Saturday, July 19, 2014

where the moon isn't

where the moon isn't is a first novel by Nathan Filer.  Not only did it win the 2013 Costa Book Award
for Best First Novel, it also won the 2013 Costa Book of the Year.  High praise indeed!

[from Wikipedia: The Costa Book Awards are a set of annual literary awards recognising English-language books by writers based in Britain and Ireland. They were inaugurated for 1971 publications and known as the Whitbread Book Awards until 2006 when Costa Coffee, a subsidiary of Whitbread, took over sponsorship.]

This is a novel about many things, but it didn't seem fractured or scattered at all.  Right from the first chapter of the book, the reader learned that  Matthew Homes' older brother, Simon, died.

"I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother.  His name's Simon.  I think you're going to like him.  I really do.  But in a couple of pages he'll be dead.  And he was never the same after that."

When Matthew was nine years old, his family took a vacation to Ocean Cove Holiday Park. Matthew and Simon were not allowed to go to the beach by themselves. because the path to the beach was dangerous.  Matthew decided to go to the beach anyway, and Simon followed after him. Simon had Down's Syndrome and because of that Matthew was always expected to be looking out for him.  However, this time, Matthew fell on the path, and Simon had to cope with Matthew's pain and care.  Simon carried him home, which was a very difficult thing for Simon to do.  A few nights later, Matthew again decided to go down to the beach and took Simon down to the dangerous path, only this time, Simon fell.

The story is told by Matthew ten years after the accident that killed Simon.  Matthew had been in and out of psychiatric care over the past ten years.  Sadly, schizophrenia emerged.  Matthew struggled with guilt and grief, and trying to understand what had happened that fateful night.  And then he began hearing voices, often Simon's. 

The story explores mental health in various venues: how it affects the person and the family, and how a mental health system works and fails.

But the book is mostly about a brother who loved his brother, and it questions how to grieve for someone when the pain never goes away. Good book.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2 books: The Ocean at the End of the Lane and About Grace

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a very interesting book.  I think that I need to read
it again, or perhaps several more times, to get all that is in it.  It's a small book, but there is a lot there.  Some words used to describe the book: fantasy, fairy tale, magic, fable, myth.  All apply.

A man (whose name we never learn) returned to his childhood home area to attend a funeral and began to remember events that had occurred years ago when he was seven years old.  The events occurred both at his home and at the old farm down the road from his home.  A mean (to the boy) housekeeper turned out to be a deadly spirit.  The young girl Lettie at the old farm lived with her mother and grandmother...they seem to end up being good witches.  So as the man began to remember the events, he decided to seek out that old farmhouse and it is there that he learns more about his past.  And about memories.

It is a beautifully written book and one that I will return to at some point.

About Grace by Anthony Doerr is a first novel for the author. We have chosen his latest book for our book group to read next month, so when I saw this book, I thought I would read it and see how I liked it.  And I did like it.  I can't say that I loved it, but I did like it.  I look forward to reading more of his work.

About Grace is about David Winkler and his journey to find himself and his daughter Grace.  David
was from Alaska and had always been interested in weather, especially snow. He had the gift of seeing things before they happened (gift or curse?).  He fell in love with a married woman, and when she became pregnant with his child, they ran away to Ohio together.  The baby was named Grace.  David dreamt that Grace would die in a flood and when their place in Ohio began to flood, David began to unravel trying to save the baby, until it appeared that he was harming her, or may harm her.  Finally David realized what was happening to him and that he felt that he had no control over it and he decided that he needed to leave and get far away from Grace so that he would not harm her.

David ended up on a Caribbean island, not knowing if Grace was alive or not.  He made a solitary life for himself there and spent the next twenty-five years, wondering if Grace had died.  David was often cared for by a family that had a daughter and it was she who ultimately drew David back to the States to search for his answers.

"What were dreams?  A ladle dipped, a bucket lowered.  The deep, cool water beneath the bright surface; the shadow at the base of every tree.  Dreams were the reciprocal of each place you visited when you were awake, each hour you passed through."

This is an interesting, well-written book. 

This Dark Road to Mercy

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash is his second novel.  His first novel, A Land More Kind Than
Home, was a favorite of mine, so I was excited to see his next one while at the library. It is a quick read...I read it in one day.

The chapters of the book are each told by three characters in the story.  The main character is Easter, a twelve year old, who was placed in foster care with Ruby, her six year old sister, after finding her mother dead.  The girl's father, Wade, had terminated his parental rights years before and had been long gone. Following their mother's death, the plan was for their maternal grandparents to adopt them.  The girls had never met their grandparents, who lived in Alaska.  Out of the blue, Wade appeared wanting to get his girls back.  His legal options were nil, so he took them away one night out of their foster home, and the three of them were on the run.  Not only had Wade kidnapped the girls, but he was also being sought after by a criminal who he had stolen from. Wade is being tracked down by the girl's guardian, and by Brady Weller and by an old friend of Wade's, Robert Pruitt, who has an old vendetta for Wade and is being paid by the criminal who Wade stole from.

It is a story of trying to make things right but in the wrong way.

I wasn't nearly as taken with this book as I was with his first book.  This Dark Road to Mercy just didn't seem to have the same substance as his first.  However, I am still a fan of Wiley Cash!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bag of Bones

I don't read a lot of Stephen King books, only because often it seems that the subject matter wouldn't Bag of Bones to read.  Mr. King did not let me down!
appeal to me.  However, I do think he is an excellent writer!  One of the best at drawing the reader in to his characters.  At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up

The main character in the book, Mike Noonan, was an author and a widower whose wife had died unexpectedly four years earlier. During the four years since his wife had died Mike had not been able to write anything.  Mike learned that his wife had been pregnant when she died but had not told him.  What other secrets was she keeping from him?  He had nightmares that took place at their summer home in Maine...a place where he had not gone back to since his wife's death.  He finally decided to face his grief and return to their summer place, where more secrets emerged.  One day, he came across a three year old girl out in the middle of the road, rescued her and then met her mother, Mattie, who was also widowed.  Mattie had been married to the son of a wealthy man who intended to take her three year old child away from her.  Mike became involved in their struggles as he fell in love with both Mattie and Kyra, the little girl.

Meanwhile, at Mike's summer place (called Sara Laughs) strange things kept happening and Mike became interested in learning more about the history of the place.  Which, as it ends up, is involved in Mattie and Kyra's problems.

It's a good was hard to put down!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Guests on Earth

I have been a fan of Lee Smith's work for years, so I was excited to see that she had a new book out.  Guests on Earth, is a historical fiction novel, based on Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina.  The hospital was notable for a couple of it is where Zelda Fitzgerald was often treated, and two: it appeared to be known for its innovative methods of treatment for the mentally ill, including gardening, arts, exercise and diet.  Very new concepts back in 1936.  In 1948, the hospital caught fire and nine patients in a locked ward were killed, including Zelda.  It is still unknown what caused the fire.
The book,

The story centers around Evalina Touissant, a thirteen year old girl from New Orleans, who was orphaned when her mother died.  She was sent to the Highland Hospital shortly after the death of her mother in 1936 and was a patient there off and on over the next twelve years. Through Evalina,  the reader is introduced to various patients there, including Zelda Fitzgerald.  

I just wasn't taken with the whole story.  The concept of it sounded fascinating, but in reading it, I really never cared about any of the characters.  Perhaps if the book had been written by someone else, I would have found it more interesting.  My expectations of Ms. Smith are high, however, and this book didn't deliver.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Four Books

Yep, trying to catch up with my blogging.  I have been reading a lot lately and the blogging is getting away from me.  I will work on being more recent!  I love reading in the summer, so I hope to get lots of it done this year!

One of my book groups chose Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck for our May meeting.  I had not read
it in many, many years, so it was pretty much like reading a new book for me.  It is easy to understand why it is considered a classic, and that it won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book was first published in 1939, and has been described as an "epic of the Great Depression".

Grapes of Wrath is about the Dust Bowl migration of the Joad family from Oklahoma who had lost everything there and decided to take off for California, where the good life was promised.  Three generations set off in an old truck and as they traveled across the country they repeatedly dealt with harsh conditions, including lack of money, food, shelter, etc.  Family members became ill, a young daughter was pregnant, some died.  Once the family reached California, conditions did not improve, and were the same, if not worse.

The book tells a heart-breaking story.  It was somewhat difficult to read how hard life was in the 1930's for people who ended up losing everything and struggled to survive.  And to read of how those who did have resources were either afraid or unwilling to help others.

One reviewer described the book as: "The Grapes of Wrath summed up its era in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin summed up the years of slavery before the Civil War." 

I liked that comparison.  Both are important books to read to understand history.

For June, my other book group read The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin.  The wife in the The
Aviator's Wife, a historical fiction, is Anne Morrow Lindberg, wife of Charles Lindberg.  Many years ago I had read the autobiographies of Anne Morrow Lindberg, so I was curious to see how this book would compare to those.

The book begins in 1927 with Ms. Morrow traveling to Mexico City over college break to visit her family who had just moved there.  While there, she met and became friends with Charles Lindberg, who had just completed his solo trip to Paris. Charles and Anne married after some time and Charles began teaching Anne how to fly and how to be his "crew".  Anne began to see that she was expected to do as Charles wanted and to be in the background of their lives together.

The novel appears to be very well researched and covers many years and events.  I was not expecting to find Charles as dis-likeable as he was and that colored my reading somewhat, until near the end of the book when more about Charles was revealed. 

It ended up being an interesting book that sent me to Google several times to check on different events of their lives.  Fascinating.

The next book I read was Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.  I found this to be a rather fascinating
book, in a way.  It made me incredibly thankful that I had raised my children before all of the social media was around!

Reconstructing Amelia is the story of a mother, Kate, trying to make sense of her daughter Amelia's suicide.  Amelia was a 15 year old excellent student who had never been in any trouble.  So when Kate got a call to come and pick up Amelia from school because Amelia had been suspended, she went to the school as quickly as she could and when she got there, she learned that Kate had killed herself by jumping off the roof of the school building.  Amelia's death was ruled a suicide.  Soon after, however, Kate received a text message saying that Amelia did not jump.  Kate began going through Amelia's computer and phone trying to piece together what had been going on in Amelia's life.

Through blog posts, Facebook posts, texts and emails, Kate began to learn of Amelia's life over the last few months.  And each finding opened up new questions.  Kate learned about a "club" that Amelia had joined, then quit, and how she was being treated by the other girls in the club.  And she learned about friends of Amelia's whom she had known nothing of before.  And finally, Kate learned what really happened to Amelia.

The story is told by both Kate and Amelia's perspectives, which was an interesting way to tell the story.  It is about mothers and daughters, secrets and lies, and mostly teenage angst.  It was a good book, not nearly as predictable as I would have thought. 

And finally, I read Frog Music by Emma Donoghue.  Ms. Donoghue is also the author of Room, which I really enjoyed. Frog Music is totally different from Room, but just as enjoyable, in a different way.  Frog Music is a historical fiction novel, based on a murder in San Francisco in the mid 1870's.

The story is told by Blanche Beunon, a dancer and call girl from France, who lived with Albert and his friend Ernest.  Blanche supported the three with her dancing and tricks.  Blanch and Albert also had a baby who lived on a "farm".  One day Blanche was run over by a bike ridden by Jenny Bonnet, who at first Blanche took as a male because Jenny wore pants.  It turned out that Jenny was a free spirit, who caught frogs for a living.  Jenny and Blanche became friends, and over a brief period of time, Jenny made Blanche begin to question her life...about Albert, her occupation and her baby.  Jenny and Blanche left San Francisco and their second night away, Jenny was shot through the window and killed in their room that night.

The story is about finding who killed Jenny.  Was it Albert, who Blanche had left?  Was it Ernest who was jealous of Blanche?  And where is the baby?

The story is told in flashbacks, and covers lots of history of San Francisco, including baby farms, and the smallpox epidemic.

It's a good mystery and was researched well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Natchez Burning

Oh my goodness.  I have been waiting forever for the next book by Greg Iles to come out and finally last week it arrived.  Greg Iles was in a horrific car accident in 2011, and had a long recovery, thus the long wait for his next book.  I have read in reviews that the book was originally going to be called The Bone Tree, but as the story evolved it became so long that the original book planned has now become a trilogy and Natchez Burning is the first book of the trilogy.  It is a tome of a book at 788 pages.  Don't let the size keep you from reading it.  It is an absolute can't-put-it-down read. 

Natchez Burning is the fourth book of Iles' that features Penn Cage as the main character.  The story, of course, takes place in Natchez, Mississippi.  Penn was a former prosecutor, and author who has become mayor of Natchez.  His father, Dr. Tom Cage, was a highly respected physician in town who was charged with the murder of his former African-American nurse, Viola Turner, who had worked for him in the 1960's.  During that time, Viola's younger brother had been stabbed by the KKK and then disappeared. Shortly after his disappearance, Viola moved to Chicago.  She had recently returned to Natchez and was dying of cancer.  After she died, her son accused Dr. Cage of giving her a lethal injection.  When Penn learned of the charges, he went to his father, and his father refused to discuss it or Viola with him. 

Penn began working to learn more about Viola and his father's relationship with her.  Meanwhile, Penn was also finding out more information from Henry, a reporter of a small town newspaper who had been working for years trying to gather information on the 1960's cases.   Penn's fiance ran the local newspaper in Natchez and began working with Henry to help with finding information that would clear Dr. Tom Cage.

As Penn worked to find the truth, the dark past of Natchez came to light, with murders, violence and disappearances from the 1960's Civil Rights movement, the Ku Klux Klan and a group more elite than the Klan, the Double Eagles, a group that was formed by the most powerful men in Natchez in the 1960's.  Even more interesting, as Penn dug deeper, he learned of possible connections to political assassinations of those times.

As I said, I could not put this book down.  It is riveting!  I have always been a huge fan of Greg Iles' works and this is the best so far!  I cannot wait for the next one in the trilogy, set (hopefully) to come out next year.  There was one sentence near the end of the book that gave me a clue of what is to come and it is fascinating!

Greg Iles was raised in Natchez and lives there now, which I think adds to the flavor of the book.  For anyone interested, here is a list from Wikipedia of his novels: