Monday, June 28, 2010

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer *Review*

Eighteen years ago, Billy Peters disappeared. Everyone in town believes Billy was murdered- after all, serial killer Arnold Avery later admitted killing six other children and burying them on the same desolate moor that surrounds their small English village. Only Billy's mother is convinced he is alive. She still stands lonely guard at the front window of her home, waiting for her son to return, while her remaining family fragments around her.
But her twelve-year-old grandson Steven is determined to heal the cracks that gape between his nan, his mother, his brother, and himself. Steven desperately wants to bring his family closure, and if that means personally finding his uncle's corpse, he'll do it.
Spending his spare time digging holes all over the moor in the hope of turning up a body is a long shot, but at least it gives his life purpose.
Then at school, when the lesson turns to letter writing, Steven has a flash of inspiration... Careful to hide his identity, he secretly pens a letter to Avery in jail asking for help in finding the body of "W.P."- William "Billy" Peters.
So begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Just as Steven tries to use Avery to pinpoint the grave site, so Avery misdirects and teases his mysterious correspondent in order to relive his heinous crimes. And when Avery finally realizes that the letters he's receiving are from a twelve-year-old boy, suddenly his life has purpose too. Although his is far more dangerous...
Blacklands was an interesting book in that it was written from a different point of view that most authors don't explore. In the author's note, Ms. Bauer explains about wondering how a murder impacts a family. Not just the victim's parents, but a whole generation of other victims, like in this novel- the grandson of a woman whose son Billy was murdered many years ago.
The loss of Uncle Billy, a boy Steven never knew is still a deep loss. The feelings of loneliness and pain that Steven feels are palpable. His life is always a shadow of what it could have been had his nan given him some attention rather than waiting at the window for Billy to come home from school, or if his own mother hadn't harbored such bitterness over feeling she was never cared for because nan neglected her childhood to wait by the window. All Steven wants is a happy, normal childhood. He longs for laughter, hugs, and approval.
That's why finding his Uncle Billy's body has become such an obsession. If Billy can finally be put to rest giving his nan some closure, maybe- just maybe- his family can move on.
The cat -and-mouse game that ensues as Steven starts writing letters, and letters from the prison start coming back is compelling. Steven is desperate to fulfill his mission and excited about figuring out the clues within them. Looking into the mind of a serial killer is always disturbing- particularly those of a sick and twisted rapist and murderer of children. But, I found Blacklands to be a book that made me look at things in a whole new light and any book that stretches my mind to wrap around a different image or feeling than one I'm used to conceiving is one I have to recommend. 4/5 stars

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman *Review*

Bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman's new memoir is a hilarious and harrowing journey, a modern heart of darkness filled with communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes.
In 1986, fresh out of college, Gilman and her friend Claire yearned to do something daring and original that did not involve getting a job. Inspired by a place mat at the International House of Pancakes, they decided to embark on an ambitious trip around the globe, starting in the People's Republic of China. At that point, China had been open to independent travelers for roughly ten minutes.

Armed only with the collected works of Nietsche, an astrological love guide, and an arsenal of bravado, the two friends plunged into the dusty streets of Shanghai. Unsurprisingly, they quickly found themselves in over their heads. As they ventured off the map deep into Chinese territory, they were stripped of everything familiar and forced to confront their limitations amid culture shock and government surveillance. What began as a journey full of humor, eroticism and enlightenment grew increasingly sinister-becoming a real-life international thriller
that transformed them forever.

Backpacking is something I have always been interested in- although a world traveler I am not. I would rather live vicariously through someone elses exploits. This book allowed me to do that.

Traveling through China with Susie and Claire was thrilling, exciting, and at times very scary. Culture shock was something I experienced right along with them as the author described eastern hotels infested with cockroaches, hospitals with chickens running rampant amongst the patients, and public toilets consisting of only a trough to squat over.

Although I feel a couple of pictures would have added to the overall experience- as they do in any memoir- the duo's camera broke at the beginning of the trip, so I had no photos to relate to people's faces or famous Chinese locales, but Susan Jane Gilman's memory and powerful storyteller's "voice" helped flesh it out for me.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is an incredible memoir of her harrowing ordeal in a country light years away. 4/5 stars

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian *Review*

John and Ella Robina have shared a wonderful life for more than fifty years. Now, in their eighties, Ella suffers from cancer and has chosen to stop treatment. John has Alzheimer's. Yearning for one last adventure, the self-proclaimed "down-on-their-luck geezers" kidnap themselves from the adult children and doctors who seem to run their lives to steal away from their home in suburban Detroit on a forbidden vacation of rediscovery.
With Ella as his vigilant copilot, John steers their '78 Leisure Seeker RV along the forgotten roads of Route 66 toward Disneyland in search of a past they're having a damned hard time remembering. Yet Ella is determined to prove that, when it comes to life, a person can go back for seconds- sneak a little extra time, grab a small portion more- even when everyone says you can't.
John and Ella have a beautiful and timeless love for each other. Even amid all John's confusion and Ella's "discomfort" they cling tightly to each other because they're all that they have.
Ella is determined to have one last vacation together while they can. Packing up their RV they head out on Route 66, a trip they have taken before in another lifetime. Determined to reach the end of the road, they plug on a few hours at a time before they get tired and have to stop for a rest.
John likes to stop at McDonalds. He loves burgers. But Ella, weak and nauseous from the cancer can't hardly stomach them anymore. Sandwiches and soup back at the campsite is more her thing.
When evening comes they drag out the old projector and watch slides of old trips on the side of the RV. John doesn't always remember his children's faces but he has to smile at the happiness of the family projected before him.
I recognized so much of my parents in this book, and sadly, even though my husband and I are in our early forties, much of ourselves too. This book tugged so tightly on my heartstrings I felt I was being pulled by some unseeable force.
Liberally sprinkled with humor over the many pratfalls, hijinks's, and mayhem they get into on the open road, The Leisure Seeker is a bittersweet love story of two wonderful people in the twilight of their lives. 5/5 stars

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano *Review*

When Melody Grace McCartney was six-years-old, her parents walked in on a mafia hit and walked out as someone different. Entering the Witness Protection Program they left behind all they had- home, job, and normal lives for supposed security.

But a life on the lam is no life at all. Melody exists but is afraid to form bonds knowing that at any time those tenuous ties can be ripped away.

When she meets Johnny Bovaro, the son of the man she is hiding from and the one sent to kill her she is drawn to him and him to her. To him she is the girl who has dominated his family's every waking thought. To her, he is the man with whom she can finally be herself. And when he whispers her name- her real name- she falls in love.

The girl she used to be is a thought provoking novel about freedom and those who will reach for it at any cost. 4/5 stars

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Library Loot

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

Since their mother's death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive, and ambitious father. As the former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard Doyle cares about is his ability to keep his children- all his children- safe.

Set over a period of twenty-four hours, Run takes us from the museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to a home for retired catholic priests in downtown Boston. It shows us how worlds of privilege and poverty can coexist only blocks apart from each other, and how family can include people you've never even met. As in her bestselling novel Bel Canto, Ann Patchett illustrates the humanity that connects disparate lives, weaving several stories into one surprising and endlessly moving narrative. Suspenseful and stunningly executed, Run is ultimately a novel about secrets, duty, responsibility, and the lengths we will go to protect our children.

Oil is king of East Texas during the darkest years of the Great Depression. The Stoddard girls-responsible Mayme, whip-smart tomboy Jeanine and bookish Bea- know no life but an itinerant one, trailing their father from town to town as he searches for work on the pipeline and derricks; that is, when he's not spending his meager earnings at gambling joints, race tracks, and dance halls. And in every small town in which the windblown family settles, mother Elizabeth does her level best to make each sparse, temporary house they inhabit a home.

But the fall of 1937 ushers in a year of devastating drought and dust storms, and the family's fortunes sink further than they ever anticipated when a questionable "accident" leaves Elizabeth and her girls alone to confront the cruelest hardships of these hardest of times. With no choice left to them, they return to the abandoned family farm.

It is Jeanine, proud and stubborn, who single-mindedly devotes herself to rebuilding the farm and their lives. But hard work and good intentions won't make ends meet or pay the back taxes they owe on their land. In desperation, the Stoddard women place their last hopes for salvation in a wildcat oil well that eats up what little they have left...and on the back of late patriarch Jack's one true legacy, a dangerous racehorse named Smoky Joe. And Jeanine, the fatherless "daddy's girl", must decide if she will gamble it all...on love.

TempleGrandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the Untied States. She also lectures widely on autism- because Temple Grandin is autistic, a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us.

In this unprecedented book, Grandin delivers a report from the country of autism. Writing from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person, she tells us how that country is experienced by its inhabitants and how she managed to breach its boundaries to function in the outside world. What emerges in Thinking in Pictures is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who, in gracefully and lucidly bridging the gulf between her condition and our own, sheds light on the riddle of our common identity.

Which of these have you read and were they any good? Or, did I strike out in this library loot?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish *Review*

For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets–tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them....

The book sounded great. Fun. Great fun. Okay, it didn't get my vote at book club, but it did sound pretty good and had potential to be a good discussion book. So when I got the book I quickly finished up what I was reading and tore into the first 10 pages of the book...and stalled.

I really struggled with finishing this book. It was not my type of writing style and a little to far out for me. In fact, I finished the last 6 pages of the book only a few minutes before leaving for book club.

Our book did, as always, have a good discussion on traveling funerals, friends of ours as pallbearers, and important places in Annie's life that she wanted her friends to be a part of. The general consensus our the book club was that it was a less than average read.

I did like that the book made me explore my feelings of life and death, and brought to the surface many fond memories of my own good friend- a former member of our book club- who lost her battle with cancer 1 1/2 years ago. In fact, after Bookies a few of us walked to the nearby cemetary to vivit her place of rest.

Karen was as much a free spirit as the main character, Annie was. She touched my life deeply and is very much missed. Karen would have loved the idea of a traveling funeral- she may even have liked the book. 2/5 stars

Myself, Lori, Bernice, and (center front), Karen just 3 months before her death.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Where Hell Freezes Over by David A. Kearns *Review*

I love stories of adventure and survival. For some reason, even though I hate cold weather I also love stories of survival in Antarctica. That's why when I heard about this book I knew I had to reserve it.

After a plane crash strands the crew of the George 1, a plane on a mission to fly over the desolate white continent and take pictures and coordinates for mapping, the five surviving crew members have to get by on what they can salvage from the wreckage until they are rescued fourteen days later.

Lieutenant Bill Kearns, co-pilot and the man at the helm when the plane crashes, is ejected out of the windshield and lands head and shoulders in a snowbank. With a dislocated shoulder and his arm broke in three places he is better off then some of the others. Two crew members are killed instantly and one moans in pain until several hours later he mercifully dies.

Making his way back to the wreckage he hears screams of pain coming from the burning fuselage. Lieutenant Ralph "Frenchy" LeBlanc, pilot, is caught within the burning wreckage. Other surviving crew members help Kearns drag him to safety. Frenchy is severely burned and the others doubt he will live.

Kearns helps Frenchy along- melting snow for him to drink, mixing milk with sugar to give him strength, and staying by him night and day. Living off rations of canned Spam, canned peaches, peanut butter, bread and pemmican, they wonder how long it will be before they have to search, hunt and fish for their next meal.

Much credit is given to Captain Henry Howard Caldwell for keeping their spirits up and their faith alive. With a cracked vertebra in his neck, a sprained ankle and a broken foot, he takes a walk to try to get to a higher level to more correctly determine their location. But with no trees or other landmarks for a point of reference, what looks to be water only a short distance away is actually 20 miles across the barren landscape.

Filled with stories of playing Salvo, an early version of Battleship, telling stupid jokes to pass the time and daily journal writing, Where Hell Freezes Over is an amazing tale of bravery and survival. 3.5 stars

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Library Loot

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

A swing hangs in the middle of the living room. The house was built by the parents. The children- two girls and two boys- run free all day, dance naked in the rain, climb apple tress, ride ponies, press their faces into showers of leaves, rub mud all over their bodies and sit out in the sun to let it dry. When their parents invite other adults for skinny-dipping in the creek, the children memorize all the body parts to discuss later among themselves.

Maxine Swann's Flower Children is the intimate, shocking, funny, heartrending, and exultant story of four children growing up in rural Pennsylvania, the offspring of devout hippies who turned their backs on Ivy League education in favor of experiments in communal living and a whole new world for their children. The children, in turn, find themselves impossibly at odds with their surroundings, both delighted and unnerved by a life without limits. But as the parents split, and puberty hits, the ground seems to shift. The children's freedoms have not come without a cost to their innocence.

The story: Patsy MacLemoore, a history professor in her late twenties with a brand-new Ph.D from Berkeley and a wild streak, wakes up in jail- yet again- after another epic alcoholic blackout. "okay, what'd I do?" she asks her lawyer and jailers. "I really don;t remember." She adds, jokingly: "Did I kill someone?"

In fact, two Jehovah's Witnesses, a mother and a daughter, are dead, run over in Patsy's driveway. Patsy, who was driving with a revoked license, will spend the rest of her life- in prison, getting sober, finding a new community (and a husband) in AA- trying to atone for this unpardonable act.

Then, decades later, another unimaginable piece of information turns up. For the reader, it is an electrifying moment, a joyous, fall-off-the-couch-with-surprise moment. For Patsy, it is more complicated. Blame must be reapportioned, her life reassessed. What does it mean that her life has been based on wrong assumptions? What can she cleave to? What must be relinquished?

On July 24, 1984, a woman and her infant daughter were murdered by two brothers who believed they were ordered to kill by God. The roots of their crime lie deep in the history of an American religion practiced by millions...

At the core of this book is an appalling double murder committed by a pair of Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims. beginning with a meticulously researched account of this crime, Krakauer constructs a multi layered, bone chilling narrative of messianic delusion, savage violence, and unyielding faith. In the process, he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America's fastest growing religion, analyzes the abduction of fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart (and her forced "marriage" to her polygamous kidnapper), and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Why does it seem like sometimes the books I choose have a common theme without me even trying to do it? (communal living, murdered Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon violence...all religious in nature)

Anyhow, have you read any of these and if so what did you think of them? If you haven't read them, do any of them look interesting to you?

Monday, June 7, 2010

wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson *Review*

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia's mother is busy saving other people's lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia's head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way- thin, thinner, thinnest- maybe she'll disappear altogether. In her most emotionally wrenching lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl's chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia.

095.00 094.00 093.00 Lia can see her weight going down on the scale. As she hits each new goal weight she feels stronger, hiding from the family her pain.

Lia has been in inpatient treatment before. She does not want to go back. So she hurries downstairs on Tuesday mornings- weigh in day- and sticks her head under the faucet and gulps water until her stomach bloats and sloshes around and adds extra weight to the scale.

She puts a blob of food on her plate, squeezes ketchup on top, and leaves it in the microwave long enough for the smell to waft through the house and the ketchup to splatter in the microwave before she dumps it down the garbage disposal.

Her family thinks she's making progress. They do not know she gets up in the middle of the night to spend 2 hours on the stair stepper hoping to burn off the apple she ate for lunch. Nor do they know she sees the ghost of her ex-best friend Cassie everywhere she looks.

Lia's haunted by the fact that on the night of her death, Cassie called Lia 33 times and Lia never answered the phone.

wintergirls is a distressing/sad/tragic/sob/heartbreaking//: story of two girls with eating disorders who couldn't fight the demons of body images and family relationships.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A.D. 62: Pompeii by Rebecca East *Review*

Miranda offers to be part of a time travel experiment. An expert in Greek history she is the perfect candidate to travel back in time and return with data from the past.

Implanted with a signaling device in her arm, she needs only to press on it to return to her own time. However, the signaling device malfunctions and she finds herself stuck in the past and sold as a slave to a wealthy family.

Losing her freedom and everything she always felt she was, she has to learn to exist in a time when slaves had no freedom or regard and women had just as little. She questions the rights she has and boldly starts to exert a little power when most have none.

In the process of finding out who she can be, she starts to fall in love with her master Marcus. Unwillingly to be just another concubine she sets out to make him fall in love with the person she really is- and under her terms.

Rebecca East- a pen name- is not an experienced author. I could tell as soon as I started reading, and I contemplated more than once in putting it down. But the premise of the story was interesting to me and I really wanted to know the choices Miranda makes and how she finds her way back

I'm glad I continued reading just for the historical aspect of it. Ms. East knows her history and the culture of ancient Pompeii which is so fascinating to me. While she repeats her motives and observations a little too much throughout the book making me feel like the author thought I was too dense to get it the first time, I did enjoy what I learned. I wish the author comtinued luck as she hones her craft.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Library Loot

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

In April 2002, Janine Latus's youngest sister, Amy, wrote a note and taped it to the inside of her desk drawer. today Ron Ball and I are romantically involved, it read, but I fear I have placed myself at risk in a variety of ways. Based on his criminal past, writing this out just seems like the smart thing to do. If I am missing or dead this obviously has not protected me...

That same spring Janine Latus was struggling to leave her marriage- a marriage to a handsome and successful man. A marriage others emulated. A marraige in which she felt she could do nothing right and everything wrong. A marriage in which she felt afraid, controlled, inadequate, and trapped.

Ten weeks later, Janine Latus had left her marriage. She was on a business trip to the east Coast, savoring her freedom, attending a work conference, when she received a call from her sister Jane asking if she had heard from Amy. Immediately, Janine's blood ran cold. Amy was missing.

Helicopters went up and search dogs went out. Coworkers and neighbors and family members plastered missing posters with Amy's picture across the country. It took more than two weeks to find Amy's body, wrapped in a tarpaulin and buried at a building site. It took nearly two years before her killer, her former boyfriend Ronald Ball, was sentenced for her murder.

The year is 1570, and in the convent of Santa Caterina, in the Italian city of Ferrar, noblewomen find space to pursue their lives under God's protection. but any community, however smoothly run, suffers tremors when it takes in someone by force. And the arrival of Santa Caterina's new novice sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the convent to the core.

Ripped by her family from an illicit love affair, sixteen-year-old Serafina is willful, emotional, sharp and defiant- young enough to have a life to look forward to and old enough to know when that life is being cut short. Her first night inside the walls is spent in an incandescent rage so violent that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is dispatched to the girls cell to sedate her. Thus begins a complex relationship of trust and betrayal between the young rebel and the clever, scholarly nun, for whom the girl becomes the daughter she will never have.

Hobbie, the narrator of this endearing debut novel, prefers the company of his beloved mutt, Terry, to the companionship of most humans. Hobbie, who has a blistering case of chronic acne, and Kari, his obese girlfriend of 20 years, continually aggravate their situations: Hobbie picks at and further inflames his bad skin while Kari eats in response to a shared tragedy from their youth. When the novel opens, Kari's ensconced at a weight-loss clinic hundreds of miles from their temporary north Georgia home, and Hobbie lives like a hermit until he's attacked by a bear. While recovering, he's sucked into the messy world of Kari's father, Roth, and slowly, clumsily becomes part of Roth's family once Kari goes missing from the clinic. (Publisher's Weekly)

The dust storms that terrorized America's High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since, and the stories of the people that held on have never fully been told. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and author Timothy Egan follows a half-dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, going from sod homes to new framed houses to huddling in basements with the windows sealed by damp sheets in a futile effort to keep the dust out. He follows their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black blizzards, crop failure, and the deaths of loved ones. Drawing on the voices of those who stayed and survived- those who, now in their eighties and nineties, will soon carry their memories to the grave- Egan tells a story of endurance and heroism against the backdrop of the Great Depression.

That's what I picked out this week. If you have read any of them what did you think? If you haven't which one sounds the most interesting?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf *Review*

Two parents in two separate households not that far apart wake up to find their seven-year-old daughters missing.

Calli is a selective mute. She stopped speaking at the age of four and no one knows why. Petra is her best friend and her voice. The friendship shouldn't work or be that close but it is. The girls spend most of their time with their heads bent together- Petra coming closer to hear, maybe, the thoughts in Calli's head. She seems to intuitively know Calli's likes and dislikes, feelings and fears better than most.

When it's discovered they're missing a police search is formed right away, a clue left behind suggesting that someone was involved- that the girls didn't just wander out to play.

When Calli runs out of the forest behind the girl's homes bruised and bleeding and clutching Petra's necklace she mutters just one word and the search picks up. Calli's mother can't get a hold of her father to tell him what's going on and he's not where he said he would be. Does he play some role in this taut mystery?

Calli is taken to the hospital to be checked out and the police desperately want to talk to her. But even though she has broken her three-year-silence to utter one word, she can not bring herself to push out more.

Recommended by my friend Lori from Books Are My Magical Escape The Weight of Silence is an excellently written book that is edge of your seat worthy.