Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The book is being released by Gotham on May 6, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, a stunningly ambitious and beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen

I have never worked in a restaurant, never waited table or washed dishes like so many others. My first jobs were lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons so I was far from the restaurant world. But I have always liked to cook, am decent at it, and I definitely love to eat. So books about chefs, restaurants, and cooking have always attracted me like a bee to honey. Michelle Wildgen's newest novel, Bread and Butter, centered on three brothers, foodies and restaurateurs, offered to give me a glimpse into the world I've never experienced but have certainly romanticized plenty.

Older brothers Leo and Britt run Winesap, the upscale but traditional and conventional restaurant, in their small commuter town of Linden outside of Philadelphia. They are successful and grounded and have honed their restaurant to be exactly what they want it to be and what their customers expect. At least they think so until their younger brother Harry, the unconventional brother who has flitted from one thing to another comes home with the plan to open his own, much edgier, experimental restaurant. Given his plan for avant garde dishes, the scruffy location, and open yet small and intimate space, Harry's restaurant, Stray, will cater to a much different clientele than Winesap does so there shouldn't be any rivalry between the brothers. If there isn't any rivalry professionally, there certainly is a complicated family dynamic at play between the three men. And when Britt, the face of the front of Winesap throws his lot in with Harry, making him a partner in both restaurants, while Leo doesn't, things get even more complicated.

The intensity of restaurant life, the immense amount of work involved in opening a new one, and the constant worry about an enduring one becoming stagnant are all well captured here. And although the restaurants consume much of the brothers' working lives, Winesap and Stray also drive their personal lives. Leo, feeling Britt's diverted attention, needs to become a bigger part of the face of Winesap, which leads him to a growing relationship with his executive chef, Thea, a heretofore taboo connection. Britt finds himself captivated by a frequent customer, Camille, and worried that her involvement in Stray's creation means she is involved with Harry and out of bounds for him. Meanwhile, Harry is striving to be more than just the much younger brother, an outsider to the other two, deep down wanting to belong and to prove and believe in his importance to the other two as he fights his own personal demons.

But the private lives and secrets of the three brothers and the ways they interact with each other take a backseat to the insider view of restaurants and professional kitchens. Wildgen lingers over her descriptions of the dishes Harry creates, and she captures well the tension in all its manifestations between the front and back of the house staff in a restaurant. The detailed descriptions will appeal to adventurous foodies and gourmands but overwhelm the narrative for other readers. The opening vignette is charming and sets out the brothers' personalities way back in childhood but once through that short introduction, the novel is slow moving with the frenetic pacing of life in restaurants in direct contrast with the plodding pacing of the novel as a whole. The writing is technically good and some of the food descriptions will make you salivate (others not so much) but the novel remains, as a whole, unfortunately emotionally flat.

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm at my parents' this week with my kids who are on Spring Break. I may not be getting in a ton of reading time but I have already visited the bookstore here since the kids forgot to bring enough reading material. Of course that means that I supplemented my stash too. Quelle surprise! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Wash by Margaret Wrinkle
A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman

Reviews posted this week:

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
The Girl Most Likely To by Susan Donovan
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Falling For You by Julie Ortolon

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

Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
Encounters With Animals by Gerald Durrell
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle
A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond

Monday Mailbox

 Another week of wonderful looking books.  Does this trio make you just a little bit jealous?  If I wasn't me, I would be.  ;-)  This week's mailbox arrivals:

Strings Attached by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky came from Hyperion.

A book about a music teacher who was an inspiration and mentor and who pulled the very best out of his students even while his own life was not the stuff of storybooks. This has fascinated me since I first heard about it.

Dinner With the Smileys by Sarah Smiley came from Hyperion.

Have you ever done that exercise where you name people you'd like to have to dinner? Well, the Smiley family actually invited their heroes for dinner every night of the year that their husband and father was deployed and this book is the result. How cool sounding is that?!

Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight came from Harlequin.

A young widow who runs a bakery meets a new man who is haunted by his own ghosts despite the appearance of living a charmed life. Sounds delicious, no?

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, April 13, 2014

Sunday Salon: Things That Make You Put a Book Back on the Shelf

I haven't been shy about the things that attract me to books, those things that go a long way towards guaranteeing that a book comes home with me from the bookstore. And since I'm a pushover, that list is fairly long.  (Have you publishers taken note of all my wallet-opening triggers yet?)  But what about the things that turn me away from a book? We each have things that make us wrinkle our noses, shake our heads in dejection, and regretfully push a book back on the shelf to wait for someone who doesn't hold our prejudices. I'm not talking about what cover treatments turn you off since you don't even give those a second glance (at least I don't) or about which genres or types of books you avoid at all costs. I mean the little things that pop out at you after you've already been intrigued enough by the cover or the title or the author to pick the book up and seriously consider reading it (or in my case adding it to my appallingly large and as yet still unread collection).

I loathe animals narrating books. From way back when I first read Watership Down and Animal Farm, I have not only not loved anthropomorphic animal stories but have actively disliked them. People can rave all they want about the latest dog-narrated tale, but I am putting that book back on the shelf the second I see Fido telling the story.

Sometimes I enjoy sitting down with a romance but if it's a romance with children, I am dropping that book like a hot potato. I have enough children in my own life that I do not appreciate cute, precocious children romping through the pages of my story. And if they have a hand in getting the couple together, well, just ::gag::.

If I pick up a book and the word thriller or psychological is included in the jacket copy or in the blurbs, it can't go back on the shelf fast enough. Some of this is because I am a coward and thriller seems to be code word for mildly scary but some of this is because I have yet to really like anything breathlessly described in this fashion.

I once belonged to a book club that would reject any book that was touted as an "international bestseller." Experience showed that these books were always destined for failure in that particular group. And I have to admit that I have picked up a mild case of this prejudice too although I have a slightly better track record for success with these books than the group as a whole did.

More often than not, I will return a book to the shelf if it is set immediately preceding, during, or immediately following the Civil War. There just seems to be so much dirt and horror involved in this period of history. And speaking of historical turn-offs for me, I don't like medieval set tales. Again with the dirt and filth. Apparently I want time periods where authors don't feel compelled to mention the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of their characters as a way to authenticate their time period.

Throw the words politics or political intrigue into jacket copy and I envision reading an extended version of election year political ads. This is no way to spend your free time, in my opinion.

I'm probably missing a few things that cause an immediate push back onto the shelf, but because I am generally so easily persuaded where buying books is concerned, I had to think quite hard to come up with these. What about you? Are there triggers that automatically disqualify a book from going home with you too?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: Falling for You by Julie Ortolon

Opposites attract, right? In Julie Ortolon's contemporary romance, this couldn't be more true. Oliver Chancellor and Aurora St. Claire are both from old Galveston families but this is where the similarities end. Chance is a staid and proper banker whose father once owned the major bank in town. He has been a part of Galveston high society for his entire life. He's cautious, studied, detail-oriented, and content to live the life that everyone expects him to lead, including getting engaged to the very proper debutante his mother has chosen for him even if he's never once been tempted to kiss Paige. Rory, on the other hand, is the descendant of the scandalous Marguerite Bouchard, who was never herself accepted by Galveston society. Rory is a tour guide with big dreams for the future. She's passionate and impetuous and not afraid to reach for what she wants.

What Rory wants is to buy the wonderful old Pearl Island mansion where Marguerite once lived and her ghost is said to reside still and turn it into a bed and breakfast. Rory and her siblings don't have the money to turn this dream into a reality without a large business loan. But Rory ran into Chance out at Pearl Island, having known him when they were younger and he was her brother's friend, and so she turns to him to help the St. Claires get the loan they need. Chance had a crush on Rory when she was younger and he still finds himself wildly attracted to her. Agreeing to help her with securing the loan and then with starting the business, he gives himself the opportunity to be around her again and again. And the two of them do spark off of each other constantly. But Chance is still determined to marry Paige, as is expected of him.

How can Rory and Chance work to reconcile their differences, in outlook on life and in social class, turning them into complimentary assets? There is never any doubt that the novel will end up as expected but the ways in which the secondary characters take on bigger roles is unusual. Rory actually likes Paige and although it is awkward when Paige befriends Rory's sister and gets deeply involved in the opening of the bed and breakfast, it adds a new spin to Rory and Chance's struggles to find the right path. As characters, Rory is definitely more appealing than Chance, who is so focused on appearances that he comes across as a right snob. The fact that the two of them plummet immediately into clothes tearing lust and that Chance is never bothered by the fact that he's enjoying the heck out of steamy sex with Rory while planning to marry Paige is just a bit dirt-baggish too. On the whole though, the novel is a fun romp of a romance and a quick and easy read.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

Being a lighthouse keeper had to be a very lonely job, especially on the more remote lights. But it was a very important job as well, requiring a meticulous caretaker who understood the nature of the job he was taking on and the gravity and magnitude of his duty. Obviously not all people were suited to working on a light station, with its solitude and rule bound life. And it certainly would have been a tough life on those who perhaps didn't understand it completely when they chose it, like the spouses of keepers. In M. L. Stedman's heartbreaking novel, The Light Between the Oceans, this remote and lonely existence coupled with unimaginable sorrows pushes a lighthouse keeper and his wife into making a decision that will tear apart several lives and leave holes in their hearts forever.

Tom Sherbourne enlisted in the Australian army and fought in World War I to get away from his father. That he survived the war didn't give him any satisfaction and left him with horrific memories. But he wasn't as damaged by his experience in Europe as many men and he came back physically whole, if mentally haunted. Wanting to keep an emotional distance from other people and settle into an easy and comfortable routine, Tom was the perfect person to pursue a job as a lighthouse keeper. Having done some relief work admirably at other remote lights, when a posting came up for the Western-most light off Australia, Janus Rock, Tom applied and was granted the position.

When the understanding and morally upright Tom traveled out to take up his post, he stopped in Point Partaguese before his final leg out to the light. It was here that he met Isabel, a young woman full of light herself who coaxed him out of himself and who came to mean the world to him. When they married on one of Tom's shore leaves, they were filled with love for each other and eager for their life out on Janus Rock. But after two miscarriages and an almost full term stillbirth, Isabel was almost broken when a boat washed up in the cove on Janus. In the boat was a dead man and a live infant girl. Isabel took the baby into her heart the moment she saw her and convinced Tom, despite his heavy misgivings, that the baby, who must certainly be orphaned, was sent to them by God. So Tom didn't report the baby's arrival on their chunk of rock a hundred miles off the coast, allowing Isabel to claim that baby Lucy was their natural born child. If he couldn't give his wife a child of their own, he could grant her this baby from providence. This decision, though decided upon with no malice, is a decision that will haunt Tom, threaten to destroy the Sherbournes, change their lives forever, and cause untold, unintentional pain to the baby's real mother, frantic and desperate back on the mainland.

Stedman has written an emotionally taxing tale of love, guilt, a moral conundrum, and the terrible price of our decisions. Wanting something so desperately doesn't make claiming that something right but it isn't always a black and white decision either. Her depiction of Tom's anguish over Isabel's pain and unraveling is heartfelt and lovely. He understands what drives her because of the nightmares and hauntings he's suffered since the war and yet he is willing to sacrifice his own sense of morality and of who he is as a person to keep his beloved wife from flying apart. The baby is a figurative light between two families just as Janus Rock literally stands between two oceans.  But Lucy/Grace is also the reef upon which the boat of the Sherbourne's marriage will flounder.

The novel is quite slow to start, building Tom's backstory and then focusing on Tom and Isabel's unconventional courtship for quite a long time. And yet even with the slow build, Tom's complete and unwavering devotion to Isabel was still somehow unexplainable in its depths. Isabel certainly suffered more than her share of devastating losses out on the island but her unwillingness to even consider or acknowledge the losses that Hannah suffered in not knowing her husband and daughter's fate made her a little less than sympathetic as a character.  Finally, the catalyst for the entire story, the arrival by rowboat of a dead man and a living infant, required quite a suspension of disbelief too. Given that it took hours for the supply boat, using an engine, to arrive at Janus, believing that the rowboat drifted there easily and the baby was no worse for wear other than being hungry is frankly incredible, even if the boat was being pulled along in a swift current. But if you allow for this situation to be true, the rest of the story is gripping as the reader watches the fates of the baby and of all those who love her play out in dramatic fashion.  A tragic, harrowing tale of family, sorrow, deep and abiding love, and what we are willing to do and to compromise in order to keep our loved ones happy, this novel is a promising debut.

Popular Posts