Books, Books, Books

    I’ve been traveling a great deal and when I travel I read books but I don’t blog. So, here’s a quick list of what I’ve read and what I thought about it.

  • Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen – I’m a big Quindlen fan.  I’ve followed her since I first read her column in the Wall Street Journal.  This book is a lovely read with some good twists and a perfect ending.  *****
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson – Jackson Brodie Book 2 – One act of extreme road rage and the world tips and things get crazy.  You don’t need to have read Book 1 – Case Histories – but if you like a series read book one first.  I like this character and hope Atkinson writes a few more. *****
  • A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball – while this is a little disturbing it was a good read. A bit of science fiction, since this takes place in the future in a utopian society.  The premise is that persons who want to commit suicide can be allowed/helped to start their lives over by deprograming their brains and then reprogramming them.  It keep me up until I finished it. ****
  • Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock – Believe it or not this is beautiful love story about manic depression and cancer.  I laughed.  I cried. And I recommend this as a book club suggestions.  *****
  • The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich – Weird, suspenseful, thriller.  It was compared to Gone Girl but I don’t think it should be.  True the couple in this book is not loveable nor is anyone, but this marriage and the couples actions will keep you reading if for no other reason then to figure out what is going on and how they will get out of the mess. ***
  • Mating In Captivity by Esther Perel – I read this for book club and I will say, it provoked an interesting conversation about sex and relationships. But, I didn’t like it. However, if you like books about couples therapy you might enjoy it. **
  • When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker – A simple story about losing the love of your life and letters from beyond the grave that reveal secrets that make those left behind search for answers. It was simple but if you like this type of book it was better than some. ***
  • Temple Secrets by Susan Gabriel – This was advertised as Southern Humor and while it is about the south and the characters are written with humor and great skill, it is much more then that.  Focusing on the Temple Family members – black, white, good, bad – all the extended family with all their quirks.  It was an excellent read and I hope to see more from Gabriel. *****


Reading and Writing

It isn’t that I haven’t been reading but it is that I’ve – surprise – actually spent more time writing Family Myths – the third book of the Augustus Family Trilogy than I have spent reading the last couple of weeks.  That, of course, doesn’t mean I  haven’t been reading at all it just means I haven’t read a book a day. So sad!

Besides working on the new book I’ve been “enjoying” a construction project at my home.  This has resulted in massive amounts of dust and dirt and the need to pour a glass of wine for myself the moment the workers leave for the day and then binge watch Six Feet Under.  Hmmm. That might not be exactly what I meant because some times the workers get here at 11 AM and are gone by 1PM.  I always wait for the wine until I’m done fretting about the day’s progress.

Enough about nothing…here’s the new list of what I’ve read recently. Hope you find something you like.

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova – by the author of Still Alice – Genova takes a look a another devastating disease. Huntington’s Disease is a genetic mutation and if you are unfortunate enough to inherit the mutated gene it is 100% certain you will die from the disease. This a warm, wonderful, loving look at a family and their responses to the terrible news that the father has been diagnosed. It will make you laugh and cry and examine your reactions both to those who are “different” and to how you handle the difficult. *****

Saving Grace by Jane Green – a quick read.  I’d call this one “chick lit”.  The plot is one we’ve all read and/or seen the movie but the cooking angle is nice and I actually tried one of the recipes – Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle – and it was wonderful!  ***

In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume – I’m a fan of Bloom so I read this as soon as I noticed it at the library.  It is based on true events – a series of airplane crashes – that took place in her home town during her teenage years.  She does a good job of showing the fear kids felt and how it affected them for the rest of their lives.  It’s not her best book and it took me awhile to get into it.  It was difficult to keep the characters straight – but by the end I was thinking – not bad. **1/2

You’re Never Weird On The Internet by Felicia Day – A quirky, weird ,memoir by Day who is popular young actress and an admitted math nerd.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed this – probably because I’m a bit of a nerd myself. I usually stay away from memoirs written by anyone under 50, unless they have a devastating illness, but Day is a talented, enterprising, obviously smart and successful woman and she has a story to tell. She tells it well.  ***

The Pearl That Broke It’s Shell by Nadia Hashimi – This was a book club choice and I slogged my way through it.  The story is a familiar one about the terrible oppression and abuse of women in Afghanistan. Hashimi uses two stories set against the history of the country – one takes place in the early 1900’s and other in a more modern-day setting.  The writing is awkward and difficult to follow but the discussion reading this book provokes makes it worth while. ***

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan – A light-hearted, funny beach or fireplace (depending on your weather) read. A modern marriage.  A warm female friendship. Big ugly internet seller vs the local bookstore. A peak into publishing. A few tears. a few giggles.  Just a super fun book to breeze through. ****

Reviews Weird and Wonderful Books Sept. 20, 2015

A spent a wonderful week with a friend in Santa Barbara, CA but I read nothing but weird and unusual books. Take a look.

Normal by Graeme Cameron – Who’s to say what is normal?  Certainly a serial killers’ normal is not the same as mine – and I hope not – the same as yours.  But none the less his/her life is normal and a bit humdrum to him/her until they fall in love with someone whom they do not want to kill.  This a totally different read and I loved it.  I had to read the ending twice to be sure I “got it”.  *****

Fun House by Alison Bechdel – my first graphic novel.  This is an interesting medium that I’m not certain I enjoy but Bechdel’s memoir is an appropriate story to present to the reader in this format. The poignant coming out  detailed literary allusion etc.  *****

Why I Don’t Write Children’s Literature by Gary Soto – picked this up off the newest books table at the Coronado library based simply on it’s title.  Every so often I like to read a book of essays and this was, like most, a good sampling of Soto’s work.  Some were good, some were okay and a couple were great. If you like this type of book give it a try. ****

The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora – Excellent book of dark short stories.  Even those of you who say you don’t like short stores might like these.  They are all linked together and the book reads almost like a disturbing novel. *****

Trans-sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian – The story of a trans-gendered M2F (male to female) and the woman who loves him before the transition.  Also the story of a great mother-daughter relationship and the story of a divorce.  The book is written around an NPR (Nation Public Radio) broadcast featuring the story of the relationship and the towns’ reaction to the relationship – a clever idea that actually works.  I learned a lot about the struggles of transsexual persons and although, I admit, sometimes the graphic sexual details made me uncomfortable it was a very engaging read. *****




Sept 12, 2015

The hot weather made it a great week for reading and I lucked out.  Both the The Care and Management of Lies and Mudbound were excellent and are likely to become Book Club favorites. As always I don’t give you a synopsis of the book here, just my opinion of the book and my rating of 1 to 5 stars. Click on the link and you can read the full description on Amazon.

This Is Your Life Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison – This is the story many women who grew up in the 50’s and married in the 60’s tell one another – but not until after their spouse has died. Marrying was the expected thing and not all marriages were perfect and not all pregnancies were blessed events but women were taught to endure and “put a good face on it” and they did.  Harriet Chance is 78 – the book would have been more believable if she’d been older – at least in her 90’s but then the timeline would have been off.  So despite the age thing – I’d recommend this book. ****

The Dream Box by Glen Vecchione – I like science fiction and this was a nice read.  The sensual cyborgs Omoo and Amaa have interesting, believable personalities which is something I like. The world created by Vecchione is interesting, and well drawn.  He has a created a society of sinister technologies where the future is threatened by the rising of the “savages”. ****

The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear – written by the author of the Maisie Dobbs series this was my favorite book in this bunch.  It is a beautiful love story set against the damaged world of World War One.  Winspear uses family and friendship, the women’s suffrage movement, the horrors of life in the trenches and a book on household management to create unforgettable characters.  I can truly say that as I turned the last page I was sad to not have another whole book to read – I want to know what happens next.  *****

About Grace by Anthony Doerr – This is the first novel by the author of the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning #1 New York Times bestseller All the Light We Cannot See. It was sad to watch David Winkler destroy is life. The writing is beautiful but it drags a bit.  ***

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan – A prize-winning debut, about the many forms of prejudice, both subtle and brutal. The story is placed in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 and the writing is authentic and thought-provoking.  It’s a story we’ve read before but it’s told in a great new voice and I think you’ll like it. *****

August 29, 2015

It’s been an excellent week for reading – too hot to do anything else. Some days I read at the beach. Some days I stayed inside with the air conditioning on. Six of the books I read were 5 star books! Truly a great week for reading! Next week I must get back to work no matter how hot it is.

The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles – Two orphaned sisters, both excellent seamstresses, take wildly divergent paths to adulthood in 1920’s Brazil. One makes a disastrous marriage to a wealthy man and the other becomes an outlaw. Full of vivid detail, some parts of this book are excellent and some are just overly long. ***

A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler – This is my favorite Tyler book. I’ve read it several times because I love these characters. It’s a story of a totally trustworthy young man who no one trusts. It always makes me feel good when I read this book. *****

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg – I’m and Elizabeth Berg fan so even though I knew this was a departure from her usual style, I knew it was about George Sand and I thought it would be fascinating – but – it wasn’t. How Berg managed to make Sand boring I don’t know but I really can’t recommend this book. But I’m still a Berg fan and I appreciate the fact that she stepped out of her comfort zone and gave this a try. *

After You by Julie Buxbaum – an emotional story about devastating loss. It starts a bit slow but keep reading – it’s actually a well told story that will make you cry and cheer. *****

Swimming Upstream by Ruth Mancini – I thought this would be simple “chick lit” but I gave it a try because it was free on Kindle and I was happily surprised. This is a book about friendship, and rejection, and love, and mental illness and it totally surprised me in the epilogue. Give it a try. *****

Then and Always by Dani Atkins – I have to say this book was Great! I thought it would be okay but it was surprisingly wonderful. It begins with a terrible accident that disfigures a young woman and changes her life but then another accident seems to show an entirely different life – it will keep you guessing right to the end as to which life is real. *****

In The Mirror by Kaira Rouda – a serious look at a young women who is facing her imminent death from breast cancer. But while it is a serious, sad, topic, Jennifer is funny and bright and still thinking clearly. I started this book with trepidation but I loved, and throughly enjoyed, every minute of the read. *****

Defending Jacob by William Landay – this is a well written legal thriller. A normal teenager is charged with murder and his family reacts. The father is an attorney who totally believes in his son’s innocence but as evidence mounts it is hard to hold the family together. *****

BookDaily Promotion

This has been an exciting and a very stressful week all at the same time.  If you are a BookDaily subscriber you may have seen that my book FAMILY MATTERS was promoted.  (I still haven’t seen the email that went out.) It was exciting because so many of you downloaded the book but stressful because they were supposed to be promoting FAMILY LIES.  If you downloaded Book 2 FAMILY MATTERS but would like to read Book 1 FAMILY LIES before you read book 2 I think it will be promoted for a few days next week. I’m not sure because I can get no response from the BookDaily people!  Anyway, thanks again to those of you who are reading.  Please leave me a review on Amazon, it really is fun for me to know what you are thinking.  If you’d like to see any of my Amazon books visit my Author Page or search Amazon for my books by name or author name.  FAMILY LIES, FAMILY MATTERS, SUBTLE DIFFERENCES

July 25, 2015

I’m not really sure if anyone wants to read anything more on Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman but I might as well add my two cents worth.  I decided to read To Kill A Mockingbird first and then Go Set A Watchman because the first reports seemed to indicate that Watchman was a sequel to Mockingbird.  Now, I’m siding with the group that believes that Watchman was a draft of Mockingbird.  I think it was heavily edited – it needed it – and the racial tone was changed to match the times. Both books were hard to read.  Mockingbird because, while I remember it from both my first read in school and then the Gregory Peck movie, at this reading I found it to be racist in a way that I’d been taught it wasn’t.  I haven’t heard anyone else talking about racism in Mockingbird but it is certainly there.  Atticus Finch is a nice man.  He want to do right but he is first and foremost a white segregationist and even as he defends Tom Robinson he never believes in the equality of the races. Scout is completely unbelievable as the narrator – if she were telling the story from a 16-year-old point of view it would almost make sense but as an 8-year-old, I just don’t buy it.  I know this is prize-winning classic but some classics need to be retired and I’m happy to know that our local schools have found other books to use when teaching this period and that Mockingbird is no longer required reading. As for Go Set A Watchman it was hard to read because it was just plain terrible.  The writing needed a very good, very strong editor and I think Lee found one and turned this book into To Kill A Mockingbird.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – It’s a classic and if you haven’t read it you should so that you can draw your own conclusions. **

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee – Don’t bother reading this unless you want to join the discussion around the publishing of this book.

A Long Time Gone by Karen White – A going home to find yourself story. It gets a bit long winded in places and starts a bit slow but the relationships are interesting (even though I got a little tired of Vivian’s whining) and it comes to a satisfying conclusion.  ****

July 18, 2015

Because of a hurricane off Baja we have had a tumultuous day.  At 6:30 AM I woke to thunder and lightening – something we almost never see or hear in Southern California.  And then it poured!  Also something we seldom experience.  It’s very warm and very wet!  Perhaps this will help the drought – I certainly hope so.  Some good needs to come of it since, of course, the deck construction is incomplete and I had a bit of a leak – it’s fixed now – no damage. Last night I finished rereading To Kill A Mocking Bird and today I started Go Set A Watchmen so I’ll include both of those next week. One of my lovely readers requested that I add a note that mentions which book I read each week that is My Favorite so I’ll do that from now on.

The picture I featured on this post was taken by Brook Taylor of Sacramento, CA. – this morning from her room at the Hotel Del Coronado.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel – A graphic memoir. I really enjoyed this first because it’s a good story – Bechdel’s father is both an English teacher and the director of the town’s funeral home (Fun Home) and then because it’s a graphic novel, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a compete one before, it was an interesting format to explore.  I caution you that if you buy it as a Kindle book – it does not open on my Kindle – it does home in the Kindle app on both my laptop and my phone.  On the phone it was much too small to read.  ****

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter – I read only about half of this book.  The write up sounded intriguing but I just couldn’t get into the story.  It’s beautifully written but… maybe during these hot summer days I just need an easier read.  I’ll try this again later.

 MY FAVORITE  The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson – A clever “Sliding Doors” story.  I loved both worlds inhabited  by Kitty/Katharyn.  While it is easy to guess that the two worlds will need to be resolved and it is apparent quite early which is the real world it’s a great read, written by a skillful new writer.  I read it straight through. ****

Hover by Anne A. Wilson – I like that this is the story of a female Naval Academy Graduate who is a suburb Naval Officer.  The action/terrorism part of the story is a clever plot but the characters reacted to one another in too much of a Harlequin romance manner.  This is a debut novel and I’ll bet the next one is stronger. **

As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman – A rather violent hostage situation in the present alternates chapters with the past to explain the actions of the characters. It’s a good plot but I didn’t love it.  The chapters from the past were of more interest then the present.  ***

July 11, 2015

My reading list this week goes from the very silly to the profound and three of the books are 5 star reads!  Overall an excellent reading week.  It was also a week that included two writer’s groups so I feel not only well read but productive!

Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham – a modern love story written in emails and text messages.  It’s cute, it’s fast and it’s just plain fun.  Took about an hour to read the whole book.  ***

The Trouble With The Truth by Edna Robinson – Original, funny and thought provoking.  Set in the 1930’s with an unforgettable family of characters.  You’ll love them all.  The father is eccentric, the kids are smart, and the aunt is a wonder. This is a great example of a book that should have been published long ago but never made it through the snobbery of “big business publishing houses”.  *****

etta and otto and russell and james by Emma Hooper – This is a love story like non other.  A debut novel with great grace and perception. It is sad and wonderful and a lovely commentary on aging.  *****

Lila by Maryanne Robinson – If you’ve read GILEAD and HOME by Robinson, you’ll already be familiar with Reverend Ames loving young wife.  This is her backstory.  It is, as are all of Robinson’s books a literary, perceptive and emotion filled read.  Religious or not this book like the others make you consider the bigger questions of why we are here and why the world works the way it does.  *****

July 4, 2015

I live in town that knows how to celebrate Independence Day! Perhaps  in part because we are a small town, 25,000 residents but more likely because Coronado Island, CA has a long, proud history of supporting the military.  Whatever the reason, it’s our favorite holiday and the town turns out in all it’s glory for the parade, the rough water swim, the concerts, the special performances and the glorious fireworks!  And every year many, many (100,000 or more) people from all over the world join us. This year was no exception – it was a wonderful party from Wednesday the 1st all the way through to the last concert in the park on Sunday the 5th.

I did mange to sneak in some reading between all the fun. No matter how tired, I HAVE to read before sleep — every night.

my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry – Fredrik Backman – translated form Swedish this is a heart warming love story – the love between Grandparents and Grandchildren and how that love affects the world.  told in a wonderful fairy tale, fantasy, hard life facts manner I was captivated from the first page. ****

The Library At Mount Char – Scott Hawkins – Not sure if this is fantasy, science fiction or a cult gone bad – but it’s a great read.  Full of intrigue, twist and turns, a bit of human tenderness.  I really wanted to know more about some of the characters but that’s not a compliant they were just that interesting.  *****

The Children’s Crusade – Ann Packer – This new novel from the talented Packer explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades. The mother is especially well drawn.  It’s really worth a read if you like books about families and how they survive anything.  *****

June 27, 2015

Seems I’ve been on a reading binge about Nazis and death and dying.  No surprise that I’m suffering a bit from a case of depression and inability to get moving.  I hate it when I get in this kind of rut.

Did you know that I’ve listed a short story on my Amazon page?  Just search for Subtle Differences by Tamara Merrill.  Enjoy.

Before I go – Colleen Oakley – a very formula book about a dying wife and her search for a replacement wife for her husband.  Oakley writes great dialogue and her heroine Daisy is  lovable, funny and understandably angry.  It’s just that this is a story that has been done too often in the recent past.  ***

The Plum Tree – Ellen Marie Wisemen – Written from the viewpoint of a young German girl this book about WWII is slightly different but not different enough.  It does show a different perspective on the American occupation.  If you like novels about love in wartime you’ll most likely enjoy this book.  **

The Fragile World – Paula Treick DeBoard – Living in Sacramento, CA the Kaufman’s are a “normal” family.  As normal as they can be when the oldest child is a child prodigy and the father comes from a very dysfunctional family and the mother is outgoing, talented and full of fun.  With that kind of foreshadowing you know that things are bound to go wrong and they do from the first pages on when you learn that the favorite child – the prodigy – has been killed in a senseless accident and only the mother is moving forward.  I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for the father and daughter and I hated the ending – but – it was well written and will provoke some great discussions!  ****

Secrets of a Charmed Life – Susan Mieser – I liked it this book.  It used the familiar “elderly woman telling her story” method to reveal the truth about sisters separated in London when the Biltz begins.  Miesner’s books are always enjoyable and this one tells a deeper tale than some of the others do.  I enjoyed it and think it would be a good book club read. ***

The World Without You – Joshua Henkin – The death of child must be a terrible thing.  This story unfolds over the July 4th, 2005 weekend as the family prepares for and endures the one year memorial unveiling service for their son/brother/husband. It takes a look at family dynamics, love, loss, anger.  The affects of money on love and while I don’t agree with the simplified political statements portrayed it is sad profound story. ***

The Dark Road To Mercy – Review

It’s been a week for lots of reading and reviews – in fact all I did this week was read and binge watch Orange Is The New Black.  I love the way this season is showing backstories on many of the characters. I’m not going to write any spoilers here just in case you haven’t found time to watch but let me just say  – it’s a GREAT season!

This Dark Road to Mercy – Wiley Cash – This is a sad/happy book. A tale of love and atonement, blood and vengeance and most of all the story of a wayward father’s love for his daughters and their love for him.  Great character development. *****

The Enemy Inside – Steve Martini – I read all of Martini’s books and since these take place in my hometown I was looking forward to the read.  But this one misses the mark.  Very choppy and difficult to follow and believe me with a plot this simple it should have been easy to read.  I’m giving one star for effort. *

The Unfortunates – Sophie McManus – I really didn’t like this one.  It was simply a story about whining rich people loosely draped around pharmaceutical drug trials and Wall Street corruption.

Low Pressure – Sandra Brown – When a writer publishes a book anonymously which is based on the murder of her sister 18 years earlier, the writer’s true identity is revealed and the book becomes an instant best seller.  And as Brown’s books always do, you are swept into the fear created by a stalker who may or may not be the murderer.  A good read.  ***

The Qualities of Wood – Mary Vensel White – This is a debut novel from a writer with potential. White writes good descriptions and has plotted an interesting mystery.  The ending seemed weak but maybe I was just reading too much! **

Bed Of Bones – Cheryl Bradshaw – If you are a fan of Bradshaw you’ll like this book.  It’s number 5 in her Sloane series.  Personally I find the Sloane character a little too sweet and the descriptions a little to “romance novelly” but I like Bradshaw’s surprise endings and the story behind the bombing of the theater made for a good back story. **

The Dry Grass of August – Anna Jean Mayhew –  A coming of age story for a young women in the throes of the segregationist south.  A first book and available on Kindle Unlimited for free.  It’s well worth a read.  ***

The Secret of Midwives – Review

My brain is in total June Gloom mode and I’ve just been hanging about and not accomplishing anything much.  For anyone who doesn’t know, June Gloom doesn’t pertain to sadness that summer vacation has started.  Here on the Southern California coast it means low lying clouds that may or may not – but usually do – clear in the afternoon and then come right back.  It’s a dreary month and I don’t like it!

While I’m struggling to write a page or two of my next  book every day – I do keep reading and reviewing – it’s great to have a time wasting vice that others think is a good thing!

The Secrets of Midwives –  Sally Hepworth – A mother/daughter, meaning of motherhood story. it isn’t exactly an exciting, page turning novel it is a nice easy summer read. Not too “romancey”.  I especially like the grandmother’s story.  **1/2

The Dinner – Herman Koch – I re-read this to be ready for my July book club meeting and I didn’t like it any better the second time around.  Yes, it’s well written but it just isn’t believable to me.  Perhaps I just don’t want to believe that any set of parents would react to their children’s actions in this manner.  I can see why it is promoted as highly controversial but not why it is considered suspenseful. The only reason I’m giving it any stars at all is because parenting is difficult and perhaps I’m missing the point here.  *

Firefly Beach – Meira Pentermann  – I like ghosts and I like painting and I like mysteries but I didn’t like this book.  Nothing about these characters made me believe.

Interpreter of Maladies – Jhuppa Lahiri – I love short stories so I enjoyed this book.  The stories touch lightly on the Indian traditions but are really universal.  ***