Kitchens of the Great Midwest – Review

Kitchens of the Great Midwest  by  J Ryan Stradal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars – it started as a 0 star and ended a 5 star!
When I began reading this book I found it confusing and without a story line but since it’s difficult for me put down a book I kept going and about halfway through I began to love it. There isn’t a single character that I “liked” but I loved them all – crazy, dysfunctional, whatever – it’s an interesting look and just when you think “damn, the ending is going to weak” there is another twist and the ending is perfect.

Science Fiction, Mystery and Love

3 AM / 3:10 AM / 3:21 AM / 3:34 AM by Nick Pirog

***** A 5 star read Science Fiction and Mystery

    I LOVED all four of these books. I started reading and didn’t stop – simply sat and read them one after another as quickly as I could. Henry Bins is awake only one hour a day – 3 AM to 4 AM.  This has been true every single day of his life from his very first night as a newborn until now as a thirty something young man.  Henry is the first person to have been identified with this disorder and the disease has been named for him. There are very few others in the world with Henry Bins, sleeping 23 hours a day makes it hard to survive.  Just think about the logistics of caring for a baby that isn’t awake long enough to eat enough.  The problems are mind-boggling and yet, Pirog does a great job creating a world where you can believe that both the disease and the way Henry is able to live a complete life is fully plausible. Pirog supports the book’s premise by  giving the reader plenty of small details that he has skillfully woven into the story; finding a friend, going to the park, riding a bike, prom night, etc.
    All the characters are marvelous.  Henry’s father (who raised him) is complex and funny and willing to do whatever it takes to give his son a full life. Henry’s mother has deserted the family – or has she? No spoilers here. But remember this is a mystery and there are truly bad guys involved.  The housekeeper – who you never see – is nevertheless a full and complete presence. And when Henry falls in love with the beautiful police detective, so will you.
    I seldom give a book 5 stars but this series deserves them. Pirog never drops the plot – not even once! All four books are 5 star. Science fiction, mystery and love. What more do you want?

 

A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me – Review

A List of Things That Didn't Kill MeA List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt
My rating: ***** 5 of 5 stars

A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me by Jason Schmidt is a memoir by a debut author that left me breathless. Jason writes in a simple straight forward manner – as if he is speaking directly to the reader. He is brutally honest about himself, his family, and the people he met and was influenced by before his eighteenth birthday. Growing up on the West Coast during the 80’s, raised (or at least controlled by) his father and his father’s “friends” his life is chaotic and sad. But this isn’t a sad book. It is instead an honest look at an alternative lifestyle. Only one thing detracted from my enjoyment; I read this in the Kindle version and the images of Jason’s list are not large enough to view.  Learn more about Jason Schmidt on GoodReads.

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Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knolls

Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll – Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love to read and review an exciting new writer. This book was advertised as – if you liked Gone Girl you’ll love Luckiest Girl Alive – so I downloaded it and I loved it and here’s my review. I think this may turn out to be one of the best books of the year and it certainly made me reconsider how I use the phase “luckiest girl alive”.  The story is a really sad/wonderful/scary/dark/funny look at being a teenage girl in today’s world. The story is told from Ani’s (AhNee’s), 28 year old viewpoint, about her 14 year old self. I don’t want to write a spoiler so I’ll only say that as you read and unravel exactly what the terrible thing is that happened, and exactly how it happened to TifAni FaNelli, and exactly when it occurred, you’ll have a mental workout that will keep you reading far into the night. Jessica Knoll has written an amazing debut novel and I, for one, will be looking forward to her next work.

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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. *****

Review The Splendid Things We Planned

I’ve just returned from a wonderful vacation with family in Seattle, WA area.  Despite the fun I found plenty of time to read and review  – but – I didn’t write a single word of book three of the Augustus Family Trilogy. So…. I’m posting this and then I’m not even going to glance at Facebook until I’ve accomplished at least a 1000 new words.   FYI – FAMILY LIES is on promotion only a few more days if you want a free Kindle download. (Over 1000 people have downloaded books 1 and 2 during this BookDaily promotion and I’m hoping for some reviews!)

The Splendid Things We Planned by Blake Bailey – A autobiography – the often sad story of a family that struggles with everything. Told by the younger brother, this is a tough look at a dysfunctional family. *****

In The Mirror by Kaira Rouda – A women’s heartfelt, first person story of the devastation of her life as she struggles with breast cancer. I was surprised at how much I liked this book, the narrator (Jennifer for most chapters) is tough and funny and loving and awful.  She faces things head on and then allows herself to slide away from the truth as we often do. *****

Me  Before You by JoJo Moyes – I think I read this when it first came out but if I did I loved it this time (and maybe last time, too). Exploring the ‘death with  dignity issue is a tough subject.  Moyes manages to make it warm and loving.  Lou (the narrator) is smart and funny and a bit quirky – my favorite kind of person. *****

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – this story takes place in the southern states in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. It is, of course, about the evils of slavery and indentured servitude but it is more about the evils of damaged individuals and the wide ripples they create by their actions, about the love people feel for the families they create no matter the color of their skin and about the dangers of miscommunication and secret keeping. ****

15 Minutes by Jill Cooper – A young adult time travel book.  The beginning of a series.  New the near future we are able to travel into the past – but not to touch it. While each stay is limited to 15 minutes it is astounding what a difference changing any 15 minutes in the past will make in your life.  The editing could use a little polish but I enjoyed this book.  **** This book is currently free as a Kindle download.

We Never Asked For WIngs  by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – I liked the thought-provoking nature of this book. Immigration is a difficult subject and Diffenbaugh treats it with grace. The youngest child, Luna, is not believable but the teenagers Alex and Yesenia are well written. Single mom, Letty and her male interests, Wes and Rick, often made me impatient but – overall – it’s a simple read that will remind you of how hard it can be to “make it” in the USA. ****

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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.  ***

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. ***

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

I  absolutely loved Our Endless Numbered Days – I read it straight through and thought about reading it again.  Not that reading a book straight through is that unusual for me – but I mean straight through – don’t put it down for anything!

In 1970’s London, eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat lives a somewhat contented life with her survivalist father and her concert pianist mother. You know that things are bit off – but those of us that lived in the 70’s will totally understand the “weirdness”.

When Peggy’s mother goes on tour, her father abruptly kidnaps and they begin a long trek into the dark world of survival. Her father claims that the world has ended and that her mother, along with every other human on Earth, has died. She believes, of course, and adjusts to a life in the cold, remote woods with her mentally unstable father, little food, and no medical care.

Our Endless Numbered Days, gracefully manages to seesaw  back and forth between two different time periods, the year’s in the forest with her father and the year of her return to London.  The story is not about how horrid an experience can be, but how resourceful and resilient the human psyche can become in order to survive. There are no labored explanations of characters emotion or of why things happen, this talented writer simply shows you life and manages to invoke genuine feeling from the reader.

It’s weird and wild and sometimes terrifying book, but it’s also beautiful and heartbreaking and breathlessly alive. It will keep you turning the pages, and long afterwards it will keep you turning this story over in your mind and thinking about the events in this haunting story.

See it on Amazon here.

 

WE ARE CALLED TO RISE by Laura McBride

We ARE CALLED TO RISE by Laura McBride is my favorite kind of book. This debut novel is a story of family, not just birth family but the families we create as life and situations change. Every chapter is told in the voice of one character. They each have a unique story and yet these disparate lives intersect in a completely plausible way. Using Las Vegas, in the boom years before the real estate collapse, as the back drop to this story enriches the story. The book speaks to the way many points of view and many cultures collide in America today and yet we manage to coexist, that we are responsible for each other and that life is always worth living.

UN-REMARRIED WIDOW by Ardis Henderson

In this poignant memoir a free-spirited young woman falls deeply in love and changes her life completely. It is not only the tragic story of a husband lost too soon in the Iraq war but a story of discovery, of love and hope. In impeccable prose, Artis chronicles the years bookended by the loss of two men, her father and her husband, each of whom she knew for only a short time but each of who had a profound impact on her life and on the woman she has become. The book beautifully combines the love story of her parents and her own love story. It is a book that will make you cry but also lift you up and renew your belief in true love.