I think that I might have to fire up the Netflix and watch those two classics.  I have seen him in the Austin Power’s movies and know that he has been in some TV movies.  Other than that, my knowledge is zip, zilch, zero. 

I have to say Stories was actually a pretty interesting book.  While at times I found myself skimming more than reading, Lowe was always able to pull me back in to his story.  The early part of his life was spent in Dayton, Ohio (interesting enough, also where West Wing cast mate Martin Sheen originates), and this is where his love of acting first developed.  After two failed marriages and some (continuing) mental health issues, his mother decided to move the family to Malibu, California…enter the interesting cast of characters that helped shape Lowe’s life and career.  It was here that Lowe became friends with some eventual big name stars.  Long before they were famous, Lowe hung around with Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheet and Sean Penn.  Class clown Robert Downey Jr. shared a high school history class with Lowe.  Then nobody Tom Cruise hung out with Estevez and Lowe as they all worked to break into the business.  To think, those were his childhood friends.  Along the way, Lowe crossed paths with other now household names.  While filming a movie in Chicago, Lowe shared Thanksgiving with a wealthy family and a beautiful teenage girl dressed as a fairy princess.  Not long after this, Daryl Hannah entered the acting world when she starred in the hit movie Splash.  Lots of partying, drinking and sex later, Lowe makes his way through rehab and turns his life around.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Rob Lowe’s life experiences.  Overall, I would have to say that this was an enjoyable, easy read…just be forewarned…if your political leaning are more towards the conservative side (not that there is anything wrong with that), you might want to skim past his political views and participation in various campaigns.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two For One Special

Where does the time go?  Each morning I wake up with great intentions for my day, which seem to always vanish with the blink of an eye.  I honestly think that summers at home with my children are more exhausting than working full-time during the school year!  Well, I have finished two books since my last post...one that was OK and one that provided a great escape.  Maybe one of them will work for your next read. 

Rachel Simon’s Story of a Beautiful Girl has been getting a lot of buzz, but I can’t say that I was in love with this book.  I liked the premise behind the story, but have to admit that at times it really dragged.  The book starts in 1968, when Lynnie and #42 (Homan) escape from a state institution and end up on Martha’s doorstep with a brand new baby girl.  Neither can speak, and thus are unable to communicate the ordeal they have endured to get them to this point.  The stories of these four people, Homan, Lynnie, Martha and the baby, diverge when the officials from the institution find the escapees. As she is being led away, Lynnie speaks volumes to Martha when she utters one word, “hide.”  With that, none of their lives will ever be the same.  The story embarks from here, following the paths taken by each.  Simon takes the reader on a journey that spans thirty years, while also traveling back in time to see how each character ended up needing what only the others can offer.  Overall, this was not an awful book, but it wasn’t one of my favorites either.  It was missing something that made it hard for me to truly connect with any of the characters.

Now and again we all find ourselves needing a little escape, and that is exactly what Emilie RichardsSunset Bridge offers.  Since I was not going to be making it to the beach this year, I decided I would at least travel to the Florida Gulf Coast through the pages of a good book.  What I did not realize when I picked this one up, is that it is actually the third in a series.  While I found it somewhat annoying that  I did not know all the background to these characters’ lives, I didn’t find it annoying to the point that I stopped reading, though at some point I will probably go back and read the previous two books (Happiness Key and Fortunate Harbor).  Sunset Bridge looks at the lives of Tracy, Wanda, Janya, Alice and Maggie.  At the heart of this book the five women are all at a different place in life and facing their own struggle.  Tracy finally has a handle on her new life when she finds herself unexpectedly expecting her first child.  Maggie has walked away from everything important in her life, and doesn’t know what to do with her future.  Janya has been praying for a baby, and suddenly finds herself with two on her doorstep.  Wanda is trying to balance her worries over daughter Maggie with an offer that she never saw coming, and Alice is facing the daunting task of raising a ‘tween granddaughter while also enjoying her golden years.   I am not going to lie, the book is total chick-lit fluff, but none the less is an enjoyable summertime read. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An unexpected jewel...

Sorry it has been so long since I last posted.  Things have been a bit hectic, so this post is a little late in getting out there. 
I have to say I was surprised how much I enjoyed Charles Martin’s When Crickets Cry.  In all honesty, this was not a book I would have picked up if not for the fact that it was the assigned reading for my neighborhood book club, but once I got into the book, I had trouble putting it down…like I wanted to tell my kids to go play far, far away so I could read without any disruptions
I am going to keep the post for this book extremely short and simple, because no description of this book will truly do it justice.  A young girl in need of a new heart and a man with a secret make an unlikely pairing, but a series of events brings them together when they need each other most.  While their friendship blossoms, Martin introduces a wonderful cast of supporting characters that add additional depth to the storyline.  One of these supporting characters is actually the setting.  As I read, I found myself wanting to go visit Lake Burton, Georgia so I could behold the gorgeous setting with my own eyes.  My only complaint is that I was so drawn into the story and the lives of the characters that I was left wanting to know more.  Yes, Martin does a nice job tying up all the loose ends, but I want to know what happens to these peoples’ lives beyond that.  And yes, I checked, there is no sequel. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Some Serious Laughs

So, who doesn’t need a good laugh every once in awhile?  Thus far I have discussed a lot of “serious” books, so I think that it is now time to lighten the mood just a bit.  During one of my journeys around the Internet I happened upon a blog, a blog that was so laugh-out-loud funny that I keep going back time and time again.  I mean really, who is not going to laugh hysterically at a woman who admits to clogging the toilet on almost every vacation she has ever been on?  The blog is dooce.com, and the author, Heather Armstrong, is so refreshingly honest that you have to enjoy her writing.  This is especially true when she starts writing about marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, which she does in her book It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, A Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita.  In her book, Armstrong discusses how life changed when her and her husband decided to start a family and subsequently welcomed their daughter, Leta, into the world.  I loved reading her hilarious descriptions about the joys that pregnancy bestows on the body and the miracle that is childbirth…really, for anyone who has been there, you really are going to get a good laugh out of this!  Now, Armstrong does turn towards the serious when she describes her battle with depression, which led to a brief stay in a mental hospital, but amazingly, even when dealing with mental illness, she can put a funny spin on life and the crap that it throws at us.  If you want to laugh until you cry, here is the story of how Armstrong clogged the toilet during her recent vacation to Mexico.
Speaking of laugh-out-loud reads, I just finished the latest installment of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.  Smokin’ Seventeen provides more of Evanovich’s trademark humor with a good dose of sex.  Stephanie’s love triangle between cop Joe Morelli, and bad boy Ranger continues, but the spice is kicked up a notch when Joe’s crazy Grandma Bella puts a curse on Stephanie.  Though, depending on how you look at it, it really isn’t much of a curse because all it leads to is her getting lots of action with both men!  Of course, it would not be a Stephanie Plum mystery if ex-ho Lula wasn’t pairing up with bounty hunter Stephanie to bring in a couple of skips (a self-proclaimed 70 year-old vampire and a naked guy), cars weren’t exploding and someone wasn’t out to get Stephanie. And that is just the tip of the iceberg!  Just as a little mental note, for those of you who have not read any of this series, it can be read out of order.  
If you are a fan of Janet Evanovich, you might also enjoy Stephanie Bond’s Body Mover Series.  While not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Stephanie Plum, main character Carlotta Wren provides an enjoyable reading experience.  Once again, there is a love triangle, or actually square, of sorts.  This one is between Carlotta, an old boyfriend, a body mover for the morgue and a cop.  Add in parents who are wanted fugitives, a brother with a gambling problem and some interesting friends and it all adds up to an entertaining read that will leave you wanting more.  There are currently six books in this series, but hopefully more are on the way.  As an aside, Bond is also a romance writer.  I have read a couple of her books (Finding Your Mojo and In Deep Voodoo) and both were good reads.  I will say that while I am sure they are not as steamy as some romance novels out there, they are not for those looking for G-rated entertainment. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A few novels for your summer days...

There are so many books that I want to share, it is almost difficult to figure out just where to start.  In my first blog I shared my guilty pleasure for murder mysteries, so in this installment I am going to take a look at some wonderful novels.  These are all books that kept me up well past my bedtime and had me ignoring household chores just so I could stay lost in their pages for a little bit longer.  Now, I have read both of these books over a span of several years, meaning I had to have really enjoyed each in order for them to stick in my memory for this long.  I hope that by the end of this post you have discovered something special to enjoy on these wonderful summer days.

The first book is one of my true favorites.  The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue was suggested to me by another reader, and I can’t thank her enough.  I loved this book not only because of the main character, Razi, but also because of how the author seamlessly travels between 1920s New Orleans and 75 years later to the life shared by Amy and Scott.  Now, I am not giving anything away when I tell you that Razi’s great love affair with Andrew and promising career as a doctor are tragically cut short by her untimely death.  Not ready to leave Andrew behind, Razi’s spirit stays on Earth searching for a connection to him.  It is through this search that Razi finds herself inhabiting the home shared by Amy and Scott.  Domingue does a wonderful job pulling the reader into the story through vignettes into Razi’s past and the troubled life of Amy and Scott.  I cannot stress how much I loved the character of Razi.  To say that she was forward thinking for her time is a bit of an understatement.  In a time and place where a woman’s place was to be in the home raising babies, Razi instead was an aspiring doctor, took part in the women’s suffrage movement and flaunted the laws restricting the use of birth control.  I love that the characters and their stories become forever intertwined to the point where the ending will leave you yearning for more.  To put it simply I cannot say enough good about this book!

I have to admit, while I loved reading The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds, I am having difficulty writing about it.  I just don’t think that I am doing it justice.  I read this book while I was still an undergrad, meaning a long time ago.  I was so totally enthralled with this book that I sat in the back of my World Geography class reading it instead of paying attention to the professor (in my defense, he was a REALLY bad Geography professor who only talked about Hong Kong, Boston and MIT).  Over the years, I have cleaned off my book shelves many times, and Rapture is a book that I just haven’t been able to part with.  The book tells the story of Ninah, a teenage girl who lives in the community formed by the members of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God’s Almighty Baptizing Wind.  The church and community are the creation of her Grandpa Herman, who uses his version of the Bible to control every aspect of life for the members of his flock.  To put it simply, the modern world contains nothing but sin, and there is a deep price for any sin that finds its way inside the community.  It is ultimately religion that brings Ninah’s downfall, for her and her prayer partner, James, share an attraction for each other that leads to them engaging in activities well beyond praying.  For her ultimate sin, Ninah’s life will be forever changed and it will leave her questioning everything she has ever known.