Monday, January 26, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Death of Fidel Perez by Elizabeth Huergo
Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl
The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Reviews posted this week:

The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
My Father's Wives by Mike Greenberg
Getting In by James Finney Boylan

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The World of Rae English by Lucy Rosenthal
The Death of Fidel Perez by Elizabeth Huergo
Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl
The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

Monday Mailbox

Another of the odd couple pairings that often arrive together joined my bookshelves this week. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson came from Harper Perennial.

Centered on a fifty year old university professor who receives a heart transplant from a teenager involved in a tragic accident, this examination of life, death, organ donation, and the soul should raise interesting and difficult questions.

Not Without My Father by Andra Watkins came from Word Hermit Press.

Who do you ask to walk 444 miles with you when everyone you'd rather choose says no? Why, your elderly father, of course. This sounds like a hilarious look at both a major accomplishment and at father-daughter relationships.

If you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Salon

I spent 4 hours yesterday reading in the first National Readathon Day. I didn't ask anyone to sponsor me but I think I may fire them off a check myself since it's a great cause, one that clearly resonates with me. If you want to send one in my honor, in between puttering around with a bit of other stuff, I read 326 pages which meant finishing one book and reading almost half of another. The book I finished was the one I chose to read since my book club didn't pick it and the book I picked up after that was the one that happened to be closest to hand when I put the first one down. So I'm doing pretty well on the reading more randomly idea I cooked up. Now, just because I like to inject a little nuttiness into my world, I thought it would be fun to try and read a sentence. Yes, yes, books are made up of many sentences. I know. But that's not what I mean. I mean that, with the possible exception of the review books I already have on the calendar, it might be fun to pick a sentence and then find a book in my tbr mountain range that has one of the words in the title and read it. Obviously that means that I (or you, since I'm going to ask you to come up with the sentence) need to pick an unusual sentence. But let's not get too crazy. I mean, I don't think I have any books with the word xylophone or armadillo in the title and I am going to restrict the books to those I already have here. Note that this is not as much of a restriction as you might think (check my LibraryThing profile if you are worried about being too limited). So, any suggestions for sentences?

P.S. No idea how I'll choose a sentence if I get more than one suggestion but maybe I'll read them all. If I get too distracted to follow through, on one or more, you have my apologies in advance. ;-)

In my reading week, I started out in Iowa City with a woman who is searching for love and belonging. Then I traveled to Cuba where the name of a man who plunged to his death makes many of the inhabitants of Havana think that Castro is dead. After that, I went to Canada where the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for Canada is now 104, confined to a wheelchair, and being filmed for a movie documentary by a young marathoner and her brother. Then I hurried off to Baltimore where two people try to see their romantic futures with odd results. Now I am in England in the Fens where a fifty year old man has received the heart of a sixteen year old boy and has another chance at life. Where have you gone on your reading travels this week?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review: Getting In by James Finney Boylan

I have a senior and a junior in high school. Besides the fact that this means I am far older than I think I am, it also means that we are sunk deep in the college application and admissions process. And it's a far different process now than it was 25 years ago. In view of that, I wouldn't be me if I didn't look to books to validate my current experience, wondering where we might have gone right or gone wrong so far and how to change that for children two and three. James Finney Boylan's quirky novel Getting In won't really help me figure that out but it did offer me some needed entertainment as I followed along with a dysfunctional and eccentric blended family on college visits to many of the schools I myself once looked at attending.

Dylan and his father Ben are joining Juddy and his father Lefty, Ben's brother; Lefty's second wife Chloe and her daughter Allison; and Allison's boyfriend Polo on a college tour to visit Yale, Harvard, Bowdoin, Colby, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Williams, Amherst, and Wesleyan. They are all crowded into a huge Winnebago as they drive through New England and weigh the choices in front of the kids for next year. Dylan is self-effacing and terrified he won't get into college. He skipped a line on his SATs and his scores are dismal, not that he's told his father this. His father, on the other hand, is hiding the news that his start-up has gone belly-up and he has no idea how he'll even pay for Dylan to go to school next year. Juddy, while seemingly not so bright, is a confident, sought after jock type and Lefty is a very successful car salesman although he's always felt a little inferior to and jealous of his younger brother. Wife Chloe is quite attractive, something of a trophy wife, who married Lefty for the financial security it gives her and her daughter. Allison is a talented musician and she spends much of the trip fending off boyfriend Polo's sexual pressures. Polo is a pretentious little prat who exudes entitlement and who is not accepting Allison's stance on sex with very good grace.  Add all of these people together in one tight space for days at a time and there are bound to be conflicts and high entertainment for the outsider looking in.

As the family drives around visiting school after school, the already existing tensions between them are rubbed raw and the secrets they all harbor bubble up to the surface and threaten to spill out. Most of the story focuses on Dylan and his worries but each of the characters faces an unsettled future. It's not just the high school kids who are facing rejection and agonize over being found worthy, but the adults as well. Each and every one of them is looking for acceptance in some way or another. There are scenes that are hilarious and scenes that are poignant and some that are both at once. The train wreck that is poor, nice guy Dylan, as he interviews badly, fumbling for even one good thing to say about himself, will just break your heart, especially when he recognizes his incompetence. Each of the characters here are well drawn and all, with the possible exception of Polo, are sympathetic despite their sometimes unpleasant flaws. Boylan has captured beautifully the angst of the college-aged child, the worries of the parents, the cautious optimism of both as they tour schools, and the stress of the entire process. The novel is a bit dated, taking place in the 1990s but this tale of growing up and facing the future, perhaps the closest our culture comes to a rite of passage to adulthood, is still highly entertaining. And if you are in the midst of this yourself, it will give you the chance to step back and laugh at the whole thing a little bit, and a little levity never hurt anyone, especially when so much seems to be riding on the outcome.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Review: My Father's Wives by Mike Greenberg

When you see things on the news about people who are on their umpty-umpth marriage, you wonder a little bit about them, don't you? What drives them to continue to marry person after person when their previous marriages have ended unhappily? What do they expect to find in their latest marriage that they haven't found yet? And when there is a child or children involved, how does this serial monogamy affect them? In Mike Greenberg's newest novel, main character Jonathan Sweetwater's father was a person like this, marrying six wives in total, and being too busy in those relationships to be in his son's life. It is the quest to learn who his father is, coupled with a staggering blow to his idea of what his own marriage is that drives the novel onwards.

Jonathan is a high powered banker type who lives quite well. He has the perfect wife, the perfect children, and the perfect life. He is not only successful in what he does, being a favorite of the boss, but he comes from money and is the only child of the famous, liberal, late Senator Percival Sweetwater III. But being the Senator's child has left emotional scars and a strong desire to be a better father and husband than his own father was. Percy, you see, walked out of his son's life on his ninth birthday, when he left Jonathan's mother, wife number one, for wife number two in the eventual line of six. Mostly Jonathan doesn't pay any attention to this sad past but when he comes home from work early one day and catches a glimpse of a naked man in his guest room with a woman who can only be his wife, thinking that his life is shattered, rather than confront his wife, he is suddenly obsessed with tracking down his father's former wives and trying to learn from them who Percival Sweetwater III really was behind the legend and how that has formed Jonathan's own character.

The connection between his wife's infidelity and his father's lifelong search for the perfect woman is tough to make. In all of his searching for explanations about his father, Jonathan doesn't really seem to find any answers and he waffles between worries he's too like his father or not at all like his father. His encounters with Percy's ex-wives all seem to follow a similar pattern and do little to shed light on the real man.  Interestingly, none of the ex-wives seem particularly surprised by Jonathan's appearance in their lives despite his never being a presence while they were married to his father nor do they have much personal or revealing to say.  They certainly can't speak to how Percy's behaviour might have formed Jonathan's character or why that would lead to his wife having an affair.  At the end of his quest, he thinks he can explain why his father married each of the women but that still doesn't really connect to his own marriage and relationship.

In between searching out Percy's ex-wives, Jonathan occasionally returns home and agonizes over his own marriage and the mystery of how he could have seen what he saw. The mystery of this is actually not a mystery at all to the reader, who has easily sussed out the ending long before Jonathan has a clue. As a result, the novel's outcome is completely predictable. The secondary characters, especially his wife and kids, are one dimensional. His billionaire, hard-partying, basketball playing boss is more well-rounded than they are. And his father's wives are not terribly well distinguished from each other. So when he draws conclusions about why his father married each of them, we just have to take his word for it that this one worshipped him but wasn't bright enough and that one was too intelligent and not worshipful enough, etc. because his brief interactions with the women don't show that to the reader. The concept, what we each look for in marriage, what perfect really means, and whether or not it is even possible, is interesting but I'm not sure it quite got there in the end.

For more information about Mike Greenberg and the book, take a look at the book's web page, follow him at Twitter, or check out the book's Goodreads page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott

When I think of the Industrial Revolution, I tend to think of England, the Luddites, and the pictures of peppered moths from science textbooks illustrating evolution at work. (You remember those moth pictures, right? The ones where peppered moths were typically white speckled with black before the industrial revolution but became almost entirely black so they blended in with the soot covered leaves.) I rarely think of the mills and factories in this country but occasionally it does creep into my consciousness. There's Ford's assembly line and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, both of which date to the early 1900s but even before that there were factories and mills operating in the US. They were both great economic opportunities and potentially dangerous and deadly for the workers employed there. Kate Alcott's latest novel, The Daring Ladies of Lowell, offers up the story of one such fictional mill and the opposing political ideas about mills and mill workers that swirled around even as early as the 1830s.

Alice Barrow is newly arrived in Lowell, eager to find work as a mill girl, to forever escape her father's farm and become independent. She finds a room in a boarding house with several other mill girls who quickly become her closest friends, especially the cheerful and occasionally reckless Lovey. As she settles into her work at the looms, she sees firsthand the dangers that abound in the mill: dangerous machinery, unavoidable inhalation of cotton fibers, and appallingly long work hours that make workers careless out of fatigue to name just a few. Alice quickly becomes a voice in defense of the mill girls and the problems with their working conditions, even as she worries about Lovey's sudden secretiveness and tries to stop herself from being drawn to Samuel Fiske, the mill owner's son. When she returns from a futile dinner at the Fiske's Boston home where she was meant to be an emissary between the mill workers and the Fiskes but where her ideas were roundly dismissed or ignored, it is to find Lovey missing. And the following morning, there is the horrifying discovery of Lovey's hanged body. First ruled a suicide because she was pregnant, her death is later considered a homicide and the ensuing trial accusing a magnetic itinerant preacher of her murder becomes both a referendum on the character of the mill girls and a way in which the Fiske family hopes to turn prevalent political opinion on the mills to their side.

Based on an actual crime committed against a mill girl, the story highlights the need for reform and the fact that to the owner-class the dollar is mightier than the well-being and health of the workers. The novel really only skimmed the surface of these issues though, uncertain if it wanted to be about the labor movement and opportunity cost of mill work, if it wanted to be about the death of Lovey and the questions of morality and right that it raised, or if it wanted to be a forbidden romance between Alice and Samuel. In the end, it touched on all three things but didn't really delve very deeply into any of them. The trial portion of the story and the hidden reason for its outcome are probably the most engaging parts of the novel. The characters, aside from Alice, Lovey, and Samuel, are hard to tell apart even if they are initially described as being very different, blending together as one amorphous character after the initial introduction. The novel's resolution is just a shade too easy and unrealistic to be completely satisfying and seems unlikely given all that went before it.  Even so, this was a generally interesting tale, raising some worthy points about the history of industrialization in this country.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor. The book is being released by William Morrow Paperbacks on February 3, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: The author of the USA Today and New York Times bestselling novel The Girl Who Came Home has once again created an unforgettable historical novel. Step into the world of Victorian London, where the wealth and poverty exist side by side. This is the story of two long-lost sisters, whose lives take different paths, and the young woman who will be transformed by their experiences.

In 1912, twenty-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s flower girls—orphaned and crippled children living on the grimy streets and selling posies of violets and watercress to survive.

Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a diary written by an orphan named Florrie—a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after she and her sister, Rosie, were separated. Moved by Florrie’s pain and all she endured in her brief life, Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.

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