October 19, 2014

{Gratitude Lately}

Lately, I've been thankful for

Neighborhood trails
for afternoon walks

Fall colors
with birds chirping

Blue skies,
Smiling at me...

Splashes of red

Perennials that never fail to please
(Sedum, 'Autumn Joy')

Undemanding lilies

Roses that continue to blooming

Neighborhood parks
for future Husker recruits

Children laughing
in the park

Falling gas prices

Hardy annuals
and garden angels

Former Boy Scouts
who keep my fires burning

and Happy Hour on the patio,
followed by a Husker win!

Happy Sunday, friends!
What are you grateful for this week?

For more Gratitude posts, click here

The Circle

The Circle by David Eggers
2013 Random Audio
Reader: Dion Graham
Finished on August 26, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Chilling ~ The Washington Post
Prophetic ~ The New York Times
Marvelous ~ The Economist
Gripping ~ The Sunday Times (UK)
Provocative ~ USA Today
Terrifying ~ Publishers Weekly
Potent ~ Time
Foreboding ~ Los Angeles Times
Powerful ~ Newsweek

Well, that just about sums it up. I’m not sure I can come up with another adjective for this enthralling tale, one which held my attention from cover to cover. Oh, wait. I just did.

I joined Facebook in 2009, and over the past few years, have added Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Goodreads. I never thought I’d spend as much time online as I do know, and after reading Dave Egger’s novel, I’m starting to reconsider my “social footprint.” It’s been almost a month since I finished The Circle and I continue to mull over the story, chatting with my husband about its timely implications with regard to social media, privacy issues and online security breaches. I listened to the audio production (read by Dion Graham) and was anxious to return to this compelling story at every available opportunity. The novel’s frenetic pace is perfect for an audio book and I caught myself holding my breath on more than one occasion.

On the appeal of TruYou:
Ty had devised the initial system, the Unified Operating System, which combined everything online that had heretofore been separate and sloppy—users’ social media profiles, their payment systems, their various passwords, their email accounts, user names, preferences, every last tool and manifestation of their interests. The old way—a new transaction, a new system, for every site, for every purchase—it was like getting into a different car to run any one kind of errand. “You shouldn’t have to have eighty-seven different cars,” he’d said, later, after his system had overtaken the web and the world.

Instead, he put all of it, all of every user’s needs and tools, into one pot and invented TruYou—one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person. There were no more passwords, no multiple identities. Your devices knew who you were, and your one identity—the TruYou, unbendable and unmaskable—was the person paying, signing up, responding, viewing and reviewing, seeing and being seen. You had to use your real name, and this was tied to your credit cards, your bank, and thus paying for anything was simple. One button for the rest of your life online.

To use any of the Circle’s tools, and they were the best tools, the most dominant and ubiquitous and free, you had to do so as yourself, as your actual self, as your TruYou. The era of false identities, identity theft, multiple user names, complicated passwords and payment systems, was over. Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal. Once you had a single account, it carried you through every corner of the web, every portal, every pay site, everything you wanted to do.

And those who wanted or needed to track the movements of consumers online had found their Valhalla: the actual buying habits of actual people were now eminently mappable and measurable, and the marketing to those actual people could be done with surgical precision. Most TruYou users, most internet users who simply wanted simplicity, efficiency, a clean and streamlined experience, were thrilled with the results. No longer did they have to memorize twelve identities and passwords; no longer did they have to tolerate the madness and rage of the anonymous hordes; no longer did they have to put up with buckshot marketing that guessed, at best, within a mile of their desires. Now the messages they did get were focused and accurate and, most of the time, even welcome.

Final Thoughts:

The Circle is not my first encounter with Dave Eggers’ writing. I actually started Zeitoun (a nonfiction work about a man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who was arrested after helping his neighbors during Hurricane Katrina) several years ago, but had to set it aside and, unfortunately, have never returned to it. I now plan to go back and read it from the very beginning, as it was quite compelling.

If you enjoyed the film The Minority Report (loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name), or thought Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was a great read, this is just the book for you! Prescient, intelligent and highly addictive, this novel is one you won’t want to miss.

More praise for The Circle:

The Circle is Brave New World for our brave new world… Now that we all live and move and have our being in the panopticon, Egger’s novel may be just fast enough, witty enough and troubling enough to make us glance away from our twerking Vines and consider how life has been reshaped by a handful of clever marketers…. There may come a day when we can look back at this novel with incredulity, but for now, the mirror it holds up is too chilling to LOL. ~ The Washington Post

A vivid, roaring dissent to the companies that have coaxed us to disgorge every thought and action onto the Web…. Carries the potential to change how the world views its addicted, compliant thrall to all things digital. If you work in Silicon Valley, or just care about what goes on there, you need to pay attention. ~ The Wall Street Journal

Eggers reminds us how digital utopianism can lead to the datafication of our daily lives, how a belief in the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mob rule, how the embrace of ‘the hive mind’ can lead to a diminution of the individual. ~ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“A deft modern synthesis of Swiftian wit with Orwellian prognostication.” ~ The Guardian (UK)

“A stunning work of terrifying plausibility, a cautionary tale of subversive power in the digital age suavely packaged as a Silicon Valley social satire. Set in the near future, it examines the inner workings of the Circle, an internet company that is both spiritual and literal successor to Facebook, Google, Twitter and more, as seen through the eyes of Mae Holland, a new hire who starts in customer service . . . Eggers presents a Swiftian scenario so absurd in its logic and compelling in its motives . . . sneaking up on the reader before delivering its warnings of the future, a worthy and entertaining read.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred)

October 16, 2014

We'll Always Have Paris

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir by Jennifer Coburn
Nonfiction/Travel Memoir
2014 Sourcebooks, Inc.
Finished on August 13, 2014
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

How her daughter and her passport taught Jennifer to live like there’s no tomorrow.

Jennifer Coburn has always been terrified of dying young. So she decides to save up and drop everything to travel with her daughter, Katie, on a whirlwind European adventure before it’s too late. Even though her husband can’t join them, even though she’s nervous about the journey, and even though she’s perfectly healthy, Jennifer is determined to jam her daughter’s mental photo album with memories—just in case.

From the caf├ęs of Paris to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Jennifer and Katie take on Europe one city at a time, united by their desire to see the world and spend precious time together. In this heartwarming generational love story, Jennifer reveals how their adventures helped vanquish her fear of dying… for the sake of living.

When my daughter was 10, I took her to London for two weeks while my husband stayed home and slaved over a hot computer (his choice, mind you). I’ll never forget one of my girlfriends remarking on how brave I was to travel overseas by myself with a fairly young child. It never occurred to me to be afraid. And, it wasn’t as if I was going to be completely alone. At the time, one of my best friends was living in London and not only did she and her son join us on several excursions in and around London, but she also supplied me with all the pertinent information I needed in order to travel by bus and train to see Stonehenge, Bath, Salisbury, Windsor and Hampton Court Palace when she wasn’t able to accompany us. We did just fine and it was truly a lovely and memorable holiday.

(Squinting in the hot sun!)

Two years later, after receiving a small inheritance from my grandmother (who adored traveling just as much as I do), I asked Amy to pick another destination for a Mother-Daughter adventure. We had already gone skiing in Breckenridge and spent a long (albeit chilly!) weekend shopping, playing tennis and lounging by the pool at the Hyatt Regency in in Scottsdale, so I was curious to see what she would pick for our next getaway. A fashionista in the making, she chose New York City! And again, a friend exclaimed that I was “so brave!” to travel to the Big Apple without my husband, let alone with my 12-year-old daughter. I wasn’t worried. I have a great sense of direction (as does Amy), our destination didn’t require learning a new language, and we didn’t have to worry about looking the opposite direction while crossing the street. How dangerous could it be? It turned out to be another wonderful vacation filled with 10 days of sightseeing, museums, shopping, Broadway shows, fine dining, long walks (from the Guggenheim Museum down to Battery Park), and pampering in a beautiful hotel. We both had a blast!

So when I came across Coburn’s memoir in the travel section at Barnes & Noble, I was immediately drawn to the colorful cover art (as well as the subtitle), and decided it was not only the perfect choice for the Paris in July reading challenge, but one which would also appeal to my insatiable wanderlust. Amy spent some time in Paris while studying Fashion Merchandising at TCU, but I have never been. Last year, I devoured Paris in Love by Eloisa James and was looking forward to another book filled with travel anecdotes, as well as one that could provide me with specific recommendations for restaurants and hotel accommodations. While not terrible, We’ll Always Have Paris was nowhere near as good as Eloisa James’ memoir and I wound up with far less than half the Post-It Notes marking pages of beautiful passages or travel information for future reference. While both writers delve into their personal histories, sharing their thoughts on death and struggles with grief, James’ writing is tender and lyrical with a fine balance of humor thrown in, while Coburn’s is flat and, at times, whiney. I was surprised, the further I read, that Coburn’s book not only includes her trip to Paris and London in 2005, but also Italy in 2008, Spain in 2011, and Amsterdam and Paris in 2013. This, along with alternating narratives about her parents and her childhood may have been a bit ambitious for one book; the travel segments are glossed over and the transitions between narratives are anything but smooth.

Final Thoughts:

A fairly quick read, but not worth owning. If you must, get it from your local library. Or better yet, get a copy of Paris in Love by Eloisa James. That one’s a winner!

October 12, 2014

Sunday Salon

Yay, me! Another Sunday Salon post and it hasn't even been a month since the last one I shared. I'm on a roll! :) 

Let's catch up, shall we?

Reading:: I've just about made it to the last quarter of The Dog Stars (Peter Heller) and I'm so anxious for my husband to get some free time to read this excellent post-apocalyptic novel, which came highly recommended by a good friend. There was actually a point at which I was ready to call it quits, but as soon as I turned the next page, I was hooked! I haven't heard too much buzz about this book from other bloggers. Have any of you read it? I can't wait to see how it ends!

Finished:: Since my last SS post, I've managed to finish Ruth Reichl's novel, Delicious, and Donna Tartt's chunkster, The Goldfinch. I'm hoping to get my reviews written in the coming week, but since I'm still playing catch-up (posting reviews from August reads), I'm not going to worry too much if those don't get written until next weekend. In any event, neither of these two books wowed me, but I'm glad I read/listened to them.

Listening:: Since finishing The Goldfinch, I haven't been able to settle on a new audio book, which is a bit distressing since I've come to love audios as a way to help pass the time while performing mundane projects at work. I had hoped to listen to All the Light We Cannot See (which I loved in the print format), but my library's downloadable edition doesn't not allow for Apple products. Very disappointing! I'm currently downloading Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury), as well as 13 1/2 (Nevada Barr) and The Tortilla Curtain (T.C. Boyle). We'll see which captures my interest when I had out for my afternoon walk.

Ignoring:: Yes, I still have 11/22/63 (Stephen King) on my Nook, but haven't felt compelled to return to it just yet. I think I set it aside when I started East of Eden, and I definitely plan to get back to it. Just waiting for the right moment. Perhaps in a couple of weeks when I fly out to California...

Next Up:: I have a huge pile of books on my nightstand, but I'm hoping to continue with the stack I put together for my Top Ten for Spring list. That list was probably a bit too ambitious for me, as I'm easily distracted by the latest and greatest in new releases at work. I will have finished five books in that stack when I finish The Dog Stars and I'm really looking forward to diving into the remaining six books. Maybe it's time for some nonfiction... I've had A Homemade Life on my shelves for a such a long time and, who knows, maybe I'll get inspired to do more cooking from my cookbooks once I read her foodie memoir. Couldn't hurt!

Planning:: We're getting together for dinner with a friend at our favorite Mexican restaurant, so I don't need to worry about what to fix for dinner and can enjoy the afternoon, once I finish a little housework. It's a gorgeous day and I plan to head out for a walk before the rain arrives later this afternoon. I don't think it's going to be terribly warm (mid-60's), but the sun is shining and I'm anxious to see some of the pretty trees as I make my way down the bike trail. 

Anticipating:: Did I mention a trip to California? :) Yep, I'm heading out to San Diego & Manhattan Beach for a week! I'm super excited to finally meet my great-nephew...

Declan Jackson
(5 months)

... and spend some time with the rest of the family. A large group of us are gathering in MB for a cousins' reunion, which should be great fun!

I hope everyone is having a nice, relaxing Sunday. Time to head out for that walk!

Is This Tomorrow

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt
2013 HighBridge Audio
Reader: Xe Sands
Finished on August 4, 2014
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Publisher’s Blurb:

In 1956, Ava Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a desirable Boston suburb. Ava is beautiful, divorced, Jewish, and a working mom. She finds her neighbors less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood—in the throes of Cold War paranoia—seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son.

Years later, when Lewis and Rose reunite to untangle the final pieces of the tragic puzzle, they must decide: Should you tell the truth even if it hurts those you love, or, should some secrets remain buried?

This was a big hit among several blogging friends, but I found is less than remarkable. Ava Lark began to get on my nerves about halfway through the novel and the narrative seemed to ramble on and on. I was very disappointed with the ending and now wonder if perhaps this is one to read rather than listen to on audio.

October 6, 2014

{Gratitude Lately}

Lately, I've been thankful for

 Quiet Saturday mornings
 to plan ahead for the coming week

Neighborhood markets with shady spots
for these two to wait while I run in for ice cream

Roses in September
from my garden

 Neighbors with green thumbs

 The beauty of zinnias

A new Samsung Galaxy S5
and its amazing camera

Healthier options for my
creamy dressing addiction

Cooler temperatures 

and the color yellow

Morning commutes with 
breathtaking skies

 Autumn rain showers...

Six inches of rain (in 24 hours)
and dry basements

and discovering simple joys 
 on afternoon walks.

Happy Sunday, friends!
What are you grateful for this week?

For more Gratitude posts, click here

October 4, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
2014 Scribner
Finished on July 27, 2014
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

A tender exploration of this world’s paradoxes: the beauty of the laws of nature and the terrible ends to which war subverts them; the frailty and the resilience of the human heart; the immutability of a moment and the healing power of time. The language is as expertly crafted as the master locksmith’s models in the story and the setting as intricately evoked. ~ M. L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans

Publisher’s Blurb:

A blind child, 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 Marie-Laure is twelve, the Germans occupy Paris and father and daughter flee—carrying what might be the museum’s most valuable diamond—to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea.

In another world, in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes a master 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. Werner travels through the heart of Nazi Germany, beyond the Russian front 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, Doerr 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 novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Anthony Doerr is the author of the story collections Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. He has won numerous prizes, including four O. Henry Prizes, three Pushcart Prizes, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, The National Magazine Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Story Prize.

This may be the best book I’ve read this year.

When I first began reading All the Light We Cannot See, I immediately noticed the short chapters (most averaging only two to four pages in length) and found that I could read longer and later into the night, telling myself, “Just one more chapter.” But then summer arrived with a flurry of activities, travel and a house guest and time slipped away from me, often without a single page read for several days. And then when I did have the time or energy to read, I could only seem to manage a chapter or two, in spite of the author’s gorgeous prose and endearing characters. I began this book on June 15th and did not reach the final page for another six weeks. Had I started this in the dead of winter, I would have easily raced through it in less than a week; it was that good. And yet, in spite of a rather fragmented reading experience, I still choose to give this magnificent novel a perfect 5/5 rating.

Up and down the lanes, the last unevacuated townspeople wake, groan, sigh. Spinsters, prostitutes, men over sixty. Procrastinators, collaborators, disbelievers, drunks. Nuns of every order. The poor. The stubborn. The blind.

Some hurry to bomb shelters. Some tell themselves it is merely a drill. Some linger to grab a blanket or a prayer book or a deck of playing cards.

D-day was two months ago. Cherbourg has been liberated, Caen liberated, Rennes too. Half of western France is free. In the east, the Soviets have retaken Minsk; the Polish Home Army is revolting in Warsaw; a few newspapers have become bold enough to suggest that the tide has turned.

But not here. Not this last citadel at the edge of the continent, this final German strongpoint on the Breton coast.

Here, people whisper, the Germans have renovated two kilometers of subterranean corridors under the medieval walls; they have built new defenses, new conduits, new escape routes, underground complexes of bewildering intricacy. Beneath the peninsular fort of La Cite, across the river from the old city, there are rooms of bandages, rooms of ammunition, even and underground hospital, or so it is believed. There is air-conditioning, a two-hundred-thousand-liter water tank, a direct line to Berlin. There are flame-throwing booby traps, a net of pillboxes with periscopic sights; they have stockpiled enough ordnance to spray shells into the sea all day, every day, for a year.

Here, they whisper, are a thousand Germans ready to die. Or five thousand. Maybe more.

Simple Joys in Fearful Times:
Eggs crack. Butter pops in the hot pan. Her father is telling an abridged story of their flight, train stations, bleating crowds, omitting the stop in Evreux, but soon all of Marie-Laure’s attention is absorbed by the smells blooming around her: egg, spinach, melting cheese.

An omelet arrives. She positions her face over its steam. “May I please have a fork?”

The old woman laughs: a laugh Marie-Laure warms to immediately. In an instant a fork is fitted into her hand.

The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold. Madame Manec says, “I think she likes it,” and laughs again.

A second omelet soon appears. Now it is her father who eats quickly. “How about peaches, dear?” murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of wet sunlight.

An Occupied Village:
If there are fireflies this summer, they do not come down the rue Vauborel. Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters. Madame Guiboux, mother of the shoemaker, has left town. As has old Madame Blanchard. So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.

A Gray World:
For portions of every day, she manages to lose herself in realms of memory; the faint impressions of the visual world before she was six, when Paris was like a vast kitchen, pyramids of cabbages and carrots everywhere; bakers’ stalls overflowing with pastries; fish stacked like cordwood in the fishmongers’ booths, the runnels awash in silver scales, alabaster gulls swooping down to carry off entrails. Every corner she turned billowed with color: the greens of leeks, the deep purple glaze of eggplants.

Now her world has turned gray. Gray faces and gray quiet and a gray nervous terror hanging over the queue at the bakery and the only color in the world briefly kindled when Etienne climbs the stairs to the attic, knees cracking, to read one more string of numbers into the ether, to send another of Madame Ruelle’s messages, to play a song. That little attic bursting with magenta and aquamarine and gold for five minutes, and then the radio switches off, and the gray rushes back in, and her uncle stumps down the stairs.

On Bravery:
“When I lost my sight, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life…”

Final Thoughts:

This gorgeous novel is destined to become a classic! Doerr’s luminescent prose brings to mind Pat Conroy’s lyrical descriptions in Beach Music, another all-time favorite of mine. I loved Doerr’s finely crafted and unpredictable story and look forward to reading some of his other works, as well as listening to the audio edition of All the Light We Cannot See. Yes, another World War II novel, but I strongly encourage everyone to read this dazzling novel. Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece.

Go here to listen to Doer’s interview on NPR.

September 30, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
2014 HarperCollins and Blackstone Audio
Readers: Scott Sowers, Jenna Lamia and Erik Bergmann
Finished on July 22, 2014
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!) 

Publisher’s Blurb:

Hailed as “mesmerizing” (New York Times Book Review) and “as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird” (Richmond Times-Dispatch) A Land More Kind Than Home made Wiley Cash an instant literary sensation. His resonant new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, is a tale of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, a story that involves two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins. --

When their mother dies unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are shuffled into the foster care system in Gastonia, North Carolina, a town not far from the Appalachian mountains. But just as they settle into their new life, their errant father, Wade, an ex-minor league baseball player whom they haven't seen in years, suddenly reappears and steals them away in the middle of the night.

Brady Weller, the girls' court-appointed guardian, begins looking for Wade, and he quickly turns up unsettling information linking Wade to a multimillion-dollar robbery. But Brady isn't the only one hunting him. Also on the trail is Robert Pruitt, a mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, a man determined to find Wade and claim what he believes he is owed.

The combination of Cash’s evocative and intimate Southern voice and those of the alternating narrators, Easter, Brady, and Pruitt, brings this soulful story vividly to life. At once captivating and heartbreaking, This Dark Road to Mercy is a testament to the unbreakable bonds of family and the primal desire to outrun a past that refuses to let go.

This Dark Road to Mercy captured my heart from the opening lines thanks to the outstanding performance by reader Jenna Lamina. Reminiscent of Catherine Tabor’s performance for The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, Lamina’s southern accent is spot-on and captivating. I quickly became engrossed in Easter and Ruby’s story, eager to return to this remarkable audio book at every available opportunity. The narrative takes place during the summer of 1998 and I found myself reminiscing about my own long, hot summer afternoons in Fort Worth, Texas, spent stretched out in front of the television, watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa race toward the home-run record. I do so love a good baseball story and one that is set in the south makes for a perfect novel, don’t you agree?

On baseball:
I could see everything around me now: the whole outfield with Sammy Sosa standing over in right, the upper deck, and the open white circle of the ballpark above us where the bright blue sky almost looked like a lid that was keeping all the heat trapped inside. I could feel everything around me too: the crowd was so loud that you couldn’t even hear the music or the announcers, and when Brian Jordan hit a fly ball to left field and McGwire stepped into the batter’s box with nobody on base it was the loudest thing I’d ever heard. Ruby stuffed her hot dog in her mouth and covered her ears with her hands. But as soon as McGwire set his feet and got into his batting stance the whole stadium went totally silent, and you couldn’t hardly hear a thing.

Maybe it was all the heat, or maybe it was the breeze coming across the field from home plate, but something about it all reminded me of the first time me and Ruby saw the ocean. It felt like years ago, even though it hadn’t quite been a week, but I remembered it now: the way the warm sand felt under my feet, the sound of the tide like the whispering voices I heard all around me now, the sight of the waves moving far out in the ocean like the way people were moving all around the ballpark, trying to get a better look at what might be about to happen.

Final Thoughts:

Part mystery, part coming-of-age (and with a powerful baseball story providing the perfect backdrop),Wiley Cash has written a beautiful story that will steal your heart from the opening lines. Fans of All Over But the Shoutin’ (Rick Bragg), The Homecoming of Samuel Lake (Jenny Wingfield), Calling Me Home (Julie Kibler) and The Help (Kathryn Stockett) are sure to fall in love with Cash’s lyrical prose and I suspect book clubs across the country will make this one of their top picks of 2014. I plan to pick up a copy of This Dark Road to Mercy when the paperback edition hits the shelves later this month. I encourage you to do the same. This is one to own!

About the Author

Wiley Cash is from western North Carolina, a region that figures prominently in his fiction. He holds a BA in literature from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, an MA in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He and his wife currently live in West Virginia, where he teaches fiction writing and American literature at Bethany College.

September 24, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

When She Woke

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
2011 HighBridge Company
Reader: Heather Corrigan
Finished on July 2, 2014
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good, but not great)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Hillary Jordan channels Nathaniel Hawthorne by way of Margaret Atwood in this fast-paced, dystopian thriller. Unputdownable. — Valerie Martin, author of The Confessions of Edward Day and Property

I am a Red now.

It was her first thought of the day, every day, surfacing after a few seconds of fogged, blessed ignorance and sweeping through her like a wave, breaking in her breast with a soundless roar. Hard on its heels came the second wave, crashing into the wreckage left by the first: He is gone.

Hannah Payne's life has been devoted to church and family. But after she's convicted of murder, she awakens in a new body to a nightmarish new life. She finds herself lying on a table in a bare room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new "Chromes"—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime—is a sinister form of entertainment. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The victim, says the state of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love.

A powerful reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a timely fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of the not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated, but "chromed" and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith and love.

Rating a book is such an imprecise act. Typically, my ratings for any given book have stood the test of time, but there have been some books for which I’ve been tempted to change the score (usually lowering rather than raising). I read Hillary Jordan’s novel Mudbound and gave it a perfect 5/5 stars. As I think back and re-read my review, I know that at the time I felt it was a great reading experience and that I was thoroughly impressed. Four and a half years later, I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t feel that it’s remained in the same category as The Help or The Book Thief, and yet at the time, it knocked my socks off. Hence, the perfect rating.

As I listened to Jordan’s second novel, When She Woke, I was impressed with her imaginative plotting and dialogue, stopping co-workers to tell them how great this book was. However, now that a few months have passed, I know that it was a good read, but not one that I would consider great. I haven’t read a lot of dystopic tales and while I’ve read a few of Margaret Atwood’s novels, I’m not a big fan. But as I read When She Woke, I continued to think about The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlett Letter. If I were still in book group, I would suggest reading all three books for one discussion, as they each address similar topics (not to mention all the obvious nods to The Scarlet Letter).

Final Thoughts: 

When She Woke is an entertaining book in spite of a weak second half. If you’re looking for a meaty novel to spark debate within your book group, this thought-provoking tale is certainly worth your consideration.

September 23, 2014

Backlist Revival

Last week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asked us to list the authors we'd only read once and would like to revisit. I'm a week late, but this is one list I really need to make!

1. Liane Moriarty (What Alice Forgot)
I think enough time has passed since I read this highly entertaining novel. Now to decide which of her new releases or backlist titles to read next. Any suggestions?

2. John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany)
I know, I know! I've read this book twice and loved it just as much the second time around. I've always wanted to try The Cider House Rules and think enough time has passed since I saw the movie.

3. Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone)
I seem to recall someone speaking highly of Verghese's memoir, The Tennis Partner, and have often thought about giving it a try. Cutting for Stone was one of my Top Ten reads in 2011.

4. William Landy (Defending Jacob)
I love a good mystery/thriller and am eager to see if Mission Flats is as entertaining as Defending Jacob.

5. Edward Rutherfurd (Sarum)
It's been almost 20 years since I read Sarum! Rutherfurd's novels are huge, so I really need to be in the mood for something that is going to take me well over a month to read. I have London on my shelf, so I'll probably give that a try.

6. Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain)
Another favorite read. I have the ARC of Stein's new novel on my nightstand, but what I'm really interested in trying is Raven Stole the Moon.

7. Carol Cassella (Oxygen)
I have Gemini on my nightstand and look forward to reading it later this fall.

8. Rick Yancey (The 5th Wave)
Infinite Sea came out this month and I can't wait to return to Cassie's story!!

9. Susan Hill (The Shadow in the Streets)
The Various Haunts of Men is the first in the Simon Serrailler crime novels by Susan Hill. I accidentally read the 5th in the series. Now to go back and start from the very beginning!

10. Wiley Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy)
I tried to listen to A Land More Kind Than Home, but couldn't get interested. However, I fell in love with This Dark Road to Mercy, so I plan to give Cash a second chance. I have the ARC of A Land More Kind Than Home and will give it another try. 

and one more for good measure...

11. Ann-Marie McDonald (The Way the Crow Flies)
I loved this novel, so why has it taken me over seven years to even remember that I wanted to read Fall on Your Knees?! 

See? Lists are a good thing. I can't wait to dive into some of these books this fall.

Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten Tuesday posts. 

September 21, 2014

Sunday Salon

Hello, friends! Yes, it's been quite some time since my last Sunday Salon post, hasn't it? More than six months, if anyone's counting. I took a short hiatus from blogging this summer, spending my weekends hanging out on the porch or deck, reading from my stacks and composing reviews for the huge back list of books that I read this spring and summer. With the exception of one final book, I am all caught up! It's such a good feeling and now I'm eager to start participating in some of the blogging memes that I've ignored this year.

I also want to thank all of you for sticking around and commenting on my recent book reviews. I don't remember who it was who said they schedule their reviews to post at midnight, but I decided to give it a try and I am pleasantly surprised with the number of comments I now receive. I'm not obsessive about my stats, but it is nice to hear from those of you who have been following this blog for the past eight years. Of course, I'm also getting a huge amount of spam and may have to change my settings to restrict anonymous comments, but that's an easy fix.

So, let's catch up, shall we?

Reading:: I'm over halfway through Ruth Reichl's novel, Delicious, and while I'm enjoying it, I'm beginning to feel like I'm ready to be finished and move on to something else. It's not that I don't care for it, but it's just not one of those books I'll raving about.

Listening:: I've been listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tart and I'm completely sucked into Theo's tragic story! The reader (David Pittu) is very good and I'm glad I decided to listen to this chunkster, rather than read the print edition. It's one of those books people either love or hate. I'm not sure which camp I'll wind up in, but at this point I'm thoroughly entertained.

Cooking:: Believe it or not, I'm making chicken soup for dinner. I've grown tired of the usual summer fare, grilling at least three times a week, and I'm more than ready for something a bit more autumnal. I got the recipe from my neighbor and not only is it one of the best soups I've ever tasted, it's also one of the easiest to make. I'll try to remember to take a photo so I can share the recipe next weekend.

Planning:: On this final day of summer, I hope to find time to sit outside on the front porch and enjoy our gorgeous weather. We hit 88 yesterday (after getting 1 1/2 inches of rain in the early morning hours), but today is much more mild. It's currently sunny and 74, with a gentle breeze. Pretty much perfect, wouldn't you say?

I also need to spend some time getting my house back in order. We had our carpets cleaned on Wednesday and I haven't finished putting everything back where it belongs. I'm kind of enjoying the minimalist look and may not put all my books back on the shelves. Maybe this is a good time to do a little book-purging.

Anticipating:: I looked ahead to the coming week and am happy to report that I have absolutely nothing on my calendar! I don't know about you, but I love that feeling, especially as my days at work become more and more exhausting as we head into the holiday season. I have some letters and emails to catch up on, but my afternoons and evenings are completely free. If the weather stays nice, maybe I'll get out on my bike for some short rides.

I hope you're all out enjoying this last day of summer. Have a great week!